Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Slow-Cooker Asian Pork Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw

Yay, I finally have a new good slow cooker recipe to share!  We tried this on Sunday, and it was a hit!  Which is saying something because my kids love "regular" tacos and are not always keen on something new in their tortilla. 

The problem with getting good flavored meat out of the slow cooker, is that you usually can't.  The strong flavors you start with dilute into blandness as moisture escapes the food and collects in the crock.  One way I see this sidestepped in recipes, is to add something bold and fresh at the end, like vinegar or fresh herbs.  Another way is what I did for this one: skim the fat, and reduce the liquid until it's flavorful again.  Yummmm!  (Too bad I couldn't eat it on my diet, but I did taste the meat, delish, and helped myself to the slaw.)

One more slow-cooker tip: I have come to avoid shredded meat recipes, because shredding the meat is so time-consuming, I hate it!  But I found a genius solution.  Throw that meat in your electric mixer bowl, and "mix" for a few seconds using the paddle attachment.  Voila, shredded meat in the blink of an eye.

Slow-Cooker Asian Pork Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw 
Makes 4 servings

1 large navel orange
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T grated fresh ginger (or more)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 (2.5 lb) pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 T olive oil
Kosher salt
1/2 small head red cabbage
1 medium carrot
8 small flour tortillas 
Chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro, and fresh mint, optional, for garnish
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove 4 strips of zest from the orange (reserve the orange). In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, red pepper, and orange zest.
  2. Add the pork and toss to coat. Cook, covered, until the pork is tender and shreds easily, 7 to 8 hours on LOW or 4 to 5 hours on HIGH.
  3. Thirty minutes before serving, make the slaw. Squeeze the juice from the orange into a large bowl (you should have about 1/2 cup). Whisk in the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Core and thinly slice the cabbage. Cut the carrot into matchsticks. Add the vegetables to the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
  4. Warm the tortillas according to package directions. Using two forks, shred the pork into large pieces (or use the mixer, see note above).  Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan.  Allow to settle, and skim the fat with a spoon.  Cook on medium-high until boiling; allow to boil for 5-10 minutes or until reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2, and flavorful.  Gently toss the meat with the reduced liquid.  Fill the tortillas with the pork mixture and top with the slaw.  Garnish with peanuts, mint, and/or cilantro, if desired.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SFC #6 Hand Knitting

 When I attended the VA Homeschoolers Convention in March, it was my first face-to-face introduction to the varied world of homeschooling.  I attended as many sessions as I could that told about different methods and styles, to get a feel for what's out there.  One of my favorite sessions was an introduction to the Waldorf method.  I walked away wishing I was sending my kids to a Waldorf school instead of homeschooling.  One of the things that especially caught my interest is the emphasis on art - drawing, painting, metal works, sculpture, pottery, and handwork, or fiber arts.  As part of the curriculum, all first graders learn to knit.

I just about died from swooning.  I learned to knit when I was about 10; I never got very good but I can follow a basic pattern, and I loved it (when I had time.)  The thought of teaching children very young how to do this sounded so right to me, I didn't need the justifications that often must accompany alternative education choices.  Here is a nice article about handwork in the Waldorf curriculum.

So I came home knowing I don't know enough about any homeschool approach to do it properly, but I know a little about a lot of things, so that's how we'll roll.  I definitely put knitting on my list of things to include. 

Then I remembered I'm an awkward knitter.  Somewhere along the way I adapted what I'd learned into a strange and inefficient style, and never knew it until my speed-Euro-knitter friend Kat pointed it out about 12 years ago.  I don't want to teach my kids a stupid way to knit!

So I did a quickie internet search on teaching knitting, and what I came across was even better - knitting progressionMaggie's Rags suggested, first teach hand knitting, then loom/toddy knitting, then needles.  (Waldorf even has kids make their own needles!  Love that.)  Never heard of hand knitting, but nothing a quick YouTube search can't fix.  I made this green sample in a few minutes on Sunday:

Then Monday, for Summer Fun Club, we were off to the races.  A few minutes of instruction, a few more minutes of getting the hang, and voila, independent hand knitters.  

They each made a short scarf length, then we tied them off, and they played with them the rest of the afternoon.  Then today we went to Michael's and picked out a few more skeins of thick yarn so they can hand knit their hearts out on our drive to Massachusetts Friday (visiting my sister's family.)  Talk about a handy little skill, and they love it!

Friday, July 12, 2013

SFC #5 DOUBLE FUN (2013)

We had back-to-back fun planned today - a yard water play party in the morning our PeeWee friends had invited us to, followed by going to the pool in our friend Kate's neighborhood.

Unfortunately, we woke up this morning to 72 degrees and rain.  But we've got friends that roll with it.  Double water fun turned into double other fun. 

The morning party turned into an awesome creek walk, complete with popcorn, throwing rocks, and a hot dog lunch.  Awesome!

The afternoon pool party turned into bowling, what could be better?

As we rolled home at 4pm, happy but exhausted, I let the girls know Saturday would be a chore day.  It's sad, but amazingly the house doesn't clean itself in the same way it seems to dirty itself.  Bills, cleaning, and laundry must get done so we can rock another week of Summer Fun Club!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

SFC #3 and #4 Letters and Parfaits (2013)

The plan for Wednesday this week was to go to swim lessons, haircuts, lunch, then write letters for Summer Fun Club.  However, our stylist called to change our hair appointment to 2pm, so we shuffled.  Luckily, amazingly, the activity was portable.  Before leaving for haircuts, I had the girls pack pens, crayons, paper, cards, envelopes, and clipboards in a tote bag, and we were off.  I was going to make them write to their missionary cousin and/or grandparents, but it was a bit...hectic, at the salon, so they could write to whomever they wanted.  It gave them something to do while waiting, was the main thing. 

Addresses and stamps when we got home, and bam, keeping the USPS in business.

Thursday was Ginger's cooking day, and she had placed pudding parfaits on the menu for dessert.  Perfect, ready-made SFC activity, that is.  I think they remembered it from last year

Ingredients: vanilla pudding (everyone gets to stir for 1 1/2 minutes), sliced bananas, Cool Whip, sliced strawberries, cookie crumbs for the top.  And of course the cool parfait cups I got on clearance at Crate & Barrel after Christmas last year.  

They were just the thing to finish Ginger's chicken taco dinner, and she was beaming with pride.  I myself have been so exhausted at the end of each day this week, it's lucky breathing is reflexive, or I might forget to make the effort.  But the girls are having a great time. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

SFC #2 Porcelain Owls (2013)

Summer Fun Club continues its riproaring 2013 season with cousin fun!  This is the first year our nearest cousins have not been in daycamp/childcare in the summer, so we can get together and play more often during weekdays.  In preparation, my sister-in-law Michelle broke out her laminator, with which she and her kids made their own SFC badges, and also placed a summer-sized order with Oriental Trading Company, ensuring fun to last all summer.

One of the things she got was a crate of porcelain owls.  A trip to the paint aisle at Michael's, and SFC is ready to launch.

...after which there was wrestling, outdoor play, and general cousin shenanigans. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Summer Dinner Menu Madness

I'm officially on a diet.  Yes, another one.

This is actually Day 75, but who's counting (besides me)?  I've got all my systems in place.  Gym membership, check.  Diet journal, check.  Cupboards of diet food, yup.  At least four weight-watching apps, mhm.  And this time, not only am I doing the ultimate diet-in-a-box, Nutrisystem, but I am also part of an international online weight loss competition run expertly by my friend Therese.  (The next 8-week round will start August 30 - join us if you like!)

It's going well; I have lost over 10%, and am currently pushing through a plateau for the first time; I've always just given up at this point.  But this is not even what I'm writing about.

Summer is here.  Dinner Swap is on hiatus (sniff, sniff.)  The kids are home.  I am serving up three meals a day to my brood.  This is complicated by my own strict dietary restrictions, not wanting to spend a lot of time in the kitchen making food I can't even eat (quick & easy, please!), and the fact that the girls always want to "help" make dinner.  So here's my latest menu-planning fix:
  • Hazel and Ginger each have a night when they're in charge of dinner.  They plan, cook, and prep it with me, set and clear the table, and help wash the dishes and sweep the floor after.  Win for them: they get a meal they like AND some kitchen time.  Win for me: I don't have to come up with two meals a week, and I know that at least one and most likely all three girls will like it.  
  • Sunday = slow cooker.  I have meant to be on top of this all year, trying old favorite and promising new recipes in the crockpot on Sundays, but it hasn't really panned out that way.  Sundays have been more like leftover/hodgepodge days.  Hoping to turn that around.
  • At least one tried-and-true meal day, either Friday or Saturday.  Pancakes, spaghetti, sandwiches, etc.  No thought whatsoever going into this. 
  • Which leaves 2 to 3 days left for me to plan and cook, depending if we have the stuff for a leftover night.  I can do 2 to 3 days, though that's still more thought than I have to put forth for Dinner Swap.  For those nights, I use a few old favorites, but mostly try new recipes - but they must be SIMPLE.  Luckily, all my summer food mags have "simple weeknight meals" or "simple grilling recipes."  Everyone loves simple in summer!  Woman's Day, while I don't get that magazine, has the best website for quick & easy meal planning - their Month of Menus usually gives me all I need to fill in the blanks without any complicated searching. And if I ever do feel like cooking out of my magazines (especially Cooking Light) or cookbooks, I can take the time to peruse those as well. 
I thought I'd just continue to list what we're eating this summer on my Dinner Swap page, but for now, here's what we've got on menu for the week:

Monday (Hazel) - homemade pepperoni pizza (using Trader Joe's dough), roasted Brussel sprouts, Jell-o with bananas and marshmallows

Tuesday - Wild Mushroom Quesadillas, roasted broccoli

Wednesday - Lemon Chili Chicken, rice, asparagus

Thursday (Ginger) - chicken tacos, nectarines, green salad with cheese cubes and croutons, pudding parfaits

Friday - Lemony Zucchini, Garlic, and Parmesan pizza (also using Trader Joe's dough), fruit smoothies

Saturday - waffles with sausage and fruit

Sunday (slow-cooker) - Asian Pork Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw, fruit salad

I forgot to mention, we are also fans of eating out.  Fast casual, all the way, though we go for lunch more than dinner.  Mid-day, you can often find us at Chipotle, Cafe Rio, Subway, Panera, or Noodles.

What are you eating this summer?

Summer Fun Club is BACK!

We've already been out of school for two weeks, but the first week I had the girls in a Girl Scout camp, and last week we were off on a fabulous family reunion vacation (which I will probably not blog about, but you can catch all the fun on Instagram @disco_mom.)  

So today was really our first official day of summer break as far as I'm concerned.  Meaning, the first day I had to take charge.  Last year, we had Summer Fun Club.  It worked so well, we are pretty much doing the same this year. 

It is even less of a big deal than it sounds.  We stay busy in the morning - errands, swim lessons, playdates, etc.  Then we have lunch, and Poppy goes down for a nap.  We all have quiet time for 1-2 hours - I go in my room and close the door (today I read until I fell asleep for a quick nap), Hazel and Ginger are free to play quietly, read, do art, etc. - anything but TV.  Then I emerge, supposedly refreshed, and we do an activity together.  I keep a notebook with activity ideas, and plan them a week at a time to make sure I have the things we need.  These are very simple.  They mostly require little to no prep work and little to no cost.  Just something for us to do together for a bit of fun to pass the afternoon and not turn our tempers sour or our brains to mush.

The most important thing about Summer Fun Club is presentation.  We have our badges that we made last year; we make putting them on a bit ceremonious, to mark the start of our FUN.  If someone gets upset or ceases to have fun, I will commence in tickling or other silliness until fun is restored.  This is not my general parenting personality, so it's a treat for them to have me act this way.  And finally, it's always a surprise, what we're doing.  I never tell them ahead of time - that would give them time for the novelty to wear off, or for them to consider it might not be that fun.  It's not the activities that make SFC a success; it's presentation and the element of surprise. 

Most of what I have planned for the first few weeks are things I've been accumulating in the storage closet.  Birthday gifts the girls received and haven't used yet (we get so many craft kits.)  Games or activities I got for this or that occasion and we never used, or only used once.  And then there are some favorites from last year they've requested.  I will hardly have to come up with any new ideas for SFC 2013.  But I will.  One or two, at least. 

So today, to start off our SFC season, we gathered at 3:30 (I'd fallen asleep so we didn't really get going until Poppy and I were both up), donned our badges, and headed out to the deck to do Moon Sand.
I'd gotten this months ago, with the thought to use it for a PeeWee lesson, but then I changed my mind, so I'd never opened it.  My girls had never done Moon Sand before, so this was a perfect SFC thing to do.  Luckily, I'd been warned it makes a fantastic mess, so we did it outside.

Moon Sand is like a hybrid of sand and play-doh.  It's crumbly, but moldable.  Reminded me of an eggless cookie dough - you can press it together, but it also crumbles apart.  At first, the girls weren't sure what to make of it; neither was I.  We made a lot of mountains.

Poppy got bored smashing it. 

Then we started coming up with challenges, and made some fun stuff. 

Poppy started treating the big tub of it like a garden, pretending to plant seeds, pat it down, and water it. 

It gave us a good 1.5 hours of fun.  And it did make a big mess, so clean-up followed. 

Then it was off to make dinner.  Summer has finally begun!
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