Sunday, September 11, 2011

Coincidence or Message?

Is it a coincidence or a message?  That was our priest's question for us this morning.  Is it a coincidence that our Gospel reading this morning, September 11, 2011, is about forgiveness, or is it a message?  September 11, 2001 is a date that is seared onto every brain, and the pain and shock of the events of that morning are still raw, still fresh for many of the citizens of this country.  Many U. S citizens woke this morning knowing instantly that it was the 10 year anniversary of the most horrific terror attack on our country.  But not me.  I had to be reminded of the significance of today's date by my priest.  You see, my mind has been elsewhere of late.

I have made a mistake that is common amongst stay-at-home moms.  I have over-extended myself.  I have volunteered more hours than I can afford to give.  I've made a note of it, and will try to not repeat this mistake next year, but for this year, I'm tied to my commitments.  So, for the past month I have been running to and fro, smiling, shaking hands, and trying to act like I've got it all under control, even though, on the inside, I'm coming apart at the seams.  Much of this running around and generally feeling like I don't have even one minute to spare has kept me from going to church.  For quite some time now I've been saying to myself, "I just need to get through this one task.  I'll go next week when I have more time."  But this week, Sunday school started, so I had a really good reason to make the trip.  Ok, ok, that's just a joke - maybe not even a funny one.  I went to church this morning because I needed to go.  I needed to take a break, slow down, and pray.  My heart, soul and spirit needed to be rejuvenated.  And, apparently, I needed to be reminded that my little world is part of a, much larger, global community.

My priest may have meant for today's sermon to be about the difficult task of forgiving those who have done us grievous wrongs, but it meant something entirely different for me.  I have experienced several events over the past week that struck me as important, and today's sermon about letting go of anger and forgiving seemed to tie them all together. 

Lately I've been feeling guilty because many of my prayers have been hurried and rushed, and always asking for something.  It seemed that I would get to the end of my long list of requests and then say something like, "uh, oh yeah, and uh, thanks for a beautiful day....."  Not exactly glorifying God's mercy.  Then last week, I was sitting with a group of women and we were talking about this very thing when one of them said, "I think God wants us to come to Him with our problems."  As soon as I heard those words, I knew they were important.  A few days later I read a verse in my Bible that seemed completely new.  "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other," Eccl. 7:14  Then my daughter stated that people who don't believe in Jesus are koo-koo.  At first I just laughed and thought, "How cute.  The things kids say!"  My husband didn't share these thoughts and a rather serious discussion ensued.  I walked away feeling ashamed and pretty off balance.  Once again I was faced with the dilemma that our world is filled with people of different beliefs.  How do I deal with this reality and still give my daughter a solid foundation of faith?  Lastly, just before I left this morning I was talking with a dear friend who is going through a very tough time.  Through out most of our conversation I just wanted to plead with her to please stop being so angry.  Of course, I couldn't actually say that.  She would have viewed it as affirmation that everyone was against her and she was alone in the world. 

With all of these events and a few others floating around in my head, I entered my church for the first time in many weeks.  I knelt and prayed for my friend; I asked that she be so filled with love from the Lord that there would be no room for her anger and unhappiness.  I asked for answers, for comfort, and for peace.  And there it was!  Less than 10 minutes after my prayers!  Our second reading for the day: Romans 14:1-12.  The very first line jumped out like it was in bold type, "Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions."  I knew this was the way to explain those with different beliefs to my daughter while maintaining the integrity of our own beliefs.  Then came the sermon.  All about how damaging harboring anger can be to the person who is angry, and yet doesn't even touch the person who is the subject of all that energy.  How forgiveness doesn't make a wrong right, but has tremendous healing power for the one who was wronged.  How forgiveness is essentially the letting go of anger, and does not need the cooperation (or even knowledge) of the other party.  After church let out, it seemed that everywhere I looked I saw quotes from the Bible telling me to trust in the Lord, and to bring my burdens before the Lord.  My whole morning was like one huge epiphany!  So, the question again: Coincidence or Message?  I don't believe in coincidence.

Every day of our lives was made for us by God.  He makes each day perfectly and beautifully, even the bad days.  I know this is a little deep for a "Cooking with Kids" blog, but it was what was in my heart.  And frankly, I've been so consumed with everything I've been doing that I haven't been including my kids in any meal preparation lately.  I guess I'm feeling a little guilty about that too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Built In Best Friends

When I was growing up, I never spent much time with my cousins, and so didn't know any of them very well.  I always thought it was because they were so much older than I was and they lived so far away.  I have suspected for many years and am now finding through my own kids, that age and distance don't matter that much, and I missed out on some built in best friends.  My kids only see their cousins once a year.  My brother and his family live overseas and my husband's brother lives in Miami. We only get to see these people in the summer, and usually only for 1 or 2 weeks.  We do our best to make the most of the time that have together.

My brother has three kids: Jake is 13, Jessica is almost 11, and Nathan is 5; much older than my kids.  As it turns out, the difference in age doesn't seem to affect them much.  Abby, who just turned 7, and Nathan are very close.  But, Abby also spent many hours fishing with Jessica.  Eli, my 4 year old, absolutely adores Jake, who happily basks in the hero-worship.  Though there is 9 years between them, they already have a bond that will span the years.  Jonah is still so young that he just trails along behind them all, but I'm betting that as the years go by, he too will develop lifelong bonds with his much older cousins.  My husband's brother has a daughter, Samantha, who is 8.  Of course, she and Abby are like sisters, but she also dotes on the little boys.  All 4 of them have already formed precious memories together.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law made some very cute snacks.  She made muffins in ice-cream cones.  My daughter thought they were the coolest thing ever and still remembers them to this day.  We decided to welcome her cousins, Jake, Jessica and Nathan, last week with a batch of these fun treats.  I was seriously lacking in time, so I broke one of my cardinal rules.  We used a box mix for the muffins.  ::::::GASP::::::  Please don't judge me.  I had Abby read the directions on the box and tried to allow her to take the lead in the project.  I could tell that it is time to get back on track with her reading.  Apparently the sun and altitude have taken their toll on her as well!  She did make her way through the three step directions, but it was painful.  Thankfully, she has retained her ability to comprehend and was able to tell me what tools and ingredients we needed.

All three of them shared in the beating of the eggs.  We used a big bowl, so Jonah was able to use his somewhat violent and clumsy technique without sloshing egg all over the place.  Eli no longer swirls the bowl around as he mixes which keeps my heart beat closer to normal, and Abby has been trying very hard to master the art of making those small up and down circles we all use to quickly beat eggs.  Abby stirred in the mix while the boys set the cones in the muffin cups.  I'm still not ready to let any of the kids pour batter, so I filled the cones and then very carefully transported them to the oven.  Amazingly, all three of them gathered around the oven window and watched as the muffins slowly rose.  Thirty minutes later we had 12 perfect muffin "ice-cream" cones.

My kids devoured all of our special welcome treats before their cousins even arrived.  We had thought to make more, but once everyone was here, all thoughts of baking were dismissed in favor of getting reacquainted and playing the games they made up together last summer.  As usual, we crammed a year's worth of fun into one week, and before we were ready, it was time for them to go.  Though our hearts ache in their absence, we are also anxiously anticipating the upcoming visit with Samantha and her dad.  I feel truly blessed that our kids have these times with their cousins.  Even though the time is short and their ages range from 13 to 2, they still have their built in best friends.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Road

Isn't there a road out there that is paved with good intentions?  Where does it lead?  Well, where ever it goes, I'm on it!  I'm blindly travelling down a path of unfinished tasks, lost thoughts and broken promises.  I bet you're wondering when I'm going to start writing about cooking with my kids again.  At this point, so am I!  Lately, it seems that I have been spinning my wheels but getting nowhere.  As soon as I feel like I am finally crawling out from under my pile of laundry, I look around and remember that I was supposed to do something with my girl scouts a few times this summer, and fill out paperwork for various things, and make arrangements to see my niece and nephews, and then there's keeping up with my kids' various activities.....oh yeah, I pared those down to 3 classes per week between the three of them.  Where is all my time going???  Surely I'm not that lost in laundry!  I mean, there's only 5 of us!  The only thing I can think of, is that I am losing time while at the pool.  Really, there's no other place that it could be..... Or is there?

Summer is the only time of year we really get to get out and drink in all that is around us.  We are fortunate to live in a place that has an abundance of things to do, all under the canopy of spectacular scenery.  This is the time of year when we can meander mountain passes, stop and have a picnic, gaze at alpine lakes, get a little lost, and finally make our way home while the sun sets behind us.  This is the only time of year that that kind of day can happen.  Apparently, that kind of laziness requires a lot of time.  So, while I've been thoroughly enjoying the summer, I've been letting a lot of my responsibilities go by the wayside. 

It's also clear that I've killed a few brain cells at the pool and at high altitude.  I did actually intend to do some cooking with the kids this week.  I had it all planned out.  But strangely, I planned to make a fire roasted vegetable gazpacho.  The most I could let them do was brush the vegetables with oil before I put them on the grill, and hit the pulse button on the food processor.  When it finally dawned on me that they weren't going to be able to participate for safety reasons, I thought I would have them work on the flank steak that was also going on the grill.  Wait a minute.....What?!?!  Why would I ever think that my kids would be able to take part in preparing a meal that was going to be made entirely on the grill?!?!  The only thing I can think of is that my brain isn't functioning properly.  Too much sun?  Not enough oxygen?  Nothing else could cause me to so calmly put my kids and fire in the same activity without so much as a warning flag.  Luckily I came to my senses before I handed my 4 year old the tongs.

More mountain adventures are in the works and the pool still beckons daily, so I'm holding back on making any promises or commitments.  For some reason, this year I feel keenly aware that the lazy days are limited and will be over before I'm ready.  So, I'm hoping to play, explore and splash with my kids just a little while longer before attending to the mounting pressures and lengthening lists that are lurking on the other side of the laundry pile.  I am planning to catch up on my responsibilities soon, as well as spend some more time creating culinary delights with the kiddos.  Something frozen seems to be in order.  It'll be harder to burn them that way!

Monday, July 11, 2011

In the middle

Have I cooked with my kids in the past two weeks?  Honestly, no.  I'm embarrassed to say it.  Not one egg cracked, not one pancake flipped, not one piece of cheese melted.  The closest I have gotten to spending quality time with them in the kitchen was congratulating my daughter on pouring her own milk for cereal without spilling.  Something that truly is worth recognition, but hardly a cooking milestone.  Speaking of milestones, I turned 40 last week, hence my absence.  I would like to say that I am dealing with it well and am aging with grace and dignity, but that would be a bald-faced lie.  It's possible I am thinking that if I just stop moving I won't be middle-aged.  If I stand perfectly still, I can actually reverse time and be 25 again.  If I keep my eyes squeezed tightly shut, the wrinkles will disappear and the sagging parts will become taut again.

Ok, so I know none of that is true.  When I open my eyes and start moving again, I'll still be 40.  I'll still have my crows feet, my smile lines and worry lines, and my parts that have travelled South.  (And let's face it, those parts are NOT at the end of their migration!)  I'll still have to face that approximately half of my life is already done.  Perhaps I'm fighting this natural progression tooth and nail because I don't feel like the previous 40 were used well.  There's very little from my past that is note-worthy.  I didn't find a cure for cancer.  I didn't even try.  I didn't so much as walk a 5k, let alone run one, to help raise money so that others could search for a cure!  I didn't accomplish anything that I set out to do when I was young.  I was going to be a, a vet.....wait, a translator for foreign diplomats.....uh, a high-powered business woman.....a boat captain?.........Nope, I didn't do any of that.  I did, however, graduate from college.  Yep, that's right, I ate up 7 years getting a 4 year degree that I used for less than 3 months.  Hardly something to brag about.  I owned and mostly cared for more cats than I am willing to publicly admit.  I held a couple of office jobs - as a secretary.  I took more than five Japanese classes and learned about 5 Japanese words.  I worked on boats and even learned how to drive them - a little - but never got a license.  I made friends and lost them, had my heart broken and may have broken a few as well, I crashed a couple cars, read hundreds of books, drank too many beers, and mixed a little excitement into a semi-ordinary life.  If I put it that way it sounds pretty pathetic, huh?

Recently I reconnected with an old high school friend who, unwittingly, helped me view myself and my life in a new light.  I hadn't talked to or heard from this friend in over 20 years.  Of course we started with the usual, "What the hell have you been up to?"  Mercifully, getting past the formalities took less than 3 minutes, and then we fell into a comfortable and lively conversation - mostly about our kids.  There was a little of, "Ohhh, how cute!" but the meat of the discussion rested in how profoundly parenthood had changed our lives - for the better.  He got to turn 40 in January and so was also bemoaning a lost and wasted youth.  But, he summed it all up in one sentence.  "If I went back to being 20, I wouldn't have my son, and it just wouldn't be worth it."  It took me a few days for the true meaning of that statement to sink in, but when it did I was blessed with the attitude adjustment I desperately needed.  Life is like a story, with each sentence building on the last.  Without the beginning, there would be no middle.  And without the middle, there can be no end.

I'm still a little overwhelmed with the realization that I'm in the middle of my story, but I'm no longer viewing my beginning as lost or wasted.  It's just the beginning of my story; it's what led me to my middle, and without it I wouldn't have the wonderful life I have today.  So, thank you Pat.  Thank you for showing me the true meaning and importance of my youth.

Sometimes, getting your feet dirty is the best part of the journey.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lemons.....Take 2

My little cherubs.  Oh how I love them!

After Elijah's lemon squeezing efforts last week I found my little citrus juicer.  It's one of those juicers that sits on top of a glass container that catches the juice.  I got it when we lived in Florida because I had grand visions of freshly squeezed orange juice with my breakfast every morning.  I know....I'm an idiot!  I think I did it once, found that it takes anywhere from 5 to 8 oranges to get about 8 oz. of juice, and put my little juicer in the cupboard next to my pasta maker.  There it stayed until 3 days ago.

I was pretty disappointed about not being able to have the hummus and green beans to accompany my pork tenderloin last week.  So, I made sure I had all the right ingredients on hand this week.  Just to be sure I didn't run out of lemons again, I marinated the pork in a hoisin ginger glaze instead.  When it came time to make the hummus, all 3 kids stampeded into the kitchen.  (They saw me get down the food processor.)  I will never understand how 100 lbs. of kid on 6 little feet can sound like a herd of elephants. I keep expecting the light fixtures to come crashing down.  Sheesh!!

Once again, I rolled out and softened up the lemons, and then cut them in half.  I showed Eli how to juice them on the juicer and then stood back and let him juice with all his might.  There was less body shaking and vein bulging this time, but the fierce determination was still there, accompanied by intense concentration.  He managed to copy the push down and twist motion I had shown him, and while he was able to get more than a few drops of juice, it wasn't much more.  Abby and Jonah also gave juicing a shot, but also without much success.  I got three kids that are all tough as nails, but not one of them can get the juice out of a lemon!!  I gave in to their pleas for help and got the 4 tablespoons of juice we needed. 

I moved on to direct Abby on the proper use of a can opener.  We don't have an electric can opener.  I think they are a waste of space and money.  So, opening cans at our house is a two handed job that requires a bit of muscle.  After the lemon juicing incident, I really wasn't expecting any of them to be able to make any progress on the one can of chickpeas that we needed.  Much to my surprise all three of them got in at least three good cranks.  All I had to do was hold the handles in place - they opened the can without any assistance.  I couldn't believe it!  Were these not the three kids who were just bested by a lemon?!?!  Once I shook off my disbelief, I gave them a quick tutorial about sharp edges and then drained and rinsed the beans.  I told them what tahini was (ground up sesame seeds) and they all looked at me with those bright blue eyes and begged for a taste.  Yes, I put a little smear on each little tongue and then laughed when each face crinkled up in distaste.  It was the little devil on my left shoulder that made me do it.  Everyone knows that the amazing, and never mean, mom that I am, would never do such a thing!  That same little devil has also forced me to give all of my babies pickles at least once.  What can I say, the way they scrunch up their little noses and pucker up their little lips is incredibly endearing - and funny.

So, we dumped the can of beans into the Cuisinart along with the lemon juice, some salt, pepper, a couple cloves of garlic, a spoonful of the tahini and three healthy drizzles of olive oil.  I have to say I never get tired of seeing the pure delight on Jonah's face every time he does something entirely on his own.  It is priceless.  I would also like to thank Cuisinart, from the bottom of my heart, for making it impossible for anyone, even an industrious two year old, to chop off their fingers in their food processor.  Thank you Cuisinart.  That was one fine piece of engineering!  After telling Jonah to get his fingers out of the bowl about 45 times, I finally got the lid in place.  We were ready to roll.  Before I could give the go ahead, Jonah cried out, "Ready!  Set!  Go!!!" and hit the pulse button.  All three kids took many turns pulsing until our dip was very, very creamy in texture.  We all took a taste and agreed to not tell daddy that there might be a little too much tahini.  It had a little bit of a cardboard taste.  We tried to cover it up with a little more salt and garlic.  It helped, but it still tasted like garlicky hummus on cardboard.  I think my daughter said "Karma" as she walked out of the kitchen, but I can't be sure.

You may be able to tell that I got a new camera as an early birthday present, which is why you've been inundated with pictures of my kids.  They are cute, aren't they!  

Monday, June 20, 2011

You Take a Lemon....

Swimming lessons has always been a mecca of friendly and fun moms.  I can't count the number of great moms I have chit-chatted with while watching my little ones splish-splash around the pool.  We've always been able to trade the usual "he/she is soooooo cute" comments and share in the little triumphs as our children learn to be floating islands instead of sinking rocks.  It's the one place I can relax and feel confident that I won't have to referee an argument, threaten my kid with everlasting damnation if they don't share, or just worry that they will hurt someone and I'll have to apologize profusely to some woman I've never even met.  It's the only place in kid-world where I haven't run into "That Mom".  You know, the mom that has no issues with scolding your kid even when you are standing right there.  The mom who instantly decides that your kid is a future Charles Manson because he accidentally knocked her toddler down on the playground.  The mom who scowls at you because your kid threw rocks and makes you feel like an utter failure as a parent.  We've all had to deal with this woman at one time or another, and many of us have even been her on occasion, but she's usually at those places you don't go to regularly, so you only have to deal with her that one time.  Two weeks ago I had the great misfortune of running into her at swimming lessons.  I wasn't expecting it and I'm sorry to say she caught me with my guard completely down.  I won't fill you in on the gory details - it wasn't pretty - but the worst part was that I had to deal with her for the next 8 days!

Other than the mornings we spent at swimming lessons, our lives progressed as usual.  Earlier in the week, I decided to marinate a pork tenderloin and serve it up with some hummus, pita triangles and green beans.  All the kids were eager to help, so I started by getting Eli to help me with the marinade.  It was a simple, Mediterranean style marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, thyme and oregano.  I showed him how to squeeze and roll the lemon so it would be easier to juice, but after a few attempts I could see that he just didn't have the strength.  After I halved the lemons, he insisted on helping me juice them.  I held back laughter as I watched him squeeze with all his might.  His whole body was shaking, the veins in his neck were bulging, and he had a fierce determination in his eyes.  Finally, mercifully, a few drops of juice dripped into the marinade.  He looked up at me with absolute triumph and shouted, "I did it!"  He tossed me the lemon half and ran out the door to tell his sister.  I looked down in amazement at that half lemon that showed no signs of the tremendous effort my son had just employed, gave it a gentle squeeze, and the whole thing collapsed in my hand dropping at least 2 tablespoons of juice in the bowl.  I was going to give his sister a chance at lemon juicing, but while the meat was marinating, I realized I had no lemons left for the hummus and no green beans, so I had to move on to Plan B.

This incident with the lemon actually made me think of my troubles with "that mom".  She was trying her hardest to squeeze the joy out of swimming lessons for both me and my son.  For a few days, I thought she had succeeded.  As it turned out, her efforts proved fruitless.  Elijah continued to splash and play, and I continued to derive great enjoyment from watching him swim around like a little fish.  Though she was fiercely determined to make us pay for an over-zealous splashing episode, she just wasn't strong enough to squeeze the fun out of swimming.  "That Mom" was out of her league.  Disapproving scowls, heavy sighs and nasty comments may ruin a trip to the play area at the mall, but they are no match for the pure glee that comes from playing in the water.  I didn't make any new friends this time around, but I was bolstered by all the old ones who stopped to say "hi" and comment on how cute he was and how well he was doing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It Took Nearly 10 Years

Many, many years ago a friend gave me a pasta maker.  At the time, my (then) fiancee and I lived in an itty bitty studio apartment in St. Thomas.  The place was truly amazing.  We had a cute little courtyard that had endless potential for being a private tropical paradise.  There was also a little terrace that had a spectacular view of the ocean and surrounding islands.  The view alone was worth the lack of kitchen space.  We had the smallest kitchen I have ever tried to cook in, or ever seen.  It would easily fit in our closet with room to spare.  We lived in that little 100 square foot palace for over a year and cooked maybe five meals.  Our priorities were different then.  We used the kitchen, not so much for meal preparation, but as storage for our beer and........oregano.  At any rate, there was no way I was going to be able to make my own pasta.

My pasta maker has lived in it's original box and faithfully travelled with us everywhere, only to be carelessly stashed in the back of some cupboard.  Since we moved from St. Thomas, we have had much more functional kitchens, but by then we had started our little family and  it was all I could do to get a nutritious meal on the table every night.  Every now and then I would wistfully stare at my brand spanking new pasta maker and dream of cranking out linguine by the pound, but my thoughts would inevitably be interrupted by the demands of a baby or toddler, or both.  It seemed that the pasta maker would have to wait a little bit longer. 

Lately, I've been trying to systematically clean out my cupboards and pantry.  I can handle chaos and disarray in every part of my life except my kitchen.  We have a very nice kitchen here, but not enough cupboard space and our pantry is even smaller than our kitchen in St. Thomas.  It is very easy for these spaces to get completely cluttered and disorganized.  So, I have gotten into the habit of trying to clear them out every few months.  By chance, I came across that faithful pasta maker which reminded me of some semolina flour I accidentally bought last year. (It's a long story)  I decided it was time to either make some pasta or get rid of the poor, neglected, never-been-used maker.

The dough was surprisingly easy to pull together.  It's just semolina, salt, eggs, water and a little olive oil.  Mix it all up and let it rest for about 20 min.  It actually took me longer to assemble the machine than it did to make the dough.  Not because the machine is so complicated and has many pieces that need to be fitted together with a special allen wrench, but because there were no pictures to accompany the directions.  I work better with schematics.

Once I got the thing assembled and secured to the counter, I used a small piece of dough to practice and also to clean out the edges of the machine.  What fun!!  It was so easy and everything worked perfectly.  No torn dough or surprise messes.  I must have been oozing excitement because my son, Elijah, was suddenly at my side asking to help.  I had him crank while I fed the dough through the rollers.  Two minutes later we had one looooooooooong strip of dough.  Two more minutes later and we had another loooooooooong strip of dough.  Voila!  Pasta!!  I can't believe I've thought for all these years that it would be so hard and time consuming.  It took me exactly 6 minutes (not including the 20 minutes of rest time) to make enough pasta for at least 40 raviolis.

A little more rummaging and sorting produced some frozen spinach, use-or-lose mascarpone and roasted red peppers.  I just sauteed the spinach with a little garlic and then Abby helped me stir everything else together.  The spinach was still hot, so the mascarpone just melted in perfectly.  We dumped in some Parmesan cheese and, in neat little spoonfuls, made two looooooooong rows on the first strip of dough.  I wet the edges and in between all the little piles of filling with a pastry brush, lay the second strip of dough on top and sealed it all up.  The raviolis were ready to be cut and cooked.  We bathed them in boiling water for a couple minutes, dumped some sauce over the top and dug in.  They were mighty tasty if I do say so myself.  The kids liked them too.  Well, Abby liked them.  Jonah gobbled them up until he realized he was eating spinach, and Eli picked the noodle off the filling.  All in all, a success!  Especially considering I got Jonah to eat a few bites of spinach and Eli to eat something that had been touched by spinach.