An Imaginary Iowa Caucus Potluck

Iowa Caucus Potluck

Caucusing is hard work.

First off, you have to go outside. At night. In the winter. In Iowa. If I lived in Iowa I would subsist on snow cream and pizza delivery and refuse to leave the house between November and April, I’m pretty sure. Except for the Iowa caucuses. I would have to be suffering from a particularly rough case of ebola to miss those. Actual Iowans apparently feel the same way. They’re willing to risk their eyeballs freezing to the insides of their eyelids for the sake of American democracy. Continue reading “An Imaginary Iowa Caucus Potluck”

Spinach Stuffed Shells

spinach stuffed shells

Rating: 4/5 stars. These pretty spinach stuffed shells make a festive entrée for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Yesterday began with Chattanooga’s one obligatory minor snowfall of the year and ended with a call to the Poison Control Center. We like to keep things interesting.

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I know it’s hard to believe, but somehow that little innocent managed — after bedtime, in the dark, using her bed as a trampoline — to reach into her top dresser drawer, find a jar of Vicks VapoRub, open it, and spread it all over her face and bed. Rob and I, watching TV downstairs, were completely clueless until we heard some wailing upstairs around 10 o’clock. We found our daughter and everything in her bedroom greased like a hog and smelling like a pharmacy. #1 had hidden the incriminating Vicks by this point, but it was clear what had happened. And then she said it: “Ninny eat some.”

Continue reading “Spinach Stuffed Shells”

Squash Sprout Salad

Squash Sprout Salad

Rating: 4/5 stars. This squash sprout salad — which can serve as a sophisticated side or a substantial entree — is a celebration of the best flavors and textures of the colder months of the year.

Someone please explain to me the general public’s prejudice against Brussels sprouts. I just don’t get it. Brussels sprouts are a delight. For one thing, they’re like little miniature cabbages. Adorable! People love miniature donkeys, teacup chihuahuas, even miniature giraffes. Why not the cute little miniature cabbage, aka Brussels sprout?

More importantly, Brussels sprouts have a great texture, especially when roasted. The exterior layers cook up all crisp and papery, while the interior remains chewy and moist. And to me, roasted Brussels sprouts taste just like fall. We’re now in the depths of winter, but this salad hearkens back to the season of decorative gourds–a definite point in its favor. In fact, it would make an amazing Thanksgiving side dish.

A note on the rating: Personally, I would give this squash sprout salad a full five stars. It has so many of my favorite cold-weather Photo Jan 16, 12 54 04 PMflavors. But Rob is in the anti-sprout camp (despite the fact that he loves cabbage; tell me how that makes sense), so I deducted a star from this dish for stirring up vegetable-related family dissension.

Time Commitment: About 45 minutes. Most of that time is passive; you just have to keep an eye on your veggies and lentils as they cook.

Mess: I bought packaged squash and sprouts, making this dish quick to come together and to clean up.

Mom Fails: Two words: mushy lentils. That made the final product of the salad a little bit stickier than I would have liked; everything was coated in a layer of lentil goo. After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that I probably cooked my lentils at too high heat. After bringing lentils to a rapid boil, you want to decrease the heat as much as possible to keep them just barely at a simmer. Or so says the internet.

Squash Sprout SaladSquash Sprout Salad

Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Spicy Squash Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side


  • Olive oil for drizzling vegetables
  • 1/2 c black or green lentils
  • 2-3 c (or 1 12 oz bag) peeled, cubed butternut squash
  • 2 c chopped or shredded Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 c crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/4 c roasted seeds (I used some sunflower seeds I had on hand, but you could use pumpkin or even the seeds from a fresh butternut squash)
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook lentils according to directions on the bag. This should take approximately 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In the meantime, line a shallow baking dish with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. Add squash and sprinkle with salt and oil. Then roast for 20-30 minutes or until cubes of squash are tender, but not too brown. Watch your squash closely; it might take more or less time depending on how large the cubes are.
  4. When the squash is tender and slightly browned, toss the shredded Brussels sprouts into your baking dish. Stir to combine; then put everything back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. You want to cook the sprouts just enough so that the exterior layers are getting crispy, but not black.
  5. Let everything cool to room temperature.
  6. Mix together all ingredients in a pretty salad bowl. Serve as a main dish with bread or rice, or as a side dish to your eye-popping Thanksgiving spread.

Red Lentil Dal

red lentil dal

Rating: 5/5 stars. The complex flavors of this red lentil dal with onions come together quickly and simply–an excellent weeknight meal!

Like most of America, Rob and I spent a lot of this week making plans for the billion plus dollars of lottery winnings that were sure to be ours Wednesday night. In this, as in most things, we tended towards the self-righteous. We wouldn’t buy a boat. Too much work! We wouldn’t buy a million-dollar home (which, in Chattanooga, is quite a home). Too much unused space! Too much furniture to buy! We briefly considered chartering planes for all our travel (because commercial flying = the worst), but then we looked up how much that cost and decided it would be too wasteful. Instead, we discussed charities we would donate to or found–industries that hire ex-cons, daycares that provide quality child care to low-income mothers, scholarship funds for undocumented kids. (See? I told you we were self-righteous!)

We agreed on at least one selfish project, though: a wall of built-in bookshelves for our living room. Our three ancient Ikea shelves are all literally double-booked. Rob’s calculus books are starting to feel like second class citizens because they’re tucked away behind the newfangled Mathematical Methods for Foreign Exchange. My Dickens collection has outgrown its cozy cubby. But we can’t help ourselves–we always buy more books. It’s a compulsion.

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Alas, we didn’t win the lottery. But built-ins may still be in our future at some point. We seriously do need more bookshelf space, not only for Dickens and Microwave Spectroscopy(???), but also for my growing collection of cookbooks, including Vegetarian India, a ChristmasPhoto Jan 14, 8 52 23 PM gift from my brother. Thanks, Mills!

Indian food tops my list of favorite global cuisines. After Christmas, I made a trip to one of Chattanooga’s several (can you believe it?) Indian grocers to gather everything I’d need to start cooking from my new book. I bought several bags of lentils, tons of spices, and a block of frozen paneer that I’m saving for a special occasion.

Today’s red lentil dal is my first foray into this particular cookbook. The original recipe didn’t have quite the flavor complexity that I wanted, so I combined its delicious onion-cumin topping with the spices from a New York Times dal recipe. And wow, what a marriage. This recipe is going to be a go-to in 2016, for sure.


Photo Jan 14, 6 30 05 PM (1)Time Commitment: This clocks in at 40-45 minutes, well within my range of acceptable time-frames for a weeknight dinner. Also, some of that time is hands-off, meaning that I managed to “play bubbles” with #1 AND get her started with some painting. (But then I got distracted making the topping and she painted all over the table, so there’s that.)

Mess: Prepare yourself to wash some pots and pans, because this requires two, plus a third if you want to make rice. Still, that’s a small price for such an otherwise quick and easy dal.

Mom Fails: Not today, folks, not today.



Red Lentil Dal Photo Jan 15, 6 45 48 PM

(Source: adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India and

Serves 4, with rice or naan


  • 4 tbsp vegetable or olive oil, divided
  • 1 c red lentils
  • 1/2 c canned crushed or diced tomato
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 small sweet onion or shallot, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds


  1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan. Toss in spices (coriander, cumin, tumeric, and ginger) and sauté, stirring, for 30 seconds.
  2. Add lentils, tomato, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; then turn down heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15-20 more minutes, until lentils are soft and not too watery. Salt to taste.
  3. About 10 minutes after you start cooking the lentils, begin the onion topping. In a small pan, heat the other 2 tbsp oil. Add chilies and cumin seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes. (Be careful, as the oil has a tendency to splatter at this phase.) Then add onion or shallot. Cook 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is beginning to turn brown.
  4. Pour onion mixture over lentils and immediately cover pot to trap aromas.
  5. Serve with rice or naan.

Raspberry Jam Coffee Cake

Rapsberry Jam Coffee Cake

Rating: 4/5 stars. This quick recipe for raspberry jam coffee cake has a tender cake base topped off with crispy cinnamon streusel

I had a moment of panic last night. I had prepared dinner (tortellini minestrone, but that’s a recipe for another day), put the kids to bed, and was just about to settle in to watch an episode of Downton Abbey with Rob when I remembered that I had signed up to bring snacks to our English department meeting the next morning. That realization sent me on a frantic hunt for a brunch recipe that was both quick and delicious–and one for which I had all the ingredients on hand. There was zero chance I was going to brave the cold to get groceries at 8pm.

After spending some time down the rabbit hole of internet food-dom, I still couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. So I decided to cobble together a couple of coffee cake recipes to fit what I had on hand. The result is this raspberry jam coffee cake: moist sour cream cake, swirls of sweet jam, and a crispy cinnamon topping. The marriage of the three components is delightful, just right to perk up droopy English teachers on their first week back from the holidays.

Raspberry Jam Coffee Cake

Time Commitment: About one hour, not including the time needed to cool and slice the cake.

Mess: Given the different components to the cake, this one is a bit on the messy side. I used three bowls plus the baking pan. And of course, the powdered sugar finish made a giant mess everywhere. Just in time for this mysterious mid-winter ant invasion we’re having–perfect.

Mom Fails: I was making this up as I went along, so I half expected that I’d have to make an emergency donut run before the department meeting. Miraculously, everything came together.

Raspberry Jam Coffee CakeRaspberry Jam Coffee Cake

(Source: adapted, loosely, from this recipe and this one)

Makes 16 squares



  • 1/4 c butter, unsalted, softened
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c raspberry jam


  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 c flour

To Finish

  • powdered sugar, optional


  1. Preheat oven to 375. Generously grease a 9-inch square or round cake pan.
  2. To make cake, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add sour cream, egg, and vanilla and mix just until incorporated. The batter will be slightly lumpy–don’t worry, and don’t overmix!
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Then dump flour mixture into sour cream mixture. Stir until a thick batter forms.
  4. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Spoon jam onto the batter and smooth/swirl with a spoon.
  5. To make topping, stir together melted butter, sugars, salt, and cinnamon until fully incorporated. Then slowly stir in flour until lumps of streusel form. Sprinkle streusel onto the top of the cake.
  6. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan on a rack. After cooling, you can sift a bit of powdered sugar on top of the cake for an elegant touch. Then slice and serve.


Vegan Chickpea Stew

Rating: 4/5 stars. This chickpea stew is warming and delicious but almost too time-consuming for a weeknight dinner

Guys. There are things that might seem like good ideas at the time, but are definitely not.

Photo Dec 10, 6 37 19 PMThis?

Letting your daughter play with the spices so that you can finish up dinner in something approaching a timely fashion?

Nope, not a good idea. Unless you like having your kitchen floor carpeted in coriander. Which, to be honest, isn’t so bad. At least it isn’t sticky. And I did manage to get dinner on the table. Continue reading “Vegan Chickpea Stew”

Pressure Cooker Split Pea Soup


I am starting 2016 with a messy kitchen.

More than that, I’m starting 2016 with a messy life. Nothing is neatly compartmentalized. I’m always multi-tasking. I nurse while I read, pump while I grade, parent while I cook, wash dishes while I listen to the latest episode of Serial.

And so it was on New Year’s Eve. I wanted to make split pea soup, but #2 wanted to be held, and #1 wanted to take pictures of her brother. Which of course turned out fabulously.

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Photo by #1, who clearly inherited her photography skills from me.

I had managed the trick of sautéing up the vegetables and spices one-handed and had gotten just about to the point of actually adding the peas to the pressure cooker when #1 decided that she wanted some water. Not to drink, of course. To “clean” with. “Nini is cleaning microwave,” she tells me, plunging her hands into her cup and then rubbing them, dripping, on the front of the microwave. “Mama made mess.”

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Lest you think I’m exaggerating about the mess

How true, little one.

So yes, I’m starting 2016 with a messy life. But I’m starting the year with a big pot of split pea soup, too, and that’s something.

Recipe Details

This recipe is loosely based on the California Pizza Kitchen recipe.

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Time Commitment: As described above, I made this while juggling two kids bent on making the process as difficult as possible. And I still finished in just under an hour.

Special Equipment: I like to imagine a pressure cooker vs. crock pot death match for people (like me) with limited kitchen storage space. If you could only choose one, which would it be? I’m guessing that super organized people, the planner types, probably prefer the crock pot. But me? I make my dinner decisions at the last minute. Do I really feel like beans tonight? Or am I feeling guilty enough about those ungraded research papers that I’m going to call in some pizza? Pressure cookers give you that kind of flexibility–namely, to procrastinate. Plus, they make awesome beans, including this split pea soup.

My trusty pressure cooker
My trusty pressure cooker

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this will probably need to cook for more like 45 minutes, not 15. I’m sure you could also do it in a crock pot. But I haven’t researched that; to do so would betray my pressure cooker fandom.

Mess: Despite the current state of my kitchen, this is actually a low-mess recipe. Everything cooks in one pot, and the rest of the work can be done on a single cutting board.