Month: June 2015

Up North

What is Up North? It’s so vague, right? …And yet so specific. To a Michigander, like me it’s a state of mind, full of pine trees, often a water source and sand, fresh air and outdoor activities. Literally I think many people consider a certain point on I75, maybe somewhere around Gaylord where all of the sudden when you reach that point, you are ‘up north.’ Of course there is further north, all the way in the Upper Peninsula. Regardless of your classification, I think everyone can agree that they love up north. Oh my goodness; Sand dunes, boat rides, fishing trips, canoes, kayaks, hikes through the woods, campfires, hot dogs, s’mores, turtles, seagulls, deer, squirrels and chipmunks… to name a few associated words. And if you’ve experienced this, then you probably also can imagine the sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze, the crunch of twigs and leaves under your feet or those of the woodland animals, the smell of the smoke from last nights fire, the sound of rippling waves and the splash of fish and frog jumping in the water. (Block out the mosquitoes.) And you’re there, and you really want to be there… you know. That’s it alright. Up North.

Fire Roasted Red Pepper and Gouda-Parm Baked Ziti

How many ingredients can you fit into the name of your dish? No matter. This pasta dish is perfect. It’s cheesy and saucy, noodle-y and yummy.  It’s somewhat traditional with a modern twist. I mean come on, let’s eat already.

Serves 8

As organic as possible:

2 red peppers

1 medium tomato

3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp dried basil

2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes with basil

1 tsp sugar, rounded

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

8 oz Gouda-Parmesan cheese (such as Trader Joe’s) freshly grated

2 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

1 lb Ziti (or Penne…)
There are a couple steps to this recipe, but you can do this, and it’s worth it! Wash and dry your peppers and tomato. Then over a flame burner or grill, char the skins of the peppers and tomato until there is black on all sides. Place the charred veggies (and fruit) in an air tight container or plastic bag and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

Remove charred skins from the fire roasted peppers and tomato. Slice the peppers into strips and discard stems and seeds. Roughly chop the tomatoes  and place all of the roasted produce in a food processor. Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil and purée.

In a large pot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Generously salt the water and cook the ziti (or penne, or what-have-you) about 1-2 minutes less than the package instructions. Strain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Place noodles back in the pot and set aside.

In the mean time heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Sauté onions for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add pepper purée, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Let simmer/sauté for 10-15 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar and pepper. Stir and check for seasonings. Add salt, herbs and sugar as necessary. (Keeping in mind cheese will be salty too.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Let the sauce simmer for at least 15-20 minutes.

Add the sauce to the noodles and gently stir to coat. Add Gouda-Parm and Parmesan to the noodle mixture and gently toss to distribute cheese evenly. Place half of the noodle mixture in a large baking dish. Place half of the mozzarella slices sporadically on top of the pasta. Layer the rest of the pasta-cheese mixture and top again with the remaining mozzarella slices. *Dish can be prepared ahead of time to this point. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until mozzarella is melted and pasta is baked to perfection. Let pasta cool slightly before serving. Enjoy yourself, it’s a dolce vita.

#Dudeperfect Número 3

It’s now officially a thing…

Nutty Banana Brownies

These are scrumptious. They are moist, chocolaty, nutty, and sweet. They are my favorite way to use up bananas. These brownies also have whole wheat flour, so you can feel good about them. Of course, you can use all-purpose flour too and still feel good about them, because they are just that good.

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

1/4 cup chunky peanut butter

2 eggs

1 Tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 whole wheat flour (all purpose flour works just fine too)

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup chocolate chips, tossed in a tsp of wheat flour (all-purpose flour is fine)

1/2 chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9 square baking pan and set aside. In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter. Take off the heat and let cool slightly. Add the sugar, cocoa powder and peanut butter to melted butter. Stir until all is mixed together. In a separate bowl add vanilla to eggs and beat lightly. Add eggs and vanilla mixture, along with the milk to the cocoa mixture and stir. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixture and stir until combined. Place the mashed bananas into the mix, and gently stir again, mixture will be lumpy. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving. These brownies are great at room temperature (even better I think), and the bananas keep them moist for days (if they last that long). But if you must eat them warm, because they made your whole house smell incredible and you can’t wait… Please do yourself a favor and dab a little Nutella on the top, because chocolate and hazelnuts goes perfectly with nutty banana brownies.

Allergy Induced Eczema?

About two weeks after my son was born, he began to develop a red sandpaper like rash on his face. Our pediatrician said it looked like eczema and suggested moisturizing the area with Aquafor. A week later, his scalp and side-burn areas of his face were secreting a yellow discharge of some sort, along with the persistent rash still on his face. To the doctor’s eye it looked like “cradle cap gone wild” and she suggested an over the counter dandruff shampoo. Sadly, this only seemed to inflame the rash, and things were getting dismal. In the mean time we were trying everything we could find, by research and suggestion, to no avail. Aveeno Baby Eczema lotion, Eucerin Baby Eczema lotion, organic coconut oil (a natural anti-fungal moisturizer,) cotton clothing only, no contact with perfumes or dyes, hypoallergenic all natural baby soaps, etc., no matter what we tried, he was getting progressively worse. (Warning: some of these pictures might be disturbing.)

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Food allergies were ruled out at this time because the affected area was limited to his face and scalp, so if it were allergy related at all, it seemed to be something he was coming into contact with. By eight weeks old he was oozing so profoundly from his head that I was changing his saturated (around the neck) clothing and cloth diapers, we kept under him as a cotton barrier, three times a night. We decided to take him to a pediatric dermatologist. Thankfully, we live not too far from the University of Michigan hospital. We called through Mott’s, the children hospital and set up an appointment.

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I was hopeful as the resident was asking questions about his health. I relayed every bit of information I could think of. “No, he didn’t look like this at birth. Yes, he has been exposed to illness; his siblings are on antibiotics for strep throat. Yes, he did have an antibiotic at about 4 weeks for dark green boogers. Yes, the condition has begun to spread onto his shoulders and leg…” Two more doctors came in, examined him from head to toe and discussed his condition. They decided it was atopic dermatitis (eczema) and sent us home with a topical steroid and an oral antibiotic. It was a 10 day treatment with a follow-up in about 2 weeks.

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Relieved to have expert diagnosis, we started the regimen. To my great relief he started to improve within 24 hours. By two days he looked clear, and we seemed to have gotten through it! Whew, what a nightmare! But by day four into our new routine, his face began to break out. By day seven he looked about the same as when we had brought him in. We were back to constant surveillance, never to be left unattended for his incessant scratching. Well, thankfully, we had this scheduled follow-up appointment.

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Upon our return to the U of M Dermatology department, we were again questioned by a new resident and examined by two new physicians (apparently one of our first doctors was on vacation). They discussed in Latin terms amongst themselves, what they thought was going on. They apologized for any rudeness. Whatever, I mean do your thing. Just help my baby, and I’m good. It was decided that he had two overlapping conditions, the afore mentioned atopic dermatitis and a seborrheic dermatitis (in the family of cradle cap). Ok, just tell me what I need to do. In addition to the topical steroid, they added an anti-fungal lotion and shampoo and sent us home, no follow-up necessary.

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Immediately upon first application of our new products, Noah had a crazy reaction. His redness and irritation was magnified. And that’s when it dawned on me; they don’t know what’s going on with him. They’re just guessing! So, what am I doing to my son? Experimenting? I was completely depleted and very worried. (Disclaimer: I believe the U of M Health Systems is loaded with talented doctors that do much good. This is just my experience as one of their patients.) I decided I should call their office and let them know what happened. The woman who answered the phone said most of the physicians had left for the day, and advised me to stop treatment (the best advice given out of that whole office). She let me know that someone from the Dermatology department would call me the following day. The next day a resident did call me back; I explained what happened and asked him his thoughts. He replied that he had not seen Noah, and couldn’t say. Okay, well certainly he must have our file with the opinions of his colleagues in front of him. So, I continued to say that Noah had been diagnosed with atopic and seborrheic dermatitis and I was wondering if the anti-fungal treatment for the ‘seborriheic,’ however it’s pronounced, could have upset the ‘atopic’ part. I mean, that seems pretty straight forward to me, right? I assume he did go to medical school after all. But nope, he couldn’t answer that either without having seen him. Well then why (I thought to myself) couldn’t one of the two other residents or four residing physicians that had seen him have called me back??? Next, I kid you not, he asked in the most dismissive way “So, what would you like to do? Make an appointment?” I answered that I guessed so, to which he stated “I’ll have the scheduling department give you a call.” By the time they called, I had changed my mind.

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Noah was now three months old, and no better. I made an appointment with our family dermatologist who it first glance said Noah is allergic to something you are eating. She advised that I stop nursing- to be continued later, and introduce a non-dairy hypoallergenic formula (Nutramigen) into his diet. She recommended that we also add probiotic into his diet, due to the antibiotics he had been given in his short amount of being, and suggested adding a small amount of hemp oil into his bottles to start moisturizing from the inside out. And although I was heart broken about possibly being the source of his problem, I appreciated the less abrasive approach. She asked about his stool, no one had done that before either. Yes, it was a mucous type diarrhea since birth, unlike the ‘mustard curds’ of my previous children. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? She explained that what is going on in the tissue outside of his body was happening on the inside too. That made sense, duh!

To speed things along, I will say that even with the strides made, my son was still in a bad condition. It seemed hopeless. At this point we were struggling to grow skin on his cheeks. His skin tissue was in such disrepair that the slightest wipe from his mitted hands would scrape it off. It was an endless cycle. It was at this time my dear friend, saw an article with a picture of a baby girl, whose face looked just like Noah’s. The doctors at Children’s Hospital in Detroit had diagnosed her with a milk allergy and staph infection. Detroit? That was practically in our back yard! We took him there the next morning.

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Right away, the ER department took a culture of his skin. They were surprised that it hadn’t been done before, and so were we. Sure enough, Noah tested positive for a staph infection. Thankfully it was a common strep, the type that can be found on most normal skin, and easily treatable. It’s just that he had no barrier on his skin. As it turns out (from blood tests, also not previously done) he also had an extremely weak immune system and is highly allergenic.

By doing extensive (heartbreaking) testing, they doctors at Children’s Hospital were able to eliminate life-threatening illnesses (that I don’t even want to mention and am well aware there are many children unfairly suffering from) and less serious conditions, such as a zinc deficiency. We are continuing to work with dermatologists, allergists, etc. and Noah seems to be stabilized. He is by no means out of the woods, so to speak, but he is not getting worse and alas that is progress.

I wish I could describe this happy ending full of great results. Unfortunately, it seems that it is very difficult to determine allergies at his age, and truly is a trial by error situation. So, for the time being he gets a daily bath or more (of just water, no soap, no bleach), and moisturized (by vasoline, which yes, is petroleum based, but is 1 ingredient to simplify things) from head to toe several times a day. He takes allergy medicine around the clock and gets topical steroids and a topical antibiotic as needed. I brush my teeth one handed, vacuum with the Bjorn, and swaddle him to change his brother’s diaper. My four year old daughter holds his hands, while I run to the bathroom and I schedule my showers by visits from grandparents. I cut his fingernails and change bed sheets every three days. I literally sleep holding his hands, and still wake up in a panic that he has scratched his face. (As a side note, related to allergens and sleeping: have you ever seen those blown up pictures of dust mites? Whoa, that’s enough to give a grown woman nightmares! Change your sheets people, just sayin’)

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For what it’s worth, this is my story. We do have some better days than others. I am perplexed that in this day and age, they still don’t have answers or remedies for things like this. And I am resigned to the fact that God has us going through this trial for a reason. So for now, we just keep on keeping on. I have been told that many children are able to grow out of this, and I am remaining optimistic. If anyone can relate, I hope you can find solace in knowing that you are not alone. If anyone has knowledge and experience to share, my ears are wide open!

Guacamole Salsa

Guacamole is a perfect summer dip. It’s a guilt free creamy indulgence. When combined with other bold fresh flavors and piled high on a salty corn chip it screams “fiesta!” Of course don’t limit yourself to corn chips; it also makes a great sandwich spread. For an even healthier treat, stack it tall on cold crunchy leaves of romaine or roll it in cool pockets of iceberg lettuce.

Serves 8

As organic as possible:
1 small onion diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced small

3 small tomatoes, seeds and juice discarded (as much a possible, don’t work too hard)

½ tsp coarse salt

1 dash cayenne pepper

4 ripe avocados; pitted, diced and scooped out of the skins
Juice of 2 medium limes

Place the onion, garlic, jalapeno, tomato, salt,  and cayenne in a bowl. If you’ve never worked with avocados, don’t worry; I’ll step you through it. On a ripe avocado, one with a little give when pushed, the skin may appear tough, but isn’t. Using a chef’s knife, cut lengthwise (top to bottom) all the way through to the pit. Continue all the way around the avocado until you have cut a full circle. Set down the knife and hold the fruit in your hand. Twist half of the avocado at the cut, holding the other half steady in your hand. Once it gives, separate the two halves. One of the halves should have retained the pit. Use the chef’s knife (being very careful not to cut yourself) and give the pit a little whack, just enough to get an edge of the knife inside. Then holding the avocado twist the knife enough to loosen and remove the pit. Carefully pull the pit off of your knife and discard. While the fruit is still in its skin, I like to cut a diamond pattern (dicing it) in the flesh and use a tablespoon to scoop it out along the skin.
Place the diced avocado in the bowl, and add lime juice. Gently toss, just mixing until combined, not to mash the avocado. (I like big chunks.)

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Serve immediately (pool side if possible) as avocados have a tendency to turn brown when left in open air too long. If juice settles, feel free to re-toss. Happy Eating!

Side note: If you need to store it in the refrigerator, gently press plastic wrap against the guacamole to eliminate as much air as possible from contacting the avocados… and the lime juice will help.

Burnt Popcorn

My Grandma Curtis was a real pioneer. She was not a pioneer in the prairie way, it was more of an unconventional progressive way. My great-grandfather, whom I never met, was not around. My great-grandmother was a hard working self sufficient mother of three and, as the story goes, better off without him. (However, they never got a divorce or married another, and I believe she truly loved my great-grandfather). Now, my grandma got her can do spirit from her mother I’m sure. And she worked very hard to provide for herself and eventually her mother. For, she said, “their hearts beat as one.”

All of this independence and achievement, however, left very little time in the kitchen. She wasn’t the type of grandma to have freshly baked cookies in the oven or to pass on her secret recipe on how to make- anything. Regardless, I have very fond memories of sitting at her kitchen table and talking with her (mostly about Jesus) over perfectly sweet homemade grape jelly and burnt toast. Actually, she was notorious, in our family, for burning everything she cooked. Whether it was toast, popcorn or pecan pie, grandma had a way of slightly blackening everything. And perhaps it truly is my love for my grandmother and the precious time she spent with me, but I liked it!

In fact, even now, I prefer my popcorn burnt. I know most people think it’s gross. Yes, it stinks up the whole house. (Ideally, I should do it on a beautiful day so I can open the windows.) But, I can’t help it. It’s right up there with the crispy cheese corner of lasagna and the sticky charred sauce on BBQ grilled chicken.

Nora Fleming Ware

I am crazy about Nora Fleming. I think her idea for one dish that is interchangeable for any occasion is brilliant. It’s perfect for entertaining because you just have to store one (or two…) dishes! Then you change your ornament to fit the occasion! And they are so cute. The day I stumbled upon these in a Von Maur department store, I played in their gift department for over an hour. I hadn’t had that much fun playing since Barbie. I think I placed every ornament into every dish. And every time I got equally excited. The platters are great for bringing your dish to a party, you can instantly match the event or ‘label’ your dish so people know what it is. Of course, the Fourth of July is approaching so the flag is perfect. If you are bringing veggies, use the adorable artichoke. What’s your event? Christmas? Just put in the stocking, or Santa cap, or reindeer or holly & berries ornament. Thanksgiving? There is a turkey for that, or the cute pumpkins, which you could use all fall long. Mother’s Day? She made a darling pink flower, which you could also use for a shower or just spring. Or for spring use the bird, or the nest with eggs… or the butterfly!

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Birthday Party? They have a really cute colorful party hat.

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BBQ? Use the hamburger or the ketchup and mustard.

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Strawberry Themed Shower…or Fruit platter?

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I have to stop. I could get really carried away.

For more information: http://www.norafleming.com

Caramelized Onion & Cheese Tart

Don’t you just love rustic looking tarts? They are like the most understated cool. Like, I’m all that and I’m not even trying. I’m totally flavorful and unpretentious. I could go on…  Just make the tart, it’s yummy and you’re going to like the way it looks on your table.

Tart serves 6

Crust:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

5 oz (10 Tbsp) cold and cubed unsalted butter

2 Tbsp ice cold water

1 large egg

Caramelized Onions:

3-4 medium onions (about 2 ½ cups), thinly sliced (and left in rings if possible)

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp butter

1 tsp granulated garlic

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

½ tsp dried thyme

Filling:

8 oz ricotta cheese

½ grated Parmesan

1 egg, beaten

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Caramelized onions

Egg wash:

1 egg

2 Tbsp water

Place the flour, salt and butter in a food processor. Turn it on and let it process until it resembles course bread crumbs. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time and pulse. Add the egg and pulse again until it forms a doughish mass. (Add 1 more tablespoon of water if- and only if- need be.) Gently knead the dough and form into a ball, place in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag. Flatten slightly, so it resembles a disc (easier to roll out) and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To caramelize the onions, heat oil and butter in a saute pan on a medium heat. When butter starts to foam, add onions. Let them go a few minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning and promote even browning. After about 5 minutes, add the granulated garlic, salt, pepper (a sprinkling) and thyme. Stir to incorporate the seasoning and allow the onions to continue to cook, for about 25 more minutes, stirring occasionally but letting them do their thing, until all rich and golden and caramelized.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and set aside. In a bowl mix mix ricotta, Parmesan, egg and pepper. When all combined, fold in onions and set aside. Mixture should be thick, not runny.

On a floured surface, roll out dough. The best part about the “rustic” tart is that it doesn’t have to be perfect in shape, so circle-ish is fine. Just try to keep it even in thickness. When rolled out about 10-11 inches, transfer and center dough on a baking sheet. Place the cheese and onion mixture in the center of the crust and fold up the edges all the way around. Brush the dough with the egg wash and place in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, until crust is golden. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving. Tart is rich and cheesy (and awesome) so I recommend serving it with something lighter, like a Mesclun salad with a vinaigrette dressing or apple slices.

Happy Father’s Day

I have a great dad. Let’s face it, I’m a daddy’s girl. I always have been. My dad is the best coach, cheerleader and teammate ever; as in “I’ll teach you everything I know. I’m proud of you. And we’re in this together, you are not alone.” He is very patient, extremely generous and a great listener. He has been a great example of a husband and father. I could get really choked up talking about my dad. God has blessed me greatly. He is also the best to cook for. He’ll try anything. 

Now I think my husband is a great father. But he’s not my dad… So from the horses’ (or kid’s) mouth’s;

(BTW getting an interview out of them is like pulling teeth)…

Naomi, our 4 year old says “He’s sweet and kind. He’s a good dad. He is my twin.”

Isaiah, age 9, says “He’s very nice.” Really. That’s all I could get out of him.

Elijah is two, he said “He plays with us. I took my shoes off. God loves daddy.”

Noah, the baby, was sleeping so I could jot this down. Of course if he could talk, I’m sure he’d say something deeply profound.

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Steve is Owen’s dad. He’s pensive, dependable and loyal. He’s always willing to help. He loves his children and grandchildren, all nine of them! Many people have issues with their in-laws, not me; he is a great father-in-law.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!