Recipes to brighten up a quieting house

Our kitchen is pretty quiet these days, and the silence has me thinking about the rhythms of a house over the course of a lifetime. There was a time when our dinners were wild and loud affairs and there was spilled milk, tears flowing freely and, somehow, on most evenings, Lucy fell out of her chair. Zoe often negotiated what she would — or would not — eat for dinner and Elliot would eat two-fisted, stuffing in handfuls of rice and chicken and bits of vegetables, then lie down on the bench and go to sleep, his toddler belly full and round. That’s the way it was around here for a long time, but then, they grew. Our children grew into teenagers and young adults. They worked some nights or went to friends’ houses  and, eventually, went to college and moved out. And our house didn’t hum so loudly anymore.

But the rhythm was back, in a way, during the month of December. Our kitchen was full, this time with grown and nearly grown children. I loved having them, loved the sheer volume of work it takes to feed five people three meals each day: the shopping, unpacking, chopping, cooking, eating and cleaning before we prepared to do it all over again. My husband and I did all of this, knowing the house would once again exhale and settle into its next rhythm, that of a quiet place. I tried to not think about the quiet and mourn the loss of a humming, busy place, while I had it. It’s hard for an emotional middle-aged woman, but I did it. And now, we’re back to a house of three as we see Elliot through 11th grade. Here, I’m sharing a few recipes, things I made with my family when it was loud and busy and also things that work for the rhythm of a quiet house.

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I’ll tell you first about the energy bites. They don’t look pretty, but hey, it’s not the point. Energy bites are all about putting something into your mouth at exactly 3 p.m., that terrible time of day when the munchies creep in, when you only want something that is perfectly greasy and salty or covered in chocolate (or both). I believe that filling up with whole foods, those that satisfy more than just hunger, will quash junk food cravings. So think about food that’s pleasing to the body, not necessarily the eye. The first time I made energy bites, I was at the kitchen counter, rolling the balls and placing them on sheets of parchment, ready for the freezer. Elliot strolled in, watched me for a moment and said, “Dog treats! Awesome!”

They don’t taste like dog treats, I promise. These wholesome snacks are packed with nuts and seeds and are held together with a touch of honey. I like the turmeric for its sunny color, its health benefits (including being an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory) and its slightly bitter flavor, which is a great companion to sticky-sweet honey. Energy bites freeze beautifully and I pull a few out for lunch boxes and skiing and anytime a snack is in order. Feel free to switch it up and use whatever dried fruit you have on hand, substitute natural peanut butter for almond, use maple syrup, and even change the turmeric for cocoa powder. Any way you mix it up, these little snack bites are a welcome change to unhealthy snacks. And that feels right in the new year, doesn’t it?

The stuffed poblano peppers are a dish I make now that I have a more mature dinner table. It’s a complex dish with lots of flavor packed in, and my old trio of children would have rebelled against an abundance of stuff packed into a pepper. Now, people like lots of flavor and who  young or old  — doesn’t like creamy and melty cheese? Poblano peppers, if you aren’t familiar with them, are long and green and have a gentle, acidic heat. The recipe calls for hominy and chorizo, both specialty items that might take some extra searching in the supermarket. Hominy is corn that’s been treated in an alkaline solution, making it puffed up and very chewy. Chorizo is a seasoned and spiced sausage, typically smoked. You can often find it with the hot dogs. Chopped chorizo adds a ton of flavor and a bit of spice to this dish. If you cannot find chorizo, add shredded chicken or just leave it out. One note: While this dish is made with poblano peppers and chorizo sausage, the heat is mild to medium and manageable.

The super green stir fry is my favorite here, because I have a love of all things green, and I believe that eating bright green food in abundance helps beat the winter blues. I make food like this often: Big pans filled with whatever is fresh, whatever is in my fridge and whatever I’m craving. Often, with a stir fry, I’m boring about it, and go about the motions that you’d expect: Grate ginger, chop garlic, saute vegetables, splash with soy. This version shakes it up and instead of the same old soy sauce, it’s got plenty of lemon and a handful of fresh green basil thrown in, just before serving. I typically use a Microplane to finely grate ginger, but here I use a regular old box grater, leaving bigger pieces of ginger (and more of a flavor punch). Cashews add some texture and protein, but you could add almonds, pistachios or any nut. Buying a small container of basil at the supermarket feels a little indulgent, a small treat on a cold winter’s day.  These vegetables cook up quickly — don’t over do it, keep it all bright green and crisp — and are excellent lunch box fixings, good in omelets, scooped up with crusty bread and in just about any place you can use something that reminds you of summer and feels good to eat.

Now, by the light of his computer, Elliot does homework in the after-dinner stillness at our kitchen counter. He’s the only child at home, and it sure is nice to have him here. It feels so different from the wild days of wrangling and wrestling three children from the dinner table to the bath and into pajamas and bed. This quiet is our rhythm, the way our house is now. I don’t know when it will hum again, perhaps for the next holiday or special occasion. And what do we need to bring us together when the house is humming or comfort us when it’s quiet? It is food, comforting, healthy, delicious, soul-filling food that feeds the energy and makes our homes truly thrive.

Caroline Barrett is a freelance writer who lives in Delmar. You can reach her and follow her work at

Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Chorizo and Hominy 
Makes 8

4 poblano peppers, halved
Olive oil
½ red onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 heaping teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 chorizo sausages, diced
1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-ounce can hominy, drained (see note)
1 8-ounce block Monterey Jack cheese, grated and divided
1 small handful fresh cilantro

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice each pepper in half lengthwise. Use a small sharp knife to cut out the ribs and seeds, then brush the peppers inside and out with a little olive oil. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat a swirl of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium low heat. Cook the onion until softened, then add the garlic. Cook and stir for a minute, then add the cumin and salt. Stir for a minute or two, then add the sausage, tomatoes, black beans and hominy. Let the mixture gently simmer for a while, to let the flavors meld, then turn off the heat. Taste and add salt if desired. Stir one cup of the grated cheese through the chorizo mixture.
  • Generously fill each pepper with about one and a half cups of the filling (any leftover makes for a good taco salad the next day), then cover each with grated cheese. Return the peppers to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. If you like, switch the oven to broil and let them get a little browned on the top. Remove from the oven, garnish with cilantro, and serve hot. 
  • Note: Hominy is corn that has been treated with an alkaline solution. Its texture is much different than corn: hominy is puffy, chewy and has a mild nutty flavor and can be found in the Hispanic section of the grocery. You could substitute frozen or canned corn. 

Super Green Stir Fry with Lemon, Ginger and Cashews
Serves 5

1 tablespoon canola, vegetable, or other flavorless oil
A few drops sesame oil
4 celery stalks, bottoms trimmed and sliced on the bias (leaves and all)
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced thin
1 cup julienned kale leaves
1 cup snow peas, halved
1 cup radishes, trimmed and sliced thin
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated on the small end of a box grater
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
Juice of ½ lemon
1 large handful fresh basil, julienned
Toasted sesame seeds

  • In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oils over a medium flame until  hot. Add the celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, snow peas, radishes and ginger and use a large spatula to stir the vegetables, moving quickly, from top to bottom. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring, until everything is just starting to soften but still bright green. Turn off the heat and stir in the cashews, lemon juice and basil. Season with salt, garnish with the sesame seeds, and serve hot.  

Turmeric Honey Energy Bites
Makes about 20 1-inch balls

½ cup dried fruit (figs, dates, apricots) 
½ cup unsweetened grated coconut
½ cup each raw sunflower seeds, pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) and almonds
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 teaspoons turmeric
¼ teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons honey
¾ cup almond butter

  • Add the dried fruit, coconut and all the seeds and nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it’s evenly chopped and resembles a course crumble. Add the remaining ingredients and continue pulsing, until the mixture comes together. Test it out: scoop up a small amount, roll it into a ball, and see if it forms and holds its shape. If it’s too dry, add a bit more honey. If it’s sticky, add more coconut. Use a small ice cream scoop to create 1-inch balls, packing them tightly. Layer the bites on parchment paper and place in an airtight container. Keep in the freezer, for up to six months. 
  • Note: The texture of the energy bites can depend on your almond butter and honey. The more liquidy either are, the softer the bites will be. Add more coconut and seeds if the balls are too soft.