Post 4th of July Freedom-from-Frustration Family Checklists and Free Dove Chocolate

In case you were out of town last week and away from your computer, I’m giving away a bag of Dove chocolates. There are some details here, and at the end of this post. In the meantime, in the spirit of revolution and freedom suggested by the 4th of July holiday, I’ve made some changes around the Stay at Stove Dad house.

I recently met the founder of a nifty company called WallCandy Arts, which makes removable decals with white-board or chalk surfaces. This means you can put them up on walls or other surfaces, and then let your children write on them.

I was interested in trying them out not because I wanted to turn each of my girls into a budding James Thurber (the New Yorker cartoonist used to draw on the walls of his office), but because I we’ve been struggling around the house with basic organization and getting domestic tasks done. This has been very frustrating for all those involved.

I had read that simple checklists have the power to revolutionize medicine, and I thought if highly educated doctors could benefit from checklists, so could our humble family. I figured the decals would be useful for creating checklists that the kids could have fun with.

I wrote up a list of daily tasks for each of my daughters, and posted them on the fridge. We created a “Shared Task” list for the two of them to divvy up the chores of setting the table (I wanted to crowd-source the assigning of chores—we’ll see how this works out…), and here is a picture of what I mean.


Nina and Pinta had so much fun with the checklists today that they wanted to create one for Santa Maria and myself. Here’s what it looks like.


Now about that free chocolate: As I mentioned in my post last week, I’m giving away Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl Promises, and other treats. All you have to do is tell me how you use mint in your cooking, and I’ll pick the most interesting one to send a bag of goodies. I’ve gotten some great replies already (Thanks!), but I thought I’d keep the contest going one or two more days. Be sure to write me by Wednesday.

In looking at all the ways I use mint for my post last week, I left out one thirst-quenching drink: Hot-Summer Limeade. Here’s how you make it, and, yes, it uses mint.

Hot Summer Limeade

  • 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 sprigs mint

        Boil the water, and stir it into the sugar to make a simple syrup.

        Juice the limes.

        Mix the lime juice with the simple syrup and 3 cups water.

        Garnish with mint leaves and slivers of lime peel.

        Serve with ice, like this:


Note: The Dove promotion is paid, though all checklists and opions are mine, and mine alone.

The Sweetness and Light of Banana Bread

Santa Maria is the one who fills the Stay at Stove Dad household with sweetness and light, to borrow and bend a phrase from Matthew Arnold. She does it in so many ways, but the relevant one here is through her baking. One of her stalwart sweets (perhaps only I could view a treat as hardworking) is Banana Bread.

I’ll confess to sometimes buying too many of the ubiquitous fruit, in the hopes that some will get overripe before we can eat them. In which case, Santa Maria, given her proudly frugal upbringing, occasionally feels compelled to bake the bread. She started with a Bittman recipe, but quickly—and quite fantastically—made it her own. I think my mouth is watering just writing about the bread. It is that good.

And she’s a good one with words, too. For though I love bananas, Nina and Pinta have developed an almost comical aversion to them. They detest bananas, and I think their reaction is an early form of rebellion that I would consider healthy were it not for the fact that they are missing out on the potassium and other nutrients in the fruit. But Santa Maria knows how to convince them. “My girls both hate bananas, and although they understand clearly that there are bananas in the bread, they eat it with alacrity!" she says. "And they like that I call it, when talking with them, 'Golden Calypso Bread.'"

Banana Bread  (a.k.a. Golden Calypso Bread)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


  • 1 ¾ cup unbleached flour with germ
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (yum!!)


In a separate bowl, cream together:

  • 7 Tablespoons butter (one short shy of a stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar  (you can reduce it to ¼ cup)

Then add to butter mixture:

  • 4 very ripe smallish bananas (that you’ve smooshed up with your hands.  If this makes you squeamish, you can also use a fork, but it’s much quicker and pretty darn fun to squish squash smloompch.  **Excellent activity for your kid helpers).

A note on buxom bananas:  even organic bananas can vary widely in size from 7” to 12” and more.  If you have the huge bananas, you are fine with three; for the smaller ones, 4 or even 5 will work.



  • 2 eggs to the butter mixture.


Fold the flour mixture in quickly and gently into the egg/butter mixture (ie. Don’t overmix, you can still see some flour-y parts.  If you do overmix, it activates the gluten and makes it tougher).

Bake for 30 minutes and check center for done-ness.  The knife should be clean.

I bake this mixture in three standard size loaf pans (greased lightly w butter).  You can make a thicker loaf, and divide it into just two loaf pans that will cook 45-60 minutes. 

Serve topped with more butter on freshly sliced hot bread, drink with a glass (you’ve frosted in the freezer) of cold milk.

Note: It is especially nutritious if you add walnuts.  Also, this bread freezes well and you can just slice off a piece or two and then toast it in a toaster on the ‘defrost’ setting.  If you’ve used walnuts, they toast up very nicely.

Time for Bruschetta

Today is the last full day of summer, and one of its paradoxes is that though the days are getting shorter and cooler, tomatoes are coming into their prime, making it the perfect time to make gazpacho, caprese salad, or bruschetta.

Recently, Santa Maria took note of the changing of the seasons by picking up some ripe tomatoes, a head of basil, and a loaf of fresh bread. She took ten minutes to mix it up bruschetta, and we ate it with a glass of wine. It was a Saturday—which to the naïve would seem to be a time of rest but parents of young children know better—and because she had taken the time to prepare this simple and delicious appetizer, we all enjoyed a moment of peace.

The moment was sandwiched between picking up the house after a day of play and getting ready to make dinner, which in a way made it all the more sweeter. I suggest that you do something similar, on this first weekend of fall. Go, make yourself a moment of delicious food and appreciate the changing of the seasons.

Santa Maria learned to make this from her Italian-born college roommate (and I think she first ate it at her house in Tuscany), and it has one slight variation on most bruschetta recipes that I have seen. She does not chop the garlic and mix it with the tomato and basil. Instead, she rubs a clove over a toasted piece of bread, and the raw garlic gives each bite of bruschetta a sharp kick.

Bruschetta the Santa Maria Way

  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • Fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into little bits.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • slices of fresh bread, toasted

In a bowl, mix the chopped tomatoes with the basil, some oil, and a bit of salt.

Rub the toasted pieces of bread on one side with the raw garlic. The garlic clove will start to come apart, and that is fine. 

Top the garlic-rubbed bread with the tomato-basil mixture and eat right away. These are best made a few at a time and enjoyed in the moment. If they sit around, they are liable to get soggy.

Saving Food: A Roasted Red Pepper Recipe


A big part of cooking for one’s family is managing all the food in the house. When I was a teenager, my mother used to keep gallon jugs of milk in the fridge, and while I don’t think we drank from them straight out of the container, we certainly raced through them. I don’t know how many times she must have had to shop each week, but it had to be more than a few times.

My problem right now is finding the balance between buying too little and buying too much. I currently have four ears of corn that I cooked on Friday, and that neither Santa Maria nor any of the kids wanted. I might have to write off those ears, but I hate to see things go to waste.

The other night I was going through the fridge to make my quinoa salad, and I realized that I had an extra red bell pepper that wasn’t going to last much longer. I knew I wouldn't be using it anytime soon, so I roasted it, sliced it, and put it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It will now be good for another few days, if not weeks.

Roasting a pepper is easy. Here's how to do it:

Just rinse it and put it on a gas burner, and turn on the flame. Using tongs, rotate or otherwise move the pepper around so every side of it becomes charred all over.

When it is as black as you can get it, put it in a bowl and cover the top tightly with plastic wrap. Leave it for about fifteen minutes, or longer, and after the pepper cools its skin will slide right off. Knock and rinse (see comment from Matt, below) off the seeds and any bits of charred skin, then slice it and put in a container with enough olive oil and vinegar to cover. I added a bit of oregano, and I’m looking forward to having them on a sandwich or crackers sometime in the near future.

What are some of the things you do to preserve any extra food you have on hand?  Anyone have any ideas about what I can do with those ears of corn?

How to Clean Winter Greens: And a Kale Chip Recipe


On Tuesday, I was having an email conversation with a work colleague on the West Coast, when, out of the blue, she ended her one of her messages by saying “I just made your kale chips. WOW. Addictive.” I was delighted by this. I don’t always hear from my readers, and I’m glad to know that I’ve made someone’s life better, half a continent away, one mouthful at a time.

I mentioned to her that one way to improve the recipe is to roast the kale for the requisite time, and then turn the oven off, and leave it in oven while it cools. If you make them in the morning, and then leave them the rest of the day, you’ll have a great snack in the afternoon. This would even work with someone who had to go to an office. Cook them before you leave the house, and then turn off the oven, go to work, and come home to crispy, savory, neigh addictive, kale chips.

She said that she had used Trader Joe’s prewashed kale, and that the pieces were nice and small. “Next time I'm going to get whole leaf kale (and I think I'll plant some this summer, to go totally native),” she said “and have bigger pieces.” I asked her if she knew how to clean the leaves. “I usually just strip it, and it comes off nicely, but I'm no expert,” she said, adding “Is there an easy way to pull off the leaf?” No, I said, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t using a knife.

“A knife?” she replied “Ha! Never.” I told her she was doing it the right way, but then this evening I happened to look on the Internet. I found countless videos directing people to use a knife to clean winter greens. Really, I have to tell you: There’s no reason to do so. Just grab the stem with one hand, and use the other hand to strip the leafy part off. It’s very gratifying, and very easy. Trust me, you can do it.

Super Super Simple Kale Chips

  • 1 head kale, leaves washed and dried; center stalk removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, or from a spritzer
  • 1/2  lemon or lime, juiced, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 205 degrees.

Lay the kale out on a baking sheet, and spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with the juice, and dust with salt (if you don't have a spritzer, mix oil, kale, and seasonings in a bowl).

Bake in the oven about 30 minutes, or until the leaves are crisp.

Turn the oven off, and let them rest in the oven for an hour or longer.

Note: Image courtesy New Pi Eats.

Roasted Red Pepper Recipe for Arugula Salad

A year or so ago, I was making my winter quinoa salad—the one with sweet potato, red onion, and red pepper—just about every week. Lately, though, I haven’t been eating it as frequently. The last time I thought I was going to make the salad, I bought a red pepper and the rest of the ingredients, but I never got around to using them.

The red pepper sat in the fridge for weeks, and I saw it every time I opened the crisper. It sat there mocking me. Why did I really buy it? What was I thinking? What was I going to do with it?

A few days ago, shortly before it would have gone bad, I came up with an answer: I would roast it. A roasted pepper, marinated in oil and vinegar, is not only delicious, it will last a while on its own. I could buy time to find a use for it.

Roasting a pepper at home is very easy. You just put the pepper in the flame of the gas burner on your stove, either by standing it up on the stove itself, or by holding in the flame with a pair of tongs. Move the pepper around so it gets charred on every side. Once that’s done, put the pepper in either a brown bag or place it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Leave the pepper until it cools, at which point the skin will come off very easily. Rinse the pepper to get the seeds out and any little bits of skin that may remain. Slice the pepper into long narrow strips, and then marinate them in olive oil, vinegar, and a bit of oregano, or other herb.

The peppers will keep a few days, at least, in the fridge, and they’re great on their own, on a sandwich, or, as I discovered, in an arugula salad with shavings of Parmesan.  The sweetness of the pepper counteracts the tartness of the arugula, making it a colorful and perfectly balanced salad.

The Perfect Kale Chip Recipe

Around our house, kale chips are a snack of first and last resort. Santa Maria whips them up nearly every day, or so it seems, and she's found a perfect way to make them. Or, perhaps, the perfect way to make them found her.

One recent weekend day she was preparing a batch in the morning, and then she had to run out to a yoga class. She turned the oven off before she left the house, and the kale chips sat in the oven while she was gone.

When she came back, a couple of hours later, she had the best kale chips ever. Sometimes, all you need to do in life is leave things alone. If you take this approach to kale chips, you can't go wrong.

Super Super Simple Kale Chips

  • 1 head kale, leaves washed and dried; center stalk removed
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil, or from a spritzer
  • 1/2  lemon or lime, juiced, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 205 degrees.

Lay the kale out on a baking sheet, and spritz with olive oil, sprinkle with the juice, and dust with salt (if you don't have a spritzer, mix oil, kale, and seasonings in a bowl).

Bake in the oven about 30 minutes, or until the leaves are crisp.

Turn the oven off, and let them rest in the oven for an hour or so.

Ma Bell! Kids Pick up Red Peppers

The conventional wisdom about getting kids to eat new things says that you should cook with them, and they will try what you are making. I've had mixed success (read, next to none) with this, but last night I was blown away.

Santa Maria was working late, and I was home after work with Nina and Pinta on my own. As usual, I was hungry and I wanted to rush dinner into the oven, so it would cook while I did the get-the-kids-into-bed Kabuki dance. My plan was to make my favorite Summer Chicken and Arugula Salad; by the time the chicken, potatoes, onions, and peppers were done roasting in the oven, the kids would be asleep and my dinner would be ready.

The girls wanted to help me in the kitchen, so I grabbed two chairs from the dining room, and they stood beside me as I chopped the vegetables. I started with the red pepper, which, according to The Worlds Healthiest Foods, is a remarkably beneficial vegetable, extremely high in vitamins A and C, and not-so-shabby with B-6, K, and other desirable nutrients. Also, red peppers then to be more healthy in their natural state; according to once study cited on The Worlds Healthiest Foods, the raw ones have higher levels of phytonutrients than cooked ones.

When Pinta saw the peppers on the cutting board, she said, "What's that?" I told her, and offered her some. She smelled it, smiled, and took a bite. She liked it. I gave some to her sister, who was a bit more skeptical, but who also tried it. They both liked it. I gave the girls more pieces, and Pinta put her her curved slice of pepper to her ear and said, "It looks like a phone!"

In a Hurry Kale Chips Recipe

One night last week, Santa Maria was working late, and I needed to feed Nina and Pinta dinner. I went to the refrigerator, and suddenly had a crisis on my hands. There weren't any green vegetables left. That is, there weren't any that the girls would have been happy to eat. Asparagus is one of their favorites, but the head I had on hand had gone moldy. I had to throw it out.

All that I could find was kale. Nina has been known to eat my Fly Sky High Kale Salad, but her sister Pinta turns her nose up at it. I needed to get dinner on the table in a hurry, and I really wanted them to have a vegetable with their salmon and rice. Kale chips sprung to mind. They've been a pretty good bet with the girls before, and they tend to go for anything salty and crispy.

Completely forgetting that Santa Maria once went through an infatuation with kale chips that culminated in her devising not one, but two recipes, I decided to wing it. I wanted them to cook quickly, so I cut them in a chiffonade. I sprinkled them with a little olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese. I had to watch them so they wouldn't burn, but they were done before the salmon was ready to eat.

Both of the girls had a fair share of them, and we had a fun time coming up with a name for the long crispy bits of kale. "Kale Spears," was one idea. "Kale Splinters," another. My favorite was "Kale Shards," but no matter what you called them, they were fast and delicious. Mission accomplished.

Crispy Kale Shards

  • 4 or 5  lacinato kale leaves, stems removed, washed
  • a bit of oilve oil
  • salt
  • grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Ciffonade the kale, and, in a bowl, combine it with the olive oil, salt, and cheese.

Spread the kale out on a baking sheet and bake for ten or so minutes, until the pieces are crisp. Keep a careful eye on them as they bake, and shake them around a bit every few minutes.

Popcorn Stirs a Memory

I'm often asked how I started to cook, and I don't have a simple answer. Ask me why, and that's easier to field: I was always hungry. How I learned is a more complicated, and the truth is that I'm still learning. Bob Dylan once said "he not busy being born is busy dying," and I believe that's true.

My mother did the cooking around the house when I grew up, but I didn't learn many techniques from her. She was too busy to teach me. I picked up a great body of knowledge, though, from what she served. She always used fresh ingredients and leafy greens. We had fish once a week, and she made almost everything from scratch (no wonder she was busy).

We had such a healthy diet that I thought eating iceberg lettuce was a treat. And it was for me. Whenever we ate at a restaurant, I would order a huge wedge of it slathered with Thousand Island dressing. My mother would make a face and roll her eyes, which made it taste all the better.

I have one memory of learning to cook from my mother, and it came back to me yesterday when I was reading Mark Bittman's blog, which featured an entry on homemade popcorn. It was one of the few things that my mother taught me how to make. We didn't have it often, but we would have it occasionally on a weekend afternoon.

I can still see the inside of the tall Revere pot with it's shimmering layer of vegetable oil in the base, and hear the plink of the single kernel of corn going into the pot. I can feel the heft of the handle as I put it on the burner. I remember well the sound of it popping and the rattle of the rest of the kernels going onto the hot oil. Moments later it would burst into a drumroll and when the rat-a-tat-tat of delight subsided, we would pour the steaming white kernels into a big wooden salad bowl, and top them with salt and butter.

On Saturday, I cooked almost a whole meal with Pinta (she also helped me make the guacamole, but as she herself said, she was too little to open the oysters), and the popcorn article on Bittman's blog, which was written by Freya Bellin, made me very excited. It is one more thing I can make with her and her sister. And the nice thing about Bellin's entry is that it is full of suggestions for flavoring the popcorn, if you feel like learning something new.