Jamie Oliver’s Sweet and Sour Pork

During this crazy end of the school year\just had a baby time, we have been greatly blessed by friends and family who have made us dinners or brought us food. We get to the end of the day and know we need to eat but our brains are too muddled to figure out how. We’re like dumb sheep standing in the kitchen hoping something will sacrifice it’s self onto our plates. Thank you friends and family for keeping us fed!

In our reserves we had two delicious pork tenderloin steaks. We haven’t cooked pork chops too often so we went to our stand-by, Jamie Oliver, to find a good recipe. It came down to sweet and sour stir fry or sweet glazed pork chops. I went with the sweet and sour because we could use one of the steaks, saving the other for a later meal. In the interest of full disclosure, I fully expected Ryan to cook dinner. He, meanwhile. fully expected me to. I lost. Before I could get the few needed ingredients from the store, I had to Wikipedia what they were (yes, Wikipedia as a verb). This recipe calls for Five Spice Powder. We’ve looked for this before with no success. We even considered that it was just a British thing and we didn’t have it here or it was called something else maybe. After consulting the intertubes, I discovered a few things:

  1. Five Spice Powder is an Asian spice blend consisting of: Chinese cinnamon, anise, cloves, fennel and sichuan pepper
  2. It is most often used to season fatty meat dishes such as pork and duck
  3. Wal-Mart had some in stock
Everything ready to go
Everything ready to go

I’ve noticed Jamie Oliver tends to have three types of dishes–Traditional English, Indian\Asian and grilled meats. His traditional English stews, soups, meats and fishes all take a slow easy does it pace; chop everything up throw it together let it cook, no rush. His Asian and grilled recipes, however, are much more frantic to cook. Part of his mission is to offer quick and easy meals and he does this by cooking his curries, stir fries and grilled meats on very high heat. This means everything cooks quickly, but also that everything burns quickly. It is imperative to have everything laid out ready to go in at the precise time it’s needed as some steps only take 15-20 seconds.

So it was with the sweet and sour pork stir-fry. I cubed up one of the pork steaks and coated with the five spice powder. Into a skillet with very hot oil they went just long enough to brown. I scooped out the pork and after bringing the pan back up to heat, threw in chopped red pepper, red onion, garlic and ginger as well as soy sauce and cornstarch. Once they cooked for a few minutes I threw the pork back in as well as pineapple chunks with their juice and balsamic vinegar. After letting the sauce reduce a bit and thicken it was ready to serve over basmati rice with lettuce leaves. I wasn’t sure about the lettuce, but it totally works. I sprinkled some sesame seeds on top for better presentation.  All in all, once everything was prepared, the stir fry took less than 10 minutes to cook.

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We decided the dish could use stronger flavor so when we make it again, we’ll add more of the 5 spice blend.  My palate isn’t that refined and to be honest, I could taste the cinnamon but the other 4 spices just blurred together into a curry taste. Cooked pineapple with pork is one of my favorite flavor combinations, however, and homemade Chinese food leaves your self-esteem intact so I think we’ll make this one again.

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A Curd is a Curd is a Curd…Unless it’s a Custard

002Since hosting a one year old’s birthday party for 40 people while three weeks postpartum wasn’t exciting enough, I decided to make a 4 layer lemon cake with lemon curd filling. My mom has the most useful cookbook, The Cake Doctor, which “doctors cake mix to create over 150 luscious desserts with honest-to-goodness from-scratch taste.” Basically, she takes a cake mix and adds just a little extra to it to make it taste better than a cake from a box but doesn’t require starting from scratch. Brilliant. I made two 10 inch “Susan’s Lemon Cake” cakes–yellow cake mix with instant lemon gelatin (not to be confused with lemon pudding by the same Jell-o brand 😉 ). The lemon curd I adapted from her “Butter Layer Cake with Sweet Lime Curd” recipe.

Baking terrifies me, as I’ve mentioned before (see: Rite of Passage: Pralines (prah-leens)). Cooking is about finesse and nuance. But baking?
Baking is patience

and precision

and terror

and stirring…a lot of stirring constantly.

And that’s what makes baking so scary–you’re ordered to stir constantly at every step, yet they 008don’t tell you what will happen if you stop stirring. If I have to scratch my nose, will the sugar burn? What if I get a cramp? Will the eggs scramble? Every imaginable scenario ends with a sticky scorched pot and starting over from square one without eyebrows. And sugar does weird shit. Given heat and time it will change from one weird stage to another. I’ve never made a curd before, so I read the recipe all the way through at least 5 times. Then I got my ingredients in the ready, re-read thrice more and dove in. The first step was to make sugar do something weird.

009Sugar and cornstarch over medium heat, when stirred constantly with water, makes a sweet paste. This was supposed to happen in 3-4 minutes but of course it took about twice that long. Nearly 8 minutes over the heat and nothing was happening. Then all of a sudden the mixture began to boil and became something else entirely. Thicker and less glossy than a glaze, the sugar and cornstarch thickened to what would be the beginning of my curd. I removed from the heat and whipped about half of a cup of this mixture with lightly beaten egg yolks. Folding the eggs back into the sauce pan, my curd base was done. I was making a lemon curd so I flavored the sugar base lemon zest, lemon juice and butter. The same can be done with limes or oranges. A curd can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. I made mine the day before and just stirred it up a bit before assembling my cake.

Amid all my stirring, I got to wondering what the difference was between a curd and a custard. I was delighted to find making a curd didn’t involve actually curdling anything. I came up with a few complicated hypothesizes mostly involving ratios between sugar and eggs. But come to find out curds and custards are essentially the same thing except a curd has a stronger flavor and is eaten as a spread or filling rather than a desert on it’s own. Now you know!

Unfortunately, these are the best pictures I got of the cake. Fortunately it tasted amazing! I like lemon cakes because they are so light and sweet. The cake part didn’t have an overpowering lemon flavor, which worked well with the very tart yet creamy curd filling. There was only one piece left at the end of the party. I call that a success.

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Everyone’s Favorite Cautionary Whale

Ryan and I watched Juno again for the first time in a few years (thank you Wal-Mart $5 bin!). Apparently I’ve changed quite a bit since we watched it last because it occurred to me how crass the movie could be.  Nonetheless, I laughed just as heartily. Juno is one of our favorite movies for a number of reasons, including the positive, not-beating-you-over-the-head, pro-life message it espouses. Being pro-life, as we are, we grow tired of constantly being portrayed negatively in the media.   Don’t worry though. This post isn’t about abortion. It’s about good movies!

So often positive pro-life movies are…cheesy. They are low-budget productions made by small Christian churches or organizations that just don’t have the money or talent to really make a quality motion picture. Often it seems the intention is to splatter an agenda across the screen for 96 minutes rather than tell a good story through the art of film-making. While Juno has that indy film vibe, it’s still a good movie. It has known actors who can, well, act. It is professionally directed and produced. It follows the form for good story telling and on and on. It’s a *real* movie depicting a pro-life message. It’s a relief to find a movie that’s enjoyable on it’s own merit as a film AND approximates a moral message. As opposed to a morally themed movie you have to convince yourself is also enjoyable to watch.

Bella is another example of a film with artful storytelling, skillful production and good messages (despite a small budget 😉 ). Similar to Juno in it’s single-girl-wants-abortion-but-chooses-adoption-instead theme, Bella does incorporates Christianity into it’s character’s lives and motivations. But still not in a beat you over the head kind of way.  The main character, Jose, shows his love and compassion towards life not by a moving soliloquy meant to guilt the audience into a change of heart but by the way he acts towards the character Nina and by the choices he makes. Bella is also an especially beautiful movie to watch. Filmed near a beach, the movie incorporates the clear ocean, blue skies, pale sands and balmy breezes into it’s backdrop as though the director was concerned with making a visual story not just a soap-box of sound bites.

We always enjoy a movie that doesn’t make us feel cheap or used at the end of watching, something we don’t have to look away from or let out sighs of disgust. If we can watch a movie that says something good about the world, or something positive about mankind–even if we may not agree with the side the movie ultimately portrays–we’re bound to keep coming back to it. As evidenced by our annual viewing of the entire Harry Potter series! Do you have a favorite movie that is a quality film AND positive to watch?

*Warning, Bella, will make you cry. Juno will too, but not as long or as hard as Bella will*

4 Down 96 to Go…or Happy Anniversary to Us

Our Engagement Photo
Our Engagement Photo

Today is our 4 year wedding anniversary. When I say it out loud it seems like it should be much longer. We’ve packed a lot of living in our four years of marriage. Each year we find ourselves facing our anniversary saying “next year!”. Next year will be calmer! Next year we’ll live in the same place, have the same job, work on the same degree, sit on the back porch watching chickens peck the ground. Most of our aspirations for peaceful living turn into pipe dreams, but then again, something’s do get better.

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Ryan Graduated LSU

First Year: We set up our first home in the townhouse. As the year closed, I think the day before our anniversary in fact, Ryan graduated LSU and I entered the second trimester of my first pregnancy.

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Yup, that happened

Second Year: We lived in the barn until finding a house to rent. Ryan sold Rainbow vacuums (and anything else that would fetch a fair price) to support me and my growing belly until beginning work at Catholic High. We welcomed Evangeline Lily into our family and survived the first school year by the skin of our teeth.

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Chubby Cheek Felicity

Third Year: Actually was calmer. Ryan worked his second year at Catholic teaching the same classes. Just before our anniversary, we brought home sweet Felicity Iris to join our family. Our actual anniversary was spent back in the hospital while I received treatment for postpartum pre-ecclampsia.

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ph-ph-please give me an education Notre Dame

Fourth year/last year: this was the year we finally were going to settle down. Instead, Ryan began working on his Master’s degree in Theology commuting to New Orleans and back, we bought our first home and moved in after two and a half months living with my parents, just weeks before our anniversary we brought home another sweet Carruth bundle of joy, Reuben Benedict (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, I’ve been pregnant every year of our marriage thus far).

The more things change, the more somethings stay the same. We still spend Mardi Gras watching Harry Potter and eating pizza, we dream still of one day seeing Nova Scotia and maybe Ireland, we have beautiful babies, we like words, like words a lot- etymology, grammar, alliterations, puns, song parodies– we love our children and our marriage is still open to life, we like each other a great deal and love each other more, we both want to be better– better people, better spouses and better parents.

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We still have grand plans on our horizons, but next year? Next year will be calmer 😉

Solo Parenting: Week One & Happy Birthday Felicity!

If you’re reading this, it means I’ve survived Ryan’s first week back at work. I am proud to report that every day our bed has been made and the dishes have been done. Thankfully the kids’ laundry has stretched to an every-other-day chore but I have stayed on top of it. I haven’t once woken up before the kids to take a shower but hey, it’s just week one. This week was full of many successes and a few failures but, as no one was permanently harmed, I choose to be proud of myself.

Tuesday went pretty much the same as Monday; my grandmother came to help in the middle of the day and let me have

For your viewing pleasure: one of Evangeline's funny faces
For your viewing pleasure: one of Evangeline’s funny faces

a much needed and much appreciated nap. Wednesday was a no-help day; I was truly on my own. Of course this is the day my schedule broke down. Reuben woke up after Evangeline and Felicity so I had to simultaneously feed Felicity with one hand and Reuben with the other. It wasn’t until my drastically delayed lunch that I realized I never ate breakfast myself.  The rest of the day they all three took turns napping, eating and pooping. For a brief moment I thought I had all three down at the same time. Hand on the faucet to take a quick shower, I heard Reuben wake up. I cannot tell a lie. I did consider acting like I didn’t hear him but my conscience got the better of me. By the time Ryan got home, I was curled up on the couch, fetal position style weeping tears of exhaustion while the children pranced around me brandishing breakables.

Gratefully I had help on Thursday; Ryan had an event after work and didn’t get home until after 9. My mom came to our rescue around lunch and we got a surprise visit from the girls’ parrain. In her two and a half years of life, Evangeline has yet to say a complete sentence to her parrain. Thursday, she was all smiles and giggles. She even showed off her newest trick–turning somersaults! It was such a delight to see Evangeline warm up and play with him so enthusiastically. My mom stayed until the clouds parted and the heavens graced me with a mutual nap-time. Reuben, Felicity, Evangeline and myself all slept a blissful 2+ hours.

The nature of my pregnancy with Reuben has had me feeling like a martyr. The entirety of my pregnancy was spent coming to terms with being pregnant, having to give birth again and having a third child so quickly. My kindest demons whisper in my ear “this is too much, it’s too hard”. My crueler demons can’t be repeated. When I woke from my nap on Thursday, it was time to get the girls up and start the evening routine. Right away I heard the whispers. An anger began to rise up as a list of grievances raced across my mind. Anger at being home alone. Anger at having to do the evening without help. Anger at having so many responsibilities keeping me from doing what I wanted. But I shook them off. I reminded myself that I am the mother of three and that’s just all there is to it. My children needed to be fed, bathed and loved before bed. I could wake them up angry and we could all be short with each other for a few hours before they were put in bed. Or, I could accept what I had to do and do so with a cheerful heart.

Of course it’s never as easy as just setting your mind to it. Evangeline woke up in the foulest mood and screamed on the couch for at least half an hour telling me she didn’t want to eat. Reuben woke up in the middle of all of this. But through it all, I kept calm and focused on what needed to be done. Felicity went right to sleep after their bath, but Evangeline was still wound up. She, Reuben and I sat on the couch and read a stack of books. Reuben was very alert and it just tickled Evangeline pink every time he’d turn his eyes up to look at her. On a night when Evangeline and I could have stayed frustrated with each and gone to bed mad, I instead had a really special time with my children. By the time Ryan got home, both girls were bathed and in bed, Reuben was awake but content and I was oh so ready to share a late supper and episode of The West Wing with my husband.

Happy Birthday Felicity
Happy Birthday Felicity

Today, Friday, is Felicity’s first birthday and Ryan’s last full day of work!  Evangeline helped me ice and sprinkle cupcakes and after supper we sang to Felicity. I think Evangeline was more excited than Felicity about the cupcakes, but oh well, we all got to eat some sweets. Ryan is nearing the finish line of this school year. This time next week he’ll…well at least be done teaching and grading. This was a long week, but I count it as a successful one. The grace of God and selfless help of family and friends cannot not be overstated. Here’s looking forward to a restful weekend before starting next week, also known as party planning week!

Jamie Oliver’s Always Good Pot Roast

I’m not sure I’ve blogged since we discovered the wonderful wonderful world of Jamie Oliver. It’s like he knew just what we were wanting to do with our diets and wrote his cook books just for us! Over the past few years (pregnancy has kind of muddled my sense of time, but I know it’s been a while) we’ve been making the effort to eat better. I know, who isn’t these days? We tried a few defined diets like paleo and we’ve read different things here and there. Ultimately we’ve carved out our own general rules for what we would like for ourselves and our children to eat:

  • Real Food- this is something we’ve held to since the beginning of our marriage, if not before. No fake stuff (read:margarine) and no pre-packaged boxed stuff (read:hamburger helper). For the most part we’ve done well with this. With the need and desire for convenience foods with back to back pregnancies, however, we’ve slipped into boxed mac and cheese bliss. We’re slowly working our way out.
  • Vegetables >Protein> Carbohydrates-we tried cutting carbs all together eating mostly vegetables, but always always found ourselves hungry again within a short amount of time. Funny thing, vegetables are mostly water. Oops. But we knew we didn’t want rice or potatoes, pasta or bread (our favorites) to make up the majority of our meal, but we also know we need them. So we’ve worked out a balance of including some carbohydrates, mostly whole grains, to ground our meal, but having most of  our plate filled with vegetables and protein.
  • Ethics-This is one we are constantly going back and forth on. What is more important: that an animal is raised locally and humanely, or fed organic food? Is a local ear of in-season corn healthier than an organic one from California? Do we really need to pay that much for carrots? We are striving to balance ethics and budget but it is difficult because apparently you can’t just buy food, you have to consider what your money is going to support–big business, local farmers, preservatives etc. Oh the anguish of choosing eggs! We are looking to grow more of our own foods, but more on that at a later date.

Jamie Oliver’s mission statement lines up well with what we want to do. His Food Revolution is about simple meals made

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

with whole ingredients. Perfect! We’ve been cooking from this cook book for a while now and it’s made better cooks out of us all. Last night for my first postpartum real meal, I made his Family Pot Roast and Consistently Good Gravy. So so simple and delicious.

I had been struggling and failing  to make a good roast in the crock pot. My problem was always that the roast wouldn’t cook in the middle. I cut his recipe in half and use a 1 1/2-2 pound roast. All you do is roughly chop un-pealed onions, carrots, celery and garlic and throw in some rosemary (or herb of choice… that sounded sketchier than I intended) in an appropriate sized roasting pan. With my 2 pound roast, I use an 8×8 pyrex dish. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies. All he says to prep the meat is drizzle with olive oil and pat in salt and pepper. Place the roast on top of the veggies. He says to heat the oven to a full 475 degrees, then once pre-heated, put the roast in and drop the heat to 400 and cook for approximately an hour. Through trial and error, I’ve found that I need to cook mine for one hour and ten minutes.

Once the meat is cooked, he says to put it on a pan and let it rest under tin foil and a kitchen towel for about fifteen minutes. He doesn’t specify, but again trial and a very messy error taught me to use a baking pan with a lip rather than a flat chopping board. While the meat rests a lot of the juices run out which you can then pour back over the meat or add into your gravy. Either way…it gets messy if the roast is just on a flat board. Oops.

The gravy is simple, but does take me longer than he estimates. Once the meat is out of the roasting pan, he says to put the pan with all the veggies on the stove and add flour. Once everything is coated with flour, use a potato masher to mash all the veggies into a pulp. Add a little wine and meat or veggie stock and simmer until thick. Once it’s to your desired consistency or you’re tired of smelling food you can’t eat yet, strain out the gravy and discard the veggie pulp.  With the herbs and wine, the gravy ends up with a earthy flavor that is so delicious.

Mashed potatoes are a treat for us, but one we certainly don't take for granted
Mashed potatoes are a treat for us, but one we certainly don’t take for granted
Out of the Oven!
Out of the Oven!

I’ve made this roast and gravy a few times now and each time it’s turned out just like he said it would! Which is really saying something because my cooking is anything but reliable. Last night we added mashed potatoes and sauteed squash and zucchini. Our house rejoices with a combined voice to heaven when squash and zucchini come into season. We went an entire summer eating them with every lunch and dinner. Ok we were super poor and they were oh so cheap, but still.  It was a delicious meal which stretched into at least another 2 meals. Ryan took some to work today and said the gravy was even better after sitting over night.

So there you go, we’re starting to cook again and we love Jamie Oliver. Oh and this is why blogging is going to require a lot of motivation and timing.

at least she's ok sharing
at least she’s ok sharing
I seriously wrote two sentences in the time she unshelved Southern Fiction and half of our Religious section
I seriously wrote two sentences in the time she unshelved Southern Fiction and half of our Religious section

Solo Parenting: Day One

So far so good! Today was Ryan’s first day back at work and my first day alone with three kidos under three years old. And it’s not the train wreck I was expecting! Or at least not yet (knock on wood). I spent all last night while I was rocking Reuben and falling asleep myself planning out my strategy for the day–I hate to go in unprepared.

Look at that sweet face
Look at that sweet face

Of course right off the bat, Reuben threw off my perfect plan. He’s been waking up between 6-7:00 in the morning. So my plan was to feed and get him back down then get a shower myself before the girls woke up around 8:00. Perfect, right? Reuben woke up at 5:00am. I couldn’t help myself, I got back in bed and set my alarm for 7:30. I couldn’t help myself again and threw the alarm across the room when it went off and slept until all three kids woke themselves up into a full roar around 8:30. So while Evangeline and Felicity climbed the walls in their room, I fed and rocked Reuben. Thankfully he’s been an easy newborn and happy to go right back to sleep.

Once Reuben went back to sleep, I got the girls up, dressed with hair pulled back (a very important pre-finger-food-breakfast step).  We all ate the same thing (a big pile of scrambled eggs and apples) at the same time which made for an easier morning. This is hard to achieve with Felicity just making her way into the world of finger foods. but today it worked wonderfully. Both girls were fed and ready to play at the same time. For the rest of the morning, Evangeline played and Felicity went back down for a nap. I was able to get the kitchen clean (with Evangeline’s help of course) and sit down to color with her for a while until my mom came with lunch to break up the day and save us until Ryan got home from work.

Playtime at it's finest
Playtime at it’s finest

This has been my easiest postpartum recovery to date. I’m just over one week past delivery; I’m upright and forming complete sentences! It’s amazing. I have had a lot of help which I do not doubt has made all the difference in the world. For my sanity’s sake and for the sake of my family’s well-being, I’ve wanted to hit the ground running re-establishing a routine.

I’ve worked out a chore list for myself, assigning each day a chore or chores on top of what needs to be done every day.  I’ve used this method before and it’s the only way I keep my scatter brain from wearing out my body and keep me from spending all of my time away from the kids. I’ll start doing one thing just to find one more thing to do…and one more thing to do…and next thing I know, I’ve gotten nothing finished all the way and Evangeline’s grumpy from playing by herself all day. No one wins. This way, I can get all the things that need to be done each day right after breakfast, then during the day work in a chore or two. It also means once I’ve done my one or two chores, I’m done and I have to stop. It forces me to spend the time when the kids are up playing and reading and being with them. This more than anything was severely lacking during my pregnant days–and we all paid a price.

Life with three very young kids isn’t always predictable and some days just aren’t going to work according to my to-do list. But I’m trying. I know doing the little things consistently makes such a huge difference in how our house is run, which makes gives us more time with each other, which puts everyone in a better overall mood. It’s worth it. This week, my hope is to do the every day chores every day. They are:

  1. make our bed–I always thought this was a stupid thing to do, but Ryan has dropped the hint a few times that he really likes getting into a bed  that’s been made. The more I do it, the more I realize  I agree. There’s just something so soothing and rewarding about getting into a cool, clean bed at the end of a long day.
  2. unload and reload the dishwaher–after so many years without a dishwasher, this is still a chore I get excited about doing. I look at a sink full of dishes and moan and groan until I make myself remember washing dishes by hand. Then all of a sudden I’m motivated simply by how quickly it will take. Plus, it just sets the tone for the rest of the day. Having a clean kitchen and keeping it clean just makes me feel orderly and accomplished.
  3. do the kids’ laundry–seriously. Every day that I haven’t been in the hospital, I’ve done a load of the kids’ laundry. What’s up with that? Do people really do laundry every day?? We used to get away with laundry once a week, but now with the little ones pooping, peeing, spitting, jumping, splashing and rolling, I just can’t keep up! So this chore has been bumped up to an every day thing.

In the weeks to come, I hope to add weekly chores like cleaning bathrooms, sweeping the floors, tending outside plants and doing Ryan and my laundry. Here’s hoping our house stays just a little bit sane during this newborn phase. And even more, let’s hope the house stays just a little bit clean because within a month’s time we’ll have a birthday party (Felicity’s) and a baptism reception (Reuben’s) all at our house. At least the back of the house won’t have to be clean for those.

So with a little strategic planning and a lot of help from Nana, we survived our first day with flying colors. I even got a real dinner made and one the table before 7:00pm! (More on that dinner later). Dream a little dream of me and if you say prayers say one for me because today was only Monday.

hint hint
hint hint