Friday, July 31, 2009

My So-Called Undomesticated Life

I have been a fan of Claire Danes since I first saw her on "My So-Called Life," in which she played Angela Chase, an awkward, sensitive high school girl trying to find her place in the world.

Now she's all grown up and engaged to Hugh Dancy, a hot young British actor I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of before.

Why am I writing about celeb gossip on Undomesticated Me?

Because Ms. Danes recently surprised herself by announcing publicly that once she and Mr. Dancy marry, she will take on domestic responsibilities (not sure if they'll hire a cleaning person).

"I think back to the 10-year-old me, and it's amazing that I'm ever prepared to do the washing up because it didn't used to be my favorite thing in the world. Housework is not my raison d'etre," said Ms. Danes.

As a former entertainment journalist, I know that it's likely that this quote was taken out of context. Still, it has the ring of truth to it.

Certainly, when I think back to the 10-year-old-me, washing up was not my favorite thing in the world. Is there a ten year old in the world -- or grown-up for that matter -- who actually loves housework?

I get a kick out of the fact that not only is Ms. Danes discussing housework at a movie premiere, but she coined a phrase worthy of being printed on a T-shirt.

I may steal the line for my new mantra: "Housework is not my raison d'etre."

Plus, I like having an excuse to say "raison d'etre."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Easy, Healthy, Tasty

They say it happens after years of marriage -- you begin to turn into your spouse. As I've posted before, Avo is often compelled to cook entire meals because he has one ingredient he wants to use. Now I'm starting to do the same thing.

Yesterday, I noticed we had a pint of grape tomatoes and some garlic that was nearly over-the-hill. Hating to see these still somewhat fresh ingredients go to waste, I searched online and found a delicious recipe for:

Edamame and Black Bean Summer Salad
(adapted from


5 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. shelled edamame, frozen
3 c. corn kernels, frozen
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 (15oz.) can black beans, rinsed & drained

1. In large bowl, whisk red wine vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, sugar, and salt together. Set aside.

2. Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add frozen edamame, boiling for 3 mins. Add frozen corn to water and cook for 2 more mins.

3. Drain edamame and corn and pour into bowl with dressing.

4. Add grape tomatoes, scallions, and black beans, and gently stir to mix.

5. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hrs., then stir and serve.

I should note that this is an incredibly easy and very forgiving recipe.

As always, I should have read the recipe in its entirety before proceeding. Rushing to get dinner on the table, I noticed that the last direction says to "refrigerate for 2 hrs" before serving.

Oops. Luckily, it really didn't matter at all. I tossed it on some leftover quinoa and served it warm.

Another tiny mistake -- I added the scallions to the dressing too early and nearly forgot to add cilantro at all. Oh well. No biggie.

It was fun to put Avo to work as my sous chef -- he got a kick out of using his electric juicer to juice the limes. And Ruby had fun tossing in the corn and edamame.

When dinner was served, she proudly announced, "I made this!"

Avo loved the fact that I was able to use so much food from the refrigerator and freezer and he was thrilled by the finished product.

"Definitely save this recipe! That lime cilantro combination is amazing."

And the highest praise of all? This morning, he brought some leftovers to work in his prized Simpsons thermos (though I can't see Homer approving of such a healthy meal!).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making friends with Kale

Other people are afraid of snakes or thunderstorms.

Me? I'm afraid of kale.

It's so big and green (or purple) and leafy, I find it intimidating. I don't know what to do with it.

But if you're a member of the Park Slope Food Co-Op, kale (and swiss chard), along with tofu and organic milk, seems to be an essential purchase. Trying my best to fit in, the other morning, I tossed a giant bunch of kale into my shopping basket.

"What are you going to do with that?" the nice check-out lady asked.

"Um, I'm not exactly sure."

"Well, it's hard to go wrong with kale," she said.

"If anyone can do it, I can -- go wrong, that is."

Desperate for kale advice, I turned to twitter, where I solicited help:

"Kale scares me. Any tips for making kale my friend?" I asked the twittersphere.

I immediately got enthusiastic responses from generous foodies wanting to share their knowledge and, in particular, their passion for kale.

LastNightsDinnr advised: Heat evo (that's code for extra virgin olive oil), add garlic/chile flakes/kale/salt, cook until as soft as you like. Finish w/sherry vingr or else sausage, white bean and kale soup.

suggested that I "saute onions + garlic in olive oil, add chopped kale, saute until just wilted, add combo of vinegar, worcester, tamari, herbs."

Flourgrrl had a good tip -- "Kale chips: Tear into bite-sized pieces, drizzle w/EVOO & salt. Bake at 350 for 10 min., or 'til browned. Awesome!"

She also recommended making a "green" smoothie -- "Normal smoothie w/ fruit but toss in kale/other greens. Sounds weird but it's great."

These recipes all sounded great (well, maybe not the "green" smoothie), but I opted to go with the Quinoa Pilaf recipe I picked up from the windowsill at my Pilates studio:

Quinoa Pilaf

2 cups quinoa, washed very well
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
3-4 leaves swiss chard or kale, finely chopped, stems removed
1 ear of corn, shaved (can use frozen)
1 TBS sesame or olive oil
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped finely
3 cups water
1/4 tsp. sea salt
umeboshi vinegar (optional) or sea salt to taste


1. Bring water to a boil. Add sea salt and quinoa. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

2. In a separate saucepan, heat oil and saute onion for 2-3 minutes or until translucent.

3. Add carrots, corn, vegetables and sea salt and saute until tender.

5. Add a splash of umeboshi vinegar at the end.

5. Place quinoa in a bowl. Add vegetables and chopped parsley.

6. Mix gently and serve.

Top with lightly roasted and chopped nuts or seeds of your choice. Also delicious with cooked chicken breast or tofu.

I phoned Avo at work to double-check how to dice onions, but since he was in a meeting, I had to revert to the internet. I found directions here.

In hindsight, I realize that I should have broken out the food processor since I ended up not dicing the vegetables small enough (and, in fact, I tore up the kale by hand!).

Also, I should have been more careful when tossing the onions into the hot pan since the oil splattered and I burned my arm. I didn't cry though since my eyes were already teared up from cutting the onions.

I neglected to top it with roasted nuts or seeds or chopped parsley, but it still tasted good!

Avo and I ended up eating it cold. A very refreshing, healthy summer salad! And later today, I might even try to make some of those kale chips.

I can't say that kale is my friend yet, but we have definitely become acquainted.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summertime and the Blogging is Easy

Yesterday I received a panicked e-mail from my mom, who has been a passionate supporter of my blogging efforts.

"Have you abandoned your blog?" she asked.

Leave it to mom to get on my case because I haven't blogged since Monday.

Never fear, Undomesticated Me is here. I have not given up on my mission to learn to cook, clean and be generally useful.

But, give me a break. It's hot. It's humid. The kids are around and yes, I'm slacking off a bit. To be honest, I haven't posted much lately because I haven't cooked and cleaned much lately!

Luckily, my friend Amanda helped me get back on track the other night by guiding me through the recipe for:

Amanda's Pasta Fresca (adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook)

4 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (about 4 medium beefsteak)
1/2 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup to more extra virgin olive oil
14-16 basil leaves
parmesan cheese
1/2 pound fresh salted mozzarella cheese, cubed or in balls
2/3 to 1 lb pasta (I use farfalle)
Lots of salt to taste


Salt and boil water to cook pasta.

Combine 3 cups tomatoes, some of the garlic, olive oil, 10 basil leaves and salt in blender. Blend, taste and adjust amounts. Do not skimp on the oil and especially the salt.

Pour over drained pasta. Combine with last cup of chopped tomatoes, remaining basil, chopped, fresh mozzarella. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

It was fun for me to use the blender for something other than banana smoothies. And, of course, I always get a kick out of using fresh basil leaves from our garden.

"None of this has to be exact. You can adapt it to your taste," Amanda advised.

"But try to use the freshest tomatoes in season, high quality olive oil and freshly made mozzarella. Do not skimp on the oil and especially the salt. The more basil, the better, but it's easy to overdo the garlic."

Thanks to Amanda, we had a fresh, healthy, (and easy!) home cooked meal on Wednesday night -- and Avo was grateful to come home to find dinner waiting for him!

For dessert, the kids had juice pops, while the grown-ups nibbled on some of the most exquisite, flavorful and intense chocolate I've ever had -- lime chilli in a rich dark chocolate handmade in New Zealand by Schoc Chocolate.

I don't think it's available in the U.S. yet (a friend of Avo's brought us a bar), but I am going to do my damndest to locate more!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cooking and Camping

This weekend we went camping for the first time in years. It was a lot more modest than some of our pre-kid hiking adventures, but it was great to get back to the great outdoors.

Luckily, our friends Megan and Jak, real pros at car-camping, thought to bring along the essentials -- ingredients for Jak's famous Hobo Stew (beef, potatoes, carrots), two boxes of Bandit wine, and, of course, marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate for S'mores.

The kids loved searching for just the right sticks and then loading them with marshmallows. As always, the real challenge was getting the marshmallow gooey enough to melt the chocolate, but not setting it on fire (I wasn't entirely successful).

Avo says that before he met me, he thought S'mores were made using chocolate-covered graham crackers, but I have never heard of such a crazy tradition.

I'm more of a purist when it comes to S'mores, which I first tasted as a kid at Camp Sloane, where I fondly remember "S'mores with the Moores," the camp director's family.

I also remember when my big brother and I got the not-so-bright idea of making S'mores in the toaster (using forks instead of sticks!). Luckily, we were not electrocuted (don't try that one at home)!

Still, there's nothing like the taste (and smell) of S'mores roasted fresh over a campfire.

Here is a basic recipe:


Large marshmallows
Chocolate bars, quartered (I'm generally a dark chocolate snob, but in this case, I prefer Hershey's milk chocolate)
Graham crackers, halved


1. Place marshmallow on the end of whittled sticks. Toast marshmallow over a campfire (resist the urge to stick marshmallow into the fire and watch it go up in flames.)

2. Once it's evenly browned, place marshmallow with 1 piece of chocolate between two graham cracker halves and squish. Let it cool for a moment and eat right away. Have some wet wipes handy because you're going to need them!

For more creative recipes for S'mores (e.g. Baked Alaska Peanut S'mores), check out this site.

And if you're really gung-ho and feel compelled to make entirely homemade s'mores (including homemade graham crackers and marshmallows), follow this recipe.

I'm sure I could whip that up in no time, but I don't feel the need to show off. I'm still basking in the afterglow of a fun weekend spent with friends out in the country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Every Housewife's Friend

You may already be familiar with Heloise. Her "Hints from Heloise" column is syndicated daily in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and internationally.

She's also a contributing editor at Good Housekeeping.

The original Heloise began dispensing household in the 50s and published her first book, "Heloise's Housekeeping Hints" in 1962. Yes, that's her with President Richard Nixon.

When Heloise died on December 28, 1977, her tombstone read, "Heloise, Every Housewife's Friend." Following Heloise's death, her daughter took over as "Heloise."

I recently became acquainted with Heloise's work when I happened upon a used edition of "Heloise from A to Z" at a stoop sale. I couldn't pass it up for $1. Plus, it's a large print edition, so I don't even have to strain my eyes to read it.

The book provides helpful hints in alphabetical order -- from Abrasive Cleaners to Water Bed. You can turn to looking for answers to specific questions or you can do what I did and read it before bed.

Here are some household hints that I found particularly helpful:

To roast almonds in the microwave

1. Toss almonds with oil to coat them lightly. Arrange them in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate.
2. Heat on full power for two minutes. Toss again and let rest one minute. Heat two minutes longer, until almonds are golden brown.
3. Drain and cool on paper towels.

How to make your own glass cleaner

Mix 2 ounces of rubbing alcohol, 2 ounces of non-sudsing ammonia, and 12 ounces of water and store in a clean, clearly marked spray bottle.

The book is pretty comprehensive. Heloise even gives doles out advice on how to curb dog car sickness (take your dog on 15 minutes trip every other day and then increase the time gradually) and how to use the last bit of jelly in the jar (add milk and shake vigorously and you'll have a fruity shake).

That Heloise thinks of everything!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Welcome Home

The girls and I are back in Brooklyn.

We arrived home on Saturday afternoon to find a spotless apartment. It seems that in preparation for our return, Avo scrubbed the bathrooms, polished the floors, and vacuumed the carpets. The laundry was clean too, but he confessed that he took the easy route and sent it to a local laundromat (nobody's perfect!).

Clearly, he must have lacked for entertainment while we were away because he also organized our Tupperware collection. What a wild and crazy guy!

Trying to get back in the swing of domestic life, this morning I went food shopping. But when I arrived home and unpacked my reusable bags, I realized that I had purchased nothing substantial. Nothing with which to cook a meal -- unless I plan on serving peanut butter pretzels, dried mango and cereal for dinner.

Now Avo is cooking us a late dinner of grilled tilapia with fresh basil from our garden. Unfortunately, I neglected to buy any vegetables to accompany the fish.

If we get desperate for a side dish, we might have to resort to the peanut butter pretzels. After all, they are a wonderful source of protein.

"At least I defrosted the fish and turned on the rice cooker, right?" I ask pathetically.

"Nobody defrosts fish quite like you, honey."

It's nice to be home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lazy Undomesticated Me

It's my parents' fault that I haven't been blogging regularly this week. They've pampered me so much during my visit that I am too relaxed to blog.

Besides, what would I blog about? I haven't had to cook or clean since arriving more than a week ago. When we don't go out to dinner, they prepare something at home.

And my clothes seem to be magically cleaned and folded.

But, given that I'm in the South, I thought it only fitting to pay tribute to a regional favorite drink, iced tea.

My mom prefers the instant powdered mix, but I like the old-fashioned freshly brewed kind.

Here's how to make your own:

1. Place six tea bags (black or herbal) in a class measuring cup or ceramic teapot. Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to soften the natural tannins that cause an acid or bitter taste).

2. Pour two cups of boiling (filtered) water over the tea bags (I use an electric kettle).

3. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the tea bags. Don't squeeze them since that will only add bitterness.

5. Pour into a two-quart pitcher (don't use glass or it might shatter) and add 6 cups of cold water. Sweeten with simple syrup (sugar water) if desired.

True Southerners like their tea very sweet, but I prefer just a touch of simple syrup and some lemon (fresh mint tastes good too).

Another personal fave is the Arnold Palmer, a blend of 1/2 iced tea and 1/2 lemonade.

Free refills for everyone!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Doesn't Float My Boat

I learned last night that I'm not a Root Beer Float fan. As a die hard Brooklynite, I guess I'm more of an Egg Cream gal. Besides, I'm an ice cream purist on principle. Given the choice, I'd always prefer to have the ice cream without the root beer.

My parents' friends served Root Beer Floats and store bought (!) red, white, and blue mini-cupcakes at their fireworks viewing party. My kids were turned off by the ice cream flavor and didn't even want to try the floats. But they had no problem inhaling the cupcakes.

To be fair, the Root Beer Floats they served were a bit unconventional -- they substituted coffee almond fudge ice cream for the classic vanilla. Also, they skipped the requisite whipped cream and maraschino cherry.

The classic recipe is as follows:

1/2 pint vanilla ice cream
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle root beer
1/2 cup whipped cream
4 maraschino cherries

Place 1 scoop of ice cream into each of two tall glasses. Pour root beer carefully over the ice cream. Add another scoop and repeat. If possible, repeat again....And again and again! Top with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

There are other, more sophisticated variations too. Bobby Flay concoted this adult version, which calls for bourbon:

1 pint vanilla ice cream
2 bottles very cold old-fashioned root beer
Splash bourbon, optional
Freshly whipped cream


Place a few scoops of vanilla ice cream into 2 tall float glasses. Pour the root beer and bourbon, if using, over the ice cream and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

After a few of those, you're sure to be seeing fireworks!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Red, White, and Blue Food

As much as I love my country, I am not one of these people who feels it necessary to eat only red, white and blue food on July 4th.

That said, this patriotic dessert from Rachael Ray is not only easy to make, it's also nutritious and delicious. I plan on serving it to the kids tomorrow as part of our July 4th festivities.

Red, White, and Blue Fruit Cups


1 pint fresh strawberries
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh blackberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pint heavy whipping cream


Slice strawberries and combine in a bowl with blue and/or blackberries. Sprinkle berries with two teaspoons sugar. Whip cream until soft peaks form and sweeten with remaining sugar. Serve berries in small cups with generous spoonfuls of fresh whipped cream.

And if you're really feeling ambitious, go ahead and try making this Flag Cake.

Have yourself a Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How to Boil Water

Beginning cooks (myself included) are often fearful of turning on the stove. They may worry that they don't even know how to do anything right -- they can't even boil water!

Luckily, I found helpful step-by-step instructions at

1. Choose a pot that's large enough to hold the amount of water you want to boil, and has a lid that fits.

2. Remember that the pot might have to be bigger than you'd think if you're going to add food to the water. Without enough room in the pot, for example, rice or pasta will boil over.

3. Place the pot on a stove burner and pour cold water from a measuring cup into the pot. Or, if you're doing something such as cooking pasta and don't need to measure, just run cold water from the tap into the pot, then place the pot on the burner.

4. Turn the burner to high. Cover the pot.

5. Check for steam escaping from under the lid, then lift the lid carefully to see how the water is doing.

6. Look at the water. If large bubbles are rising from the bottom of the pot to the surface, the water is boiling.

If these instructions are too confusing to you, you can watch a video instead.

Guess what? You know how to boil water. Now what?!

NOTE: Do not become engaged in an engrossing phone conversation or check your e-mail while boiling water or else the pot might boil over. I did this once and the pot stuck to the burner.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mom's Melon-Cutting Tips

My husband never trusts me with a knife. Seriously -- he won't even let me cut a bagel since he's sure things will end badly.

And, to be honest, he's got reason to be concerned. Last summer while cutting rice krispie treats with a bread knife, I sliced my finger and nearly fainted (luckily, I somehow managed to avoid a trip to the ER).

As soon as he knew I was okay, Avo's first words when he saw me lying on the floor were:

"You've been flirting with a knife wound for some time!"

He's right, of course. Instead of taking the time to properly cut food the safe way, I tend to chop away wildly -- inevitably, using the wrong instrument for the job.

Just yesterday I inadvertently massacred a cantaloupe while trying to slice it into bite-size pieces.

My mom proceeded to give me a lesson in how to cut a cantaloupe:

1. Cut the cantaloupe in half (through the blossom end).
2. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
3. Cut each half into slices the long way.
4. Use a small paring knife to cut off the rind.
5. Cut into triangular shaped pieces.

"I would cut in my hand, but I'm afraid for you," my mom said. So she advised me to lay the slices on a cutting board before using the paring knife to cut off the rind.

Her masterful technique is much better than my hack job!