Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Missoula Children’s Theatre Camp

Lila definitely has the "performance art bug." Whether she's singing, acting, or dancing, she is naturally drawn to the stage. When Lila's grandma was looking for birthday gift ideas for our little rising star, I came across a flyer for the Missoula Children's Theatre Camp. It was the perfect gift-- an experience that Lila would truly enjoy and remember. 

Soon Lila was signed up and ready to go. About a week before camp, we received the details. The kids, ranging from Kindergarten through 12th grade, would be cast on Monday and by Friday evening they would be prepared to showcase a full theatrical performance. Having been in a few plays in high school and now working for a college with a conservatory of theater arts, I know a little bit about what goes into a production. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that in just one week (actually 5 days) they would be performance ready.

But Missoula Children's Theatre (MCT) has this all down to a science. Although this was the first time that it was on my radar, this was actually the MCT's 25th season at our local theater. They travel around to communities throughout the country, with everything they need to put on a full-scale children's production. They teach and inspire kids nationwide by exposing them (even if it's just for a week) to the joys of musical theater. In such a short amount of time, the children form a bond, jelling into an ensemble, and together take on the challenge of learning lines, songs, and dance routines to be performed by the week's end. And they have a blast! After the first day, Lila was waking up early, eager to go and have fun with her new friends and teachers. She absolutely loved it.

Lila's group put on a production of The Little Mermaid (a different story line than Disney's The Little Mermaid). Lila was cast in the role of a "sea pony." All the behind the scenes preparation was kept under wraps, so family and friends filed into the theater Friday night not knowing what to expect. What we got was an entertaining, adorable performance. Sure, with just a week preparation, there were some fumbled lines and missteps, but nothing is better than witnessing the confidence, creativity, and pride in these young performers shining on stage.

The Sea Ponies in The Little Mermaid

Lila the Sea Pony- so proud of her great performance!

At the end, there were lots of hugs and smiles and promises to see each other the same week next summer. Lila's experience with the Missoula Children's Theatre not only created a lasting memory, but perhaps an annual tradition. -Tara

Our star, post-production, being showered with flowers and gifts. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

To be or not to be... the search for the perfect taboulleh

A local restaurant makes outstanding taboulleh, but it is particularly divine in the hours right after it is made. I head to the back of the restaurant where it's kept in a glass display, hopefully peeking for the tell-tale signs of freshness: a vivid green color, fluffy leaves, and not too much dampness. The restaurant owner caught me intently eyeing the taboulleh the last time I went in and shared a story about a man who recently stopped by the store and balked at the price tag for taboulleh.

"How could you charge $7.95 for a container of parsley?"

The owner held his ground. "That is our price. You can take it or leave it."

The customer left. An hour later the owner got a call from the man's wife apologizing. "I'm so sorry about my husband. He has no idea about how much work goes into taboulleh."

I learned first hand this summer how much work it takes to make this salad. I am a fan of lemon in most anything and this dish has long been one of my favorite salads. I won over my husband with these recipes. He confessed that my taboulleh is "the quintessential summer salad, fresh and delicious!"

Taboulleh is essentially parsley salad with bulgur (a very tiny whole wheat grain), lemon, scallions, mint, and tomatoes. Not a fan of the parsley sprigs that often sit on the side of meals a garnish, I never imagined that parsley taking center stage could feel so nourishing and refreshing. I tried three different versions this summer to make it easier for you to choose which variation you prefer.


I went with Ina Garten's recipe for my first attempt at taboulleh. This recipe called for a full cup of bulgur wheat and cucumbers. I prepared a generous recipe of this for my niece's birthday, and it was nearly all gone by the end of the evening. I liked the crunch that the cucumbers gave to the salad, but I was striving for a more traditional taste with mostly parsley and mint and not as much bulgur wheat and no cucumbers. I used less kosher salt than this recipe called for and yet it still tasted very salty. We don't traditionally used much kosher salt so maybe I'm not used to the flavor.

It was a lot of work to cut up all the parsley. The recipe suggested 30 minutes of active prep time, but it took me closer to a full hour to chop the parsley and other ingredients.


I went back to the Internet for a new recipe with less bulgur wheat and more greens and appropriately found this link: "Your Taboulleh Probably Has Too Much Bulgur In It." I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I read the author assert that "The only thing more refreshing than a mouthful of parsley and mint is a mouthful of parsley, mint, and lemon." I one hundred percent agree! I was surprisingly entranced by the accompanying video, never imagining that there were videos dedicated just to parsley preparation.

Despite my best hopes for this taboulleh, it turned out to be my least favorite. I followed the recipe closely except for swapping yellow and red tomatoes for the purely red tomatoes. I missed the bulgur wheat which almost disappeared amidst the parsley. The recipe didn't have the same vibrance of the first one. I tried dicing the tomatoes in a smaller size since that is what I see in more traditional recipes. Clara's friend, Lila, was visiting the day we made this, and she helped expertly cutting the tomatoes in quarters. 

"Can't I just cut them in half instead?" she asked a couple of times.

I encouraged her to keep trying the quarters since that was the variation I wanted to try. In the end, I think Lila was right that cutting the tomatoes in half allows them to give more flavor. Despite my reservations about this version of the taboulleh, Clara and Lila loved it, and both asked for seconds!


Since I spent a few weeks test-driving different taboulleh recipes, I figured I had to try the version at Le Pain Quotidien when I saw it on the menu. I knew from the description on the menu that it was a non-traditional preparation (quinoa instead of bulgur wheat, arugula instead of parsley, and avocados on the side). It was a very tasty and surprisingly filling lunch, but definitely a detour from what I was striving for.



Taking my favorite elements of both recipes, I added more lemon, slightly less bulgur wheat, and more parsley. Over time, I learned how to chop a bit more efficiently and so now the preparation takes closer to 30 minutes. Here is my new taboulleh recipe:


3/4 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/4 cup boiling water
3 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons sea salt
4 minced scallions (white and green parts)
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves
2 bunches of chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

Place the bulgur in a large bowl, pour in the boiling water, add juice from two lemons, olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Stir, and let stand at room temperature for an hour or more.

Add the parsley, mint, scallions and tomatoes. Add juice from third lemon and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt: mix well. Cover and refrigerate. The flavor improves if the tabbouleh sits for a few hours. Tabbouleh will last for a few days in the refrigerator.

Parsley/mint/scallions/tomatoes, waiting for bulgur wheat to be added.


I am happy to have discovered how to make my own favorite taboulleh recipe... And now I know firsthand that $7.95 is a bargain to pay for someone else to do all of the chopping!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Lila's Piggy Cookies

Piggy-backing off of Ellyn's last post, Lila has also been getting creative in the kitchen. It seems that she has inherited my passion for baking and the best part of all-- decorating! When she's not watching funny cat videos on YouTube (an obsession of hers) she is researching cookie and cupcake decorating techniques.

Lila has observed me making creatively themed cupcakes for her birthday parties, but I don't think she's really been aware of the fact that her mommy had an eight-year stint as a cake decorator a long time ago, way before Lila was even thought of. I am never surprised by her artistic abilities because the arts run deep in our family, but I am tickled by the fact that she has expressed a specific interest in "food art." Although she has changed her career aspirations from chef to chemist (hey, I ain't mad at that!) baking is still one of her special hobbies. One of her favorite culinary creations to date has been her piggy cookies. Lila initiated the idea and made these herself with very little help from me. In fact, since we used pre-made sugar cookie dough, as her sous chef, all I did was put the cookies in the oven and take them out.

Here's what you need:

  • Your favorite sugar cookie recipe (or buy pre-made dough so that you can get to the fun part sooner)
  • Frosting with pink food coloring 
  • Mini marshmallows (to craft the ears and the nose)
  • Chocolate chips (for the eyes)
  • Cashews (for the smile)
Use your creativity to assemble these ingredients into cute pig faces. Store them in the fridge or freezer so that the frosting hardens. Enjoy! -Tara