Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Husband's Coattails

My husband is a better person than I am. Anyone who knows us is making their "no duh" face right now. He is the guy who will drive you to the airport, help you move, and lend you $50 no questions asked. He's always a member of the Snow Squad in our community. He's had the same Meals on Wheels route for the last 5 years. More than once he's been known to pull over to help a motorist in distress and then come home late because he gave them a lift to work.

If it actually turns out that there's a Heaven, he's my ticket in. 

I am more stingy with my time. I get stressed with too many commitments and an endless obligation to show up. But, I am trying to find ways to be more generous of spirit and instead of unhappily smashing myself into the mold of my husband, I am going to let myself give in my own way. 

So, in honor of the holidays, I give you my top 5 ways to be a more generous person all year long.

1. Pick up someone else's tab.
A few weeks ago I was having a terrible day and decided to go through a Starbucks drive-thru. I was new to this location and, after giving my order and turning a corner, found myself trapped in a Disneyland-style line that was unexpectedly 12 cars deep. The baby woke up and cried. His brother couldn't make the videos on the phone load any faster…and cried. I cussed. And when I finally made my way to the window, the barista informed me that the car in front of me had paid for my drink. That $4.15 changed my day. I've done this twice for the car behind me since then, and the buzz I get as I drive away rivals that of my tall hazelnut soy latte. 

2. Tip 100%.
I picked this one up from my parents, who like to surprise random waitstaff as a nod to their children's early careers. Be it $5 or $500, and I've gotten both back in the day, nothing brings a lift faster than a 100% tip. It even makes their feet hurt less. 

3. Send a letter. A real one, involving ink and a stamp. 
Christmas mail is a joy because mixed in with the random paper bill and glut of neighborhood mailers are those wonderful red envelopes containing pictures of your friends' families and a few words of joy. Before kids, when I didn't know the true meaning of not having enough time, I used to swap regular letters with faraway friends. I sent birthday cards. Then letters became emails and emails became texts. Birthdays are now covered by Facebook posts. But nothing beats the intimacy of a few lines in ink from a pal that you can read and return to. A letter is a symbol of love.

4. Lend a hand instead of asking what you can do. 
We've all had the experience of a loved one going through a hardship and telling them, with all sincerity, to call if they need anything, anything at all. But the truth of the matter is that it's hard to ask for help. Instead of an offer of future assistance, I am going to challenge myself to actually do something, anything at all. Drop off a dinner that can be eaten or frozen. Send flowers. Take someone's kids for an afternoon. I myself find it much easier to thank someone for their thoughtfulness than to ask for their assistance, so I'll use this knowledge to be a better friend to those who need me.

5. Compliment at will.
If you are anything like me, you rush through your daily interactions with strangers. Which is sad, really, as these are the tiny human interactions that make up the bulk of a day. But contact with strangers makes a memorable impact. I'll always remember the odd woman on the street in Chicago who asked me, "Is your hair real? Can I touch it?" and the man in the bagel shop when I was 18 who held the door open for me and told me that when the light hit my hair I looked like an angel. The second memory is slightly nicer than the first, and I want to be like that guy. Instead of noting someone's cool shoes or adorable baby in my head, I am going to speak up and pass along the compliment. And not just to strangers, but to my familiars as well. As a person who is more than willing to jump on a soapbox to criticize, I think it's time I logged some points for the good side as well. 

And there we have it. It's not much. I'm not going to suddenly show up on moving day and help with your couch. Come on, I'm 5'4" and a bit of a wimp. But maybe I'll send you a card, bake you some cookies or let you know how pretty you look with that scarf. Hopefully I'll brighten your day and maybe even walk away with some residual joy for myself. 

Happy Holidays. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A moment's respite

When I was younger, and more full of myself and my ideas, I always thought that I would heed Virginia Woolf's advice and never be without a room to call my own. And not just any room. A writer's garret. Some sort of adult feminist clubhouse that admitted only me. 

My grown up reality is that I am lucky to be able to lock the door and use the bathroom by myself. Most showers are accompanied by an infant in his Exersaucer. I share a bedroom with my husband, and our bed often hosts one or both of our sons. If I am sitting on the couch there is a child in my lap, another vying for my attention, and two dogs trying to woo me with "pet me" eyes. I wouldn't trade any of it for that drafty room of my imagination...and yet...

Sometimes I just want to be by myself. And write. 

Most writers, whether they are willing to admit it or not, have grown up with the notion of only being able to tap into our best selves, our most poignant writing, if we are locked away somewhere in total isolation. In addition to my writing loft, my creative dream was a cabin in Maine. Three months alone in the woods and that hidden novel would surely expose itself! And unless I was able to attain that perfect atmosphere, then who could blame me for not reaching my full literary potential? I admit that I fell prey to Virginia's dashing notion that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 

And that idea, dear me, is bullshit.

For starters, I am afraid of being in the woods alone so at least 60% of my time would have been devoted to fantasizing about bears, Bigfoot, and either the escaped mental patient with the hook at the end of his arm or the one who licked your hand in the night pretending to be your dog. Also, I have never been to Maine and know nothing about its actual landscape. And most writers aren't independently wealthy. We are average people with mortgages and medical bills, families to care for and jobs that require our daily presence. In our lives, writing is work. It is not glamorous, it is not better with a glass (or bottle) of wine. It benefits from regular practice and multiple drafts. 

And it can be accomplished in stolen moments if we are ready to take them.

My new creative goal does not involve escaping from reality in order to try and recreate it on paper, but rather to take advantage of the wasted minutes that can be gleaned from a normal day. This way I am accountable for my time, and that novel is allowed to grow in fits and starts instead of rotting by the wayside while I wait for an idyllic writing opportunity to present itself. 

I keep hearing my best friend Rachel's voice in my head, saying "Ounces make pounds." It's something she used to tell young hikers on Outward Bound trips when their backpacks would become so heavy after the addition of one more book, one more energy bar, one more souvenir rock. That idea, of one tiny river rock being insignificant but an hour's worth of river rocks adding substantial weight to your pack, can so easily translate into time. If I write for 30 minutes a day while the baby naps for example, I may only see a paragraph that one day, but by the end of the week I'll have 7 paragraphs. By the end of a year I could have 70 pages. It's daunting if I think of it in terms of "then it will take me 3 years to write a book!" But how wasteful I feel when I realize that I could have started this project 3 years ago...

So, I will squirrel away my idle time. Facebook won't miss me. My email will keep. The dishes will get done, dinner will be cooked, television won't notice my absence and no one in my family will feel shorted. These 30 precious minutes will become my room. And soon enough, I will have a book to call my own. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Save our sons

As another tragedy rips through Colorado, I feel heavy with the weight of loss. My heart breaks for the families who lost a loved one. I hurt for a community who will understandably second-guess a trip to the movies, or the grocery store, or the mall. I am overcome with anger and sadness and fear.

My anger quickly focuses on our nation's loose gun laws. How any informed citizen can possibly believe that the Second Amendment, drafted in the 1790s, blindly authorizes the modern-day purchase of firearms as powerful, precise, and dedicated to destruction as the 3 guns carried by James Holmes on Friday morning is beyond my comprehension. I am shocked by the opinions being expressed by certain Republican congressmen and average American citizens - some of them my friends - who feel that the number of lives lost in the Aurora theater could have been reduced if at least one of the theater patrons had been armed and able to take down the shooter. The confusion, smoke, darkness, and panic in that theater created a combat zone, and I am of the opinion that most gun-carrying citizens are not trained to keep a level head, let alone a steady aim, in such a situation. 

My sadness falls on the victims, their families, and the survivors who will be imprinted with this tragedy for the rest of their lives. The stories of loss and heroism coming out of that theater gut me. My grief extends further though. I feel an excruciating pain for the mother of James Holmes, and this is where my sadness gives way to fear. 

Before he became the mastermind behind Friday's massacre, "Holmes" was simply James. Maybe his family called him Jim. Or Jimmy. He was an honor student, an attractive young man, a boy who regularly attended church and was a counselor at a camp for underprivileged children. Even further back, twenty years ago, he was a darling little boy showing no indication of what was to come. It is too easy to look at James' picture on the news and speak of his cold eyes, his diabolical intelligence, his malicious intentions. That makes him "other." It insulates us as average citizens, normal everyday parents, from the idea that he could have been son to any one of us. My intention here is not to excuse the actions of James Holmes - far from it - but to open a dialogue on how we can protect our own sons from this tragic fate. 

Because it is always the sons, isn't it? The boys who grow into men that funnel their brokenness into mass destruction. James Holmes is the latest iteration of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Of Jared Loughner. Of Seung-Hui Cho and Nathan Dunlap (no, we haven't forgotten). There are more, of course, but this short list represent 67 deaths and that number contains enough loss to prove the point. 

And my point is this, how do we save our sons? How do we teach our boys to find outlets other than violence for their pain; to seek help before it is too late? Because this is my greatest fear. Not of being the victim of a random act of terrible violence, but of raising a son who is capable of carrying out such an act. I am a realist, and I can only assume that the mothers of the young men listed above used to look at their sons with the same love and adoration that I feel when I look on my own. Before they were monsters, they were little boys just like mine and yours. So what are we, as the mothers and fathers of sons, to do?

I don't pretend to have answersI expect the antidote to this nationwide infection of violence will be multi-layered, involving a combined effort of stricter gun regulations, increased awareness of and access to men's mental health care, and collectively analyzing our country's common use of death as entertainment. 

On a grassroots level, I believe that parents are the first line of defense in preventing future tragedy. I don't say this to lay blame on the parents of the shooters I've mentioned above, but rather to place an active burden on myself and the other parents of young boys across the country. We can make a difference. We can honor all of the victims of violence in America by doing our part to raise emotionally intelligent men. Here is my plan:

  1. No guns in our home, real or toy, period. Does my 3-year-old turn his wooden hammer into a "shooting machine"? Yes, and I let him. I adhere to the idea that "boys will be boys" and do my best not to overreact and make guns enticing by way of making them taboo, but I can't in good conscience aid and abet his introduction to realistic toy weaponry. And on days when he plays superheroes and "makes all the bad guys nice" instead of shooting them I feel like we are making a positive impression. 
  2. I will closely monitor the amount of violence that I allow into our home. My husband and I don't watch adult TV shows while our children are awake - even the baby - because we want to limit their exposure to adult situations as much as possible. And we are constantly adjusting our guidelines based on how our toddler reacts. Recent, seemingly innocuous, cartoons that have been taken out of rotation include Kung Fu Panda, Tom and Jerry, and SpongeBob SquarePants. 
  3. I am going to teach my sons that it is okay to cry. Tears are the easiest, most basic release that our bodies offer for strong emotion. My dad is a great man who can get choked up at the mere mention of his children or his grandsons. I love this about him. My husband can cry tears of both joy and pain, and this was one of the primary reasons that I knew he would make a good father. In our house, we will never tell our boys to buck up and stop crying. 
  4. My husband and I will strive to see our sons as they are and (hopefully) not as we want them to be. We will not hide our own fears, failures, or imperfections from our children in the hopes that they won't feel the need to hide their perceived shortcomings from us. 
  5. We will watch over the emotional health of our sons with the same care that we apply to their physical wellbeing. Just as we monitor a cold to make sure it doesn't become an ear infection, we will keep close eye on a temper tantrum to ensure that this lack of control doesn't become a way of life. 
  6. We are stocking our parental tool kit by reading. Not online chat room reading, but actual books written by authors with credentials to help us in our endeavor. Currently on the nightstand you can find "Becoming The Parent You Want To Be" by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, and "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child" by John Gottman, PhD. 
  7. We are increasing the emotional tool kit of our toddler with books as well. The classic "Hands Are Not For Hitting" by Martine Agassi, PhD and "When I Feel Angry" by Cornelia Maude Spelman are great in that they teach valuable lessons on acceptable responses to strong feelings. These books open up a dialogue with children while you read so that talking about anger couldn't be easier. Most importantly, both texts emphasize that feeling like you want to hit or hurt someone and actually doing it are very different, which is a key lesson at any age. 
  8. We are redoubling our effort to actively listen when our oldest son is upset and to help him voice his feelings. We've recently been introduced to the idea that it is much more beneficial for a child to validate a fear of the dark, for example, and help work through it than to simply tell him there's nothing to be afraid of and go to sleep. This is an oversimplification, but the idea is to listen to a child's words and not dismiss or belittle their feelings based on our grownup understanding of the world. 
  9. Finally, I will always allow my sons access to mental health professionals if they have problems that are beyond my ability to help. Together my husband and I will teach them that asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. If they cannot ask for help, we will ask for them. 
Yes it's a long list, and I expect that as I continue to learn it will continue to grow. But it's worth the effort. It represents a promise not only to America but also to my boys and the men they can become. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Motherhood, or "When life throws a pie in your face"

Two nights ago I took off my bra and half a french fry fell out. Par for the course with my monstrous baby-induced rack. It hoards things. But I'm not alone, right? Every mom has a collection of day-to-day moments that humble her. If you show me yours, I'll show you mine. I'll even go first...

I wash my hair so infrequently right now that it actually started to dread. I had to cut a piece out.

I was on a conference call last week when Jude got my attention, and everyone else's, by yelling out "Mom! Booger!" so that I could wipe off his picking finger.

Gabe went in to give Aidan an open mouth baby kiss and our son picked that exact moment to spit up. (Fatherhood is humbling too.)

Along those lines, Gabe once caught Jude poop with his hand during a middle of the night changing when he didn't have a fresh diaper at the ready.

Continuing on the poop train, I looked down yesterday and discovered fresh poop on my finger. I still have no idea where it came from though I am quite certain it didn't come from me. (Honestly, I don't know if that would be better or worse.)

Finally, and I'll leave you with this one, I went to rinse out a diaper this morning, pointed the sprayer the wrong direction, and full on bidet-ed myself in the face.

It is 4 minutes until noon. By the time you read this, I'll be drinking. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hip-hip-hippie Hooray!

Okay, we are two and a half months in to our diapering adventure and drumroll please...we LOVE the cloth diapers! Instead of merely using them a few times a day, we use them 90% of the time. They are adorable, easy to use, and create so much less waste. It's also wonderful not to drop $50 on diapers every time we go to the grocery store. The absolute best part? Look how cute my baby's bum is. (And here I thought we couldn't improve on perfection.)

These diapers are also ideal for summer, when no one wants to wear any extra clothing.

I'm glad we did a trial before going whole hog on this thing though. If you'd like a recap of our initial investment, the original blog post is here.


The Good.

The GroVia hook and loop diaper shells are the best. We've tried both hook and loop (or "velcro" to normal people) and the snap shells, and velcro is the easiest and most like the disposables we were used to. They are also the fastest to secure on your kid, and this is key in winning the 7-month-old Wiggle Olympics. They are comparable in bulkiness to a disposable diaper (bonus!), so Aidan's clothes still fit.

The snap-in Soaker Pads are super. They are lined on the backside so that they trap moisture and help control leaks. They also produce less laundry than I expected since you simply unsnap the liner, toss it into the dirty clothes, and reuse the shell. Paired with a reusable organic Booster Pad (a versatile new addition to our arsenal), they can last for a few hours between changes. The soakers do take a lot to dry though. I flip them inside out, put them through a full cycle, and then let them air dry as well if needed.

The disposable Biosoakers are a nice standby when all of the soaker pads are in the washing machine. I've also used them on short excursions when I anticipate a diaper change but don't want to be stuck carting a used diaper around. (Gross. I am not that mom.) A note of caution, while these disposable inserts look similar to disposable diapers, they do not retain as much moisture and will leak if not changed in good time.

In general, since cloth diapers are not as dry for a baby as disposables, I do recommend the Bummis fleece liners or a booster pad so that something dry is against the baby's skin. If we leave a wet diaper on Aidan for any amount of time he gets a bit of a rash from the damp.

Finally, Bioliners are a must have. They look like a dryer sheet but are much more vital - they contain the poops and make it easy to flush the whole shebang down the toilet. Hooray for that.

The Not-So-Good.

Compared to disposables, cloth diapers in general are much more prone to leaks. A disposable diaper can hold a lot of liquid. In our house we call them 20-lb pee diapers, as in "That was a long day out. Looks like we got ourselves a 20-lb pee diaper here." Because of this, we will continue to use disposables for overnights as well as long afternoons spent running errands. And for car trips. And honestly for any kind of travel. Once again, I am not the mom to cart around a bag of dirty diapers waiting to be laundered. Blech.

Concerning specific products we bought and don't like, I am not a fan of the "all-in-one" style of diaper. The snap closures are odd and hard to secure on a moving target. They are also the first to leak and result in a lot of laundry for a simple pee diaper. I only use these now when everything else is dirty and I ALWAYS pair them with an organic booster pad. Otherwise they are totally useless. These are also the bulkiest diapers of the bunch.

Using a different brand of prefold diaper insert (we tried OsoCozy) is ridiculous. They are way too big to fit in this sleek little diaper shell. They also made my baby look like a fat old man. Not a waste of money though - my baby's a puker, and these make the best spit rags.

Finally, the initial investment is steep but you have to do it. We bought so few supplies to start. It made for a good trial, but not enough equipment to sustain our cloth diaper revolution. We were always out of inserts. I've since upped our count to 2 all-in-ones, 4 shells, 8 soaker pads, and 4 boosters. I'm going to purchase 4 additional shells and another dozen soaker pads and call it good for the next year.

Hot Tips:

We got a great recommendation from a friend and purchased a bumGenius Diaper Sprayer for our toilet to make rinsing poop diapers easier. It will also be useful for cleaning out a training potty when we get there again. And, according to the box, it can even be used as a personal bidet! (Again, gross. If you come to our house and use our bathroom, please do not cleanse yourself with this little sprayer. You will not be invited back.)

Secondly, we bought a Planet Wise Diaper Wet Bag to store the dirty diapers between washes. I wash the diapers every other day and the bag every few cycles. Between bag washings I spritz the inside with Febreze and let it air out. Works just fine. We need to buy another for the upstairs though.

Final adjustment - flushable toddler wipes instead of traditional diaper wipes. We were at a loss - throwing wipes in the trash without the convenient package of a disposable diaper was nasty, and flushing them is bad for your plumbing. Storing the used wipes in a smaller wet bag and tossing the contents a few times a week was a recommendation that I couldn't stomach, and we were NOT going to go so far as to embrace reusable cloth wipes. (My eco-conscience only extends so far. Apologies, Gaia.) Flushable wipes are a lifesaver.

And there you have it. Our little effort to conserve, one diaper at a time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I hate to be one to espouse procrastination, but sometimes it's the only way to go. Like with gardening. A late garden seems to be de rigueur at my house. In years one and two, this stressed me out. Here in year three, where the final planting didn't happen until this morning, I see it as a bonus.

Stick with me on this, oh you Almanac gardening calendar purists.

The first year that I planted late I avoided the hard frost that crept in the week after Mother's Day. Last year, my late garden missed out on an early-June blizzard. This year? Many timely gardens were wrecked by a freak hail storm and then two straight weeks of 100 degree weather. But my early July garden is beautiful. And, let's be real. I didn't plant from seed, so a plant growing in a pot at Home Depot vs braving the early elements in my garden probably has a better shot anyway.

Gabe prepped the soil this year with organic compost and one round of grass clippings. I am fertilizing every 3 weeks with an organic fish-based fertilizer. Unlike the fish juice of year one, this time I chose one that had been "naturally deodorized with mint." I'm also relying on my trusty old friend the marigold to help fight off bugs. They are much prettier than spiders, and instantly brighten the garden.

For the sake of ease, I decided to skip the crops that didn't work out so well in years past, namely strawberries (dead before they even started), peppers (all leaf, no fruit),  and pumpkins. "How can one mess up pumpkins?" you may ask. Apparently you need flowers of both sexes to get fruit, and my plant was strictly same-on-same. Yes, much like my boyfriends of yore, this plant was gay to the gay. The blooms were quite lovely though, and I would definitely vote in favor of allowing this plant to marry if it so desired.

But I digress...

This year I planted 5 containers of tomatoes: Early Girl (hybrid), Cherokee Purple (heirloom!), Cherry (hybrid) and two Patio (never heard of them, but what the hell, as I am in fact growing tomatoes on a patio). Yeah...I prefer more heirloom varieties, but late season beggars can't be choosers; I had to settle for what was there.

In the beds, I planted 4 zucchini this year. I know, it's a lot. But the year I did 5 it was too many, and 2 proved too few. Keep an eye out as summer progresses and I'll share my favorite recipes as well as freezing tips. This is the easiest vegetable to sneak into foods that kids eat.

Finally, I planted a lot of herbs. Rosemary, parsley, oregano, cilantro, 2 thyme (my new love), and 5 basil. Sweet sweet basil, giver of all things pesto. I still have one final batch in my freezer from last year and can only now bear to use it with my new basil crop being in the ground. As a general rule I only plant sweet basil, but I did branch out this year (once again, making do with what was available) and buy 2 boxwood basil plants. Look at the size of these leaves - now with 100% less chopping!

(Dirty nail courtesy of the soil, with its chewed-down length being the direct result of an anxiety-based oral fixation.) 

My favorite garden find this year came a few months ago in the dollar aisle at Target - little chalkboard garden signs that I wrote on with a white paint pen. I've been saving these since April. (Who plants in April?! Other than retirees and Texans I mean.)

Not only are these Martha Stewart-adorable, they are especially useful when I send Gabe out to clip herbs while I'm cooking. Helps us avoid the "looks like a Christmas tree but smaller" conversations.

And really, I do love to label so these are perfect for me. With that final touch the garden was planted. Bring it, July!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Oh say can you see...and see...and see...and...

Remember being a kid, when fireworks used to mean something? Growing up, the Fourth of July was synonymous with all-day barbecues, staying up late, huddling together as a family on our quilted picnic blanket, and watching the once-a-year spectacle shoulder-to-shoulder with the entire neighborhood, oohing and awing in unison. Pair the show with a local band or a synchronized radio broadcast, and even the most jaded teenager would be stunned into a patriotic silence. Collectively we were part of something bigger, something great.

I fear that my own kids won't have this experience.

In my Littleton neighborhood, which I adore, it seems that almost every community event is capped off with fireworks. Last week's Main Street Block Party actually had two shows - one at 8:30 PM and a second at 10. Awesome, right?

Not so much.

What was once special has become commonplace. Instead of a reason for excitement, these too-frequent shows have become a nuisance that wakes my sleeping children and causes my dogs anxiety all summer long. I don't understand the reasoning behind it. Is it our supermarket-conditioned mentality, where seasons are rendered meaningless and anything we could possibly want is available to us at all times? Is it a collective fear of unassuming moments, where it's not enough if the capstone of a gathering is as simple as seeing our favorite barista freed from the coffee counter and out with her family? Do we always need to wow, to awe, to inundate with the most sparkle, the most noise, possible? Or maybe it started as a singular idea - let's add fireworks to the Western Welcome Week festival! - that grew in popularity until the number of firework displays offered in my city has spiraled out of control.

Whatever the case may be, in my community or yours, I would like to take a stand and reclaim fireworks for monumental occasions only. A presidential inauguration, the final game of the World Series, the celebration of our nation's independence. Since most cities host neither of the former events, let us reserve our fireworks for the latter. I extend a challenge to my city, and yours, to suspend all scheduled fireworks between this Fourth of July and next.

What would fill the void?

Let's start by talking financials. Assume that the average non-Fourth of July fireworks display costs $3,000. Instead of a local credit union sponsoring the fireworks at the next neighborhood chili cook-off, for example, they could come up with an "in lieue of" donation. In lieue of fireworks, ABC Credit Union has renovated Main Street USA Park and donated a new jungle gym. Or perhaps they would rather buy a parcel of land and gift it to the local Open Space holding. Or maybe they would want to award a scholarship to a local high school student, or pay to renovate a local business or historical building in need of a facelift.

What if this idea caught on?

Local businesses would compete over who could come up with the most creative and beneficial use of their previously allocated fireworks budgets. This electric spirit of giving would catch on within the community and people would start submitting their own ideas for consideration and participating in the discussion concerning this new distribution of funds. Invested citizens might even start looking for opportunities within the local community to donate time and money of their own...

What if, and this is the big one, our year of firework abstinence resulted in a renewed sense of community and culminated in a Fourth of July exhibition in the summer of 2013 that got the neighborhood excited again? After a year of smaller, more intimate, gatherings we'd be ready to come together en masse and make some noise.

Can't you see it?

We gather up our families, pack the blue Igloo coolers that look just like the ones our parents had, stake an early claim on some prime sky-viewing real estate at the park on the hill, and then while away the afternoon throwing a frisbee, eating hotdogs, and psyching ourselves up for an event that we have been denied for a whopping 364 days. Even the adults are little-kid giddy with anticipation. It takes forever for the sun to set, but as it finally gets dark and the first whistling rocket is shot into the air, we look to our left and right and see that the America we are celebrating tonight is the America we can find right here in this park. As the first color-filled explosions light up the sky, casting their purple and green glow onto the upturned faces of our children, we swell with pride and gratitude for the life we are able to claim as our own.

I want this. I want this moment that is unique enough to make a memory. What do you say, Littleton? Are you with me?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Quick and Easy Sides: Roasted Kale Chips

Kale is my new favorite super food. It has replaced spinach in all of my soups and stir-fries, and I make it all the time in chip form. Thanks to my cousin-in-law Eryn for turning me on to this recipe. It makes a great pairing with the Quick and Easy: Salmon filets.

Toddler tip: We flat out lied to Jude and introduced these as green potato chips. He loves them.


Organic kale

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash and dry your kale thoroughly - the leaves hide a lot of grit. Then cut off the ribs and chop the leaves into roughly chip-sized pieces.

Put the chopped kale in a baking dish, sprinkle on some EVOO and salt, mix it up and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. I usually give it a stir halfway through.

A note on baking dishes: This is perfect for a trusty 9x13 Pyrex dish. Don't use the dark, dented metal cake pan that we all have in the back of our cupboards. This will make the kale taste more like burnt pot. Not that I'd know. (Hey, Mom. Dad. So...what's new with you guys?)

The final result is crispy and addictive. This basic recipe also works with the addition of any spice mix you like, and was quite delicious with a little good balsamic as well. Eat up!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Afternoon cookie break?

I make a mean cookie. I know, I know. We've been down this road before. But today, I share with you my best recipe. This is the one that friends curse me for as they are eating their second...third...fifth...enormous chocolatey treat. I, on the other hand, easily justify this as a breakfast food because it has oatmeal. It all depends on how you look at things. I prefer to view the world through sugar-coated glasses.

Usually I have to adapt baking recipes for high altitude (curse you, Denver) but this chocolate chip cookie is courtesy of 5280 Magazine and Denver's own Fuel Cafe. I've swiped this directly from the 5280 article, so hopefully they'll forgive me. Subscribe to 5280, eat at Fuel Cafe! (See? Free advertising!)

I've also decided to use this as an opportunity to try out my new Miu silicone baking liner and Wear-Ever half sheet pan. I usually rely on my Pampered Chef Stoneware Large Bar Pan for cookies, so we'll see which one produces the best results. Or if there is any difference at all...


½ pound unsalted butter, softened but not melted
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
2 cups mini chocolate chips
2 cups pecans, chopped and untoasted

Preheat oven to 375°. In a stand mixer, with paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and regular sugar for about 5 minutes. Add salt and baking soda. On low speed, add one egg at a time until incorporated. Do not over-mix. Add vanilla. Mix in flour at low speed until incorporated. Do not over-mix. Add oats, chocolate chips, and chopped pecans, only until combined. 

NOTE: Part of the reason these cookies work at this altitude, and taste so so delicious, is the high "chunky bits : dough" ratio. Don't mess with this, or your cookies will pancake out. If you decide to leave out the pecans for some crazy reason, replace them with an additional cup of oats. The adorable beater-licking toddler is optional, but I can't recommend him enough. 

Scoop dough by ¼ cups onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 11 to 12 minutes until golden brown.  

Miu baking liner with Wear-Ever sheet pan

Pampered Chef Stoneware

Cool briefly on baking sheet before transferring to wire cooling rack.

Makes 20+ large cookies.

And for my results?

Stoneware vs. Miu/Wear-Ever

Both sets of cookies were chewy and addictive, but the cookies on the Stoneware pan kept their shape and density while the Miu cookies fanned out. I'm sure I'll use the silicone liner and half sheet for other things, but I'll keep making cookies on my secret weapon, the Pampered Chef Stoneware. (I use their pizza stone as my second pan for large batches.) 

Bake on.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Restoring Cast Iron, or History Repeats Itself In My Kitchen

Reduce, reuse, recycle. I choose not to question whether my zeal for second-hand goods is a result of wanting to cut down on consumer waste or a direct result of what my Grandma called her "cheap Scotch blood." (Scotch as in Scottish - she'd haunt me if she thought I portrayed her as a boozer.)

Either way, I love a good deal. The majority of the baby goods in my home - from bassinet to swing set, high chair to clothing - have both a previous and future owner. But this is not a blog about Craig's List baby goods. Consider this one giant segue leading you to my newest kitchen obsession.

Cast iron.

I have fallen in love with a #10 Wagner cast iron pan from the early 1900s that my mom found for $10 at a yard sale. (Huge benefit to me that the "granny" of ebay's Granny's Trinkets and Trash is my mom.)  It weighs more than a bowling ball and I have definitely built some arm muscle since I've started cooking with it. There is comfort in the heft though - the feel of a thing that is well made. I like to imagine the three generations of mothers before me using this same pan to feed their families. It has good mojo.

When I first got it though, there was work to be done. Most old cast iron requires some reviving. It was covered in rust and layers of cooked-on grease that the cast iron world technically refers to as "gunk."

Like all innovative DIY newbies, I went online for information on how to restore this beauty. I found that people are CRAZY when it comes to cast iron. I'd find a blog with what I thought to be good information only to be dissuaded by reader comments hundreds deep on why a particular process does or does not result in a perfectly seasoned non-stick pan. For cast iron junkies, the "perfectly seasoned pan" is the elusive holy grail of cookware. So, I read a lot and then decided to wing it.

My salvaging supplies consisted of oven cleaner, protective gear for me and the patio, a few garbage bags, 2 wire brushes originally for stripping paint, vinegar, borax, and those blue soap SOS pads that you can probably find right now corroding in a corner of the cabinet beneath your kitchen sink.

My process consisted of spraying down the pan with oven cleaner, double-bagging it, and letting it sit in the sun for 48 hours before rinsing it off and going to town with the wire brushes in an effort to get the gunk off. It took 4 rounds of this, and a final bit of elbow grease courtesy of my husband, before I got the pan down to its raw iron core. It still looked rusty but it was smooth.

Then I gave it a final scrub with the SOS pad before I soaked it in a 50/50 white vinegar and water bath for about 12 hours. After that I thoroughly cleaned the pan with borax (borrowed from my laundry room - 12 Mule Borax is great for your whites) to neutralize the vinegar.

Time to wipe it off and then pop it into a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes to get it bone dry. Let the seasoning begin! I coated it with a thin layer of organic flax seed oil and put it in a 500 degree oven for an hour, then let it cool in the oven for 2 additional hours, before taking it out and repeating this process. Based on a blog I found, I did this a whopping SIX TIMES. I was about 2 weeks in to this pan at this point, but things were looking pretty good.

I still didn't have that deep dark black that I coveted though, and my first trial with cooking salmon was semi-disastrous. I wanted my friend Julie's pan from The Crankin' Kitchen - she makes amazing food with a jet black pan that was her Grandma's.

Back to the internet, and I stumbled upon the best piece of cast iron advice yet. In essence, a very down-to-earth man, whom I picture to have a slightly shaggy haircut and a handlebar mustache ala Sam Elliott, advised the cast iron world to calm down and take a breath. He told us all to clean our pans with soap (since we'd be re-seasoning), dry them with heat, wipe them down with a good layer of shortening or lard, and throw them into a 300 degree oven for 2-3 hours. Wipe them down once more and then start cooking. He said to break in the pans in with fatty meats (hello bacon friend) and deep fried dishes until they reached a glossy black finish over time. Yep, just like our grandmas did. I would have to slow down, curb my notions of instant gratification, and give my pan some time.

So, I have been frying bacon, chicken cutlets, and these delicious Asian fish cakes to my heart's content.

After dinner I wipe the pan down with a paper towel and leave a light coating of oil from that night's meal. And lo and behold! Little by little, meal by meal, my lovely history-filled pan is turning in to the skillet of my culinary dreams.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Right here, right now.

I am a horrible future-dweller. It causes me a lot of anxiety. I often find myself caught up in what could happen and my brain goes off in a terrible spiral of doom. This is especially true when I wake up in the middle of the night and my logic brain is still sleeping. I find myself at my most vulnerable at 2 am, when the likelihood of dropping one of my children into the Grand Canyon while on vacation, or being trapped in my car after driving into a river, or Gabe being attacked by a mountain lion while out on a suburban trail run are not only plausible but actually probable.

Welcome to Crazy Town, population of 1.

Crazy Town held a parade last week in anticipation of Gabe's latest checkup with his cardiologist. It has been eight months since his mitral valve repair, and every echocardiogram leading up to this one has resulted in bad news ranging from disappointing to devastating. Needless to say, I spent a grim Tuesday morning penning my husband's eulogy in my head, figuring out how to bravely raise two boys on my own, and working my body into a state of nauseous panic.

Fun fact - your body does not know the difference between imagined tragedy and actual tragedy. So, if you have a particularly vivid imagination, you can wreak havoc on your body by causing physical reactions to things that have never happened. The mayor of Crazy Town has mad skills in this arena.

And yet...

Despite all of my nutso mental preparations, the sky did not actually fall. I am happy to report that Gabe's fabulous, wonderful, strong-in-spite-of-it-all heart is pumping away like a champ. This week was a win. Turns out I made myself sick over nothing.

I'll cut me a little slack due to the gravity of this particular situation, but even if we had gotten bad news worrying would have accomplished nothing. It doesn't help, it doesn't stop the bad, and it in no way prepares us for dealing with actual life turbulence. It is an absolute waste. And the bitch of it all is that I can get equally caught up in something as trivial as a fake argument that will never happen based on a slight that was never actually received. I am quite adept at working myself into a frenzy over money troubles that have yet to manifest themselves. I have also been known to freak my freak, as my mom so wonderfully phrases it, about which kindergarten to send Jude to even though that actual decision is almost two years away.

I get so lost in what might/could/will happen that I ruin the here and now. It's a sickness. I need to fix this for myself, but I also feel compelled to address this behavior before I pass it on to my children.

Let's use now as an example.

It is 8:41 pm on a Sunday and I am stressing over the Q2 taxes that are due at the end of the month, the fact that I may or may not have a freelance gig after next week, and we need to call plumbers to bid on what I fear will be an expensive upgrade to our house's water main by order of Denver Water. All of these events will play themselves out within the next few weeks, but I have no idea what will actually happen. And seriously, what could I possibly do about them right now at 8:44 pm on a Sunday? Absolutely nothing.

The best trick in my bag, and the one I don't seem to utilize enough, is to root myself firmly in the present moment.

And right now, everything is okay.

Right now, at 8:46 on a Sunday, this is what I know:
Gabe is giving Jude a bath.
Aidan is practicing his new "ka-ka-ka" sounds in my lap.
Belle, our Boston Terrier, is snoring beneath a pile of blankets at the end of the couch.
Our lab Rocky is passed out at my feet.
My house is filled with the people I love most.
We are all healthy.
We are all safe.
I don't know what will happen in an hour, or a day, or next week, but it is now 8:48 on a Sunday and right now, right here, I am just fine.


It is 8:49 on an average Sunday. No one is home in Crazy Town. The sole occupant is currently vacationing in the present moment. Someday she hopes to move there.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tools of the Trade

How have I just learned about America's Test Kitchen? I am in food nerd love. Not only can I watch their geek-not-quite-chic show on PBS, but for $30 a year I have access to a dozen years of knowledge online.

I can lose hours reading their product reviews, and since I am cooking so much right now I found the following directive on cookware sets to be incredibly useful:

Our ideal set would include a roomy 12-inch traditional skillet (or fry pan—we use the terms interchangeably) that’s big enough to fit four chicken breasts; a 10-inch nonstick skillet for cooking delicate omelets and fish; a 12-inch cast-iron skillet for frying and searing; a 4-quart covered saucepan for vegetables and other side dishes; a 2-quart covered saucepan for heating soup or cooking oatmeal; a 6- or 7-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for braising, deep-frying, and even baking bread; and a large stockpot that can do double-duty for pasta, lobster, or corn on the cob.

This "ideal set" doesn't exist, but I am using this list as a guide to build my own collection one piece at a time. Having the right tools makes any task more enjoyable, especially if it's a task that you love. I'm also a big proponent of buying a quality item and taking care of it rather than buying something cheap and having to replace it every few years.

Quality pieces already in my collection include 10- and 12-inch nonstick skillets (Calphalon for Mother's Day last year - thank you, Jude), a #12 Wagner 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 3-inch sides (100 years old - I'll post soon about restoring this yard sale beauty), a 6-Qt enameled dutch oven (Lodge is a totally functional $55 alternative to the $300 Le Creuset that I covet...), and a 6-inch Le Creuset enameled skillet (not on the list, but incredibly useful for reductions and reheating single servings).

My newest love? A 12-inch traditional skillet by All Clad.

Glorious. Even the packaging was wonderful. I was looking at cheaper stainless steel sets and singles, but ATK gave this their highest rating and I now trust those public access food scientists with all my culinary needs.

As with all things, you get what you pay for. But I do love a deal so I waited to buy this $155 treasure until Macy's had their Friends and Family special. 20% off plus an old $15 store credit and she was all mine for $106 with free shipping. If I were Julie Andrews, and part of me has always wished that I were, I'd be singing to you about three of my favorite things right now - food, quality American-made products, and a sweet sweet bargain.

We christened the pan last night with sea scallops - easily fitting 8 in the pan without crowding them. I didn't take pictures, but here's the fool-proof recipe for melt-in-your-mouth scallops.

As for my lovely pan? Ah, she did just fine.

(serves 2)

8 sea-scallops, cleaned and patted dry
2 Tbsp EVOO
salt and pepper
1/2 C dry white wine
3 Tbsp butter

Preheat your pan over high heat with 2 Tbsp EVOO and 1 Tbsp butter. Liberally salt and pepper your scallops. After butter foam starts to subside, add scallops to the pan and let them cook 2 minutes until they release easily and have a nice dark crust. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the second side and then remove to a warm plate where they will continue to cook slightly as they rest. (Do not overcook them - they get tough and gross. I didn't think I liked scallops for years because I had rubbery restaurant scallops the first time I ordered them.)

Deglaze the pan with half a cup of dry white wine - reducing by half while you scrape the nice crusty fond from the bottom of the pan to create a lovely sauce. (I used our go to chardonnay by Cupcake Vineyards. Half cup in the sauce, half bottle in my glass.) Remove sauce from heat and thicken with 2 Tbsp butter.

Spoon pan sauce over scallops. Cry because they are so so good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Eco-friendly Hippie Bums: A diapering adventure!

I am a big believer in the idea that many people making small adjustments can create big change in the world. Time to put that idea to work for us by way of my baby's bum.

I always thought I'd be a cloth diaper kind of mom. (This was back in the day when I thought I'd do two years in the Peace Corp.) Who was I kidding? When Jude was born we said we'd start with disposables and then get cloth diapers once he was bigger. But there are so many options, and we were so tired, and we'd gotten a lot of diapers at the baby shower...and...and...And we never made the switch.

Fast-forward three years.

We now have Aidan, we are once again so so tired, and we are burning through boxes of diapers at an astonishing speed. So in honor of Earth Day, and because I am home now and able to take this on, we are finally embarking on our cloth diapering adventure. An adventure in washable poo!

For $130 I put together a starter kit. It helped that I hit a one-day sale for the GroVia diapers on (If you are a mom that doesn't yet go to this site daily, you should. It's a frugal brand-whore's paradise.) The rest I bought on Amazon.

In the kit, I have 2 GroVia hybrid shells, 2 GroVia all-in-ones, GroVia bio liners (roll of 200), GroVia bio soakers, bummis fleece liners (5-pk), GroVia soaker pads (2-pk) and a box of 6 OsoCozy unbleached prefold cloth diapers to try as another insert option.

I have also ordered Woolzies drier balls to replace my beloved Bounce dryer sheets.

They were cheapest ($29.99 with free shipping) at Cloth diapers react poorly to fabric softener, so this was a great motivator to move onto something reusable in the dryer. Wool dryer balls are also supposed to decrease drying time - bonus to my energy bill and a nice bump for Mother Earth.

Use cloth diapers overnight as well as replace 2-4 disposable diapers in the day, assuming it's a day we're at home. At $56 for a box of 144 diapers, each disposable diapers runs me about $0.39. If I average 3 cloth diapers a day, then the cloth diapers pay for themselves in just over 3 months. In that 3 months I'll also have kept over 90 diapers out of my local landfill.

Wish me luck! I'll report on our progress. Any tips from parents who have traveled this treacherous path would be oh so appreciated.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bite v Chew

I am a compulsive starter of projects. It has been a problem my whole life. I am addicted to the thrill of a good idea, but the problem arises when I try to complete them all at once. I work faster and faster, spinning into madness, until I finish a fraction of the projects on my list and the rest get washed away in the deluge of my resulting breakdown. And then it starts all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Right now my addiction is at an all-time high. Quitting my job has freed up ample time to think of a million wonderful new things to tackle!

Currently, I have plans in the works for 3 TV pitches, 2 books, a screenplay, a non-profit, a real estate investment idea, this blog, my upcoming Etsy store, a new writing gig, and 2 potential job opportunities that have blossomed out of freelance producing. Oh, and I still have my lovely boys to raise, dogs to play with, a husband who deserves some of my attention, a garden to plant, and various home projects designed to welcome summer.

Reading this list makes me tired.

Just yesterday a girlfriend described me as "ambitious." This was in the midst of a lunch play date where our toddlers were rapidly declining into a pre-nap freakout, my baby was crying in his Exersaucer, and I was trying to clean up a delightful lunch I hadn't yet had time to eat while simultaneously beating frosting to top the homemade cupcakes I'd pulled off that morning. Yeah, I don't think "ambitious" was a compliment. I think it was a euphemism for crazy.

Jude has an indoor trampoline we bought him to help with the pent up physicality of the winter months. Every time he starts to go a little nuts we send him to the tramp. He knows the drill, and on a recent afternoon yelled out "Mom, I gotta jump on my trampoline! I feel some crazies comin' on!"

Maybe I should try this. When I get that buzz of a new idea, instead of pulling out the albatross of my idea book I should shut everything down and head to the trampoline. I can burn a few calories (bonus!) and distract myself long enough that my fuzzy new-mom brain will eat my fledgling idea before it has a chance to fully form.

I'll tell you one thing. Next time I have a play date, we're doing cold cuts and hoagie rolls. What was I thinking?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Local Woman Foils Burglary, Invites Intruders To Tea"

Do you ever wonder, when you hear the stories of old people giving their credit card information to perfect strangers and then falling victim to a scam, who can possibly be that stupid? Me too. But the mystery is solved.

It's me!

I am that stupid. I am the future retiree who will lose everything to a grifter with a Crest-white smile. To illustrate my point, I have written the following one-act play entitled "Welcome, Please Steal My Shit."

a play in one act

Danielle is home putting the baby to sleep in the basement when the doorbell rings multiple times. The frazzled mother ignores the incessant chiming - it's probably just that nosy neighbor again! - and continues rocking the baby. 

Suddenly we hear a large dog frantically barking. We can later assume it is because an attempt was made to open the front door. Danielle, oblivious to the danger and cursing at the dog, finally hauls her ass up from the couch to walk upstairs. She looks out the front door. 

Two women are texting in a beat up white sedan parked outside outside the house. Danielle's nonchalant shrug says "No big deal - their car probably broke down and now they're calling AAA. La la la la la. Let's go back to sending email and see what's happening on Facebook."

Moments later, Danielle is back in the basement when she hears a bang at the side of the house and once again the dog starts barking. Good dog. Danielle hauls herself upstairs for the second time, only to see the two women on her back deck moving furniture and still with the texting. She touches her hair self-consciously wishing she'd showered and gotten dressed today. Still, something is off.

Danielle: (knocking on the picture window) Can I help you? Why are you in my yard?

Woman 1: (in accented, dammit-why-do-you-have-to-be-hispanic English) Oh! We here to clean.

Woman 2 texts with the speed of a thousand secretaries.

Danielle: Are you with Molly Maids? I don't think you're scheduled today.

Woman 1: Yes, maybe we have a wrong house. What's your name?

Danielle: We didn't order any cleaning service. I think you should leave. And could you please make sure to close the gates on your way out? I don't want the dogs to get out.

Woman 1: Oh okay.

Danielle: Sorry about the mixup - thanks.

The women high tail it out of there, while Danielle makes a fresh batch of coffee and goes to check on the baby. Sure, this was weird but hey, nothing to get upset about right? Their car didn't have a company logo, the women weren't in uniform, there were no cleaning supplies to speak of...and they didn't have a key, which is odd...and one usually doesn't keep a spare for the maids on the back porch but...but...

But what you idiot! This is the narrator speaking. You can recognize me by my use of italics. Now pick up the phone, call the police, and report these women! Do I have to draw you a diagram of your house, the alley it backs up to, and the truck that was on its way to cart away all of your worldly goods? Pick up the damn phone!

Danielle: (dialing and then speaking into the phone) Yes, hi, I think I'd like to report an attempted robbery. Maybe.


(Author's note: The police did in fact confirm that there had been a string of robberies in the neighborhood fitting this description and Officer Strong - real name - followed up with care and efficiency. There are many things that the author would do differently next time, but the #1 thing that she would do is invite the women in to clean her home and make good on their cover story. The author's home could use a good scrubbing, and it would serve those bitches right.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I used to be hot...

Let me just open with this picture, recently shown to my 8- and 10-year-old nephews who didn't know who it was.

Yep, me. My first headshots after moving to Chicago. Twenty-two years old and ready to take on the world. Look at that hair! Those arms! Those bedroom eyes! A dozen years ago I was smokin' hot. The crazy part is, I neither realized nor appreciated it.

Like most women I know, I have always had issues with my body. Or various parts of it at different times. I've never had nice legs - fat knees, trunkish calves, my ankles are thick, my feet are wide. I have always coveted height (I'm 5'4" on a good day). My neck is lined and will never look like Audrey Hepburn's. I fight with my eyebrows and I don't have good lashes. My mouth is huge, my two front teeth overlap, and I have a crooked smile that shows a lot of gum. Reading this, you may be thinking "This list is ridiculous! Who gives a shit?" But, if you are a woman, I am pretty certain you have a ridiculous list of your own somewhere.

Fast-forward 4 years, and I have moved from the physically-forgiving midwest to Los Angeles. My old list is now compounded by serious weight issues. I am the chubby girl in the room at auditions. And my curly hair is a liability instead of an asset. Ugh, no wonder I wasn't booking any work. I mean, look at me!

I know, right? I was adorable. A head case, sure, but what a sassy package! Of course, I only saw the imperfections. I wouldn't go to the beach with friends if I had to wear a swimsuit. I sucked in my stomach (what stomach??) all the time. I tempered my big horsey smile and started to actively feel bad about my body.

Add a few more years, and Gabe and I are engaged. (Awesome! It only took him three and a half years to ask!) We took a bunch of Save the Date pictures on the beach in Santa Monica with our recently engaged best friends. This is my favorite one (I know, we're hilarious), but back then I cried when I reviewed the series as a whole. I couldn't believe how fat I'd gotten.

WTF?! Seriously, Danielle, you were an insane, skinny, idiot!

Without even touching on the reality that bodies are created for more than showing off clothes and looking good in pictures, I know I have a problem. The worst part is, even though I look back on the previous Danielles with envy and chastise myself for not appreciating them, a future me covets the body I have right now.

Wait. Lightbulb say what?

That's right, current me. Fifty-year-old Danielle would walk down the street buck naked if she could conjure up my 34-year-old body, post-partum rolls and all. And seventy-year-old Danielle fantasizes about taking that 50-year-old body out for a spin.

The moral of the story: Love the skin you're in right now. Trite but true.

So in honor of my many future selves, I hereby declare my current self to be "hot" once again. Maybe I'll practice looking at myself through Gabe's eyes (he loves my big gummy smile), or Jude's (every time I wear a skirt his voice gets hushed and he tells me I look like a princess).

To kick this transition off I am going to give my List o' Flaws a two-fisted middle finger salute and then buy myself a new pair of jeans. A body this great should be celebrated.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beef. It's what's for dinner.

It's always a challenge finding a meal that will feed the whole family (read "Jude") and not resort to the old macaroni and cheese with peas stand-by. (One box Annie's organic mac'n'cheese made according to box directions, with a cup of frozen peas added to the pasta in the final 2 minutes of boiling.)

This fits the bill, and only takes half an hour to pull off. I really enjoy that half hour - I put on whatever album I am currently obsessed with (right now it's Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" - so great), Gabe and the boys retreat to the basement if they are home, and I reenact my favorite scene from "Bandits." Good times.

Today I had a tiny partner in the kitchen. He also got his groove on.

(adapted from a Real Simple recipe and Mark Bittman's quick homemade hummus) 

Mini burgers:
1 lb organic, grass-fed hamburger (pink slime free, if you care)
1 1/2 TB dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
olive oil

14 oz can organic garbanzo beans (drain off about half of the water, saving it to thin the hummus if needed)
1 rounded tsp ground cumin
3/4 TB lemon juice 
salt and pepper to taste
2+ TB olive oil
chopped garlic (4 cloves, or a fat teaspoon) 

box of couscous (time saver)

optional extras:
green onions

Form the hamburger into 12 small patties. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Combine the oregano and cumin and coat the burgers. 

NOTE: You can do this step the night before, cover and store these in the fridge, and then make dinner after work the next night in 15 minutes.

Heat 2-4 TB olive oil in a large skillet. I use my enameled dutch oven as it reduces the amount of hot oil that spits in my face. Heat oil over med-high heat. When hot, add burgers and cook 5 minutes on the first side.

While the burgers cook, you can make the hummus and start the water for your couscous. It's an efficient use of time, and will ensure that you leave the burgers alone and allow them to get a nice crust without bothering them. A food processor or blender will work just fine for the hummus, but I do love my (as seen on TV!) Magic Bullet. 

Everything just goes right in. The joy of this hummus is that you can wing it without messing it up. It's also easily adapted - you can add tahini, roasted red pepper, whatever. 

Blend blend blend until it is smooth and oh-so-tasty. Adjust your seasonings if you need to. I top it with a drizzle of olive oil and some parsley or oregano. 

Flip those burgers! An additional 5 minutes should give you a juicy burger with a slight hint of pink. Adjust the timing to your preferred doneness. 

The couscous can cook up while the burgers finish. I like Near East - not too gummy, a variety of good flavors. Even better if you add chopped green onions, a dash of lemon juice, and additional garlic - have fun.

Toddler tip: Meals that can be easily deconstructed are easy to tone down for fickle palates, and anything with dips are a hit. Also, ketchup still has lycopenes, so in my book counts as a serving of fruits/vegetables. 

 Proof that it works:

For the grown-up, this meal is best with fresh tomatoes, and in the summer we add diced cucumbers from the garden. Feta makes this WONDERFUL and as soon as Aidan can handle dairy without spitting up this will return to our table.

Sorry to talk about spit-up in a recipe post.

Enjoy your dinner.