Friday, October 12, 2018

Egyptian Barley Salad


I may have complained about it before, but I've had to do a heck of a lot more driving since moving to Colorado. Everything is just a bit further away here than it was back in Pennsylvania. School alone is an hour long drive round-trip if traffic is good. Get stuck behind a train or caught in a traffic jam and the commute time easily gets pushed passed the 90-minute mark! Because of this, on days when Matthew has sports practice, I normally do not go back home after school until the practice is over. This means that if his practice does not begin until 5:00 PM and school is out at 3:00, that we have to kill time somewhere else for a couple hours. Thankfully, their school is located very close to a branch of the public library. I normally take the kids there and have Matthew work on his homework while the girls and I read, play games, or draw. Surprisingly, the time passes rather quickly and everyone mostly enjoys themselves.

Although we all prefer the days when Daddy brings dry ice from work to play with...







Yesterday we were hanging out the library as we normally do a couple days out of the week. I was reading a story to Emma and Lucy when they suddenly noticed that children were gathering for what appeared to be a story time. Now, we have a very large Hispanic population in the area of town where my kids' school is located. Because of this, nearly half of the library books at this particular library branch are in Spanish and a large portion of the library activities are conducted in Spanish. I noticed that this particular story time - which was very well attended by a dozen Spanish-speaking families - was intended for Hispanics.

Emma and Lucy, upon seeing the moderator preparing her materials for the story time begged me to let them attend.

"I don't know girls. This story time is going to be entirely in Spanish. I'm not sure you're going to be able to understand much of it," I explained to them.

This did not deter Emma, who is currently taking Spanish as part of her Kindergarten curriculum. She began bouncing up and down while clapping her hands and saying, "I am learning Spanish! I can talk a little bit in Spanish!" And before I could stop her, she had danced over to the large group gathered for the story time and skipped right into the center of the circle, waving enthusiastically while declaring: "Hola amigos!!"

The moderator encouraged Emma to be seated and then asked her: "¿Cómo te llamas?"

To which Emma replied: "Eh? What did you say?" You see, she had already displayed the majority of her Spanish vocabulary which I'm pretty sure she learned from Dora the Explorer.

By this point, Lucy and I had joined Emma and I quickly whispered to her: "Tell her 'Me llamo Emma'." And she did. Lucy did the same with her name and the two of them sat down and listened to a story completely in Spanish about a girl who had red curly hair and desired nothing more than for it to be straight and smooth. So, she went through a number of drastic experiments in a vain attempt to straighten her curls. I'm not sure how much of the story my girls understood, but Emma laughed and laughed louder than any other child there throughout the entire tale at each and every silly way the poor little girl tried to change her hair.

Then it was time to sing some songs. The girls quickly caught on to the first song since it was "If You're Happy And You Know It" just in Spanish. They surprisingly picked up the Spanish lyrics quickly and sang loudly while doing all the correct hand motions. For being the only non-fluent participants of the Spanish story time, they were more vocal and enthusiastic than any other child there.

Next, the librarian pulled out a large laminated poster featuring the letters of the alphabet with a corresponding animal picture underneath each letter. She started going through each letter and encouraged the children to make the sounds and say the name of the animal in the picture. When she reached the letter "O", there was a picture of a bear underneath the letter. The librarian prompted the children: "O es para oso." And then reiterated the lesson by pointing to the picture of the bear: "Oso. Oso!" This made Emma laugh very loudly: "Oso! Ha! That's a funny name for a bear! HAHAHA!"



I was truly concerned that their Spanish illiteracy would disrupt the class, but at the end, the librarian approached me and encouraged me to bring the girls back for Spanish Story Time each week. She loved seeing how they did not grow bored or restless even though they did not understand the language but rather displayed an interest in learning new words! Everyone was so kind and encouraging of the girls and they truly did enjoy themselves. Maybe if I keep bringing them, they will actually pick some of it up.

As usual, the recipe I want to share with you today has absolutely nothing to do with my story. It's a simple barley salad that is actually Egyptian in origin. That simple fact is the only reason Matthew was willing to try it because he is suspicious of anything that has feta in it. But he not only tried it, he actually liked it! This is a filling salad - with raisins, pistachios, feta, green onions in addition to the barley. We ate this as a meatless meal and it was plenty filling BUT you could certainly add some grilled chicken that has been marinated in lemon and garlic. This would also make a great side to some salmon or as a bed for shrimp! The original recipe called for pomegranate molasses which I could not find so I used honey as a substitute. They also detail that a garnish of pomegranate seeds would add some lovely color as well as an additional level of texture to the dish but I skipped that too because I don't like them. If you happen to try the salad with either of those ingredients, let me know how you like it!


Egyptian Barley Salad with Feta and Pistachios
from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook

Note: Do not substitute hulled barley or hull-less barley in this recipe.

1½ cups pearl barley
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup golden raisins
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
¼ cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped coarse
4-6 ounces feta cheese
6 scallions, sliced thin
½ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. Add barley and 1 tablespoon salt, return to boil, and cook until tender, 20 to 40 minutes. Drain barley, spread onto rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Whisk oil, honey, cinnamon, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add barley, raisins, cilantro, and pistachios and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add feta and scallions and pomegranate seeds (if using) and toss lightly to combine. Serve!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)


I have been studying the four temperaments lately as a way to better understand my children, my husband, and myself and how we process situations and conduct ourselves emotionally. My hope was to glean a little extra insight so I might be able to tweak my parenting in order to better communicate with my children. I figured it would also help me deal with Paul when things get a little tense, which happens to us from time to time.



Well, all my research and studies have led me to conclude one thing: when one major choleric procreates with another major choleric, you end up having children who are EXTREME cholerics. In theory, this is not necessarily a terrible thing. Cholerics tend to be self-assured, extroverted, motivated leaders. According to the book The Four Temperaments, Cholerics "are firm and forceful in their approach to problems...[they] word things with confidence and certainty...possess confidence and demanding natures that make them natural leaders."

Sounds great, right?

Not so fast...Cholerics also tend to be aggressive individuals who love competition, but hate to lose. They are defiant of authority because they wish to prove themselves dominant and in charge. They can be very condescending towards others, particularly those that fail to take charge as a fellow choleric would. They can be the most loyal of friends until you get cross them and then they will do everything required to make you pay for it. The book really addresses some of the worst tendencies of the choleric, explaining that they "may take pleasure in the pain, misfortune, or humiliation of people they are not on good terms with and may blame others for their own mistakes. They hate admitting when they are wrong. They feel that they can define and understand and advise others, but laugh at the thought that others could do the same to them."

That last sentence could describe my two eldest children with terrifying accuracy. Have you ever had the pleasure of playing a board game with my family? If any one of us loses, we have to really restrain ourselves to not treat the winner like absolute crap the rest of the day or to ramble on and on about how the only reason we could have possibly lost that game was because of some extreme injustice on the part of the victor. Paul and I can't play card games together for this reason. It never ends well. Thus, for the sake of our marriage, we keep away from such traditional pastimes. Unfortunately, Paul and I both love to be right all the time (it doesn't help that we normally are!...joking joking). Big surprise, that I birthed a bunch of know-it-alls. All my children have the amazing ability, at the tender age they are, to be absolute experts on every subject known to man. They're either a bunch of geniuses or....they're all cholerics.

Just Keeping It Real on Instagram. Original post was from my sister Amy.  

If you look up the word "choleric" in the dictionary, you will find the single biggest character trait associated with this temperament: a tendency to outbursts of anger. To describe a choleric individual is to depict one as bad-tempered, irascible, crabby, touchy, or grouchy.

Super flattering, but unfortunately, also a fairly accurate description for every single member of our family. All of us fly off the handle so easily it's embarrassing. Inanimate objects are very often the focus of our wrath as well as people. I was thinking about this during breakfast this morning while I watched Paul become extremely angry at his spoon for allowing milk to drip everywhere while he attempted to eat his cereal. He slammed his hand down angrily on the table and went to grab a napkin, cursing that blasted silverware the entire time. I just reminded him gently that, if he should need the assistance, I am here to feed him.

If you think that comment didn't go over very well, you would be correct.

Anyway, my point is that we have some very strong-willed, all-knowing, all-powerful, super-egos residing in this household and dealing with all of us on a daily basis is truly exhausting. Studying up on the temperaments and realizing how choleric we all are failed to enlighten me on how to deal with one another better but rather made me feel very overwhelmed. Maybe I should have married a melancholic? But then who would entertain me with angry, dramatic outbursts at the seat belt that won't buckle or the shoe lace that won't come untied? Life would be so dull otherwise.

Future Choleric. It's in his genes.


What does all this have to do with Baked BBQ Pork Buns? Absolutely nothing. But I'm a choleric! I can do whatever I want - and it is PERFECT.

Anyway...these BBQ Pork Buns are incredible. I already gave you the easy recipe for the amazing filling. Detailed below is the method for preparing the dough. It uses the tangzhong method which is a Japanese technique for incorporating a water roux into the dough that serves to pre-gelatinize the starches in the flour, allowing it to absorb more water. Heating the starch with the water produces more structure that enable the resulting bread to rise higher due to the internal steam produced by the extra moisture retained in the dough. The result is a very fluffy-textured bread that is truly a delight to eat. Stuff them with sweet pork and top them with a slightly crunchy sugar coating and you have a magnificent treat that will pass as a fun weekend dinner. We enjoyed these while watching Notre Dame beat Stanford a couple weeks ago and they were a pretty perfect football game food if you ask me!

Oh, and all of us cholerics approved of this recipe!


Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
from America's Test Kitchen

For the Dough:
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons plus 2 2/3 cups (13 1/3 ounces) all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup cold whole milk
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 4 teaspoons (3 ounces) sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons nonfat dry milk powder
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces and softened

For the Topping:
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons (3 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Filling:
1 1/4 pounds Chinese BBQ Pork filling

For the dough: Whisk water and 2 tablespoons flour in small microwave-safe bowl until smooth.  Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency and registers at least 150 degrees, about 40 to 60 seconds.  Whisk in milk until smooth, then whisk in egg until smooth.

In a bowl of stand mixer, whisk together 2 2/3 cups flour, sugar, milk powder, yeast, and salt.  Add cooked flour mixture.  Fit stand mixer with dough hook and mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Increase speed to medium-high and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 10 to 12 minutes.

Fit stand mixer with paddle.  With mixer running on medium speed, add butter, 1 piece at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition.  Continue to mix until butter is fully incorporated and dough is no longer shiny, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Transfer dough to very lightly floured counter.  Knead dough briefly to form ball and transfer, seam side down, to lightly greased large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1/2 hours.  (Wash and dry mixer bowl and paddle.)

For the topping: Meanwhile, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.  Using clean, dry mixer bowl and paddle, beat butter and confectioner's sugar on medium high speed until light, pale, and fully, about 3 minutes.  With mixer running, gradually add eggs, then vanilla; mix until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed for about 2 minutes.  Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down bowl, then fold ingredients by hand to mix fully.  Transfer mixture to 1-quart heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and snip off 1 corner, making hole no larger than 1/4 inch (alternatively, transfer to pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch piping tip); set aside until ready to use (do not refrigerate).

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Transfer dough to counter and divide into 20 equal pieces (about 1 1/2 ounces each).  Working with 1 piece at a time, press dough into 4-inch round on lightly floured counter and drape in muffin tin to form cup shape.  Fill dough cup with about 1 1/2 tablespoons pork filling.  Pull edges of dough to center and pinch tightly to seal.  Transfer bun to counter, seam side down, and rotate gently to form round shape.  Repeat with remaining dough pieces and remaining pork filling.  Space 10 balls evenly on prepared sheet.  Lightly spray tops of buns with vegetable oil spray, cover with plastic, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees.

When buns are doubled in size, pipe about 2 tablespoons topping in tight spiral on top of each bun (topping should form circle roughly 2 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick).  Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until topping is golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating sheet halfway though baking  Transfer buns to wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes.  Serve.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)


This has been the craziest week of the school year so far. My small dog walking/sitting business has been quite busy, so in between client visits, taking care of the kids, and keeping house, there is relatively no down time. Paul has also been working like a dog at work. The other day he ran a test that lasted 18 hours and required constant vigilance from him so he spent the entire day and night at the lab. He then stumbled home around 6:00 AM, slept for two hours while I took the kids to school, and then headed back into work. Matthew has also been playing flag football for his school, but since Paul has been busy at work, I have had to do the majority of the shuffling which requires taking everyone to practice and back. And then there is homework - which I dread. Matthew's homework is supposed to only take him 20 minutes, but he whines and procrastinates so much that it turns into a couple hours worth of homework. And I have to hover over him to instruct, encourage, and - at times - threaten him until it all gets done. It's exhausting, exhausting, exhausting.


The busy days make me long for more relaxed ones. It seems like so long since we have had a proper vacation. I've been reminiscing about the few days a little over a year ago that Paul and I spent in New York City. I can't believe that was only a year ago. At that time, we never would have suspected that in just a few short months we would have another baby on the way, putting our home on the market, and preparing to move across the country. It's crazy, but it happened and here we are.

One of our favorite memories from New York is strolling through Chinatown and dining at a 100-year-old Dim Sum restaurant. My favorite dim sum is of course BBQ Pork Buns and I have always wanted to make my own but always imagined they would be a bit on the complicated side. When I spied a recipe for Char Siu - the filling for those marvelous BBQ Pork buns - I was surprised to find that it is a rather easy method of preparation. A bit of planning ahead is necessary as a lengthy marinading stage is required in addition to a couple hours in the oven, but the end result is a sweet, tender, addictive main dish that will satisfy any craving you might have for Char Siu. This was JUST as good as the Char Siu we ate in Chinatown. Everyone loved it - including all of the kids. Even the one who recently sprouted a mustache.


The best part of this recipe? It details how a portion of this pork can be set aside and prepared into a filling for pork buns. That is exactly what I did and I could not have been more thrilled with the results. That recipe is coming up next - so stay tuned!

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and make some Char Siu. Serve it up with some fried rice and roasted broccoli for a complete meal. And do reserve a bit to make pork buns.



Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)
from America's Test Kitchen

Note: I've also included directions below if you are planning to use a portion of the Char Siu to fill pineapple buns or bao. Not much extra work is required and only 12 ounces of the pork is required to make a generous bunch of pork buns! My next post will feature that recipe!)

4 pounds boneless pork butt (also called pork shoulder or Boston butt)
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing Chinese rice wine
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon red food coloring (for that traditional deep red color; I omitted)
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon pink curing salt #1 (I got it from a local spice store but it is also available on Amazon)
3/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons cornstarch (if filling Pineapple Buns)

Cut pork into 4 pieces and butterfly to create 3/4-inch-thick pieces. Divide pork between 2 one-gallon zipper-lock bags.  Whisk soy sauce, sugar, hoisin, Shaoxing, ginger, sesame oil, garlic, food coloring, five-spice powder, and pepper together in large bowl.  Measure out 1 cup marinade and set aside.  Whisk pink curing salt into remaining marinade; divide equally between bags and rub to distribute evenly over pork.  Press out as much air as possible from bags and seal; refrigerate pork for at least 10 hours or up to 16 hours.

While pork marinates, whisk honey and reserved marinade together in medium saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until glaze is reduced to 1 cup, 4 to 6 minutes.  (Glaze can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

If filling Pineapple Buns: Reserve 2 tablespoons glaze and set aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees F/121 degrees C.  ine rimmed bakin gsheet with aluminum foil and set wire rack in sheet.  Spray rack with vegetable oil spray.

Remove pork from marinade, letting excess drip off, and place on prepared rack.  Cover sheet tightly with aluminum foil, crimping edges to seal.  Bake until pork registers 195 degrees F/90.5 degrees C, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  Remove pork from oven and discard foil.  Let pork rest on rack for 30 minutes.

If filling Pineapple Buns:  Pour pan juices into fat separator and let settle for 5 minutes.  Pour off and reserve 3/4 cup defatted juices; discard remaining juices.

Heat broiler.  Brush both sides of pork with half of remaining glaze; broil until top is mahogany, 2 to 6 minutes.  Flip pork and broil until second side is mahogany, 2 to 6 minutes.  Brush both sides with remaining glaze and continue to broil until top is dark mahogany and lightly charred, 2 to 6 minutes longer (second side does not get broiled again).  Transfer pork to carving board, charred side up, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Slice pork crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick strips and serve.

If filling Pineapple Buns or Baked Char Siu Bao:  Combine reserved defatted juices with reserved 2 tablespoons glaze in small saucepan and whisk in cornstarch.  Bring to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and cook until mixture is thickened and glossy, about 1 minute.  Transfer to bowl with 12 ounces chopped pork and toss to combine; set aside until ready to use.  (Pork filling yields 1 1/4 pounds and can be refrigerated for up to 7 days.)

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Peek Inside Our Colorado Home



We have now lived in Colorado for nearly eight months. Things have finally settled down - my broken foot is completely healed and I'm back to running on it like normal, the baby has been born, our Pennsylvania home has sold, the kids are in school and loving it, and we are gradually getting to know more people in our church and neighborhood community. Life has been good and we are very blessed!


One of my friends suggested that I post a home tour on this here blog now that we have everything *mostly* set up and organized. I'm not going to show every nook and cranny, but I'll show off the main areas of the house so you can get the general sense of what our home is like! I already posted some pictures from our PA home when I was begging God to send us a buyer - and did he ever pull through for us! Now it's time to give y'all a peek inside our home in the Rockies!


Of course, we had to put up a flag in support of Notre Dame on the outside. Paul and I would be terribly disloyal alumni if we did not show our support during football season.


"Welcome to our home!" says little miss Lucy. She's always ready and willing to hold the door open for me. This is the entrance from the garage. We have a bench there to force all the children to take off and leave their stinky little shoes by the door. Ironically, they normally sit on the floor and ignore the bench.

View from the garage doorway.


As you walk in from the garage, you can look to the right and see the main doorway into the house as well as the french doors leading into the office.



If you take a left, you can walk towards the kitchen and living room area. The stairs and my desk are located on your left as well as the doorway leading down to the basement.


Directly across from the stairs and my desk is our dining room.



Then we head into the kitchen. It's unusual to NOT find someone in here eating.



Ooops! Daniel got hungry while I was taking pictures. He's mashing up some cheerios now with his toothless gums and being stinkin' cute like normal.



Here are some views into the living room area.


Daniel got sick of eating so now he's having a story read to him by his big brother in the living room.


Let's head upstairs!


We have a loft that can serve as another family room space. It's basically the play room. It's a pretty awesome space because the kids can play up here and still see me working downstairs in the kitchen. This way, they feel like the can bug me still without physically being underfoot. It's awesome.


Guest bedroom that also functions as our baby room when guests are not in town. Best windows in the house are right here!



Emma and Lucy's bedroom. We are still sticking with the birds and owls theme.





Matthew's bedroom. A lot of Star Wars, LEGOs, and dinosaurs. Can you spot King Kong dressed as Davy Crockett? Or Matthew's ski boots out, cleaned and ready to hit the slopes this winter?



Jack and Jill bathroom located between Matthew's room and the girls' room. They love having a bathroom connected to their bedrooms. They also enjoy locking one another out of the bathroom.


Sliding barn door reveals bathroom and walk-in-storage closet.


Master bedroom. Too large for these two minimalists.



Daniel got tired and is now taking a well-deserved nap. A baby's life is so rough.


Master bath with an adjoining walk-in closet. I couldn't get a good picture of the vanity but it has two sinks which I am loving. We use that giant tub for bathing the youngest kids. Lucy loves it because it's practically a mini swimming pool for her!


That concludes our home tour! Friends and family are always willing to visit us at any time. Nuestra casa es su casa!