We are active members of a local playgroup, and we love it. It gets us out of the house at least twice a week to do new things and meet new people. Activities are posted on the website's calendar and you pick and choose which ones look appropriate for you and your child. My oldest loves to feed the horses at the retired horse farm, feed the ducks at the hospital duck pond, and feed the fish in the koi pond at the Japanese restaurant. Recently an acitivity called "Feed a Frog Friday" was posted on the calendar and we immediately signed up. I'm not much for amphibians, or the bugs they eat, but my husband was available to join us and it sounded like fun for my tomboy. So we get there, and they ask all the children to sit down in a room full of folding chairs with tanks of creepy animals all around the room and a stuffed hawk hanging from the ceiling. The lady starts talking about frogs. She continues to talk about frogs. Audrey wants to stand on a stool to see the animals in the back of the room. She is told to sit down. "I'm sorry.....it's pretty unreasonable to ask three-year-olds to sit still for this," I point out. "If she can't move around we're going to have to leave. And I was under the impression we would be feeding frogs...?" "Oh, you will! I just don't want her to fall!" Okay fine. Lady at the front takes a giant toad out of the tank and holds it up for the kids to see. She reads a story about frogs. She takes a snake out of a tank. "Now we don't want to scare the snake," she says. "So be sure not to make any sudden movements." I'm starting to wonder if she realizes her audience is made up of 20 three-to-six year olds. By this point my husband has taken the screaming baby out for a walk, and I have to be the one restraining the squirming toddler while she PETS A SNAKE. *Shudders*. After they pet the snake, it goes back in the tank, and she pulls out a dead mouse to feed to the snake. I assume it ate the mouse, that was not something I was about to watch. Around minute forty, Audrey is saying, "I want to feed the frogs I want to feed the frogs I want to feed the frogs I want to feed the frogs," and I have to tell her I don't think it's going to be happening. And then we were thanked for coming and asked to bring a friend next time. Fat chance. Why they call it feed-a-frog-fridays, I will never understand. There was no frog-feeding involved. Luckily my somewhat disappointed toddler was calmed with a granola bar and a long drive home, during which she conked out. Long lectures are exhausting.
Today my hematologist said having three children is like making a milkshake with the lid off of your blender. It works, but it can get messy. And yes, I have been battling the symptoms of the first trimester of my third pregnancy, which explains to you why I haven't been blogging about cooking, if you've ever been pregnant. Cooking is not something you want to do when you're newly pregnant. Every odor is enhanced during cooking and that is bad for nausea. I have literally been leaving the house when my husband cooks, so I don't have to smell it (or him). But I'm at week 13 now and it has been getting better, so I actually cooked last night! Whoo-hoo. I made a menu, and went grocery shopping and everything. The menu helps keep me accountable. I wrote on there, "Thursday, Chicken with Mushroom sauce, Sauteed Asparagus, and couscous," so I have to do it, right? Usually :)
Today I actually did NOT want fried food for lunch and went to two different places to get myself something healthy instead of ordering what I got for the kids. I also did not eat breakfast AND had blood drawn and was totally fine until lunch at 1. Hello, trimester 2. You're my favorite.
And all this feeling better might have something to do with the fact that we finally had a date night the other night for the first time since before my inlaws were here just before Thanksgiving. Over the holidays we were trying to save money, and with babysitters charging what they do, and me wanting to throw up everywhere we went, we weren't doing much. But we finally went out for sushi (hold on a sec before you realize I shouldn't be eating raw fish) and frozen yogurt and a movie. The sushi restaurant is one of the best places in town and they have a lot of delicious, cooked, pregnancy-friendly selections. I had a delightful baked salmon roll and a smoked eel roll; and was soooo thoroughly ecstatic and satisfied to be eating sushi, OUT, with my husband and no kids. The Mochi is conveniently located right next door and we couldn't resist. Their almond yogurt is to die for, and I could eat those little mochi balls non-stop. I'm into royalty (see Halloween blog) so we went to see the King's Speech and it was excellent. Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, and multiple other Harry Potter cameos; you can't go wrong. It was lovely to see something focused on one of the kings of the twentieth century as well; Elizabeth II is so prominent a figure but people don't always look to her immediate predecessors for storytelling.
We did not order drinks while we were out, and we did not order anything at the theater, and with a sitter it still cost us a hundred bucks. Once a month, maybe.....
And on to last night's dinner. This is my very own, made-up recipe. There aren't many of them, but they're good. It's a pretty standard white wine and cream sauce, a little similar to Chicken Marsala or Chicken Divan, but made with the stuff I already have in my house.
Chicken with Mushroom Sauce
Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, and thyme if you like it. Saute them in olive oil until they're browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and cover with foil or a lid. Add some butter, and the (sliced white) mushrooms to the hot pan. I use an 8oz package of mushrooms. When they're getting soft, scoot them to one side of the pan and make a roux on the other side. This is done by melting a few tablespoons of butter and then whisking in about a tablespoon of flour. Cook it for a minute, then stir it into the mushrooms. This will prevent your sauce (gravy, as it really is; most gravies are made this way) from getting lumpy, because the flour is already dissolved into the butter and will disperse itself evenly through the liquid you're about to add. Pour in about a cup of dry white wine (I keep a cheap box of chardonnay in the fridge for cooking. You're supposed to cook with good wine, but good wine doesn't last that long in my house). Use a whisk to scrape up all the goodness in the bottom of the pan, all that buttery chickeny mushroomy flavor, as well as to incorporate the roux into the wine. Boil the sauce for a few minutes; the wine will reduce (evaporate, thicken and concentrate) by about half and then you can add the cream. Use half a cup to a cup of whatever fat concentration you prefer, whatever looks good, and then cook it some more until it reduces again. Give it a taste, season it with salt and pepper if you like, and add the chicken back in. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the chicken is cooked all the way through. If you have really thin cutlets, the initial sautee may have done the trick, but they usually need a little more than that, so just check on them after about three minutes and you should be good to go. Remove the chicken onto your plates, whisk and taste the sauce again, and pour the sauce over the chicken.
You can really go to town with the sauce; add all kinds of herbs, try it with a different wine or a different veggie; try dredging the chicken in flour before sauteeing instead of making the roux, etc etc. Try it with heavy cream, light cream, or broth instead of wine. Rachael Ray likes to add a little high-quality dijon mustard to her pan sauces to act as a quick emulsifier (it's what they put in mayonnaise to make the oil 'stick' to the vinegar) so her sauce doesn't separate. It works that way in homemade salad dressing too.
Asparagus is a great veggie to make with your toddler, because you can prepare it without a knife. The whitish stems break off (to then be discarded) and the rest of the stalk will again break in half, leaving the perfect size for sauteeing. My 3-year-old puts on her princess apron, climbs up on the kitchen bench, and breaks asparagus with me. Not only does this occupy her for a whole five minutes, it also makes her MORE LIKELY TO EAT THE ASPARAGUS. It's miraculous.
Sautee the asparagus with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, until it is tenderized but still slightly crunchy. If you want soggy asparagus, buy it canned. Serve it alongside the chicken.
Couscous is one of my favorite things to keep in the house. The kids love it, we love it, it comes in various flavors, it goes with everything, and it cooks in five minutes with no attention from me. You bring some water to a boil, add the couscous, put the lid on, take it off the heat, and literally five minutes later you have couscous. Serve it underneath or alongside your chicken.
And there you have it. Don't miss my next post; I'm making Asparagus Soup and it is Heavenly.