photo by Hey Paul

photo by Hey Paul

I love popcorn. I could eat it several times a week in all its buttery, crunchy, salty glory. It’s low in fat (at least without the butter,) high in fiber, and I can eat what feels like a decadent amount because of its natural volume. I’m a popcorn purist, so it’s just a little butter and salt for me, thank you very much.

My children love it too. I carefully dole out their servings, trying to be generous when I really want to hoard it all to myself.

I used to buy boxes of microwave popcorn, 3 or 6 to a package, and ration it out over the course of a week or two. I bought the low fat or plain because the butter flavor tasted like wax, so I would add my own.

I remember hearing about a guy who loved popcorn even more than me. He would hold the popped popcorn bag to his nose and inhale the freshly popped popcorn aroma. Unfortunately it made him sick. He was also inhaling a chemical called diacetyl, which caused “popcorn worker’s lung.”

Yikes! Turns out, people who had worked in food flavoring or microwave popcorn factories got a lethal, irreversible lung disease just by doing their jobs. It makes me feel ill for ever buying these products! In response to consumer outcry, popcorn makers announced they were reducing the levels of diacetyl.

Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? As a popcorn lover addict, I was on the hunt for something better. Air-popped never tasted as crunchy to me, and I ruined my fair share of pans waiting too long for that last kernel to pop. So when I found a way to pop it in the microwave in less than 2 minutes, it changed my life.

 How to make your own microwave popcorn

Making your own microwave popcorn is convenient and you avoid any strange chemicals. You also eliminate the additional packaging – whiteboard outer box, inner plastic wrap – in packaged microwave popcorn. One big bag of popcorn seeds goes a long, long way, so you can splurge on organic or specialty and still spend less than the prepackaged microwave kind.

You need:

  • Regular, bulk popcorn seeds
  • A package of paper lunch bags
  • Oil

Scoop ¼ cup of popcorn seeds into a paper lunch bag. Add ½ tsp of vegetable oil. Fold the paper bag closed, and fold again. (I use about a ½ inch to an inch fold.) Place in the microwave. Cook for 1:45 MORE OR LESS depending on your microwave. You’ll want to watch it carefully until you figure out the best cooking time. Remove when pops are more than 1 second apart.

Pour into bowl, salt and butter as desired. Enjoy!

I don’t recommend reusing the bag. I believe it is a fire hazard, as is any microwave popcorn bag if you leave it unattended.

photo by chispita_666

photo by chispita_666

Summer’s vegetables are here! I’m scrambling to add fresh garlic scapes, sugar snap peas, and baby chard to our daily meals before the next box from our CSA arrives.

Ideally, I would sip from a glass of fine wine as I sauté the chard until just tender and bright. In reality, there are the two children, straddling that fine line between too much snacking and hungry for dinner, asking for legos to be broken apart and playdough to be rolled and flattened. In particular, my 2 ½ year old daughter is transitioning from the age of taking an afternoon nap and waking up crabby; to not taking a nap and remaining crabby from 3 o’clock until the aforementioned dinner. At our house, I call the time before dinner “the witching hour.”

But dinner is important to me, to have a time where we sit down as a family, share each other’s day, and enjoy a home cooked meal together. Prep time is much easier with the proper tools, so here are my favorites.

  • A sharp knife
    I’ve heard chefs’ most prized possession is their knife, but I never experienced how much this matters until I cooked at my brother-in-law’s house, using his quality knives. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It slices! It dices! I could cut vegetables easier, faster and safer, and it made prep work a breeze.
    Now I have a new Santoku knife. It’s inexpensive but sharp, and that alone makes a huge difference. I never add it to the dishwasher to maintain its sharp edge.
  • Multiple cutting boards
    I have three large and three small cutting boards. They store flat, fit easily in the dishwasher, and allow me to keep on chopping.
  • Salad spinner
    My CSA farmer does a bit of prewashing, but the greens still hold a considerable amount of dirt. The salad spinner consists of a colander and bowl, and makes quick work of washing and drying greens. It’s also more earth-friendly than blotting dry with paper towels.
  • Food chopper
    I like my hand-held food chopper when I have a lot of chopping to do. It’s from Pampered Chef, with a plunger handle and Z-shaped blade. Unlike a food processor, it works right on the cutting board so there’s no bowl to clean, and it works under your own power. It’s especially nice for chopping and mincing onions.
  • Sink or dishpan full of soapy water
    If I have a lot of clean-up, I fill one side of my sink with hot soapy water. When I finish with a tool, I simply slide it in. By the time dinner is done, the tools will have practically cleaned themselves, and it uses less water than washing each of them individually.

What are some of your favorite time-saving tools?


photo by Kathy Maister

photo by Kathy Maister

You forgot to take something out of the freezer.

Your husband forgot to buy one key ingredient for dinner.

You had a meeting at school that you overlooked.

It’s just you and the kids tonight.

Or you just don’t feel like cooking. In any case, you need a fallback meal.

A fallback meal is dinner you can get on the table with a minimum of prep, ingredients you have, and your kids will eat. It’s not fancy, but it works, and it keeps you out of the drive-thru lane. Here are some of mine:

  • Grilled cheese
    Add ham or tomato, if you have it, or heat up a side of soup. My friend Joyce calls it “soup & sandwich night.”
  • Frozen waffles
    We make extra on weekends and freeze. Pop in the toaster just like the ones in the box.
  • Spaghetti and meat sauce
    I probably make this once a week, so it’s mindless. I use ½ lb. of ground beef (I don’t even thaw first, just cover and cook on lower heat and scrape it off as it browns,) and Newman’s Own Cabernet Marinara. Sometimes I double the sauce and freeze it for next time.
  • Bean burritos
    One can of refried beans, tortillas, and sprinkle of shredded cheese.
  • Buttered noodles
    If you have them, add some frozen vegetables to the last 5 minutes of cooking and toss with a bit of garlic salt.
  • English muffin, bagel, or tortilla pizzas
    Depends on what we have on hand. Toast in the toaster oven with pizza sauce and shredded cheese.

Serve with a side of fruit or yogurt, and dinner is done!

What are some of your fallback meals?