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Category Archives: Fruit

Grown-Up Fruity Sangria Popsicles

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As first time parents, we had it all figured out..or so we thought. We did our research, planned and applied strategies, and relished in our grand successes. Our baby was sleeping through the night by four months, a skilled walker by 10 months, and a calm communicator using our own made-up sign language by a year. My husband and I would pass by other toddlers in the midst of full-fledged tantrums, while our own sweet boy happily babbled on and delighted elderly passers-by. With a wordless glance, we’d silently pat ourselves on the back for our stellar parenting, because clearly we must be doing everything right. Our child would NEVER behave in such an appalling fashion. You see, even parents find themselves silently judging other parents’ parenting skills. You think we’d know better, but we’re human.

Turns out, we’re not the only parents who have been through this. I remember chatting with a neighbor a few years back, who jokingly commented that he and his wife were so swollen with pride over their exceptional parenting skills with their first born, that they’d considered writing a book. They had this parenting thing all figured out and were going to share their remarkable wisdom with the world. After countless discussions with other parents, there seems to be a trend that first children are deceptively ‘easy’ (or as easy as raising any child can be). I’ve yet to figure whether this is a biological trait or simply the result of having more undivided attention to devote towards the first born. But many (not all, of course) parents have a deceptively idyllic experience with their first.

Such was our experience. And then we had our second son. Our second son was (and continues to be) an entirely different animal. Though we held the same expectations and applied our proven expert parenting skills, the result was not the same, by far. Our second son slept in our bed for a good part of his first year. He woke often. He screamed a lot more often than used sign language. And suddenly WE were the parents with the tantruming child in the grocery store, despite all of our best intentions. It’s just what he did. And sometimes no amount of thoughtful parenting can prevent that. We know that now. We don’t judge as much now.

Our third son is just as unique as his brothers. We’ve learned that there is no one set of parenting strategies which is guaranteed to work with every child. They are all born with their own little unique personalities. And sometimes it takes a whole lot of experimentation, trial, and error to find what works. We parents are like scientists testing hypotheses. And sometimes you need to be the parent with the screaming kid in the grocery store until you figure out what works with your particular specimen.

And that 3-year-old drinking Kool-aid from a baby’s bottle while my own 13 month old peacefully nurses hands-free in his baby sling as I load my shopping cart with all organic fruits and vegetables and cage-free, grass-fed, golden-egg-laying, smiling-as-they’re-slaughtered meats (totally exaggerating)…I don’t judge. Ok, maybe I judge a little, but I also understand that perhaps that’s the first moment of silence that mom had all day. Perhaps that Kool-aid was simply an unfortunate compromise to get her through the shopping trip. Because sometimes parents just need to get through, even at the cost of our own parenting ideals. I didn’t get that when I had my first. You couldn’t have convinced me of it then. But I get it now. Most of us are just doing the best that we can. We’re muddling through and hoping that in the end, we produce a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and responsible human. It’s hard work. And for that you deserve a treat.

That’s why I made you these grown-up sangria popsicles. Even if you don’t have any kids, these are for you, because everyone deserves an ice pop made with wine. I froze them in the kids’ popsicle molds, which gave me the same naughty feeling as when I use the cupholder in the stroller to hold my beer at the fair. Thank you, Graco, for your thoughtful stroller design. When you’re sitting outside, baking in the 90+ degree heat, as you watch your children play, go ahead and pull one of these out of the freezer.

Sangria is simply a cocktail made with wine and fruit. It can be made a million different ways. Simply start with any kind of wine, then add some fruit and perhaps some other liqueurs, juices, sweeteners or spices. It’s really hard to go wrong when making sangria. (Check out these recipes for Ginger Peach Sangria and Very Melony Sangria) For this popsicle, I made  a simple white sangria. You can use any white wine. Pick something you enjoy drinking. I selected a white table wine from one of my local Finger Lakes wineries. (I picked it because the winery shares a name with my snuggly second son.) To the wine, I added a little gingerale and some fresh cherries, blueberries, and orange segments. A touch of honey adds a little extra sweetness. Freeze and enjoy.

Fruity Sangria Popsicles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3/4 cup gingerale
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cup chopped fruit

Directions

Combine the wine, gingerale, lemon juice, and honey. Taste and adjust sweetness with more honey and gingerale, as desired. Place a few spoonfuls of the chopped fruit in each popsicle mold. Fill the remainder of each popsicle mold with the wine mixture. Freeze for several hours. To remove, dip the molds into a bowl of hot water to loosen.

Makes about 8 popsicles

Watermelon Tomato Summer Salad

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I’m beginning to feel like I’m being set up to play the role of the little old lady who swallowed a fly. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, filled with big, old trees; trees with stature and history. But it’s not a wooded area, by far. It’s neither city, nor country. Just a nice, old suburban neighborhood.

And as in many suburban neighborhoods, we have the occasional sightings of small woodland creatures; squirrels, chipmunks, an infrequent rabbit…nothing too unusual. Every so often, we have the pleasure of spotting a befuddled deer standing in the middle of the road, before it gallops off to find its family. But lately, these sightings are becoming more common and increasingly bizarre. Deer seem to be everywhere these days. (One of them even charged my husband’s car the other night.) And I’ve yet to figure out the large crane-like bird I spotted standing beside the small creek which runs behind my local Target.

Since our yard is fully fenced, animal sightings (aside from our own labrasaurus rex) on our property were once rare. Lately however, it’s a practical wild kingdom out there. Our perimeters have been breached. We are now the proud step-parents of a sweet brown bunny with a fluffy white tail, an orange mouse-catching tabby cat, at least one chipmunk, and a woodchuck…all of whom visit on a regular rotating basis whenever the kids or dog are not occupying the yard. Just this morning, I watched as the tabby cat (sans mouse) took his patrolling position atop the fence, much to the dismay of the woodchuck who was leisurely roaming the yard. It’s like my very own menagerie out there. Anyone know what woodchucks eat?

She swallowed the deer to catch the woodchuck. She swallowed the woodchuck to catch the crane. She swallowed the crane to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse. She swallowed the mouse to catch the fly… I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

I don’t think I like where this is all headed.

But it’s no wonder my neighborhood is being taken over by the wild. It’s been absolutely gorgeous out there. Gone are the winter coats and gone are the days of heavy macaroni and cheeses, filling casseroles, and slow-cooked roasts. This is the time for simple grilled foods and light, refreshing side dishes, like this watermelon and tomato salad. This salad just screams summer to me. Sweet watermelon and fresh orange segments are tossed with summer-ripe tomatoes in a light orange-dijon vinaigrette. It’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor!

I served this summery salad as part of our Father’s Day dinner, aside slices of grilled flank steak, which I drizzled in balsamic reduction and topped with gorgonzola and homemade crispy onion straws. It’s a perfect meal to bring in the summer!

Watermelon-Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, scooped into small balls
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 oranges, segmented*
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly shaved
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade**
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from one of the oranges)
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to segment an orange.
**Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Combine the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, orange segments, red onion, and basil in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and orange zest until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper as desired. Pour the vinaigrette over the fruits and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Breakfast and Brunch Recipe Round-Up

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I recently shared a recipe for a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel Casserole, as an option for a special Father’s Day breakfast in bed. Just in case that idea doesn’t float your boat, here’s a round-up of previously posted breakfast ideas. Any of these would make a spectacular Father’s Day breakfast for the dad in your life or a great addition to your next brunch buffet!

Cinnamon-Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

Potato and Chorizo Frittata

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Sausage, Biscuit, and Gravy Casserole

Eggs Benedict

Birthday Cake (Sprinkles) Pancakes

Cinnamon French Toast Bake

PB&J French Toast

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Quiche

Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast

Chocolate Chip Bacon Pancakes

Quiche Lorraine




Beef Skewers in an Asian-style Cherry Barbecue Sauce

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It’s grilling season and I’m giddy with excitement!! I’m a charcoal grill girl at heart. I love the back-to-basics feel of it all, grilling over hot charcoals, lit with a simple piece of newspaper, a match and a chimney starter. No aftertaste of lighter fluid; just delicious, smokey grilled flavor.

The problem is that most days, I cook before my husband is home from work, which means that I’m on my own to tend to the exposed grill flames, while simultaneously entertaining our three very active little men. The process of preparing a charcoal grill takes a good chunk of time, all of which I spend wound up like a bundle of nerves, as the kids run chaotically around the yard and I repeatedly yell for them to stay away from the grill, which of course, seems to draw them even closer to the grill like mosquitos to a bug zapping light. It’s a fiasco, which induces a lot more stress than grilling joy. The end result is that we rarely use the charcoal grill.

I’ve been eyeing gas grills for a couple of years now. I hemmed and hawed over buying one last year. I came very close at one point. This year, I actually did buy one. And we’ve used it more in the past two weeks than we used the charcoal grill all of last year. There is definitely something to be said about the ease and convenience of a gas grill. In the past two weeks alone, we’ve grilled burgers and cedar-plank salmon and sausages and marinated chicken breasts and ribeye steaks and hot dogs for the kiddies. And these kebabs.

I made these kebabs last weekend. My sister and brother-in-law were in town and we were entertaining a small group of friends. Kebabs seemed like the perfect main course. I made shrimp kebabs skewered with sweet red peppers and pineapple, which I marinated in a bit of coconut milk, olive oil, lime juice, chile powder, shallots, and cayenne pepper. And these sweet and spicy beef skewers, coated in a fresh Asian-inspired barbecue sauce, sweetened with ripe cherries and a touch of honey. I’m head over heels in love with this versatile barbecue sauce and have big plans for slathering it on chicken, pork, shrimp, and salmon this year. It’s going to be a great grilling season, for sure!

Beef Skewers in an Asian-style Cherry Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 15 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons chile paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

For the kebabs:

  • 2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 red onion, cut into large chunks
  • 3 sweet peppers (red, orange, yellow, and/or green), cut into large chunks

Directions

To prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender. Add the cherries. Continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, honey, chile paste, and ground mustard. Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then puree the mixture until smooth using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender. Add the water to slightly thin out the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, as desired.

To prepare the kebabs: Toss the chunks of beef with about 3/4 of the sauce. (Save the rest for brushing the kebabs during cooking.) Allow the beef to marinade in the sauce for a few hours or overnight. Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30-45 minutes (which will prevent them from burning on the grill). Place the meat, peppers, and onions on the skewers in an alternating pattern. Preheat your grill to medium heat. Grill the kebabs for a few minutes on each side, until the meat is cooked to your desired doneness. Towards the end of the cooking time, brush the kebabs with the reserved sauce.

Apple-Cinnamon Quinoa

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One of the many things I’ve learned as a parent is never to assume that your children actually understand what you’re talking about, even if they’re nodding their heads and smiling with comprehension. Children are masterful at making sense of this great, odd world we live in. But there are times when their natural ability to process new experiences falls a bit short.

Take, for example, a few weeks ago, when we decided we’d build a deck off of the back of the house. As we discussed the plans with our neighbor, visited the local code enforcer for a permit, and bounced between hardware stores examining railings, we’d been throwing around the word ‘deck’ for weeks. Deck, deck, deck, deck, deck. When the time came for building to begin, the boys and I gazed out the window as the men worked the auger to dig the post holes. The boys watched as the men cemented eight large posts into place. And I rambled on about the deck, deck, deck. The next day, the men began removing the temporary stairs we’d put in place by the door. Panic washed over the boys’ faces. They watched nervously as the stairs were removed, leaving only the mysterious eight posts scattered around the lawn. Finally, my five-year-old asked, But how will we get down? In a matter of fact manner, I explained that we’d walk across the deck to where the new stairs will be, of course. He paused for a long moment and continued watching the men tear our old stairs off of the house, before finally asking, What’s a deck?

Sometimes the misunderstanding is as simple as a new vocabulary word, easily corrected with an explanation. Other times, the confusion runs much deeper. Recently, we lost a loved one. Since our boys haven’t had much experience with calling hours or funeral services, we anticipated that the experience would be foreign to them and potentially a bit frightening. So, as the day of the services approached, we spent some time chatting about what they could expect to happen. We discussed life and death, heaven, and the difference between our bodies and our souls. My five year old took the entire conversation in stride. He asked questions and seemed satisfied with the responses. It was all going very smoothly for a conversation about such deep issues with a five year old. I was practically patting myself on the back for my expert skills at discussing such a difficult topic with my kids. And then I explained that we would be seeing the body during the calling hours. I mentioned it casually, hoping to communicate a sense of normalcy about it. My little guy’s response was full of casual ease when he knowledgeably responded, Oh, I know. We’re going to see his bones. (As if that would be totally alright with him.) No, sweetie, we will not be seeing any bones and no, you may not touch the body. 

Glad we got that little misunderstanding out of the way ahead of time.

When we arrived at the funeral home, we made our way to the front where our loved one lay peacefully resting, glasses perched on his nose. The boys confidently strode to the front of the room, stood on the kneeler, and peered into the casket, which was open at the head end and closed over the leg end. They stared silently for awhile. I reminded the boys that his soul was already in heaven but that if they wanted to say something, I was certain he would hear it. My five year old quietly spoke a sweet message of love which brought tears to my eyes. And then he turned to his younger brother and said, “I know why they kept the bottom closed…so we can’t see his underpants.” The boys giggled about underpants for the rest of the afternoon. They went to bed talking about underpants.  (Somehow, it always comes back around to underpants.) And I’m again reminded not to assume that kids understand everything they appear to.

In between clearing up misunderstandings about decks, skeletons, and underpants, we’re still cooking away here at Chez Gourmand Mom. Recently, I made this sweet and satisfying apple-cinnamon quinoa, which makes a fantastic alternative for your morning oatmeal. It is wheat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, protein rich, and tasty as can be. Best yet, you can make a big batch ahead of time and reheat for a few seconds in the morning, making it a perfect option for busy weekdays. And if all of that wasn’t good enough, quinoa is a low-glycemic index food, meaning that it takes your body a long time to process all of that good nutrition, which will leaving your body feeling nicely satisfied until lunch rolls around. It’s simple, delicious, and nutritious…no room for misunderstanding here!

Apple-Cinnamon Quinoa

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups coconut milk*
  • 2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup dried apples, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
*A standard sized 15-ounce can of coconut milk contains just short of 2 cups. You can make up the difference with a bit of water.

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium/medium-high heat. Then, turn the heat down to low, cover, and allow it to gently simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the quinoa mixture to rest for 5 minutes covered. Remove the cover and toss the quinoa with a fork. Enjoy warm.

Makes about 4 servings

Mother’s Day Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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I get breakfast in bed once a year. On Mother’s Day. My breakfast in bed day is coming soon!! (For the record, my husband also gets breakfast in bed when Father’s Day rolls around.)

Last year, I got my breakfast in bed at the hospital, since I’d given birth to our third son the night before. But the year before that, my husband made me a delicious bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich. It was fantastic. The boys came dancing into the room, buzzing with excitement over serving me breakfast in bed. They’d mostly just watched their daddy preparing the meal, but they took full credit for it.

They may not have made that bagel sandwich, but even young kids are quite capable of preparing some pretty fantastic stuff in the kitchen (with a little help, of course). And there’s really nothing like that aura of pride which emanates from a child who just accomplished something awesome.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a Mother’s Day breakfast-in-bed recipe which is so simple that even preschoolers can complete almost every step on their own, with just a bit of adult direction. It starts with donuts, chopped into chunks, which are then sprinkled with raisins. Next, a mixture of half and half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon gets poured over the donuts. As it bakes, the donuts absorb the sweet, creamy mixture forming a lusciously decadent donut bread pudding.

This is good stuff, people. Make it for yourself if no one is going to make it for you. But, if you’ve got some kids who’d like to surprise you for Mother’s Day, here’s a step by step photo guide for them to follow.

Note to helper grown-up: It’s a good idea to gather all ingredients and supplies ahead of time, so you can move through the steps quickly. Young kids have a tendency to get distracted, lose interest, or start eating the donuts if you take too long between steps.

Step 1: Wash your hands. Then, ask a grown-up to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Use a paper towel to spread one tablespoon of softened butter all around a medium-sized baking dish.

Step 3: Using a child-safe knife, carefully chop 7 or 8 cake-style donuts into chunks. You can use plain, powdered, cinnamon, or apple-cider donuts. (We used a variety pack of plain/powdered/cinnamon Entermann’s donuts.)

Step 4: Arrange the chopped donuts in a baking dish.

Step 5: Sprinkle the raisins overs the donuts.

Step 6: Pour 2 cups of half and half into a large bowl or measuring cup.

Step 7: Add 1/2 cup sugar.

Step 8: Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Step 9: Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Throw a pinch of salt in there too!

Step 10: Ask a grown up to help you crack 4 eggs into a dish. Then, pour the eggs into the half and half mixture.

Step 11: Whisk the half and half mixture until it’s well blended.

Step 12: Pour the mixture over the donuts. Make sure you pour some over every donut.

Step 13: Gently press down on the donuts so they drink up the half and half mixture.

*The key to a great bread pudding is not to over-soak the bread (donuts, in this case). The donut chunks should be mostly submersed in the liquid, but not swimming in it. A few donuts peaking out of the top will help a nice crust to form on the top when it bakes.

Step 14:  Ask a grown-up to help you put the baking dish in the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes.

The bread pudding should look like this before it bakes.

Step 15: Ask a grown-up to help you take it out of the oven. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

*If desired, the bread pudding can be made the day before and reheated in the morning.

While the bread pudding is cooking, cut up some fresh fruit. It will trick Mommy into thinking she’s eating a healthy meal when it’s sitting next to her main course of donut pudding. (Mommies like to think they’re eating healthy.)

Cook a huge batch of bacon, because mommies like bacon.

Ask a grown-up to pour a glass of sparkly champagne or sparkling white grape juice for Mommy, because it’s a special day. A cup of hot coffee would be nice too.

Arrange everything nicely on a platter with a fresh flower or two and a handmade card. Your mommy will be in Mother’s Day heaven!

Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 7 or 8 cake-style donuts, chopped into chunks (plain, powdered, cinnamon, apple cider)
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the inside of a medium sized baking dish with the softened butter. Chop the donuts into chunks (about 1″ square). Arrange the donut chunks evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle the raisins on top. Combine the half and half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl or measuring cup. Whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the donuts and raisins. (Try not to over-soak the donuts.) Gently press down on the donuts so they are mostly submerged in the liquid. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

Grilled Chicken, Strawberry and Spinach Salad in an Orange Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

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Later this morning, I’ll be chatting with the morning host of Charlotte’s Lite 102.9. (Any Charlotte readers out there??) Lite 102.9 has recently begun featuring my blog on their website, which I think is super cool. And they have the great idea to put together a series of short audio clips about cooking, family, and this blog to air for their online streaming content listeners. I think that’s even cooler. I’m just hoping I don’t get stage fright…or phone fright, I suppose.

My husband says that I ought to practice my non-regional dialect and annunciation ala Will Ferrell Anchorman style. Unique New York. Unique New York. You know you need unique New York. The Human Torch was denied a bank loan. My husband believes that my accent may be a bit too Long Guyland-y for southern listeners. Of course, he’s just poking fun at me, but we do have some definite differences in agreement over how certain words should be pronounced.

In our 16 years together, some of our biggest arguments have revolved around how to pronounce the names Erin or Aaron and Carrie or Kerry. We’ve nearly come to blows over the proper way to say crayon (It’s definitely not ‘cran’). And don’t even get me started on orange. I can acknowledge that there’s an ‘or’ in the beginning of the word, so it could be pronounced like oar-inj, but that’s just not how I say it. And well…I’m just going to go eat my R-enges now.

However you say it, sweet oranges make me think of summer. And it doesn’t get much more summery than this light spinach salad, topped with a tender grilled chicken breast, sweet mandarin oranges and fresh strawberries, dressed in a vibrant orange and poppy seed vinaigrette. It’s bright, fresh, and perfect if you’re watching your waistline for summer!

Grilled Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad in an Orange Poppy Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • Juice and zest from 1 navel orange (about 1/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 grilled chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper), sliced
  • 8 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (approximately)
  • 8-10 strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup mandarin orange segments
  • 1 red onion, very thinly sliced

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the orange juice, zest, vinegar, olive oil, honey and poppy seeds until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper, to taste.

To assemble the salad: Toss the spinach leaves in some of the dressing. (Do not overdress.) Arrange a pile of the dressed spinach leaves on each plate. Top with the grilled chicken, red onions, strawberries, and oranges. Drizzle a little extra dressing over the chicken.

Makes 4 meal-sized salads

Chicken, Apple, and Peanut Salad

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I’m an emotional eater. It is hands-down my biggest dietary downfall. I know how to lose weight. I know exactly what I need to do. And when things are good, I  can stay focused on my goals and get the job done.

But then there are times when it feels like my head is spinning. Somebody’s digging through the fireplace ashes, somebody else is constructing an elaborate obstacle course of danger and destruction in the living room,  and somebody else is throwing a tantrum because he wanted to wear his Ghostbusters t-shirt for the third day in a row. (My sister says I should just let the kids do what they want so they will be happy. She might be right.) The dishes are piled up. There’s a mound of dirty clothes lying on the kitchen floor, begging to be added to the laundry that is also piling up. The dog’s hair is rolling in tumbleweeds across the living room. And the million tiny Lego pieces, which I just finished picking up so the baby won’t eat them, are scattered all over the living room floor. Again. I don’t even know when it happened. My heart is racing and I’m barking commands like a well-practiced drill sergeant.

Put some clothes on. We don’t cook in the nude (giving new meaning to the term ‘Naked Chef’).

Stop trying to eat the stroller while I’m pushing it.

Books are for reading. Not eating.

The bathroom is not a play place. 

Somehow, the very same things which are my life’s greatest blessings are also the source of my greatest stresses. I often find it difficult to embrace this time in my life when somebody is always crying or whining or complaining or needing something. Whoever said you should live in the moment and be ever present in your life, clearly didn’t have a screaming baby in his arms or small whirling dervishes tearing the world apart around their feet. I don’t want to live in those moments. I just want to get through them. I’m sure they will all seem more magical in retrospect.

My life is beautiful. It’s joyous. It’s filled with amazing blessings. But it overwhelms me sometimes. And when I feel like I’m spinning in everyone else’s needs, with my heart pounding from my inability to keep up, I console myself with food. I can’t take a break or go for a run when the stress builds to explosive levels. Deep breathing doesn’t usually work. A spontaneous dance party sometimes does. But when it doesn’t, I eat. And eat and eat. Until I’m stuffed and refueled enough to pull myself together enough to clean the yogurt off the wall and wash that Ghostbusters t-shirt for the fifth time this week.

Of course, the emotional eating usually just makes me feel worse in the long run. I’m conscious of that fact even as I’m shoveling the food into my mouth, but it doesn’t really matter in the moment. All this goes to say that my head’s been spinning extra fast and extra often lately (these things always seem to come and go in waves) and my progress towards a healthier me has suffered. I was open about my goals and successes when I set about my New Year’s resolutions, so it’s only fair that you know I’m struggling to stay the course right now. I’m remorseful, but not defeated. I have every intention of pulling myself together with some good, healthy, satisfying meals, like this super tasty, protein-rich salad.

This salad came to me in a half-conscious dream, in the middle of the night last week. The baby was in bed with me, sleeping poorly (all four of his top front teeth have come through in the past two weeks). The two of us were in and out of sleep for hours that night. And every time I was stirred, this salad was on my mind. Chicken. Apples. Peanut Vinaigrette. I spent a lot of drowsy time that evening trying to decide whether that flavor combination made sense. I decided it did. We tested it last night. It’s a winner. (The bacon wasn’t in my dream, but it was in my fridge and was screaming to join this salad. A very welcome addition, indeed.)

I know I’m not the only emotional eater out there. What strategies do you use for getting through those stressful moments without overindulging in food?

Chicken, Apple, and Peanut Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 cups lettuce or mixed greens, chopped
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 2 apples, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
  • 2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced*

For the peanut vinaigrette:

  • 1/6 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/6 cup olive oil
  • 1/6 cup peanut butter
  • 1/6 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red curry powder
*I seasoned my chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then baked in a 350 degrees oven for about 30 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of your chicken breasts.

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until well blended.

To assemble the salad, arrange about 2 cups of lettuce on each plate. Top with the sliced apples, bacon, and chicken breast. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Drizzle with the peanut vinaigrette.

Makes about 4 salads

Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie

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There’s a team spirit around here like nothing I’ve ever experienced anywhere else. Everyone goes bananas (or maybe I should say oranges) over our local Syracuse University basketball team, the Syracuse Orange. It’s a passion that has nothing to do with where a person actually went to school, and everything to do with the place we call home. I’ve never seen an entire city so consumed with team spirit. The way a typical city turns green on St. Patty’s Day is the way this place turns orange on the day of an SU game. There’s a sort of magic to it all.

Out of necessity, I broke my unwritten rule and ventured into my grocery store yesterday (on a Saturday) to return some movies I’d rented from Redbox. The place was a predictable madhouse. But there was something else at play inside the store. It was like an unspoken rally for our hometown team. Syracuse balloons floated up from every table. Displays of elaborately decorated SU cookies and orange and blue frosted cupcakes tempted team spirit with sweets. And a full wall of the store was decorated with an arrangement of Fanta and Pepsi boxes in an SU design.

But beyond that, nearly every person I passed was dressed in their favorite Syracuse Orange gear. T-shirts, hats, and hoodies. My grocery store was a living, breathing playground of team spirit. And it was contagious.

I’ve never really followed sports of any kind. Being a Yankees fan is in my blood and I’m darn proud of it, but I barely follow the baseball season. In fact, I know very little about baseball. I didn’t go to an undergrad college known for sports, so I never experienced that swell of excitement on game day. And though my graduate school had some teams to be proud of, I commuted to classes and was never engaged in that part of the school community.

But as I was walking through my grocery store, surrounded by the infectious excitement for our local team, I could feel my blood turn orange. I became a true Syracusian sometime during that grocery trip. I’ve lived here for almost five years now. It’s about time I joined the team. During that grocery trip, I bought myself my first SU t-shirt and a couple shirts for the boys. I even picked up a pack of SU shaped pasta in all of the excitement (though I refused to get the SU antennae balls that the boys insisted they needed).

And I made this pie. I call it an Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie, since it’s got the sweet flavors of fresh orange combined with a smooth vanilla custard…reminiscent of a bite into a frozen Creamsicle bar. I nestled the custard into a vanilla cookie crust and topped it with vanilla accented whipped cream and fresh orange slices. The boys are calling it ‘SU Pie’. Whatever you call it, don’t cheat on the fresh oranges with pre-squeezed juice. The fresh zest is one the MVPs when it comes to the flavor in this recipe. Use fresh oranges.

We let the boys stay up late last night to see the beginning of the game. They wore their new t-shirts, ate SU pasta salad and SU pie, and created long lists for all of the SU gear our family suddenly needs. Our team ended their run for the season last night, but it’s ok. It was a good game. I think I could get into watching basketball. In fact, I think this could be the start of something…

Orange Creamsicle Custard Pie

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 2 cups vanilla wafers, crushed to fine crumbs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest*
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice*
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

For the Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
*Two large oranges should provide the zest and juice necessary for this recipe.

Directions

To prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the vanilla wafer crumbs and the melted butter. Press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of a pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

To prepare the filling: Combine the milk, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract, salt, and orange zest in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5-6 minutes until the mixture comes to a gentle boil and begins to thicken. (It should be quite noticeable when the thickening occurs.) Remove from heat. In a bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Slowly add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk to combine. Add another 1/4 cup of the hot milk and whisk to combine. (This slow addition of the hot liquid tempers the egg yolks and prevents them from scrambling when added to the hot liquid.) Pour the egg mixture into the pot. Bring the mixture to a very gentle boil, whisking constantly. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture becomes even thicker. Whisk in the orange juice and lemon juice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Allow to cool slightly, whisking every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Refrigerate for a few hours to set.

For the whipped cream: Beat together the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract until thick. Use the whipped cream and additional fresh oranges or fresh orange zest to garnish the pie, as desired.

Curried Chicken Salad with Apricots and Cashews

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My husband and I have a tendency to get sucked into tv shows, especially when we jump on the bandwagon a little late and have the benefit of being able to marathon our way through previous seasons.

Long ago, in our young, child-free lives, we found ourselves sucked into The Sopranos. This was way back in the day when people rented movies from places like Blockbuster. Netflix was still in its infancy, Redbox didn’t exist at all, and cable on-demand options were limited. But, there was good ol’ Blockbuster…reliable as long as you managed to snag the video you wanted, before someone else did. My husband and I picked up The Sopranos a few seasons into its run. And we got hooked. We’d stay up way too late, drinking way too much beer, and then find ourselves walking to Blockbuster at 11:30pm (or running if we were minutes before closing) to get the next disc…for just one more episode. It was a rough adjustment once we’d caught up and had to wait week to week for new episodes and months or even years between seasons. But, that excitement of getting caught up in a show is so much fun.

Most recently, Battleship Galactica did it again for us…this time on Netflix streaming, which saved us those midnight runs to the video store. The show hooked us in the same way as The Sopranos, maybe even more so. We never would have predicted that a sci-fi show (not our typical genre) would have had us watching the clock until the time we could put the kiddies to bed so we could fire up another episode. One more, just one more…and then we’ll go to bed, for serious. It was a sad day when we watched that last episode, knowing the show had long since ended its run. I still miss you, Commander Adama.

And now it’s happened again. After hearing about it left and right, we decided to check out Downton Abbey, a relatively new PBS series which follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their house servants. And it’s got us firmly in its elegant grasp. I love this show. We’re a few episodes into the first season and I’m completely entangled in its bizarrely formal world. Suddenly, I find myself making lengthy to-do lists:

  • Acquire an English accent.
  • Hire a lady’s maid. (Google lady’s maid responsibilities.)
  • Begin introducing myself as Lady Amy of Syracuse.
  • Install service bells in all rooms of the house.
  • Use the word “indeed” more often.
  • Begin wearing evening gowns for dinner each evening. (Check amazon.com for vintage evening gowns.)
  • Take more naps and drink more tea.
  • Spend more time trying to figure out who my sons will marry.
  • Purchase a collection of cufflinks for my husband.
  • Build a room to sit in while I wait for the cooks to finish making my daily feast.
  • Hire cooks.

Clearly, I’m going to be very busy. It’s no wonder those ladies need to take so many naps. In the mean time, I’m going to continue wearing my sweatpants, responding to Mommy (or maybe Lady Mommy), and cooking my own meals.

I am crazy about chicken salad. It’s always such an easy, satisfying meal (especially on those nights when you wish you were just sitting around waiting for someone to cook your dinner). When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I make chicken salad. There are so many possible ways to make it and I love them all…just as long as they’re not too mayonnaisey. But mix the chicken with different spices, fruits, nuts, or veggies and it’s hard to go wrong. One of my recent favorites is this curried chicken salad with bits of dried apricots and crunchy cashews. Serve it over a bed of mixed greens or on your favorite bread. Stuffed inside a slightly warmed pita round would be heavenly, indeed.

Curried Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 large chicken breasts, cooked and chopped or torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup cashews, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/8 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine mayonnaise, mustard, and curry powder. Stir in the chicken, apricots, cashews, celery, onion. Season with salt and cayenne pepper, as desired.

Serves about 4

In other news, this little man has started taking his first, wobbly steps. I think I’m going to have my hands full for a while. Might be just the time to make a big batch of this easy, delicious chicken salad!

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