Sunday, July 29, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup - redux

I posted this to my food blog yesterday but I don't get as much traffic there yet.  Enjoy!

A little bit of everything on the spoon: mini meatball, tomato, carrot, orzo and spinach in a savory broth.

Don't ask me why, because I don't know the answer, but I have always been just the littlest bit nervous about Italian Wedding soup.  Maybe it is the fear of OPM or other people's meatballs.  I am super picky about my meatballs, and meatballs play an integral part of this soup.  Whatever the reason, I had never really been a fan.  My talented mother-in-law makes a soup with a beef-based broth and meatballs (and her meatballs are delicious) that is similar but not really Italian Wedding.

While planning for this past week of camp I knew I wanted to do food from Italy.  For the main recipe we made lemony white bean bruschetta.  It was a hit with most campers and gave an idea of the different tastes of Italian food other than pasta and tomato sauce.  As usual, for my oldest campers who chose to come 3 times a week I had to pick 2 additional recipes.  We made cauliflower and broccoli fritters, which I thought were more than a little blah.  And as you may have guessed by now, for the last day we made soup.

The recipe itself is rather simple, the meatballs being the most involved part about it.  Most of the recipes I found called for cooking the meatballs, and the orzo for that matter, within the broth.  Because I was doing this at camp during a 30-40 minute time frame I opted to cook the meatballs and orzo separately and add them into the hot broth as we dished it out.  I also used my own meatball recipe, mostly because I think they are delicious.  Why mess with a good thing? 

The campers loved the soup.  They were asking for seconds, then thirds and some to take home.  When that happens, my heart swells a bit.  I am so thrilled that these children are learning about how to prepare food that is healthy and delicious and at the same time, expanding their food boundaries.  I unfortunately forgot my camera this week so I have no pictures of the wonderfulness of this soup in the making.

The broth did not have that much time to fully develop before they had to eat it, but it was still very tasty.  I took the leftover soup home since I did not want to waste it.  (Most of the time I bring the leftovers to the office for the staff directors to enjoy but soup is a little awkward to share around an office!)  I immediately put it in my stock pot and let it simmer with the meatballs and the little bit of orzo that remained.  The flavors came together so nicely that I was almost a little surprised.  I dare say it was one of the best soups I have tasted.  Vinnie and I had it for dinner tonight topped with grated parmesan and fresh cracked pepper.  I think we both agree that this soup is going to be made again and again!

The smell was so enticing that we started eating it before I remembered to  take a picture.

Italian Wedding Soup (recipe from the Whole Foods website with my added notes)
There are endless variations on this soup, but the main elements are meatballs and greens. While the name indicates that the soup might be served at an Italian wedding, it is actually a mistranslation of minestra maritata, which refers to the "marriage" of greens and meat in the soup.

1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
As I mentioned above, I made my own meatball recipe, but this one looks good, too.  I omitted pork because many people do not eat pork.  I will probably cook them in the broth next time I make this.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter I used olive oil
3/4 cup chopped white onions
3/4 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and halved
1 cup uncooked orzo 
2 cups shredded kale (I used fresh baby spinach)

For the meatballs, put beef, pork, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, egg, nutmeg, and paprika into a large bowl and use your hands to mix well. Use a teaspoon to measure out meat for even sized meatballs. With damp hands, shape them into 1-inch balls and transfer them to a large plate. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Due to time constraints and food safety concerns for a camp, I baked them in the oven an hour before I needed them.  They had cooled to just about room temperature by the time we needed them and we added them to the cooked broth.

For the soup, melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes, and 2 cups water. Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat or until soup comes to a boil.

Add meatballs and orzo to the boiling soup and stir to make sure they are fully submerged. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes over medium heat. Stir in kale. Test a meatball and a piece of orzo to ensure that they are fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.  Top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.  

August 17, 2012
I made this soup last night, cooking both the meatballs and the orzo in the broth, as called for.  Epic Failure.  The orzo kept expanding and soaking up all the broth.  Plus I realized that I really like browned meatballs.  Next time I will cook both separately, as I did at camp, and then add it to the cooked broth.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Yoga and My Judgmental Mind

I used to practice yoga on a regular basis.  I had a regular teacher with whom I practiced and I followed her to wherever she taught, until she moved to California, that is.  After that I had a difficult time finding a yoga instructor with whom I had such a great connection.  Yoga was just coming back in fashion, so to speak.  There were yoga classes at gyms but I found them to be irritating and not at all satisfying.  I ended up doing my yoga in the comfort of my home with tapes (am I dating myself yet?) and then DVDs.

Fast forward several years, I completely loved prenatal yoga and kind of liked the Mommy & Me yoga.  I did yoga after I had Lilly to help get those poor, post-cesarean abs back into action.  I would do downward facing dog with Lilly laying between my hands.  I could stay in that pose for hours if it meant looking into those deep brown eyes.  Life got a little busy, what with grad school and then back to working full time out of the home.  Yoga was pushed to the side.

When my hands were starting to get really bad about 2 years ago, yoga became nearly impossible because my hands hurt and were numb.  I had pain radiating up to my shoulder and I could not hold myself up in a pose like downward facing dog any longer.  I would sometimes try to do a DVD and work around poses that I could not do, but I felt defeated.  I had the surgeries (bilateral carpal tunnel release) a little over 1 year ago.  I am just now able to put some pressure on those hands in that way.  In the past year I have also had some foot issues.  And, to top it all off, I have gained weight.  

Where am I going with this?  Back to yoga.  Truthfully, I probably could have been doing some yoga in the past 6-8 months, which is when my hand stopped hurting that much.  I have a fabulous yoga studio around the corner from me, literally within walking distance, and I don't make the time or the money to go.  I think I was afraid.  A few times I had started to do a DVD or an on demand yoga workout and I could barely get through the first few minutes, let alone a 40 minute workout.  I wanted to be doing the kind of yoga I did 15 years ago.

I have been chatting with the yoga instructor at camp and I happened to mention my back pain.  (old car accident)  She has gently suggested yoga and I said that I know I should and that I love yoga.  My mom has even suggested I get back to yoga many times.  So tonight I did it.  I asked Vin if I could take over the living room for  a bit so that I could do some yoga.  I found a Gentle Yoga workout on demand.  I was tempted to try another work out....power yoga or strengthening yoga.  But I thought that maybe I needed to start with baby steps.  

Within seconds of starting it, I was judging myself.   I used to be able to do this and more.  I used to be able to do shoulder stands.  You're too fat to do this.  If only I had continued.  If only I had started again sooner.  And then I heard the instructor remind the viewer (me) to release any judgement of where you are from your mind.  Wherever you are is where you are.  It is not how far you are stretching up/down/to the side, but are you aligned?  Are you lengthening your spine?  A few times she asked us to lay there and think about how we feel without judging it.  My mind is a freaking chatterbox when given the opportunity.  I was this close to yelling at myself out loud.   I really had to constantly remind myself that it is okay that I am not doing shoulder stands or hanging out in downward dog for 5 minutes at a stretch.  It is okay that I cannot do what I could do 4 years ago or 6 years ago or 10 years ago.  

It is okay that I am overweight. Why?  Because I should not be judging myself on how much I weigh. Should I be taking better care of myself and my body?  You bet.  And I have been moving in that direction.  Slowly but surely I will get to a place where I am happy AND the weight that I want to be.  But until then, I need to be happy with me.  

When I was able to let go of the negative thoughts and actually FEEL my body, I could feel positive things going on inside.  Things that lead me to believe that I can get to a point of wellness.  When I was gentle with myself, my body responded more to my requests.  When I was not berating myself and when I was open, my body opened.  It was almost as if it remembered, too, what regular yoga could do for it.  But my body remembered in a nice way, not the judgmental way of my mind.  It was telling me, and my muscles and joints, to take it slowly, but surely and most do it.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The weekend that wasn't

Sunday night.  What is it about Sunday night that feels so rushed?  Hectic?  Like I forgot to do something everything, over the weekend?  I tend to feel like that a lot during the school year and I definitely did the first week or so of camp.  But then we kind of settled into our routine.  I need to remember so much for Lilly and myself every single day that Sundays were no big deal.

And then Lilly got sick.

Thursday night she had a fever, but no accompanying seizure, and seemed perky and fine in the morning.  I wished she would have been able to stay home, but Vin was out all morning trying to take care of some car issues.  Since she was happy and the fever was not being what I like to call pervasive (creeping up between ibuprofen doses) I let her go to camp.  I brought her to get a temp check after nap and it was completely normal.  By the bus ride home a few hours later I knew it was back.  We are the first to be dropped off on our bus route, and I was thanking God for that on Friday.  As soon as her backpack was off I checked her temperature under her arm...100.9.  And you add 1 to 2 degrees for the armpit measure.  I gave her ibuprofen and gave her an ice pop as a snack.  About 15 minutes later she was sitting on the couch between Vin and I and the seizure hit.  I had been waiting for it to happen.  I just knew she was going to have one, as much as I was trying to prevent it.  It was a short one...3 minutes or so, but it really took a lot out of her.  And me.

I am sure I don't need to say it but I will.  My weekend was shot.  We obviously cancelled our trip down for my Godson's birthday party.  I was as much concerned for Lilly as I was for my newborn niece and all the other children who would be in attendance.  Lilly was not herself all day.  The fever became the pervasive type where I had to piggyback the tylenol and advil.

Today she was a bit better but we were all tired.  I got some laundry and grocery shopping done.  But the laundry is in a basket, and will most likely remain there as we wear our camp clothes out of it each day.  I did not bring the camp groceries up to camp but I will have bags with me on the bus tomorrow.  I have lunch and breakfast stuff for Lilly and I for the week and dinner ingredients for a few days, at least.

And Lilly is okay.  As Dr. Mom my diagnosis is hand, foot, mouth.  I had heard that it was going around so I was not surprised when she told me that her mouth hurt this evening.  Sure enough she has the blisters in her mouth.  My poor bunny.  I am going to have Vin bring her to the doctor tomorrow just to confirm and rule out strep.  I never fool around with strep.  But as long as the advil is in her system she is peppy and twirling and dancing to her many movies and shows that she got to watch this weekend.

I am feeling rather like I want a weekend do-over.  Anyone else in with me?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My little camper

Lilly is having a great time at camp.  At the end of each day she is tired and dirty.  Isn't that the best indicator of a happy 4 year old camper?  Each group has a turn leading the camp in a song or doing a skit or dance at the end of day assembly.  Lilly's group went on Thursday and I happened to have my camera that day.  I cropped the other campers out for privacy reasons.  And bonus...she is so busy all day that her braids stay in ALL DAY!!
p.s.  Check out my other blog, too, for some of the recipes I am making with the campers.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Not Just Washing the Dishes

Did you ever do something that reminds you that you are your mother, who is her mother?  Sometimes words come out of my mouth that remind me of this.  And sometimes I am reminded when I wash the dishes.

At camp I wash a lot of dishes.  Well, cutting boards, mixing bowls and spoons really, but you know what I mean.  On Friday I was washing the dishes during the last period, which I had as a prep. This means I was not racing through them but able to take my time a bit.  My feet were hurting me after standing all day and my back was aching due to the height of the sink.  I am too tall to wash dishes without leaning over the sink, stooping almost.  I ended up leaning over the sink, stretching out my foot behind me and leaning my elbows on the sink edge.  I was doing this to stretch out my achilles but it also helped ease the ache in my back...bonus.  I know that I stand like this a lot when at the kitchen sink.  But for whatever reason, this moment became etched in my mind.

It was in that moment that I had an instant photograph in my mind of walking into the kitchen to see my mom at the sink, leaning over and washing the dishes or peeling potatoes or washing fruit.  And in that same instant I saw my Nanny leaning over the sink washing the dishes or peeling some potatoes or washing some fruit.  It was like a multigenerational instaframe with pictures of the 3 of us standing, leaning over the sink.

I googled images for leaning over the sink and for washing dishes.  I thought that other people must stand like this to wash the dishes.  Nowhere did I find a picture that even closely resembled how we stand.  I think it is in my genes.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Week 1 of Summer Camp? Rocked it!

Normally I am not an I rock kind of person, but some moments just scream out for it.  I was so anxious leading up to my first week as the cooking counselor at summer camp.  I had not worked in a summer camp in years, and never in one like this.  This camp has an amazing reputation and I wanted to live up to it.  Finally, I had never taught anything like this before.  It was all new and I was anxious.

The first day went well with only some minor hiccups.  I figured out how to get everything washed in between groups.  I learned to ask the counselors what time they had to be out of there for the next activity.  Canoeing and swimming require more time in between than lanyards or arts & crafts.

I learned to direct the counselors in how exactly I need them to help their campers (and me) in order to be most efficient and not have campers sitting with nothing to do.  I also figured out that I had to make some latkes ahead of time so that the campers did not have to wait for me to fry them!

Probably the most important thing I learned was that I could do this.  I think the campers had a great time.  I could tell that they were engaged and interested in what we were doing and what I was saying.  A lot of the campers were asking for the recipe!  They were asking what we were making next.  I enjoyed meeting a lot of campers and counselors.  The only downside is that, while I am meeting a lot of people, I am not really able to spend time getting to know particular people.  Maybe that will change as I learn more about how to get everything done and also as the weeks pass.

Lilly loved her first week as a camper!  I love catching glimpses of her running with the other campers on her way to an activity.  She looks especially cute when she is running with her suit on, towel flapping behind her!  She has great counselors and I am thrilled that she is learning how to blow bubbles in the water!  I just know she is going to be a great swimmer!

I just had to edit this to add something that occurred to me as I was rereading it.  I could not have rocked it (lol) without the help of the other counselors who come in with the groups and the camp directors and other staff.  My supervisor has been really supportive and checking in all day long.  I meant to write that before but my grumbly belly distracted me from finishing all my thoughts.