Baked Gigantes

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At the top of my dad’s “favorite things that your mother makes” list is baked gigantes. This bean dish is a staple in Greek cooking, much like lentil soup and stuffed peppers. Yet unlike lentil soup and stuffed peppers, I had never made it before myself. Shocking, I know. So as soon as I returned home from Greece, I sent my mother an email that said the follow:

Dear mom,

Please send me the baked gigantes recipe EXACTLY as you make it in the states. Don’t leave ANYTHING out.

Love,
Cyn

You see, my mom has this little habit of giving me a recipe that’s missing one or two small ingredients that end up playing a big role in the flavor factor of the recipe. For this reason, I usually make her cook the dish in front of me so that I can write down the recipe in real time. Annoying? Yes. Thorough? You bet!

So, the following is straight from my mother’s response email:

Cyndy,

Relax. To make gigantes in the states, I fix them the following way.

Ingredients:
3 cans of butter beans (the largest kind)
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 cubanele green pepper, diced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup water (dilute the tomato paste with the water)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbs. flour

1) Saute both types of onions in the olive oil. After a couple of minutes, add in the chopped garlic.


2) After they are translucent (about 10 minutes) add the water with the diluted tomato paste.

3) Let it simmer for about 10 minutes and then add all the rest of the ingredients except the flour.

4) Let this simmer for 45 minutes in low heat. If you see that the water has evaporated, add more.

5) Drain and wash the butter beans. Put them in a shallow bakin dish.

6) When the sauce is done, pour it over the beans. Sprinkle the flour on top and bake in preheated oven (375 degrees) for about 45 minutes.

7) Check often and add hot water if needed. You want the gigantes to be moist but not too watery.

So there you have it folks. Baked gigantes straight from my little Greek mother and she really is a tiny thing, barely topping 5′ 4″. Yes, I realize that it’s the average height for women, but I’m 5’11”, my brother is 6’2″ and my dad is 6’…so you see, in our family, mama is little.

Now, please make this immediately and if you have any complaints about the authenticity of the taste, I’d be happy to publish my mother’s email address so that you can complain to management directly. It’s the least I could do for all of the loving and nurturing that’s she’s given me over the years.
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Scavengers

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Last night, we were looking at pictures from our trip to Greece. One of the pictures was taken from the ferry boat and showed about 100 seagulls trailing behind it. Parker wanted to know why so many seagulls followed the ferry boats. I explained that the boat’s motor churned up the water and lots of fish were inadvertently pushed to the surface of the water. The seagulls were just waiting for a fish to break the surface so they could grab it.
He looked at me and said, “Oh. Kind of how Nona follows me around, waiting for me to drop food?
Precisely, Parker. Precisely.
You see, the dogs are nothing more than scavengers these days. They serve as both vacuum cleaner and mop. I had always thought that the reason they followed Parker and not us is because they instinctively knew that if anyone was going to drop crumbs, it would be him. But then, this morning, I saw something. That something was Parker dropping little bits of crumbs to the dogs on purpose.
When I asked him about the crumb dropping, he said, “Mommy, it would be sad if Nona followed me around without getting a little something for it. Besides, if she can sleep in my room, why can’t she eat my food?”
I said, “Parker, why do you keep just talking about Nona? What about Chewie?” His response? “But mommy, Chewie is just a dog.”
I’m certain that Nona would agree most emphatically with that statement.

My Favorite Camera Lens…And Some Berries

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For the longest time, I had primarily used an 18-105mm lens on my Nikon DSLR because it provided me with a great range. I could take closeups, I could zoom in for distant shots and it seemed like the most practical lens de jour. In fact, there’s only one shortcoming to this lens. It’s big and heavy. Like, really heavy.
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So, one day a couple of weeks ago, I switched it out for one of my fixed focus lenses (much smaller and lighter), which I generally only use for portraits. It’s a 50mm 1:1.8D that takes a beautiful, crisp shot. I’m really loving it thus far. It seems so much more personal to take pictures of things exactly as you see them. Of course, the limitation of a fixed focal lens is that you can’t zoom. At all. But that’s okay if you’re taking shots of people or of food.
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Speaking of food, check out the berries from our garden. We’re right at the end of raspberry season, blackberries are in their prime and our blueberries are just starting to ripen. Parker feels like quite the farmer whenever we head out to pick the berries. He holds the tupperware and I brave the thorny bushes to harvest the fruit. Then, we go inside, breathe in the sweet smells and dive into the fruit of our labor.

Evel Knievel

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One of Parker’s favorite things to do is ride bikes. That is, to ride bikes recklessly. Like most 3 year olds, this child has no fear. He peddles like crazy up narrow sidewalks and flies down ramps. He maneuvers his tricycle under bleachers and around concrete posts all the while laughing with pure glee.
Yup, my child is an adrenaline junky and all I can do is keep a watchful eye and cross all of my fingers and toes that he doesn’t get hurt. For me, this is one of the hardest parts of parenting. Watching them navigate the world using less than perfect judgment as they figure out what’s safe and what isn’t. All you can do as parents is to supervise them carefully…and keep a First Aid Kit close by.
You’ll notice that Parker (all 44 lbs. and 39 inches of him) is still riding the tricycle that my parents bought him when he was 2. That’s because I’m a wimp and I’m not ready to buy him a bigger bike yet. You see, when you fall from a tricycle, the distance isn’t that far, but from a big boy bike… Let’s just say that I get night sweats thinking about Parker flying like a projectile when he hits a rock in the road or cuts the wheel too hard.
Even so, I know the day is coming soon when I need to suck it up and let him advance to the next level of danger. It’s only a matter of time (months, really) before he outgrows the sturdy little tricycle. But for now, we’re going to squeeze out all of it’s usefulness before I need to make the jump from chamomile tea to Valium. This momma’s nerves can only take so much.

Perfect Buns

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In my mind, seasons are often defined by what you eat. Fall brings to mind apples, pumpkin pies, roasted acorn squash and cranberry relish. When I think of winter, I think of soups and chowders, hot chocolate and s’mores cooked in the fireplace. Spring is defined by fresh produce and fresh herbs. And summer? Well, summer is all about ice cold drinks, grilled foods and cold salads (potato, macaroni, garden, slaw).
As a vegetarian, what I crave the most about grilled foods isn’t the meat, but the fixings. Let’s take a burger, for example. My latest “burger” fling has been with the Morning Star Farm grillers. I generally either nuke it for 60 seconds of throw it on the grill with it’s cow brethren. When it’s almost done, I’ll add a slice of cheese and cook it until it just begins to melt.
At this point, I proceed exactly as I would were I still a carnivore. First, I grab a great bun, like the onion beauty that you see above. Now, I never thought buns made that much of a difference until the Irishman brought home something other than the whole wheat varieties that I usually pick up. I looked at the curious onion bun and, lacking a better option, I gave it a try. All I can say is Wow. And Yum. It’s now my preferred choice for egg and tuna salad sandwiches.
Okay, back to the burger. After you’ve selected your favorite bun, the rest is all gravy. I like ketchup, mustard and mayo as my condiments and then I add on cold, crisp lettuce, pickle slices and a thin slice of tomato. I love the contrast between the piping hot burger, the cold toppings and the burst of flavor from the bun. It’s such a simple thing to make, but it makes me so nostalgic.
As I sit down with my veggie burger on an onion bun (usually while taking a break from splashing in the water with Parker), I feel satisfied that his memories of summer are bound to be filled with as much sun, grilling and laughter as mine were.

Rejected Fruit on a Silver Platter

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In the middle of my breakfast table sits a giant platter of fruit. The standard inhabitants of this silver platter are bananas, apples and oranges. They’re generally accompanied by grapes and plums (and whatever else is seasonally available) in the fridge. What’s sad is that when the fruit is whole and available in plain view, no one eats it but me. No matter how I arrange it or how high I stack it, the fruit is abandoned. Forlorn. Left to whither away on it’s elegant perch.
This makes no sense to me. It’s washed and ready to be snatched up and enjoyed. Plus, it’s right there on the table where the boys eat all of their meals, not tucked away in some corner. It’s not that they don’t love fruit, it’s simply that for whatever reason, fruit in its natural form doesn’t appeal to them unless I pack it in their bags to eat when they’re out.
Last week, I did an experiment. I abandoned my job as a fruit peddler (I’ve got bananas up here…apples too…washed and ready to eat…anyone want an orange?…fresh from the Florida groves…) and instead, I cut the fruit up into bite sized pieces and put it in a tupperware with a splash of orange juice (to keep the apples and bananas from getting discolored).
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In the tupperware you see above, I chopped up two apples, two oranges, 1 (big) banana and a bunch of grapes. That’s 7 servings of fruit. At dinner last night, I casually placed it on the table between the boys and handed them each a fork.
While I can’t begin to fathom why a fruit salad is so much more appealing than the platter of fruit, they ate the entire bowl and professed their deep love of fruit. I just shook my head ruefully and made a mental note that from now on, I’d take the extra 2 minutes to throw the fruit salad together so that the men in my life will get the fresh produce that they need…
…then I went back to my booze and salty chips since no one around here monitors my fruit intake.
Just kidding, naturally.

Forget About The Numbers

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Have you ever noticed that when you’re somewhere that you don’t want to be (in a meeting, in class, in line) you have a habit of checking the time every two minutes? As a result, that hour seems to take forever and you feel like you’re never going to get out of there! In contrast, when you’re having fun, the minutes just tick on by at the speed of light.
Obsessively keeping track of numbers makes us crazy. It’s particularly stressful when it involves stepping on a scale or counting calories or measuring our waist line. In fact, the more times you step on a scale, the slower those numbers seem to move.
I’m going to tell you a secret. I never weigh myself. In fact, the only accurate reading that I get is when I go to the doctor, which is usually only once or twice a year. After I had Parker (and was carrying around an extra 20 pounds post-delivery), I thought I would never shed the weight. But, the great thing about having a baby is that they are wonderful little distractions. I completely forgot about the scale and just went about my life making the best choices that I could (even if it meant that lunch consisted of a couple of slices of turkey breast rolled up and shoved in my mouth while I was standing at the fridge). And you know what? Six months later, I was within 5 lbs. of my pre-pregnancy weight. Would I have shed the weight any faster if I had been weighing myself weekly? Nope, but I sure would have stressed about it a bunch more.
With regard to calorie counting, I generally only track my calories for a one week period a couple of times a year. Once I’m comfortable that I’m getting the right caloric intake, I put the calculator away. Counting calories is simply a way to regain control. Once you’re comfortable that you’re well on your way to knowing what it feels like to consume the proper number of calories, the counting is no longer needed. Just go with how you feel.
I want you to do me a favor. For one month, forget about the numbers. Don’t get on a scale. Don’t count calories. Don’t check your pedometer or the number of calories you burned on the treadmill.
Instead, do the following:
1. Make good food choices. Eat as many fresh, raw fruits and veggies as you’d like and supplement that with lean proteins and lots of water.
2. Turn off the TV and get out there! Take your dogs for a walk, meet your friends at the lake for a walk, take your bike for a spin. It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you’re moving. If you live near a national park, see about joining a hiking group or if you have kids, make a play date at a local green space and join your kids in kicking the ball around. The key here is to HAVE FUN!
3. Think happy and positive thoughts. This is key. You have to stop beating yourself up for every wrong choice you make and start celebrating the right choices. Life is too short to feel guilty and down. Spend some time thinking about all of the blessings in your life no matter how small they might be. Surround yourself with positive people who will help you celebrate life. Don’t be afraid to feel happy or to share the blessings in life that you’ve discovered. Trust me, you will naturally repel the curmudgeons in your life if you live your life with glee.
And that’s it! Forget the numbers and find your happy place. Search for the balance in your life and once you find it, I bet everything else will naturally fall into place.