main dishes

And So, I’ll Keep Going

Dear Joey,

When we moved, there were a few things that we swore up and down we would do once we got settled. Get Mia sleep-trained so we could have a full night of sleep. Move the girls into a shared bedroom. Make it a point to go on a date every week. Potty train Addie. Spend time with other adults, like you know, friends.

After all, living back across the hills with “built in babysitting” would change everything. Suddenly maintaining a regular social life with two kids under two years old at home would be not only possible, but simple.

Here we are four months later and the only goal we’ve managed to sort of accomplish is spending more time with other adults. You do so in the form of working grueling hours at the hospital, and me in the form of seeing my brothers and parents on a daily basis.  In some ways, being in on this side of the hills is easier in that I don’t have to drive a half an hour with two sleepy little girls in order to visit family or hang out with friends. But the truth is, family aside, I’m not sure I see them any more than I did before we moved. It’s just easier to do on short notice now, but those days are few and far between.

But, following through on my promise to myself, I joined MOPS, and unlike last time, I kept going, repeating to myself a phrase you said to me several years ago now: Faith isn’t in the knowing; it’s in the going.

And slowly, I’m getting to know some of the other girls, girls who probably joined for the same reasons I did; girls who are diverse and funny and talented and thoughtful; girls who make me realize that the things I face aren’t all that uncommon (loneliness, fatigue, a house that never stays clean); girls who stretch me and listen to me and value me and pray for me; girls who I’m fairly certain would be just a phone call away if I really needed them.
 
There are some mornings that I simply have to make myself go. Getting an infant and a toddler ready to go anywhere before 9 am can be really, really difficult. Sometimes it feels like more trouble than it’s worth. But I’ve never been disappointed, and I walk away encouraged and ready to face the rest of my week.

It’s a lot like cooking, really. I love the idea of challenging myself in the kitchen, and it is not uncommon for me to make lofty mental lists of the things I want to experiment with on a given day or week. Often, I really want to try something new, to step out of what I know and do something different, but when the opportunity presents itself to follow through on my plans (like when I finally have two sleeping kids), sometimes I have to make myself follow through.

What’s funny to me about all this is that it’s not the group of strangers or the work in the kitchen, or any number of other things that lay on the other side of starting something new that is the scary, cumbersome obstacle to overcome. It’s myself – it’s me being my own stumbling block.

Thank goodness for people like you who push me to get over myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the chance to find out that I can still make new friends. I wouldn’t have met these girls, or – and not any less significant – come upon this stack of recipes – Baked Chicken Parmesan, in particular. Sure, I might have stumbled upon similar recipes at some point, but there’s something much more meaningful about being passing recipes from person to person. The sorts of recipes that are staples at their house often end up being staples at our house.

Baked Chicken Parmesan will always remind me of more than just the girl who gave me the recipe (although I’m hoping that we do become good friends). It will remind me to just keep going, even when it seems too hard or just not all that worth it. Baked Chicken Parmesan will remind me that something really, really good can come from simple things, and that what seems difficult really isn’t all that complicated after all.

And so, I’ll keep going.

Love,
Scratch

Baked Chicken Parmesan
All of the ingredients listed below were from Trader Joe’s, but the only thing that really needs to be from there is the croutons. I don’t recommend Marie Calendar’s or similar croutons, as those aren’t substantial enough to hold their shape and texture. The croutons should be big & chunky and essentially be real pieces of bread. 

1 pack of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thawed)
2 T olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
Kosher salt
1 1/4 tsp dried basil
2 1/2 cups Marinara sauce
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 oz grated Parmesan/Romano cheese blend (not fresh–from the can)
4oz bag of croutons (see note above)
1. Prep the chicken. There were four large chicken breasts in the pack from TJ’s; I cut them in half to make 8 breast pieces. 
2. Spread olive oil and garlic in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Place chicken pieces on top of the oil, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt & the basil, then pour all of the sauce on top.
3. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella and 1/2 the Parmesan on top of the sauce. Place croutons on top of cheese, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the croutons. 
4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until internal temp of chicken reaches 165 degrees. 
chicken · Grandma · main dishes

(dis)comfort food

Dear Joey,

I deserve an award for making it through the day yesterday on very little sleep, only one cup of coffee, three poopy diapers, one vomiting baby, an unexpected bout of loneliness, and facing one of my fears–all done without crying.

It all started when Mia got up super early and didn’t want to go back down until Addie woke up. I’m telling you–they’re out to get us, Joey. They’re testing our resilience, and some days, I’m convinced I’m failing.

But as I’ve told you many, many times (when you ask why in the world I start buzzing around the kitchen before finishing a proper cup of coffee), I wake up to the day much better if I just keep moving. Yesterday was no different. But boy, did I choose the wrong thing to keep me occupied. It seemed to curse me all day long, it’s fragrance mocking my efforts and making me come this close to declaring myself a vegetarian.

Grandma’s Chicken & Noodles. Sounds innocent enough, right? In some ways, it is. And my memory of it takes me back to more innocent times of my life when a simple bowl of those plump, juicy noodles set down in front of me made me feel that the world was an ok place to be.

Growing up, it was Grandma who was the master of Chicken & Noodles, although my mom made it for us on several occasions. Still, Grandma’s version always tasted a little bit better than Mom’s (I’m sure my mom would agree with me). But Grandma, when we asked for her secret on how to make it, would apologize for the way it always turned out, frustrated that the noodles soaked up all the broth. (Told you I come by it honestly.) But I digress.

The recipe was simple enough: boil a chicken, cook the noodles in the broth, shred the chicken, add it to the noodles and ta-da! You’ve got Chicken & Noodles. A simple, kid-friendly dish that fit right into my current plan for getting Addie to eat more than just chicken nuggets or PB&J. Yesterday was the perfect day to do it, too, since we  were up early and didn’t have plans to leave the house. (Simple as the dish is, it takes a bit of time.)

Perhaps it was my sleep-deprived state that made me stupid enough to think I could face my fear of chicken on the bone and tolerate working with a whole chicken. Then again, being sleep-deprived could be responsible making me more sensitive to working with a whole chicken. Maybe it was both.

In any case, touching a raw, whole chicken and putting it in the pot was hard, but it wasn’t anything compared to taking the meat off the bone. I’ll spare the grisly details, but let’s just say that when (if?) I make Chicken & Noodles again, I will not be doing it the way Grandma always did it.
Truth be told that when it came time for Addie to eat the finished product for dinner, I couldn’t blame her for not really wanting to eat it. After working with a chicken on the bone, I was so grossed out that I had a hard time even watching her eat it.  (Sorry, Grandma. I’m not made of the the same stuff you are.)

At first, I thought she liked it. After the first bite, she declared, “Good. More?” After just two more (small) bites, though, she refused to even look at the stuff anymore. And then, of course, she threw a fit when I took away her bowl. One of the many joys of having a toddler.

Oh well. There are worse things than a child not eating the meal you slaved over all day. Like having the sort of day that makes you realize how badly you need a friend around, the kind who is close enough (and willing) to come over and de-bone a chicken for you when you just don’t have the stomach to do so, or who would scrub baby vomit from the living room floor while you rocked the over-tired baby to sleep, or who would even just come over to bring you an Iced Soy Chai Tea Latte because she could hear it in your voice that you were desperate for one when she talked to you for the fourth time that day.

That’s why after both girls were in bed and the house was finally cleaned up and quiet, I told you that I didn’t know about you, but I was having popcorn for dinner.

Lucky for me, you said that sounded good to you, too.

Love,
Scratch


Grandma’s Chicken & Noodles

This dish is really a simple chicken noodle soup in which the noodles have absorbed all the broth. Apparently Grandma didn’t intend for the noodles to do so the first time she made it, but it was a happy accident that resulted in one of her classic recipes. There aren’t any veggies in the original, but you could easily add some if you wanted to (I added peas to ours, and it turned out quite good).

Although not the way Grandma did it, you could really use about four chicken breasts if you don’t have the stomach for working with a whole chicken. It won’t have the same amount of fat in it (and thus, it will change the richness of flavor), but on the upside, it would be lower in fat.

 Ingredients:
1 whole chicken
1 pkg. egg noodles
salt
pepper
Method:
Put the chicken in a large pot; cover with water. Give the water a good bit of salt, and bring it to a boil. Simmer the chicken for at least 1 1/2 hours. When it’s done, remove the chicken and strain the liquid, reserving the broth. Do not skim off the fat.
Return about 4 cups of broth to the pot. Bring to a boil and add the noodles. Boil for about 10 minutes, then turn down the heat and let the noodles simmer until they absorb all the liquid. 
Meanwhile, once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat. Add all of it to the noodles. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add frozen peas (or other vegetables) if desired.
main dishes · Salads

It’s Just Too Hot to Cook, and Chinese Chicken Salad Two Ways

Dear Joey,

It’s summer, so don’t be surprised if I answer your daily question of “What are we doing for dinner?’ with Chinese Chicken Salad. You know the one: it’s the salad that I make more times a year than probably any other salad, the one that my friends ask me (beg me?) to make when it’s too hot outside to think about cooking, the one that makes me happy just thinking about it.

My mom got the recipe from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Terry, who made the salad with cabbage and peanuts and a very oily dressing. Over the years the recipe became my mom’s recipe, and eventually it became my own (as these things often do). Sometimes we make it with cabbage and peanuts, but most often (and especially when I make it for friends), it’s the version using romaine and almonds that shows up. UPDATE: we only ever make it with almonds now that we have a child who is allergic to peanuts.

The reason I make this so much? Well, I guess you could blame my mother (at least I come by it honestly). It was her go-to dish for church potlucks, the easy answer to the “What’s for dinner?” question on hot summer nights, and one of the few salads that my brothers and I would all voluntarily eat and enjoy. It just wouldn’t be summer without having it at least a dozen times, if not more.

Good thing you like it, huh?

Love, Scratch

Chinese Chicken Salad, Two ways
 
This salad is cool and crisp, light but satisfying, and easy. It’s also very versatile. Make it with romaine and almonds or with cabbage and peanuts (or try whatever combination of those things that sounds good to you). You could really prep the ingredients any way you like and toss them together in any proportion you like, but here’s how I do it. Whatever you do, you won’t be disappointed. It’s all around the perfect summertime meal. But I make it all year long because it’s just that good.
Made with Lettuce:
2 Hearts of Romaine, sliced into ribbons
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into half moons
2 carrots, sliced
3 green onions, sliced
2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced
toasted almonds (omit for NF)
                                                       crunchy chowmein noodles (omit for GF)

Made with Cabbage:

1 medium head of cabbage, chopped
3 green onions, sliced
2 grilled chicken breasts, chopped
salted peanuts (omit for NF)
crunchy chowmein noodles (omit for GF)
Here’s where the salads are the same…

Dressing Ingredients:

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup plain vinegar
1/4 cup low sodium Tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
1 1/2 T sesame oil
1/4 c sugar, plus more if you like a sweeter dressing
Method:
Toss everything except crunchy noodles into a big bowl and coat evenly. The more dressing, the better. I find that it tastes better if you let it sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Add the crunchy noodles and enjoy.