Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Could Be My Last Post. Ever.

This should probably be a goodbye message; I might not ever speak with any of you again. I could be suffering from a very rare and accute case of food poisoning, and I'm not sure I'll recover.

Did you know Crisco goes bad? If you only use it once a year, and keep the same industrial sized tub for nine years or more, it probably won't be good on the ninth year. And if you consume confections created by it in the ninth year, you just might feel inspired to bid everyone a fond adieu.

I should start by telling you all that I hate baking. Is there a more tedious chore than baking cookies? I loathe it. I'd rather scrub my toilets, scour my sinks, or rake up bag after bag of pokey-balls from my lawn. Ugh. Lest you be confused, I really like eating cookies. This bitterness only applies to the baking aspect. But, once a year, at Christmas-time, I get inspired to try to put Betty Crocker to shame by my world-class baking extravaganzza.

I went to Aldi last week and spent $45 on baking goods. If you shop at Aldi, you will recognize that is a LOT of flour, sugar, and cocoa powder. I was ready.

So I began my bake-a-thon. I've made ganache, oreo truffles, mint cookies, white chocolate coated gingersnaps. I'm not done.

Tonight it was time for the peanut butter blossoms. While I'm in the mood to rant and confess, lest I never have the opportunity again, I shall let you know that I think peanut butter and chocolate are rather foul bedfellows. Nevertheless, I have come to understand that I am in the minority on that opinion, and in the spirit of love and Christmas, am happy to oblige the less discriminating palates of my family. Which leads me to my point: my looming death.

As I creamed together the peanut butter and shortening, I noted that I was finally nearing the end of my Crisco. I bought it shortly after John and I were married. We didn't have much money, but I thought we should start food storage, so I stocked up on Crisco. From Costco. I figured, if nothing else, should an emergency arrive, we could trade: you might have rice and beans - but I would have the oil to make them nice and crispy. You'd want it, and be ready to swap, right?

So I creamed, and I added flour, vanilla, sugar, eggs... everything. The dough was ready to roll. I sampled it and noticed a rather peculiar flavor. As I mentioned, I'm not a real fan of peanut butter (with or without chocolate...) so I chalked it up to the fact that these were peanut butter cookies, and by nature, undesirable. But soon a bitter, metallic aftertaste crept in. That was some peanut butter!

And then it hit me: maybe it's not such a good idea to use decade-old shortening. You think? (Relax, nothing else has been made with said shortening in at least a year - if you've sampled my wares in the past, or have plans to in the near future, you are in no danger).

I tasted it again to be certain. Yep, it was nasty. But then I got to thinking - maybe no one would notice once they were baked? Maybe it was one of those things that would go away, kind of like a bad headache? They don't last forever; maybe the metalic, rotting flavor wouldn't either? I looked for an expiration date on the tub. None there. Now, everything has an expiration date. I think mine was so old it rubbed off. You'd think that would be a sign. Nope. I'm embarrassed to admit, in a moment of holiday induced fatigue and insanity, I did consider trying to salvage my cookies. All the while, I kept sampling it to be sure the taste was still there. Gradually, I felt my stomach bloat, my throat go raw, and the room began to spin.

That part's actually a lie, but I did start to feel rather ill.

So the dough went in the trash, and I began again, this time using butter (bought only this week, so it was plenty fresh). They tasted fine, and were baked, to perfection, I'm sure. My daughters said they were "the best cookies EVER!" They're sleeping peacefully. But not me. I keep thinking about the deserved doom that awaits me from my idiot-induced Crisco poisoning. I'm pretty sure it'll be bad.

So, dear friends, I'd like to thank you for your friendship; it has been treasured. I wish you the Merriest of Christmases. And a Happy New Year filled with rice and beans - without the shortening.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Haiku at 5:00am

I'd really like sleep
But the babe wakes too early
Curse daylight savings

I think I shall move
Hawaii, Guam, Samoa?
Sun, surf, no time change

Alas, I'm stuck here
I hope we sleep better soon
I guess I'll get up

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From the Boring Ol' Cook

A Recipe
Tonight as I was frantically chopping broccoli, Bug dashed into the kitchen. She was wielding a plastic sword, and wearing a breastplaste and helmet.

"Aha," she said, in her most deep, fierce voice! "I am the knight! And who are you?"

"I am the fair maiden, Sir Knight," I replied.

She looked me up and down, and said,"No, you are not a fair maiden. You are the cook of the castle."

Are you kidding me? Even in the realm of fantasy, I am still, just the cook. At least I'm the castle cook, though, and not like a normal peasant, right? I could have to work scooping manure, or be locked in the dungeon for witchcraft (been accused of that once or twice...). I supposed I should be grateful for my lot in life.

That said, as the cook of the castle, I've been known to prepare some lavish banquets in efforts to find favor with the ever-so-particular nobility . Tonight's feast was a royal success: our knight and the ladies in waiting were pleased (and the cook, too, mind you). The King is yet to return from his daily journey to the demanding hospital empire, and has therefore not voiced his approval - but as his cook of 9+ years, I've come to know a thing or two about his preferences, so I'm giving it a two gold gem-adorned ring thumbs up. Give it a try and let me know how it goes over in your realm.

Crispy Orange Beef (from Allrecipes)
1 1/2 pounds beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons orange zest
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (I forgot to pick some up, so I just used dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
oil for frying

Lay beef strips out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Allow to dry in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, rice vinegar, orange juice, salt and soy sauce (I also added 1/2 tsp sesame oil). Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Toss dried beef in cornstarch to coat. Fry in the hot oil in small batches until crispy and golden brown; set aside. Drain all of the oil from the wok except about 1 tablespoon.

Add orange zest, ginger and garlic to the remaining oil, and cook briefly until fragrant (I also added about 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds). Add the soy sauce mixture to the wok, bring to a boil, and cook until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Add beef, and heat through, stirring to coat. Serve over steamed rice.

And an Update
Oh yes - and for those of you still reading - thanks for your concern over the past little bit. We survived the swine (only Lu got it), had my car professionally cleaned (thank heavens for the free detail coupon when we bought the car...) and even packed John matching clothing for his brief trip.

However, the day after returning to school, Lu's school called once again. She vomited in her classroom. I learned that that can be the first sign of strep. Mothers, take note. So, she was out for another two days of school.

But...for now, everyone is healthy and well. I'm beginning to see the humor of the past two weeks, and counting my blessings they're over. I wonder what next week will bring?!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trying to Stay Calm...and Failing

I need to vent or I might start crying, and I can't do that today. Sometimes there just isn't time for tears. Yesterday Lu's school called to let me know she had a temperature of 102.2, and would I please come pick her up. I did. She proceeded to get sicker throughout the day. I had already committed to take a pot of soup to the teacher appreciation luncheon today, so I worked last night after the kids were in bed, getting everything ready so I could throw it together in the morning; it would just have to simmer. I didn't know what the morning woudl bring, and wanted to be prepared.

This morning, Lu's fever is at 102.8 and she is so dizzy she can't walk without holding onto the wall. John says she has the flu, probably swine flue, based on these and other symptoms. But I still need to get soup to school.

On his way home from work this morning, John calls anti-viral medication into the pharmacy. When he walks in the door, I put Booster down for a nap, and take my bungee-corded closed crock pot of soup to school. I leave the big girls home, with the doors locked, while John settles in for a short nap (he's been working since 7:30 last night; it's now 10:00am).

Bungee cords are useless when a crock pot falls on it's side. That's what I learned. I learned it when I turned into the school's parking lot. I went inside to let them know that the soup was now being absorbed by my car's mats, but that I didn't flake on them. Nevertheless, there would be no soup for them. Sorry, teachers. I feel really bad; it was good soup.

Then I left for the pharmacy. When I arrived I was informed that Walgreens (all of them within a 25-mile radius) are out of anti-virals. Sorry. Did you know you have only 24 hours from the onset of symptoms to get the anti-viral medication into the patient for it to be effective? Nice.

Oh, and John is leaving this afternoon to head out of town for a conference. He needs to sleep, so I offered to pack his bag, make a lunch, and drive him to where he's picking up the charter bus. I'm happy to do it, but with the turn of events, it's just one more thing. And I'll have to pack his bag in the dark (so as not to wake him up) and do it while trying to keep Booster quiet ("Dad-EEE!" repeated over and over again is not sleep conducive).

And parent-teacher conferences are this evening. But now I'm not going, because my sitter doesn't want to risk the flu. Which I totally understand, but...

It's only 11:13. The day is young, and so far it's not off to a good start. I think I might cry. But I know I won't, because first I need to find a way to shampoo my car with a sick kid and a baby in tow. And pack John's bag, and deal with the rest of this day.

I finished a really interesting book last night, in portion, about Judo. Judo commands total calm and balance in one's life. Obviously, I didn't absorb much of what I read. To quote an old movie, "Oh, no, I suck again!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Camarones al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic Sauce)

My friend Camie sent me this recipe earlier this week, and said I would live to regret it if I didn't immediately work it into my meal plan. Not being one to live questioning "what if?" I gave it a shot tonight. I think she was right! This was scrumptious!

CAMARONES AL AJILLO (American Lifestyle Magazine)
4 T. butter
2 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used 1 lb. shrimp; 1 lb. chicken)
1/4 c. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
15 cloves garlic, minced (that's not a typo - it's 15 - no kissing after dinner!)
1 c. chicken stock, plus more as needed
juice of one large lime (approx. 1 T.)
2 t. salt
1/2 t. white pepper
1 t. flour
1/4 cup diced parsley

In skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Once the butter begins to turn golden brown, add the shrimp and sear them. Transfer the shrimp to a plate. In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5-7 min, until both are soft. Add the stock, juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and cook 15-20 min. You may need to add extra stock if the sauce evaporated too quickly, but not more than 1/4 cup.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the hot liquid and place it in a bowl. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the pot and stir until the sauce thickens to the consistency of light syryp. Add the shrimp and the parsley and stir, incorporating all the ingredients completely. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp or they will be tough.

Serve with white or saffron-seasoned yellow rice.


10 years ago or so, I had the privelege of serving as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sometime I may elaborate on that experience in more detail. But for now I'll stick to one aspect. I remember the first time Sunday rolled around in Madrid. It had been a LONG week. Afterall, I'd been adjusting to the language, the culture, the food, and a totally different lifestyle as a missionary. I was looking forward to my well-earned day of rest. Anyone laughing yet?

Sunday was spent in branch leadership meetings, calling to remind investigators that church started at 10:30, running from metro to metro stop to "pick up" investigators and help them find the church, teaching the Gospel Essentials Sunday School class, giving impromptu talks, pretending to accompany the hymns on the piano (for both Sacrament and Relief Society meetings), visiting those people who missed church, etc. Thatwas all before 4:00! Sunday was a very long day. Was I missing something? The Lord thought it significant enough to make keeping the Sabbath Day holy one of the 10 commandments - and yet, here I was, apparently ignoring this all-important commandment - and as a missionary, no less! Everyone knows that Sunday is NOT celebrated properly without a long and restorative nap. Not only was I deprived, but the day was far more work than any other day of the week. I was cheated.

Luckily, a bit more than a year later, I was home, and able to take advantage of all the Sabbath had to offer - at least until my kids were born. I guess there's more to it than the actual rest part.

Which brings me to the present. Recently I told John that I needed a break. I needed to get out of the urban jungle in which we live. I wanted to commune with nature, and spend quality time with my family. The answer, I thought, was a family vacation.

We haven't had a lot of family vacations since we've been married - I mean, a few here or there, mostly to visit our parents - but not a lot of just "us" time, doing "our" thing. Growing up, I always visited Lake Tahoe with my family. Or, we'd go camping. We even went to Hawaii once. It was great. I loved family vacations. And so, with enthusiasm, I announced it was high time to have one of our own. There was only one thing missing: my parents.

Vacations were great, I've since learned, because my parents planned them. My dad made lists of every item we might need, plus 93 that we probably wouldn't, but would take anyway. He packed the car. My mom planned meals and made grocery lists targeted to be inexpensive and involve minimal preparation and cleanup. As soon as we arrived, she hit the grocery store. Together, they unpacked the car. Each day they presented us with our itineray. They got up early to make sure we were ready, sat awake with us when we were unhappy in unfamiliar beds, and discovered perfect activities for the age-span in our family. When we got home, Mom did the laundry, Dad aired out the tent...I think we were in charge of unpacking our own suitcases?

Oh where, or where, were my parents on my vacation?

Sometimes, being the parents is not fun. And vacations are a lot harder and tiring than I ever remember them being. They aren't very relaxing at all.

I don't entirely loathe family vacations. We did a lot of great stuff, and the kids had a blast. We slept in a small cabin; I felt like Laura Ingalls, except with air conditioning and a furnace (we used both). Luckily for me, I remembered my Ambien. There's something about sleeping in a small room, and a smaller bed (with broken springs) and a toddler in a pack-and-play six inches away, that is not sleep inducing. We watched the sun rise as we read book after book to aforementioned toddler in hopes of keeping her from waking up her sisters. By daylight we visited Ohio State Parks Lake Hope and Hocking Hills.

We went canoeing and searched for beavers (didn't see any; might have had something to do with the screaming toddler who did not like wearing a life jacket OR sitting still),

hiked Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls,

visited nature centers, roasted hot dogs and s'mores (NOT fingers, though some made a valiant effort), fed deer, ate at an Amish Kitchen buffet (feel free to skip this if you're in the area),
swam among the turtles and fish in the lake,

attempted vainly to handfeed hummingbirds, picnicked,

and even "toured" a small town where John has been offered a position in the future (I am not - repeat NOT - moving there).

Our "vacation" was nearly two weeks ago, and I'm still trying to decide if it was a success. I'm not yet caught up on the sleep lost (even on Ambien, it was rough) and I wonder if it was worth it. While we did get away, and spent a lot of time in nature - it wasn't exactly the relaxing, rejuvenating, Kumbaya type of experience I'd fantasized about. But it was good. We laughed. We cried. We exposed the kids to parts of our world that they hadn't experienced, and encouraged them to do things they weren't sure they could manage. We were proud of our little family, even the littlest member. She was (mostly) a trooper.

So I've been thinking - the problem, like the Sabbath on my mission, wasn't the experience; it's the syntax. In Madrid, I did not participate in the Sabbath Day of Rest; I participated in an extra-special day to serve the Lord. A week ago, we did not go on a vacation. (I NEED a vacation.) We went on a family adventure. That is much more accurate, and takes away the feeling of coming up short. I liked it. I had fun.

And, I've turned into my mother.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Is It: An Invitation

DISCLAIMER: In my last post I tried to express my utter frustration at the way stay-at-home Moms are treated. in this post, I am proving - through my own idiosyncracies - why these stereoypes just might be warranted.

Tonight John informed me that our family now celebrates half birthdays. It must be quite the coincidence that HIS is coming up. On the same day as a major Ohio State football game. Not-so-coincidentally, is the fact that John will not be working on this all important half birthday, and so he will celebrate. At the game.

I'm totally fine with that. He should be able to do something he enjoys. He's been working a lot of extra hours and saving up. But using his half-birthday as an excuse? Come on!

Then I got to half-birthday is coming up, too. I'm really good at games, and decided I could play the unbirthday game, too. Unfortunately, there won't be any off-Broadway shows in town on my half-birthday. Lucky for me, I figured out how to change the rules, and now I'm going to celebrate on my quarter birthday (or somewhere around there...). It works, right? I've been trying to decide how to commemorate my all-important milestone. And I figured it out.

I really want to go see "This Is It". I'm not sure why I am so obsessed, but I have totally jumped on the Michael Jackson hoopla bandwagon. To my credit, I started getting back into him before he announced the tour, well before his death... but still. Michael Jackson??? I know, it's embarrassing. But I really want to see it. I never go to the movies. Seriously, like, once a year I hit the dollar theatre. But "this is it"! I have to see it.

So here's the deal: I'm going to go see "This Is It" in early November. But I don't want to go all by myself. Since we're now celebrating half- and quarter-birthdays at my house, I've decided to throw myself a big bash. Not really, but I am going, and I'd love company. Anyone want to come? Seriously?

PS Lest I get too excited and begin planning something bigger and better (hard to beat, I know)for next year, John says we will not be celebrating half-birthdays again next year. Hmmm.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Self-affirmations for a Stay-at-home-Mom

Sometimes, we go through crazy times. And sometimes, at least for me, they make me want to scream, and make my voice heard. "I DO have something to say, and I AM worthwhile!" But most of the time, I don't say that.

Is blogging the easy way out? A way to have a voice when you're too afraid to voice it for real? Maybe. There's been peer pressure for a long time, to join the blogging buddies, but I resisted. Until now. Because for today, I need to rant. So, maybe I'll post again, or maybe this is all I'll say? I don't know.

I need to go on the record: I'm a stay-at-home mom.

I'm mostly happy with that. Sometimes I feel like I should be doing great things to change and improve the world - you know: building schools in Pakistan, digging latrines in India, sewing clothes for naked, pot-bellied children, and holding community composting rallies. I have talents -not so obvious ones, mind you (I am not musical, artistic, exceptionally bright, or good looking...) but I can do a few things. Need a well-organized, color-coded grocery list? I am your girl! I can even walk and chew gum (my mom said it couldn't be done; I think she's just anti-gum-chewing). But seriously, when I look at all the things I could be doing, I sometimes feel lame that I stay home taxiing to soccer practices and playing Candyland. I wonder if I am worth the education I completed, if my non-domestic skills are a waste, or if I'm really doing my part as a concerned citizen. That said, I have made this choice; no one made it for me. I want to be home with my kids. I love who they are, and I love that I've been involved on a daily basis in helping to create that. I'm proud of them. And sometimes, I'm proud of me.

So here's the problem. I feel like I'm doing something of value, but I feel like lots of people don't get it. It shouldn't matter to me what other people think, but it does. I've noticed that nothing can make a conversation stop faster, than answering the question, "So, what do you do?" I hate that question. It makes people sqiurm. They don't know how to respond. If I'm lucky, they might say, "Oh, that must be so, uh, rewarding." It is, actually, but then the conversation seems to end, unless I quickly return the conversation to their career, vacation, ambitions, or work out plans.

I'm tired of feeling like a creature from another planet, that super-educated people can't relate to. They just don't know what to say to me. I want to scream, "I am a normal person!" Staying home IS my career. You can ask me why I chose to do it. You could ask me what I do all day. It's a legitimate question, and I'd be happy to answer it. Or, I might be dreaming of a vacation, too. I have ambitions, and not just for my children. For me. I have hobbies, and sometimes, I work out. You'd find that out, you know, if you ever asked - if you thought that maybe, there was something more to me, than my skill at hog-tying a poopy child.

I realize this is my issue. I'm the insecure one. It's not anyone else's fault - though it would be nice not to be ignored! Nevertheless, I know that people don't try to be unkind. They legitimately just don't know what to say. And so, I'm writing this post. On behalf of stay-at-home-moms across this nation, I would like to say:

1. We're good enough (to speak with you intelligently)

2. We're smart enough (to have been able to choose a prestigious career, too. We did.); and

3. Doggonit, people like us (or at least, they might, if they tried to get to know us!)

Thank you. I feel much better now. Anything you need to get off your chest?