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.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Wouldn't Choose Them

What is it about family that makes us so crazy?  Every time I spend more than a day with either my family or my husband's family, I feel like I lost a fight with a steam roller.  I'm always left wondering: "Am I the only one?  Am I the only one who has a love/hate relationship with my family?"  Certainly there are people out there who love every minute they spend with family and never get irritated or frustrated, let alone spitting mad, and come away from the experience feeling refreshed and full of life.  Surely those people exist, but it is my belief that they are from a different planet.

Family members are forced together, either by birth or by marriage, and many times the people in our families are not the type of people we would normally choose to hang out with.  I know this is true for me.  I love my mom, but she can drive me to insanity faster than a bad day with my kids.  If we were strangers, the chances of us becoming friends would be slim to none.  (And slim just left town!)  Put simply, she's just not my type, I wouldn't choose her as a friend.  The same goes for my dad and my brother.  If I wasn't forced to share my life with them, I wouldn't even choose them as drinking buddies.  And then there's my husband's family.  That's a bag of crazy I would normally carve a wide path around.  After a week with them I look at my beloved and think, "How did he turn out so normal?"  Then I have to remind myself that to them he's probably not normal at all, and neither am I for that matter!

I think that's the whole point.  Stick a bunch of wildly different personalities together and force them to find a way to get along, and eventually learn to love each other.  If we were always surrounded by people we chose to be around, then we would never learn the invaluable skill of finding common ground with the one person who would normally reside in the "narcissistic asshole" part of our personal rolodex.  It might also make us a little more tolerant of those we actually choose to be a part of our family.  My husband can make me so mad I just want to kick him in the balls, but he can't make me see red the way his mother can.  Even when he's being incredibly insensitive, he never makes me feel as bad as my dad can.

Here's the weird part.  My mom may not be a friend I would have chosen on my own, but she's a great friend.  I can tell her anything.  My dad and my brother happen to be two of my favorite drinking buddies.  Although my dad can make me feel smaller than a gnat, he can also make me feel greater than an Olympic Gold Medalist.  In my book, my in-laws are crazier than the average crazy, but they are also some of the most wonderful people I've ever had the privilege of having to get along with, and I have learned to love them very much.  All of these people, these family members that have been forced into my life and drive me to insanity, have also enriched my life more than I usually give them credit for.  I'm grateful to have them all as a part of my family and a part of my life.  I'm grateful that they too have found a way to get along with me and love me for who I am, no matter how exasperating I get.  So, while I wouldn't have chosen them, I sure am glad they were chosen for me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let the Vacation Begin

Last week marked the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation.  The last few weeks of school are always filled with too many activities, parties and responsibilities.  By the time we got to Friday we were all exhausted.  I haven't felt much like cooking lately and have been attempting to nourish my kids with chicken nuggets or hot dogs and fruit.  I dare say they are surviving, but it's definately time to return to a more varied and healthful diet.  It was my intent to take the weekend off and start fresh on Monday, but we woke up Saturday morning refreshed and fully energized.  Besides that, Eric started his vacation on Saturday as well, so a good family breakfast seemed to be in order. 

It was just a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and strawberries, but we all came together to make it happen.  Jonah helped me crack the eggs.  He is still a little heavy handed with them, but he got five chances to get it right.  He'll have to practice a lot more in the future.  One of his biggest obstacles is that he squeezes the egg just as it makes contact with the counter.  In the interest of saving a little money and making a little less mess, I may try to have him practice with hard boiled eggs in the future.  I knew way back when I said that little kids are surprisingly good at cracking eggs that there was a good chance I jinxed myself.  I am now paying the price for that statement.  Thankfully eggs are relatively cheap.

Elijah helped me season and mix the eggs, but quickly became bored and moved on to help his sister with the strawberries.  Before the egg cracking I had set Abby up with preparing the strawberries.  She enjoyed every step from removing the stem to washing the dirt off to cutting out the core.  Lately she has developed a love for science.  I think the methodical step by step processes and discovery through problem solving speak to the gentle and thoughtful side of her.  I knew that her little kiddie knife would destroy a strawberry if we tried to just cut a small hole in the top to remove the core, so I just instructed her to slice off the top.  This was not good enough for her.  All on her own she devised a way to remove the core with her own knife that didn't turn the strawberry into mush.  Instead of slicing all the way through the top, she only cut through a little bit,  and then cut around the top at the same depth in order to cut off the top and remove the core all at the same time.  What's more is she taught her 4 year old brother to do the same thing!  I don't know if her love of science will continue throughout her life, but she definately has the brain and the demeanor for it!

Jonah helped me finish with the eggs and put the toast in the toaster.  Suddenly, breakfast was ready and it was time to eat.  For the first time in a long time, all five of us sat down at the table and shared a meal.  We talked and we laughed, we relaxed and we enjoyed each others company.  What a great way to start off our vacation; all together, in the kitchen, around the table.  Sometimes it's the simplest things that can bring a family together and erase the stresses of life.  For us it was breakfast.


It is Memorial Day weekend - a time that has been set aside for our country and all the citizens that belong to it to honor and remember the men and women who serve or have served in the armed forces.  There are so many fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who are not with their families right now because of their service to this country.  Some will never be with their families again.  My post is a little shorter this week, and maybe a little rough around the edges, because spending time with my family is more important than writing about it.  Not taking them for granted is my way of honoring all those amazing people who have given up so much.  I hope you do the same.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A little Grace with my Motherhood Please.....

A 4 year old and a 2 year old (both boys) in the tub together equals lots of splashing, squeels of laughter, toy throwing, and questionable bubble sources -- which of course leads to more laughter.  Meanwhile, my six year old daughter is happily and quietly playing with Pet Shops and Barbies in the other tub.  Lord, if you choose to bless me with another child, I respectfully request a girl.

Abby is fully entrenched in a very pink, very magical world.  At any given time she will have at least three on-going dramas set up in her room.  Ponies playing with Polly Pockets, Pet Shops traveling with Unicorns, or Barbies putting on fashion shows with Mermaids (underwater, of course).  Her brothers eat up a lot of my time and energy, but every so often I am able to join her in this special world.  Every time I do I can see fairy dust sparkling all around her and there is the faint tinkling of tiny bells in her sweet voice.  So, the other day, Eli (the 4 year old) was content watching Scooby Doo and playing with Spider-Man and Jonah (the 2 year old) was sleeping in.  I detected a chance to have the little girl all to myself.  I asked if she would help me make breakfast and my heart warmed when she breathlessly answered, "Oh, yes!  Can we make blueberry muffins with real blueberries?"  I wonder how long she had been waiting for me to ask.

Years ago a dear friend gave me a Williams Sonoma cookbook for muffins and quickbreads, it is one of my favorites and I use it all the time.  It has a very good recipe for blueberry muffins that is perfect for my daughter because it is short and easy to follow.  Her reading has improved tremendously over the past couple of months and she read the ingredient list and the instructions with relative ease.  Although I questioned the wisdom of teaching her how to turn on the oven, I did it anyway.  From there, the process was about ten times slower than it would have been had I done it myself, but pretty painless.  The hardest part was trying to teach her how to get 2/3 cup of sugar.  She figured out how to get 2 cups of flour without any trouble at all, so I thought for sure she would get it right away.  No such luck.  I finally gave up and just told her to use the 1/3 cup twice.  She did what I said, but she was looking at that measuring cup as if to say, "What?!?!  That doesn't make any sense!"  I try to take these reactions in stride, but as a math person, they chill me to my core.  I come from a family full of engineers so my mathiness is not an anomoly, but the gene skipped my niece and I have watched my sister-in-law struggle to get her to understand the most basic of concepts.  I lose sleep at night worrying that one of my own kids will be struck with the same afflicton.  It would be like an artist having a child that never quite understood that mixing blue and yellow together makes green.  It does make green, doesn't it?

Aside from the confusion over fractions, Abby was able to find all of the ingredients and follow all of the instructions without any intervention from me.  I was more than a little impressed.  Jonah awoke just as we were folding in the blueberries and Eli emerged from Spider-Man land about the same time.  I stopped her when it came time to fill the muffin cups.  I could see a major muffin batter mess in the making and, since it had taken well over an hour to pull the batter together, I was starving.  We filled the muffin cups, tasted the batter and Ooooo'd and Ahhhh'd over Abby's muffins as they began to rise in the oven.

It may have taken over an hour for my daughter to pull that whole recipe together, but it was time that I got to spend with her exclusively.  My boys bring tremendous joy to my life, but there is nothing pink and sparkly about them -- they are all about butt jokes instead.  They are also both attention mongers.  Ninety percent of the time Abby lets them hog the spotlight while she escapes to her world of rainbows and friendship, where everything is clean and smells like cotton candy, and nobody farts.  Because of the danger of one of her brothers drinking nail polish remover or running off with the nail polish only to dump it all over the carpet, we don't do the regular girly stuff like spa time.  Those two boys can't be left to their own devices for more than 15 seconds, and sometimes even that is too long.  We grab the moments we can and drink them in, and when they're over, we go back to playing football and Transformers and laughing at the word poop.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

Have you ever watched a bee busily buzz, buzz, buzzing through the air on a never-ending quest for....pollen, I guess.  I've always had a fascination with the buzzing bugs and their antics.  Please don't mistake fascination for adoration, as I abhor all bugs.  I'm no different from the average bug-hater; I perform wild, native looking dances everytime a bug even flies near me (especially bees), and I run screeching like a mental patient every time a spider crosses my path (let alone my toe!), but I am slightly enthralled with these creatures that work, work, work from birth to death.  When I watch bees, I am struck by how they always seem on the go, never tiring, stopping for mere moments only to be off again on their continuing missions.  Secretly I envy their ability to forge on and get the job done.  But, perhaps that's why their lives are so short.  No rest equals shorter life spans.  Have you ever watched a turtle?

This past week I have felt like one of those busy, buzzing bees.  Flitting here, then there searching, searching, searching, mostly for anwers and a little peace of mind.  All of my searching has paid off, but I feel like I may have shaved off a few years from my life expectancy!  Is rest in sight?  Not really, but the little bit of peace of mind I have collected and brought back to the hive will sustain me and my family for a little while.  My journey is far from finished.  After all, I have three kids to raise.  For now, while I write this post, I will allow myself to stop a minute, breathe and reflect on the accomplishments of the past week.  I got some answers about my son, Eli, from the speech therapist that have been oh so helpful.  I am astounded by how much her advice has helped already.  I'm also astounded by the simplicity of her advice - Talk slower!  Use fewer words!  Even as I write it I have to shake me head and laugh.  Who knew!

My husband and I have found a fabulous school for our kids.  It will require a bit of a life-style change, especially once all three are there, but the rewards are oh so worth it.  I have gained that peace of mind that comes from knowing that your kids are on their way to a better life.  Isn't that what we all want - to give our kids everything they deserve, and maybe even a few things they don't, so they can have the life we never did?  Within reason, of course.  It's doubtful I'll ever shower my kids with ponies and birthday clowns, but a top-notch education is something I will glady give.  So, at least for now, Eric and I have given up our dreams of retiring early, traveling to distant and exotic places, or skiing the Alps.  Actually, we've given up thoughts of skiing all together!  And I have given up a very special dream that I've held close to my heart for the past year.  Giving these things up doesn't feel at all like sacrifice.  Maybe because they were things that were only future possibilties, and they are being traded for present realities.

I had very little time to try and come up with a way to turn the events of the past week into a cooking lesson for my kids.  On Friday afternoon I came up with the perfect lesson.  When life gets so hectic you fear slowing down will mean falling asleep on your feet, and you've neglected your laundry so much it's pouring out the door and creeping down the street, there's only one logical thing to do for dinner.  That's right folks!  This week I taught my kids (mostly my daughter) the fine art of ordering out!!  I don't feel even a little bit guilty.  It's amazing what a little peace of mind can do.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summertime - and the Livin's Easy

Every spring Colorado will give you a little more winter and a taste of what's to come - many times all in the same day.  Mostly this is pretty cool, but when you've got three kids who just want to go out and play, 2 inches of slushy snow is not so cool.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm tired of having home bound kids. They're bored, and all they do is make a mess. So when I saw the forecast calling for a weekend of temperatures in the 80's, I let out a quick "Hallelujah!" and set to planning the perfect treat to welcome the upcoming summer months.

Everybody has their favorite summer-time snack; that one thing that brings back memories of lazy summer days and good times with friends and family. For many of us it's that first half-moon slice of juicy watermelon, or Otter Pops, or Rocket Pops from the ice cream truck.  I spent my formative years both in a small Colorado town and in the Midwest, so watermelon is my memory trigger.  My kids on the other hand seem to think of frozen Go-Gurts as their #1 summertime treat.  Fortunately, I still have time to try and change that.

Over the years I have seen a few different forms of frozen fruit skewers. To me they are OK, but nothing special.  At Eli's birthday party back in March I was in a bit of a financial and time pinch, so I decided to make some of these frozen fruit skewers with the random fruits I had lying around rather than try and make a smallish fruit salad. As luck would have it, they were a huge hit with my kids - especially with Eli.  Truthfully, I didn't mind making the first 100 skewers of grapes and strawberries, but after that I began to find the process sticky and tedious. As I was scouring my pantry and fridge for some sort of summer treat inspiration, I noticed a bag full or grapes that needed to be consumed soon.  It couldn't hurt to try, right?

I sat them down with a bag full of grapes that had been washed and pulled off the stems and handed them each a bamboo skewer and showed them how to correctly impale a grape. I was actually amazed at how quickly and perfectly all three of them loaded up skewer after skewer until every last grape was gone. It took less than five minutes to go through the entire bag. We put them in the freezer and an hour later they were ready.  In the span of about 15 minutes they had devoured the entire lot!  I was quickly reminded to snip the points off the skewers as my kids like to have sword fights with them afterwards.  This game actually sounds more dangerous than it is.  Besides, if you knew my kids you would know that it is probably one of the safer activities they engage in.  It sure beats climbing our pine tree to its highest heights!

While there's no actual cooking involved in this particular project, I am relieved to know that I can hand my kids some cut up fruit and bamboo skewers and they can make their own summertime treats.  Imagine the freedom!  And, to be perfectly honest, we've had a very busy and stressful week.  Looking for a new school for my daughter, (and eventually the other two) and filling out paperwork for speech therapists and occupational therapists has eaten up a lot of my time as well as most of my energy.  I'll try and get back on track next week, but no promises since we have two more schools to look at and both of those therapist appointments.  I am totally humbled to have to say that, especially after ending my last post practically screaming, "I am mother!  I am strong!  I am invincible!" 

That was total shite by the way.  Four days after I published that post I fell apart and cried for two days.  It's pretty hard having to write out every little thing that your kid does that you don't understand or know how to deal with, and then having to explain to well-meaning friends that while there is nothing WRONG with your kid, he is definitely struggling in some areas.  I guess what I should have said is that I am strong with brief bouts of weakness, and that I am usually invincible but can be hurt by misguided comments.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Facing Forward

Recently we had a parent-teacher conference with my son's preschool teacher.  When my daughter was in preschool, I barely took the conferences seriously.  Mostly it was just stuff like, here is a picture she drew at the beginning of the year, and here is a picture she drew this week.  It was cute, but hardly ground breaking.  As I enrolled my son in preschool, I had a sneeky feeling things would be different this time around.  I was already aware that while incredibly charming, this child was more of a challenge than most.  I prepared myself for reports of hitting and pushing, stories of incredible defiance, and trips to the principal's office.  I got all of those, so thank God I was prepared!  I also got a few things I wasn't prepared for.  I wasn't prepared to hear that after 3 months his teacher still couldn't get him to participate in most class activities.  I wasn't prepared to hear things like violent temper tantrums, unable to calm down, and needs to eat snack alone.  This is the ugly side of my charmer.  A side I was hoping he would show only at home.  Then came the scary things like impossible to evaluate, behavioral issues, and possible slight tendencies toward sensory integration dysfunction.  I'd never even heard of that last one before. 

Elijah's teacher is really amazing.  I've met few who understand and can connect with little kids like she can.  In our conferences she is always quick to point out his strengths and the things she loves about him.  She always ends by telling me what a loving boy he is and how much he warms her heart every time she sees him.  It's the stuff in the middle that keeps me up at night.  We've been working together over the past year to try and get him involved in his class as best we can.  We've had several conversations over the best way to avoid major outbursts.  When I dropped him off, I got in the habit of telling her whether he had slept well the night before, or eaten his breakfast.  All year we have been hunting and pecking for the right methods, the right words, the right activites and toys.  This is nothing new to me.  It has always been a guessing game with Eli.  A constant process of trial and error in order to reach him or teach him.  It was in this last conference that we heard a lot of those scary things.  I sat across from her in that little chair feeling shell-shocked and doing the natural thing that all mothers do, I blamed myself.

I've heard all kinds of things over the years about kids and how parents inadvertantly saddle them with horrible disorders like ADD and autism.  All those stories came rushing back to me at that moment.  If only I hadn't had a planned C-Section.  If only I hadn't let him watch Baby Einstein.  If only I hadn't fed him food with red or yellow dyes.  If only I hadn't had another baby just after his 2nd birthday.  If only I had held him more, disiplined him more, or loved him more.  If only...... 

I finally made the dreaded appointment with the pediatrician and spent the rest of that day and night choking back tears.  Every time a few would fall I would hold them back again - refusing to fear the worst.  Refusing to let the idea that something might be wrong with my child take hold.  But also refusing to really look at him or interact with him.  I was so afraid he might see or sense all the thoughts floating around in my head.  I let my husband put the kids to bed and a few hours later went to bed myself with a very heavy heart.  In the morning I awoke still being eaten alive with worry, but having to force myself out of bed and begin the day.  As I was sipping my coffee and planning out my day, I looked over at my kids, all snuggled up under a blanket together watching cartoons and thought, "Wait a minute!!  That is MY boy sitting there, calmly and happily.  He's not sitting by himself in the corner twitching!  His eyes register a lively intelligence and his smile is infectious."  I was able to reconcile in that one moment that while he may need some help, he clearly wasn't afflicted with a disorder that would isolate him from society.  He's still the same kid he was two days ago.

After meeting with the pediatrician, who did recommend having him evaluated, I went into information gathering mode.  Several hours of Googling reminded me of the main piece of advice I give to first time mommies - Stay off the internet!!  I decided to take my own advice.  I made the appointment for the evaluation and began going about gathering all of the information that might be needed or helpful.  I refuse to look to the past in an effort to place blame.  If anything that happened in the past, whether it be having a glass of wine while I was pregnant or cleaning my bathrooms with Tilex while he was an infant, is the reason that he is so difficult and challenging, then there is nothing I can do to reverse it now.  I did all I could to have a healthy pregnancy and provide a safe home environment.  I refuse to beat myself up for trying my best to be a good mother. 

I'm also done with feeling like a failure as a parent when it comes to my son.  I've always berated myself for not being consistent enough with discipline, not feeding him right or on time, not making sure he's getting enough sleep, not giving him enough attention, and basically not being a good enough mom for him.  When Eli's Dr. recommended we get him evaluated, I wasn't devastated or horrified.  I was relieved.  I was so relieved I cried.  Finally my difficulties with him have been legitimized.  I am no longer facing this overwhelming task of just trying to teach this kid to survive in the outside world, let alone thrive!  No longer am I faced with being the mother of the "bad" kid.  For the first time in nearly 3 years, I am breathing easier when it comes to Elijah.  I'm about to get some answers.  I'm about to get some help.  I'm about to get some tools that will help me make my child happy.  How can any of that be bad?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is that Ice Cream I Smell?

I think I've mentioned before that my son Elijah, who is now 4, has an attention span that rivals that of a gnat.  It's true, he can make a hummingbird look like a master concentrator.  Unless he's watching TV, then nothing and no one can compete with his ability to focus.  Since I'm not video taping myself trying to teach him to cook, I have to deal with the Tazmanian Devil version of him instead of the zoned-out version.  Because of the attention span issue, I've been on the hunt for something that is quick and easy, but also good enough to engage his interest.  He's still a little scarred from the purple cauliflower incident, so I'm trying to make it up to him.  It hit me the other night as I was watching him lick his ice cream bowl clean in utter ecstacy.  Ice cream!  Why didn't I think of it before?!?!

It's the perfect thing for him; it's quick, easy, uses a machine and is loaded with his favorite ingredient, sugar!  On the surface, choosing what kind of ice cream to make seems simple.  Just go with his favorite flavor, right?  I just have one small dilemma.  My grocery budget is used up, so going to the store is not an option.  I don't have eggs, cream or half-n-half -- the main ingredients in most ice creams.  Now what?  I spent about an hour scouring with no real luck.  The only recipe that matched my needs used 6 cups of milk.  I do have that much milk in my fridge, but I need it for my kids for the next week.  Finally, I turned to my trusty ice cream book. (Yes, I have an entire cookbook just for ice cream.  Don't judge me.)  In about 2 minutes I found the perfect recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream.  It used 1 cup of milk and a can of sweetened condensed milk.  Perfect!  Don't worry, Eli doesn't have a favorite flavor of ice cream.  He loves all desserts equally.

We had some strawberries that needed to be eaten in the next 24 hours, so I had Eli help me prep them by pulling off the leaves and washing them.  I cut out the core and threw them in the Cuisinart.  I would have let him try to cut out the core with his little kiddie knife, but was pretty sure that would just result in a few totally mangled strawberries and red juice splattered all over the kitchen.  Besides, I was trying to keep up with a dwindling interest.  Both Eli and Abby got to learn a valuable lesson about handling the very sharp blade that goes in the food processor.  Thankfully they got to learn the lesson through me.  Few things are worse than cutting your thumb right by the fingernail just before you need to squeeze a lemon.  At least I didn't have to deal with the shock and horror (theirs, not mine) of one of them cutting themselves.  After a thorough inspection of my new wound and promises to never touch the Cuisinart, we got back to the business of pulverizing the strawberries.  Their fascination with the food processor never gets old.  Every time I bring it out, I'm reminded of that presentation I attended on getting your kids in the kitchen.  That amazing woman had a salad shooter.  Remember those things?  I can't decide if it's good or bad that we don't have one of our own.  Probably good.  If we did, we would have salad coming out of our ears, and most likely all over the kitchen floor.

We all agreed that ice cream without seeds was best so I got saddled with the task of removing the seeds from the strawberry pulp.  Not a difficult process, but definately time-comsuming.  I sent them both outside to run around the yard a few times while I pushed the pulp through a sieve.  They both returned panting just as I finished up.  The rest was easy.  Eli dumped in the sweetened condensed milk and the cup of milk, (pre-measured, of course) Abby measured out a 1/4 cup of sugar and I squeezed in a tablespoon of lemon juice.  We let Elijah stir it all up and then I poured it into the ice cream maker.  Both of them were riveted for about 45 seconds, and then the questioning began, "Is it ready yet?  Is it ready yet?  Is it ready yet?"   I finally kicked them out to go play for awhile.  They each came back to check on it about 600 times, and after about 20 minutes I reached my limit.  The mixture looked to be as frozen as it was going to get, which put it at the consistency of a loose milk shake.  If I could have waited another 10 minutes it may have been a bit thicker, but I was tired of them coming in and out of the house and never closing the door.  I gave them each a small cup of the strawberry shake and poured the rest into a plastic container and put it in the freezer.

In truth, the process was so quick I felt like we really didn't do anything at all.  I think I've become accustomed to more lengthy projects that involve some sort of cooking.  This was fun and a nice change of pace.  It was perfect for a four year old who is physically incapable of sitting still.  Although it was a little trying for me at the time, I can see now that even the act of running back and forth to check on it's progress was perfect for him.  Unlike having to peer through the oven door and wait for something to cook, he was able to turn waiting into an activity.  Ice cream is practically a staple at our house; we eat it all year long.  I don't know why I feel like we have to wait for summer to make our own.  Now that I know you can make a pretty yummy ice cream without having to cook a custard base first, I'm sure we'll be making it more often.  And for the record, I prefer Tazmanian Devil Eli.  I'm used to seeing him as a constant blur of motion.  Zoned-out Eli kind of freaks me out.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

As promised - Chicken Enchiladas

To begin, a little while ago I found a blog that has fabulous recipes, amazing photography, and a cute cat.  If you like to cook and are looking for some new gourmet type recipes, you should check out   I have to give them credit for the following meal.  They have a fun recipe for Chicken Enchiladas Verdes.  I've only changed it a little, just to suit our tastes.

Abigail is our international foodie.  She loves all kinds of Asian food, (especially dumplings) Italian food, (of course) and Mexican food.  I made these enchiladas a few weeks ago and she gobbled them up.  The process of making them is very kid friendly, and since she loved them so much, it seemed only appropriate to teach her to make them.  Not only that, but as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, I am beginning to see that getting my kids in to cook dinner with me is not going to be as easy as it has been over the past few months.  This could very well be one of the last dinners we do for awhile.

I feel I should start with a disclaimer -- I don't really like chicken.  It kind of skeeves me out.  I have learned ways to tolerate it, but it's not my favorite.  I have two forces in my life that have been working against chicken consumption in our house.  The first is those horrifying rumors about mutated and blind chickens crammed into boxes and continuously fed until they are ultra fat, only to be inhumanely slaughtered.  Yikes!  The other force is my friend, Tonya.  She is constantly making comments about finding beaks in her chicken.  Seriously, nothing can compete with that image.  That is, nothing except for the "buy one, get one" sale on chicken breasts that my grocery store has been running for the past month.  For the time being, my frugality has won over my squeemishness.

Frugality may have won, but the squeemishness is still there.  Instead of trying to hold my lunch down while teaching my daughter how to handle raw poultry, I just blasted through the process myself while she was playing.  Since chicken has almost no flavor of its own, I poached it with some garlic, onion, salt and crushed red pepper.  Once it had cooled, I quickly shredded it with a fork, dumped it in a bowl and set it aside.  Yeah, even cooked chicken gives me the heebie jeebies.  Now that the chicken part was done, I could relax and get Abby to make the sauce.

The sauce is made almost entirely in the food processor.  Super easy.  First, I showed her how to open up a green pepper with her little kiddie knife, and discard the seeds.  From there all she needed to do was break it into a few chunks and toss it into the Cuisinart.  I've mentioned before that the kiddie knives don't work so well on onions.  That's not entirely true, they just don't work well for things like slivering and fine dicing.  I had thought to have her quarter the onion, but just peeling the garlic made her eyes burn, so I showed a little mercy and did it for her.  I also de-seeded the jalepeno.   Can you imagine the poor girl rubbing her eyes with jalepeno oil on her fingers?  I may have my moments, but I'm not cruel.  When it was all said and done we had 1 1/2 green peppers, 1 jalepeno, 3 cloves of garlic, and one onion ready to be zapped to a pulp.  For good measure we added a big handful of cilantro.  The sound of a blender being assembled or the lid being fastened on a food processor turns my kids into Pavlov's dogs.  They all come running with a slightly crazed look in their eyes and maniacal grins.  There's no such thing as a couple of short pulses in our house.  All three kids took a good long turn at buzzing our sauce.

Once your sauce is well blended or, like ours, liquified, season it with salt and pepper, pour it into a pan with a cup of chicken stock and a cup of salsa and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  We felt it was missing something, so we threw in some cumin.  Abby still thinks stirring stuff on the stovetop is too hot, so I took over at this point.  After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes or so, turn off the heat and stir in a healthy spoonful of sour cream.  Then, add a cup of the sauce to the shredded chicken as well as a half cup of shredded cheese.  Mix it all up and start filling your tortillas.  I had Abby fill one tortilla, and watched in pain as the whole thing fell apart before she could transfer it to the baking dish.  In the interest of saving a lot of time and sparing myself some frazzled nerves, I rolled up the rest of the tortillas.  I let her finish up by spooning the remaining sauce over the filled tortillas and sprinkling a little more cheese over the whole thing.  Just slip those in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the filling is heated through.  For the final touch, mix a little lime juice with sour cream and drizzle over the top.  Incidentally, the first time I made these I used red bell peppers, and the color of the sauce is a lot more appealing.

If I were to be completely truthful, I would have to say I am really looking forward to summer.  I'm ready to let the grueling school and homework schedule go for a few months.  I'm ready to let my kids play out in the yard all day instead of destroying my house.  But mostly, I'm ready to reclaim my kitchen at dinner time.  This used to be a time of relative solace for me to re-group and prepare myself for bedtime chaos.  I know that may have raised a few eyebrows.  The process of getting three wiggly, giggly kids P.J.'ed, teeth brushed, faces washed, and stories read may be a routine for them, but it's chaos for me!  During the summer we'll most likely concentrate on cooking breakfast and lunch rather than dinner.  I'm sure we'll do a few desserts too.  And yes, by August I'll be ready to reclaim my mornings.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cocoon or Chrysalis?

Last fall my kids drug me out to their little playhouse.  They were nearly peeing their pants in excitement.  They had found some sort of cocoon or chrysalis hanging from the roof.  It was skillfully tucked away where there was little chance of it being found or damaged by the average predator.  Of course, my kids are better than the average predator.  Is that something to say with genuine pride or as a joke?  I'm not sure yet.  What kind of predators do those things have anyway?  Well, like any good mother, I gingerly detached the poor thing, put it in a jar with some twigs and a few leaves and put it on our kitchen counter.  I also punched a bunch of holes in the lid, just in case those things need to breathe.

One week went by and then two and nothing happened.  As chance would have it, we took a little field trip to Butterfly Pavilion with some friends.  The place is just what it sounds like, a huge enclosed butterfly garden.  There are butterflies from all over the world flitting around and even a board with at least a hundred chrysalis waiting for butterflies to, not so gracefully, emerge.  I decided to ask an expert about our little science experiment.  Mind you, this expert was the stereotypical bug guy; wire thin, slightly hunched over, coke-bottle glasses, and even a wandering eye for good measure.  I'm not making fun, but the mere appearance of this man was a problem for me.  I wear every thought that goes through my head on my face, so I needed to do a serious pep talk with myself before approaching him.  I'm glad that I did approach him as he seemed grateful for a chance to share information about a subject that was obviously dear to his heart.  I explained what we had found and how we were "storing" it, and asked if he knew what it might be and how to care for it.  His face momentarily projected horror, (so I'm not the only one) he then seemed to collect himself and went on to answer my question with great enthusiasm.  While the answer I got was vague and filled with unrelated entomological details, I left feeling like I knew what I was doing.  Thinking back, I'm not quite sure how I got any information out of that verbal transaction, but what I was able to gleen from a 15 minute lecture was that some insects, especially moths, spend the whole winter metamorphosing and then "hatch" in the spring.  I was also told that I should superglue it's butt to the lid of the jar.  Something about needing to let it's wings dry out before they touched anything.  Dutifully, and with rubber gloves, I did indeed superglue it to the lid of the jar. 

We spent the whole winter watching and anticipating, eagerly awaiting whatever was inside.  About three weeks ago it opened up and, within the course of about three days, spit out six larvae which then in turn hardened into little bean-like cocoons.  I will admit to being a little grossed out, but my kids were absolutely beside themselves with excitement.  Rather than dumping the whole lot out, I agreed to keep it awhile longer.  Well, a few days ago, our patience and perseverence was rewarded.  We are now the proud parents of six house flies.  Really, there are no words.

I had thought to celebrate the hatching of our flies with some sort of "en papillote" kind of meal, but once I got down to planning it, I just couldn't come up with anything that didn't make my stomach do flip flops.  I think the meals themselves were fine, it's just that I actually got to watch one of the flies squirm out of it's little cocoon, and that's what I pictured every time I envisioned opening up any kind food package.  Ew.  Instead, we made use of our leftover mashed potatoes and some brocolli that didn't have many days left before becoming fodder for the compost heap.  Brocolli and Cheese Soup and Potato Pancakes for dinner! 

I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reinforce Abby's cheese grating lesson from a few weeks ago.  I opened our cheese drawer to find that we only had a small chunk of cheddar.  I ended up pulling out every little scrap of cheese we had left.  So there she was with grater in hand, and a pile of assorted cheeses which included three Babybells.  She gave me a look that was oozing the sarcasm she's not yet able to put into words.  I had no real defense since I would have given myself the same look.  I just turned to get Eli started on the potatoes.  We already had about two cups of leftover mashed potatoes, so all we really needed to do was add an egg, about 1/4 cup flour and some seasoning.  I had a small panic attack when I watched him dump what seemed like an enormous amount of garlic powder into the mix.  That stuff comes out of the jar really fast!  He then mixed it all together by simultaneously moving the bowl and the fork in opposing circles.  Extremely scary and impressive to watch.  I had to just tell myself that if the whole thing ended up on the floor, then it was a sign that he had put in too much garlic powder and it would have been inedible anyway.

When I turned back to Abby and the cheese I had to secretly laugh a little.  The grater, cutting board, table and floor were littered with little crumbles of cheese.  My poor girl looked at me and asked, "Can I stop now?"  I would have said something about a job well done, but was too close to laughing out loud, so I just moved her over to the stove to sweat the onions.  After a few minutes of stirring the onions she started to complain about being too hot.  I was beginning to see that this lesson was not going to be as successful as I had hoped.  I didn't have it in me to fight the good fight, so I let her go play while I finished up. 

I've never made a cheese soup before, and the recipe I used wasn't very good.  It had me cook the brocolli with the onions and some chicken stock.  Once the brocolli was tender I hit it with my immersion blender and then added the cheese to the hot liquid.  The cheese melted but didn't really blend in, so I dumped in a little cream.  It still wasn't quite right.  I learned awhile ago that if you're in a pinch and need a roux quickly, you can microwave the flour and butter together.  It actually works pretty well, so I added some of this nuked roux to my soup.  It wasn't great, but it was as good as it was going to get.  In truth, the soup was edible but pretty much a failure.  The potato pancakes are a piece of cake.  You just drop a dollop of the potato mixture into some hot oil, flatten it out a bit and after it has browned, flip it over.  When it's browned on both sides it's done.  I eat them with sour cream, and my kids eat them with -- you guessed it, ketchup.

We released the last of our flies this morning.  I've noticed that it takes quite awhile for them to be able to use their wings, but for these last ones I just couldn't wait.  I'm pretty sure my kids felt the same about those flies as they would have a beautiful butterfly.  I'll admit to being intrigued, but I'm amongst the masses who find flies disgusting.  Like my soup, that cocoon didn't turn out the way I wanted, and I was ready to be done and move on to capturing caterpillars.  We all said a heart-felt goodbye and turned to go inside.  I looked back to make sure Jonah was coming just in time to see him slam his foot down on top of that last fly.  He looked at me with a mischievious sparkle in his eye and a huge grin and said, "I 'quish 'im!"  If I wasn't so afraid of how the other two would react to the murder of their beloved fly, I would have high-fived him right then and there!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Break

Uh, we didn't cook this week!  I sat down to write this post and realized that a whole week passed and I only cooked a few meals, and my kids didn't cook at all.  It was Spring Break this week and while I had plenty of things planned for our time off from school, we mostly just took a break.  Aside from morning and bedtime routines, we completely parted from our normal daily activites.  Most time off from school is planned into a family vacation of sorts, but this time circumstances kept us home, and it has been a wonderful stay-cation.

Winter is fun, but it's a lot of work getting ready to go out and play.  Spring provides a mixture of summer and winter weather, and we got the summer end of the spectrum all week long.  What a relief for me and for my kids to be able to open the door and run free, in the backyard.  They did a lot of this and it was a real treat for me to get a little solitude without having to pay a babysitter.  For the first time in months all three of them played for hours without even a single call for mom.  One time they were so quiet I thought for sure someone opened the gate and they had all left, instead they were completely occupied collecting ants.  Their ant collecting continued for more than an hour.  In fact, their little home-made ant farms are still sitting on the table outside getting snowed on.  That's right, yesterday it was warm enough for shorts, and today it is snowing.  That's the great thing about spring here, and since they spent the whole week running around outside, they are now happy to re-explore the labrynth of our house. 

We also spent some time at nearby playgrounds getting reacquainted with old friends and getting to know new friends better.  Abby has finally learned how to swing by herself!  Yay!  Until about three weeks ago, I was quite certain she would make it to adulthood without ever having mastered this skill.  I am thrilled to be proved wrong.  Elijah has acquired some playground manners, which keeps me from having to apologize to every stranger and their kid within a fifty yard radius.  (Another thing I am thrilled about.)  In the days following 9-11 I was acutely aware of the lack of airplanes in the sky, and now Jonah has made me acutely aware of how many actually fly over our heads in an hour.  It's really pretty amazing.  I'm a bit overwhelmed by how much my children have grown up over the winter.  The last time we were at the playground I was pushing Abby on the swing while yelling at Eli to stop throwing rocks, and Jonah couldn't even talk!

Much of what I write is centered on appreciating my kids and noticing their greatness.  I'm aware that some of this may make me sound like a perfect Mary Poppins type mother.  This image couldn't be farther from the truth.  I lose my temper with them, a lot.  I miss some of the most amazing stuff they do and say because I'm scanning Facebook.  I've shushed them and turned my back on them because I'm on the phone and don't want to take the time to find out what they want or need.  I've been so frustrated with them I've actually locked myself in the bathroom.  So, I'm not perfect.  Raising kids is filled with tedium.  It's hard to push a 6 year old on a swing wondering if she will ever be able to do it on her own.  It's very difficult to be consistant with a three year old who pushes you to your patience limits daily and shows no signs of improvement.  It's not easy to be just as exhuberant about the 35th plane as you were about the first.  But the hardest thing of all is to see that your kids have grown and matured tremendously in a short period of time, only to wonder when and how it all happened.  It's impossible for me to be present for every miniscule second of my children's lives.  There are things I'm going to miss, no matter what.  I may have missed Abby learning how to swing, but it was because her dad taught her.  I'm pretty sure that Eli got his playground manners from preschool, and honestly, I'm just happy he learned them!  I was there when Jonah started to talk, and I remember it well.  I've watched his love of airplanes develop for nearly a year, so I'm prepared to get excited about every one that he points out.   Being present is hard, but finding out that you've been absent is harder.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pesto Chicken Melts

When I first set out to teach my kids to cook, I immediately ruled out spaghetti and meatballs as one of the meals they would master.  Why would I rule out a super simple meal that is loved by children throughout the country?  It just seemed like a cop-out.  Besides, as one of the very few 15 minute meals I have in my repertoire, it has been over done at my house.  I still love the other kid-friendly meals in my mental recipe box, like tacos, macaroni and cheese, sausages and potatoes, and hamburgers and fries, but lately, spaghetti has been putting me in a dieting mood.  This growing distaste of spaghetti combined with my evaluation from last week caused me to take a slightly different tack when I went to ask Abby what she would like for dinner on Saturday.  Instead of asking her what she wanted to eat, I gave her one of my cooking magazines and told her to find something she would like to try to make.  Her eyes took on an unexpected sparkle and she opened up into a huge smile.  She didn't even sit down.  She opened up the magazine to the first page and said, "I want to make this!"  I was skeptical at first, wondering if this was laziness in disguise, but when I saw the picture I had to admit it did look really good.  It was settled, we would make Pesto Chicken Melts for dinner on Saturday.

By some great stroke of luck, she picked something that was going to be really easy to make.  The recipe came out of a Cuisine at Home magazine and they were basically open-faced sandwiches.  Shred some cooked chicken and mix it with sun-dried tomato pesto and slivered red onion.  Then, halve a ciabatta or kaiser roll, spread a little mayonnaise on it, layer a couple slices of tomato and bacon, top with the chicken mixture and broil for a few minutes until heated through.  Add a sprinkling of shredded swiss or gruyere cheese, broil again until melted, and serve.  Yummy!  Circumstances led us to make a few minor changes.  For one thing, the thought of heated mayonnaise sends shivers up and down my spine.  It just seems yucky.  Also, the only tomatoes we had were grape tomatoes.  I didn't want to deal with a whole bunch of grape sized tomato slices, so I just chopped them up and added them to the chicken.  Lastly, my kids prefer the mild taste of cheddar over gruyere.  For any cheese lover worth their salt, substituting cheddar cheese for gruyere seems wrong on many levels.  I can only apologize and hope that their tastes mature with time.

I discovered bread making during my third pregnancy and found what may turn out to be a life-long love affair.  Ciabatta is one of my favorite breads to make, so on Friday I made some ciabatta rolls for Abby's dinner debut.  There was shredded chicken left over from some enchiladas which will make their way into a future post, and since those little kiddie knives don't do well with the delicate layers of an onion, I slivered one for her.   So, when the time came to bring her in to prepare her dinner, there wasn't much left to do.  I took a moment to explain how all of the measuring cups in my drawer are related; pointing out that the lower number of the fraction indicated the number of times that particular cup could dump something into the 1 cup measuring cup.  I'm not sure if the information sunk in, but at least I felt like I was teaching her something mathish.  I then guided her through the directions of the recipe, gave her a 1/4 cup for the pesto, crossed my fingers and stood back and watched.    She very carefully spooned the pesto into the measuring cup and leveled it off and then dumped it into the bowl with the chicken and onion.  Once it was all mixed together, we both decided that another hefty spoonful of pesto was required.

Quite awhile back, I learned from Eric that making bacon in the oven rather than on a griddle or in a pan is easier and less messy.  There is no safe way for a kid to make bacon.  It would be like asking my six year old to man a fryer at a shady diner.  Hot grease splatters and can burn severely.  So, in the spirit of keeping my daughter safe and burn free, I only had her lay out the bacon on the baking sheet and then gave her a little narrative on the rest of the process.  I could tell that, "400 degree oven" and, "pour off the excess rendered fat" pretty much flew right over her head, since she had that look of sleeping with her eyes open when I turned around to see if she was paying attention.  Oh well.  While the bacon was cooking, I pulled out the cheese and grater.  I gave her a quick tutorial on how to properly use a grater, informed her that no one likes finger nails, skin or blood in their cheese, and then handed her a small block of cheddar.  I was so afraid she was going to grate her knuckles I just pretended to do dishes instead of watch.  I shouldn't have worried.  She grated that little block of cheese all the way down to nothing without even a scratch.  Once the bacon was ready, the only thing left to do was assemble the sandwiches and put them under the broiler. 

Ten minutes later, we sat down to dinner with anticipation.  The first bite took my breath away.  I don't know if it was pride or the pesto, but those sandwiches were delicious!  As I was telling my daughter how much I loved them, my heart sank.  I saw her struggling to take her first bite.  It never occured to me that these sandwiches would be hard to eat if you didn't have your two front teeth.  She did manage to eat hers by mostly picking it apart and said that she really liked them.  The real testiment came from her brothers, who silently devoured every last crumb.  I'm thrilled to be able to add another 15 minute meal to my recipe box, but I'll wait for those teeth to come in before making it again.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time is on my side......Or is it?

March is winding down to a close, and I am far from reaching my goal for the year.  One of life's cruelest ironies is that time seems to move ultra slow when you are waiting for it, and when you're not it moves at lightening speed.  It seems like just yesterday that I took on this challenge and already 3 months have passed with my barely even noticing.  One quarter of my self-alotted time is gone.  What do I have to show for it?  Or better yet, what do my kids have to show for it?  I had to sit down this week and take stock.  I needed to evaluate how far we had come and how much further we had to go.  While I was a bit over-whelmed by the monstrous task still ahead of me, I was able to recognize some definate progress.

Abby has a great deal of patience and peacefulness about her, which makes her a good listener.  Her eagerness to learn makes her easy to work with.  She is still a bit intimidated by the long words and small print of the recipes in some of my books, but she bravely forges on and gains more and more confidence with each success.  I've begun to try and teach her meal planning by asking her, "What should we have for dinner on Saturday?"  I try to make a point of asking her on Tuesday or Wednesday so she can get a sense of planning a few days in advance.  I can tell she is really thinking about it because she doesn't just automatically say "Spaghetti!"  She's also asked for tacos.  She's also beginning to understand that certain meals require certain ingredients.  The last time she asked for tacos, I informed her that we did not have any ground beef.  Looking very confused, she took a moment to process this information and then, with hands on hips, said, "So we can't have tacos?"  Her confusion kind of took me by surprise until I was standing in front of the refrigerator staring at some left over pork roast, trying to figure out what to make for dinner.  It hit me that she was probably confused for a couple of reasons: One, I almost never make tacos with ground beef, and two, Saturday was still four days away.  I'm sure she was wondering why we couldn't just go to the store and get the necessary supplies.  Budgeting is a necessary component to living an independent life, and I do plan on teaching my kids the fine art of money management, but probably not this year.  She had no way of knowing that a trip to the store was not in my budget that week.  My time spent with her so far has produced dozens of precious memories.  Some of the rough edges of our relationship have begun to soften and I am sensing a greater calm and ease between us.  When I think of how far she has come in just 3 short months, I know that teaching her the rest will be a joy, if not a breeze.

Elijah loves helping me in the kitchen.  Anytime I am working with him on skills that require control and a little finesse, I know I am watching a natural athlete in the making.  He is not only extraordinarily active, but also extraordinarily agile.  He's not graceful by any means, but his movements are efficient and purposeful.  It took him only one try before he was able to break an egg apart without getting any shell in the mix, and so far he has a perfect record.  He can beat an egg with a fork without spilling and he can measure out a cup of flour and transfer it to the bowl in relatively swift and easy movements.  As he settles into being four instead of three, some of the spastic parts of his personality are also starting to settle.  Among other things, this means there is less of a chance he will toss a cup of flour across the room in frustration.  I cannot accurately express what a relief this is for me.  I've made the mistake of leaving the flour container out on the kitchen table before, and I can tell you I never want to clean up that kind of a mess again!  Eli and I have been working on making scrambled eggs at least two times a week.  He has mastered getting the eggs out of their shells and into a bowl as well as mixing them up with a little salt, pepper and milk.  I think he must be very fascinated with the way the eggs start to firm up as they cook since he tends to stir them just a little in the pan and then stop and stare for a moment.  He'll continue to nudge the eggs a little with the spatula and then watch for a second, and then another little nudge and so on until I remind him that he's got to keep stirring or they will burn.  So far I've had to eventually swoop in and save breakfast, but I have high hopes for future eggs.  Circumstances have put cake making in our path twice in as many months, and he has been my main helper.  I was impressed by how much of the process he remembered from the heart cake project, and how much more he was able to do independently when making the birthday cupcakes.  I plan to make a few more cakes in the near future to see just how far he can go on his own.  I've always known that the more time I spend with him, the less clingy and whiny he gets, but putting that knowledge into practice is a lot harder than you might think.  He requires a disproportionate amount of attention to the other two and seems to have an insatiable appetite for snuggling and being held.  This cooking challenge has really helped me make the extra time for him which, in turn, has made him easier to be around.  I know working with him over the coming months will be exciting and hopefully not too messy.

On the surface it may seem that I have spent very little time working with Jonah.  While his involvement in our individual projects has been minimal to date, he has been very present in our day to day kitchen activities.  For now, he shares a stool with Eli most of the time and is a constant observer.  You may remember he recently learned to crack an egg.  He hasn't quite mastered the technique, but he's no longer creating little egg explosions all over the counter.  Jonah has a quiet confidence about him that makes him less eager for help and instruction than the others.  He just knows that he can do it, even when I know that he can't.  He's still really young and barely has enough coordination to walk straight let alone beat eggs with a fork.  I had thought to get him a little kid-sized whisk, but instead just gave him a bigger bowl.  It looks a little ridiculous putting two eggs in a huge mixing bowl, but he's able to practice without wasting all of my eggs.  Less mess equals less stress!  Judging from our progress so far, taking the whole year to teach him to make just one dish was a wise choice.  I'm pretty sure he will pick up many more skills this year as he loves to be right in the middle of the action.  Being the third in a group of kids that are fairly close in age has made him pretty adept at making his voice heard and his presence known, and closing in on two has brought forth the more demanding and obstinate parts of his personality.  His little body in the kitchen adds an element of chaos that can be hard to deal with at times, but I am enjoying watching the relationships between him and his siblings grow in love and tolerance instead of  frustration and fighting. 

When I first sat down to evaluate our progression and determine what areas need more attention, I felt completely weighted down by the enormity of what was left to teach.  I thought for sure I had bitten off far more than I could chew.  I have felt this way so many times in my life; trying to add one more task, one more responsibility, one more agenda to a plate that already seemed overly full.  Past experience has taught me over and over again, that my plate is never as full as it seems.  Careful planning and prioritizing clear away spots on that plate that are bigger than I would have expected.  Suddenly, without realizing how, I end up with more time than I had before.  I said in the beginning my kids are the center of my world, and they are even more so now than they were three months ago.  Looking back and taking stock has helped me to see that we have accomplished a lot in a short period of time.  My kids are well on their way to independence in the kitchen, but more importantly, our bonds and unity as a family have strengthened tremendously.  It occured to me while writing this post that my kids are learning so much more than how to cook.  They are learning about communication, patience and teamwork along with many other virtues that are helping them to be well rounded, confident individuals.  Our time in the kitchen doesn't always go they way I expect or plan, but I'm always glad that we spent the time together.