Friday, October 18, 2013

Chicken Stew with Dumplings

I'm trying to use my slow cooker more as a way to efficiently use my two mornings each week at home with Amelia, and to make my evenings a little less chaotic. I'm picky about recipes, though: no canned soup, no paste-like rice, nothing with a "Mexican" theme.

Last night, I made this stew by combining two recipes I found on Pinterest and then making some changes, and it turned out amazing. It's the flavor of a warm, cozy end to a chilly fall day. It tastes like comfort. Both kids devoured it. In order to be able to reproduce it, I wrote up what I did, and thought I'd share it with y'all.

Chicken Stew with Dumplings
With big servings, feeds two adults and two kids

3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh or frozen veggies you like (recommended: corn, peas, baby bella mushrooms)
1/2 of a medium onion, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence (can sub with a combo of rosemary, thyme and/or lavender)
1 teaspoon sage
salt and pepper
1 package (3-5) chicken thighs, skinned (can use with our without bones)
1 1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup fat-free milk (I used soy)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Buttermilk dumplings [recipe below]

1. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic to slow cooker. If using corn (or any hard veggie, like a winter squash), add it as well. Sprinkle with Herbs de Provence. Add chicken and sprinkle the chicken with kosher salt, lots of cracked pepper, and sage (I like a lot of sage and add more). Pour in chicken broth.
2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours (if no bone in your thighs, you can do 6 hours) or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If no heat setting is available, cook for 5 to 5 1/2 hours.
3. After cooking, turn the cooker up to high. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and chop it up; remove from bones if needed, and throw out bones. Return the cut chicken to the cooker.
4. In a small bowl, stir milk and flour until smooth. Stir into mixture in cooker.
5. If adding peas or mushrooms, put them in now.
6. Make buttermilk dumplings [see below]. Drop them on top of the chicken mixture (keep a little space between them, if possible, since they'll expand). Cook an additional 20-25 minutes (do not lift lid during this time). Scoop into bowls and enjoy! Top with extra pepper if you're inclined.

Buttermilk Dumplings

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt 2 T minced parsley
1 T dried dill (the dill really makes these, IMHO - don't skip it)
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup buttermilk, or more as needed

Stir together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and stir until mixture resembles course meal. Stir in buttermilk and mix only until combined. Add a little more if it needs to come together. Pat out into 1/2 thick. Cut out 1.5 inch sections and drop on top of stew.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Four!

Sylvia turned four yesterday. Here's a look back at her fourth year.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Accepting the Princess

You guys, I'm struggling. I'm conflicted between the media-savvy, educated, feminist side of myself, and the desire to be an easy-going, supportive mom who doesn't project my issues onto my kids. The issue at hand: princesses.

I have a four-year-old (well, she turns four tomorrow). As with just about every other girl her age that I've met, she's into princesses. And by "into," I mean, it's what she wants to dress up as (daily and for Halloween), be when she grows up, and play with toys related to. In fact, yesterday we threw a princess-themed birthday party, in which 11 kids dressed in skirts and tutus constructed crowns and blew out candles on a castle cake.

Looking "fancy"
I want to object. I want to preach to her about the dangers of thinking that a man must save you, of obsessing about your own appearance, of all the destructive culture associated with pretty pink princesses. I've read so many articles on this, nodded my head, sworn that I won't let my daughters define themselves by pink dresses and sparkly adornments. I've done all I could to not encourage the interest, diverting her attention to other things and encouraging art, exploration, gymnastics -- anything not about clothes or prettiness.

But then...then I started really talking to her. When she told me she wanted to be a princess when she grows up, she also followed up by asking me what princesses do. I told her they work hard to be nice to all kinds of people, learn many other languages, use really good manners, and travel a lot (hm, not a bad example). She liked the idea, and we had a good chat about her Spanish classes at school as she deftly used her fork through a whole meal (a rarity). When she had the opportunity to dress as a princess for her birthday party, she chose the formal-though-fraying "real" dress I bought for $3 at a consignment sale over her licensed Disney Belle costume, and turned down her very fancy queen gown because it was too long to allow her to do the monkey bars at the playground (she was also fine not carrying a scepter or wearing her big tiara, because they'd also present challenges while playing).

So, I think my concerns that she's signing up for a life of subservience and obsession with appearances are not actually valid. She thinks princesses have magical powers, probably because Sophia does. She likes that princesses wear fancy dresses and jewelry, but she seems to know that's not practical all the time. Though pink is her favorite color, she adores her orange scooter with blue helmet, and has started to enjoy clothes that are really colorful, as opposed to just all pink. She does like to look pretty and talks about being beautiful more than I am comfortable with, but I try my best to counter that with discussions about what's going on in her head and her heart instead.

Additionally, I occasionally have a flash of the other things she'll be into throughout her life: maybe she'll want piercings and tattoos, maybe we'll fight over her wardrobe, over her pushing herself too much to excel at a sport, over her hatred of family dinners, or spending too much time talking to strangers online or crushes on the phone. Maybe there will be cheating, or exhaustive perfectionism, or laziness. There will be plenty of things I may object to, as well as plenty of times I will bite my tongue to try to avoid criticizing what is important to her.

For right now, though, at tender, precious, innocent and silly age four, I think I'll leave princesses alone. I will allow her the love of sparkles and roses, of fluffy dresses and big bows, without fearing she'll be a bridezilla at age 27. I hope that I can instill in her what's most important on the inside, so that as she changes what she wants to look like on the outside, the good stuff still remains. And I hope that I can prevent seeing the worst in every phase she tries out, and instead try to see the light, and understand the joy, that it brings to my dear girl. Because I think I've realized that allowing her to be happy--to do what makes her happy--will likely have the best results of all.