Thursday, October 9, 2008
"Mama, why were that man's eyes closed?"
"Well, that man was blind. He was born unable to see. His eyes didn't work. So Jesus healed him and he could see again."
"How did Jesus do that?"
"Do you remember in the story about how Jesus put mud on his eyes?"
"Yes, but I mean, how can Jesus DO that?"
"Oh, well Jesus is so powerful that he can do anything, remember?"
"Like what things?"
"But like WHAT? Please tell me!"
('Please tell me' is the ultimate in stalling tactics, when she senses the end of a conversation approaching. But I decided this was an important line of questioning, so I listed a few things that Jesus could do, and then remembered another story reference.)
"Hey Maya, what about the other story we just read? Do you remember the one about the storm? When Jesus and his friends were in the boat and the storm came and his friends were scared? Remember how Jesus talked to the storm? And the storm stopped. So even storms listen to Jesus. He made the storm stop."
She considered this a moment and then observed, thoughtfully...
"Oh. Well, that was clever."
Indeed. Yes. Divine...astounding...clever...something like that.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Store visit number one was not pleasant. We don't shop there often, so I was completely turned around as we navigated unfamiliar aisles, searching for items that (inexplicably) didn't exist in this particular shopping establishment. (You have strawberry, lemon, and funfetti-flavored gallon buckets of ice cream, but not VANILLA? That is bizarre. And inconvenient.)
Oh, and compounding all of this? The Halloween display towards the front of the store that featured a blow-up pumpkin that slowly opened every thirty seconds or so to reveal...eventually...come on now...yep, almost there...seriously now...a friendly little ghost, "popping" up (I put that in quotes because popping should really constitute quick movement) with some fake bags of candy. Why was this problematic? Because although one repetition of this process is enough for any sane person, the suspense is not lost on a preschooler on the second round. Or third round. Or...well, you get the point. So every time we would come within eyesight of that area of the store, Maya would yell, "Mama!!! I want to see that ghost again! He might pop out with the candy and I want to see him because he's a nice ghost and not a scary one and he has candy and why is it pretend and if it was real could I have some and could I have some candy sometime and why does he pop up like that and does he have friends and why does he live in a pumpkin and who gets to eat the candy and why is it all orange and why does the store smell like cinnamon and sometime can you make a pumpkin that blows up and can I touch the ghost and why is he nice and can I SEE him again because he's REALLY COOL, Mama!"
Or something to that effect.
So by the time we headed back to the van, having viewed the wonders of rudimentary Halloween decor several dozen times more than necessary, we were all a little frazzled. Maya was upset because we were leaving "such a fun place and I want to come here again sometime PLEASE...(repeat)..." and Noah was crying because I wouldn't let him eat my cell phone. And I was feeling a bit like George Costanza's dad in the Seinfeld episode with the self-help tape. ("SERENITY NOW!")
Arriving at store number two, I had one thing in mind. Get in and get the heck out. Well the thing is, though, that this store has car carts. Not the kind with the video screen, because I do not do those. And that's a rant for another post. These are just the kind where your child can sit up front, spin a little wheel, and yell things back to you that you can't possibly hear because you're about two cart lengths behind, with a thick layer of red plastic blocking all sound travel. It's actually not a bad situation... Anyway, Maya likes to clean her vehicle before driving. So as I'm strapping Noah into the front of the cart, she grabs a sani-wipe from the nearby dispenser and begins her car wash. (Focusing, mind you, on the TOP of the car. Not any part that her hands will actually be touching.)
But here, finally, was where it happened. Noah was babbling excitedly at the prospect of gnawing on the seat strap, Maya was singing a little song as she cleaned an obscure section of her car, and I was silently counting the minutes until naptime. And that's when a woman, in probably her mid-fifties, enters the store. And as she passed by, she slowed down for just a moment, took in the scene, gave me a wistful half-smile, and simply said, "I miss those sounds."
Now, I frequently have people stop when we're out in public to coo at my kids, talk to them, or tell me they're adorable. I've had more people than I can count tell me things like, "Oh, hold on to every minute...they grow up too fast." And while I know it's true, and know I should be taking that advice more to heart some days, I hear those things so often that I tend to forget them mere minutes later. But this woman's statement stopped me in my tracks. Both literally, as I paused mid-buckle to stare at her back as she walked briskly past us through the entry doors, and emotionally, as there was something about the look in her eyes when they met mine that spoke volumes about the reality of her words. I imagine that her children are grown, or nearly so. That those simple times of car seats and cart straps, urgent mid-store potty breaks, baby babbles and silly songs, are now just precious memories. I miss those sounds. She meant it.
So as I looked down at my sweet boy, now happily grinning a three-toothed smile at me, and over at my daughter, now working at disinfecting the car's wheels, I suddenly felt a welcome rush of contentment. A small part of that, in all honestly, was likely the knowledge that a Starbucks kiosk awaited me just inside those automatic doors. But mostly, it came from the much-needed dose of perspective that God had just gently placed before me. There will come a day very soon when I will walk, without thinking, towards those bright red and yellow carts, only to realize that my child has neither the desire to use one nor the ability to even fit inside. There will come a day when the only things I need the front section for are my purse and a latte. There will come a day when the sounds around me are quieter, calmer, more predictable. And while those days will bring new blessings and joyous seasons, I know I will likely notice the young mother, looking slightly rattled as she maneuvers her noisy children through the store, and I will both smile and ache at the same time. And I will miss those sounds.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Taking this all in, Maya nodded seriously and said, with understanding, "Ohhhh. Is that why the Indians live in Mexico?"
- - - - - -
Last week Maya was feeling sad one morning about Daddy going to work, so in order to cheer her up, he hopped out the door on one foot. The plan worked, as she dissolved in giggles and waved a happy goodbye. Then she turned to me with a logical question.
"Mommy, did you do that when you used to go to work for cats?"
Me: "Ummm...did I...when I...what?"
Maya (exasperated): "Mommy! You know! When you worked at your job before I was in your tummy and you worked for cats!"
Through much sorting, I discovered that she was thinking of the story I had told her about how we came to own our second cat Bogey, after he was hanging around outside the office where I once worked. Apparently, she thought that was why I went to work - that I was paid in cats or something? Which is only slightly less odd than the scenario I was originally envisioning out of her question - that I was actually employed by cats.
- - - - - -
Maya has a fictional grandmother. This grandmother is neither of her two actual grandmas, but is a character that she brings out in conversation sometimes. Apparently, this grandmother is sometimes involved in stories from her Sunday School lessons...
(One recent conversation)
Me: "Maya, do you think you'd like to take swimming lessons sometime?"
Maya: "Oh yes! I love to take swimming lessons. They're my favorite! I used to do that with my grandmother."
Me: "Oh. Really?"
Maya: "Yes. She used to live at Sodom and Gomorrah, but she doesn't live there anymore."
Me (inwardly): "EEEEEEK!"
Me (outwardly): "Oh, I see. Well...great, then. So, about those swimming lessons..."
- - - - - -
Three-year-olds. Their minds collect information so quickly that it results in a delicious combination of incredible insight and total confusion.
Friday, July 18, 2008
10 years ago today we were both nineteen. We were children, really.
10 years ago today we had no idea what was ahead of us. All we knew is that we were vowing to face it together.
10 years ago today we stood in front of 200 friends and family members in a wedding ceremony that we laughingly agree we would do quite differently if we were planning it today. Looking back, it really didn't match our personality as a couple, didn't really mirror who we were. But then again, did we really know who we were at that time?
10 years, 3 homes, 2 beautiful children, 2 oft-neglected cats, countless joys, many arguments, quite a few changes (for two people who don't handle change all that well), and multitudes of memories later, here we are. All grown up. (Well, kind of.) Different people than we were. But still, and even more so, ridiculously happy together.
You could say we were too young, or that we hadn't experienced enough life yet. You could say that we didn't know ourselves enough at that point to know what we wanted. We would simply say, however, that we knew. Without a doubt. And still do. And I look at it this way - I was blessed enough to have a jumpstart on a lifetime spent with the man I love.
Happy Anniversary, honey. I'm looking forward to the next ten years. And I love you like crazy.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Waking the kids as we pulled into a Bob Evans for breakfast.
Maya's oft-repeated exclamation, "This is going to be the Best TRIP EVER!"
Going to bed at 9:00 PM for the first time in many, many years.
Surprisingly beautiful Pittsburgh, ornate homes dotting the tree-covered hills, tunnels leading to the water-framed skyline, a small-town feel in a big city.
Enjoying a morning meal at the local bagel shop, where a group of elderly men met for their regular morning social time, joking with each other and with passers-by as they sipped their coffee. And, in a nod to the changing times, each one had his cell phone casually placed before him on the table, ready to take a call from a wife or grandchild at home. Such delicious contrast between old and new.
Pink sparkly sand, multi-colored rice, huge tubs of water, a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood exhibit, and an afternoon gelato treat all adding up to a delightful day at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum.
Purchasing a coveted pink baseball cap (reading: "Pennsylvania"), along with some not-great sandwiches, at a rest stop along the PA turnpike.
Thanks to the people at Wee Sing, several hundred repetitions of "Jimmy Crack Corn" sung by a three-year-old who only knew four lines of the song, one of them incorrect. ("...Jimmy Crack Corn and I don't caaaaaare, he lives on Drury Lane!" [repeat]) Then having the question occur to us as we walked through a Target store still being serenaded quite loudly by said tune, that it could, possibly, have racist undertones. And having that worry confirmed by a quick Google search on Mark's Blackberry. And then quickly encouraging another song as the anthem of the evening, while making mental notes to hide that CD for the rest of the trip.
Hershey's Chocolate World. Complete chocolate overload with giant walking Kit Kat bars and a ride featuring singing cows ("there's real milk in Herrrrrshey's Milk Chocolate..."). In other words, a preschooler's heaven!
Also at Hershey's Chocolate World - the older woman who insisted on locating her husband by standing in the center of the chocolate aisles with her hand on her hips, angrily bellowing "Mitchell! MITchell!! MITCHELL!!" (rather than strolling over a few rows to where he was innocently checking out some M&Ms) thus causing me to jump a mile and my sleeping son to wake prematurely from his nap. Thanks, lady. And Mitchell...run. Run like the wind.
Happening across "A Day out with Thomas" along our route from Hershey to Philly, fairly certain that we wouldn't be able to get tickets for the train ride at such late notice...and the joy of finding out that we could! My sweet girl in her new pink hat peering down the track to see Thomas pulling in to give her a ride...well, I don't think I'll ever forget that.
My constant thanks to the makers of the Leappad, which occupied Maya for hours and hours of drive time.
One miserable evening spent attempting to get to a restaurant...any restaurant...as bedtime approached and the confusing center lanes of the highway caused us to reroute frustratingly close to several dining options that we just couldn't seem to access. Ending up at a Red Lobster and wolfing down dinner just before Noah entered meltdown mode.
The palpable excitement as we drove into Sesame Place amid light rain showers on our way to Breakfast with Elmo. And having a fully-satisfying experience (despite the less-than-stellar buffet options) as Maya's eyes grew wide with wonder watching her TV friends approach to give her hugs and say hello. So priceless. Actually, there was a price, but we're choosing not to think about that...
The rain clearing as we left breakfast to go explore the rest of the park, beginning with a successful merry-go-round experience, a terrifying Elmo ride "I didn't like the up-and-down, Mama!", and the redeeming teacups, hot air balloon chase, and Elmo fish attractions.
The somehow cozy atmosphere in spite of the theme park setting. Seeing the same families throughout the day, and having plenty to do without feeling overwhelmed by territory to cover.
Three stage shows, where the best entertainment was watching Maya's eyes dance along with the characters.
The "Rock around the Block" parade, which didn't disappoint, even as it left me humming Huey Lewis' "The Heart of Rock and Roll" and Gloria Estefan's "Conga" alternately for several days straight afterward.
Spending hours in the shallow sections of the water park, enjoying the sight of Maya tirelessly scampering through the sprinkling jets and tiny fountains, and letting Noah have the first feel of his tiny feet in the pool.
Uneaten $8.00 chicken strips, passed over for the far-too-tempting Elmo cupcake. Why did we allow that? Vacation mindset, I suppose.
Dinner at Macaroni Grill that night, where watching Maya was like watching an addict come down from a high. And taking a huge piece of cheesecake back to the hotel to share after the kids were asleep.
A peaceful drive from Philadephia to Baltimore, immediately followed by a hair-raising leg from Baltimore to Washington D.C. Highway driving + screaming six-month-old = frayed nerves.
Having family portraits taken by a stunningly talented photographer who also happens to be a friend that we got to meet in person for the first time.
All of us sleeping in one morning after a few particularly exhausting days, getting an unexpected but so totally worth it late start on our next travels.
Eating dinner one-at-a-time a couple of evenings as Noah decided that he had been traveling for too long to allow us a peaceful restaurant experience close to bedtime. He did become the official greeter at the Outback Steakhouse in Maumee, OH one such evening, however - charming all who entered, even as he protested entering personally.
The joys of traveling with a GPS device and constant internet access. So freakishly cool...I don't ever want to do it another way again. Spoiled? Yes. But admitting it is the first step.
10 days of hotel stays and restaurant meals. My kind of vacation!
The close proximity of everything on the East Coast. Several major cities within a couple hours of each other, compared to the wide expanses between areas of activity in our Midwestern surroundings.
The realization, once again, of just how big the world is. And the wonder of God's creation as reflected in the familiar flatlands of Indiana and Ohio, the gorgeous green hills of Pennsylvania, the brilliant views from the edge of the Appalachians...as well as in the beautiful uniqueness of each person we were privileged to cross paths with - the vast array of differences that remind me that the world doesn't revolve around my life and circumstances, and the similarities that underscore the elements of humanity that bind us together.
The incredible love and appreciation I have for my husband and children. I am blessed beyond belief.
It was fantastic.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
I entered a Hollister clothing store.
Oh, I've walked by them many a time. Averting my eyes so that the half-dressed teenage employees standing at the entrance with glassy-eyed expressions that prove their coolness will not have the opportunity to beckon me with their mumbled "welcometoHollistereverything's 20percentofftoday" enticements. But I've never actually entered one. For two reasons. One, I'm nearly twenty-nine years old. Which makes me approximately twice as old as their typical shopper. And two, the place scares the bejeebers out of me. I mean, there are those aforementioned scary kids at the door. Then there's the throbbing music that you can feel pulsating through the floor as you pass by. But the weirdest thing? It's, like, pitch black in there. Seriously, were it not for the music and mumblers outside, I'd have no clue that the store was even open. I read once that cats can see perfectly in a dark room using only the light from a VCR clock. So I have a theory that pre-teens are part feline, in that they can see inside a Hollister store simply using the light from the cash register. Or each other's cell phones.
Anyway, why did I go in? Particularly when I have such an aversion to this store that I've already placed a lifetime ban on my children shopping there? I know, looking back it was totally hypocritical and completely regrettable. But you see, I was in a cargo pants-induced frenzy. My sister and I hit the outlet mall to find me some clothes that actually fit. Shedding this pregnancy weight, while lovely, has left me with very few pairs of pants that don't hang off of me. So I found some jeans, but I really wanted a pair of lightweight cargo pants for summertime. My old standby, Old Navy, let me down. Seriously, their stuff is weird this year. And after scouring several more stores, we were stumped. Where were the cargo pants? Out of style? I don't care. Finally, my sister turned to me and said, exhaling deeply, "Ok...we could look at Hollister."
We stared at each other solemnly, neither one of us wanting to face the reality of what she had just suggested. But she's a few years younger than me and about a million times more style-conscious, so I knew that if there were cargo pants to be found, she'd know where to find them.
"Can we even do that?", I asked.
"Yes." She answered. "It's scary and it's weird and we'll hate it. But they might have cargo pants."
And so focused was I on the task at hand that I agreed.
As we approached the store, she gave me a pep talk, "Let's just move quickly...and don't look directly at anyone while we're in there..." And soon, that cave-like entryway was right in front of us, the freakishly loud music already making it hard to hear each other. With a deep breath, we pushed our way into the chaos. Another element that you can't appreciate from the outside? The smell. Teenage perfume, apparently piped in through the vents, and covering everything with the subtle scent of hormones. Peering into the darkness, we made a beeline for what we could just make out as a clothing rack about 20 yards ahead. Shirts? Pants? Who knew. They really need to provide seeing-eye dogs for any shopper over the age of twenty-one.
On the way there, an employee called out (they're louder inside) "How are you today?"
"Hrmna mrnma", we mumbled, careful not to make eye contact.
When we reached the rack, we hurriedly brought a couple of articles of clothing a few inches from our faces, in an attempt to determine what exactly we had stumbled upon. Pants! But (going completely on feel, here), apparently corduroy flare trousers. Strike one. "Over here!", my sister shouted. I followed the sound of her voice to another rack, where she had found something with promising zippers and buttons. "Hmmm, no!", she called over the music. "They feel like capri-length!." Strike two. We lurched around the check-out station which had suddenly appeared to our right, as we stepped quickly in time to the driving beat of the music. "Hey, I think my eyes are adjusting!", I said, spotting a row of pants that appeared as though they may be in the cargo family. They were...but they were also men's. We had somehow ended up on the wrong side of the store. Strike three. I'm out. "That's it, I'm done!", I said. And we rushed toward the light, the fresh air, the calm and quiet of the outside.
"Well." We walked thoughtfully a few moments before mutually deciding, "Won't do that again."
We ended up back at The Gap. The nice, calm, unscented Gap. Where the light switches were set to the "On" position, the music played at an appropriate volume, and the employees were fully dressed and appeared old enough to drive. And I did buy a pair of pants there. They weren't exactly what I had been hoping for, but they will do. And I purchased them, in part, in thanks to a store that didn't make me feel like I needed to shower immediately after leaving the premises.
So that is the harrowing tale of my search for cargo pants. The moral of this story is, pants - no matter how comfortable, flattering, adjustable, and fun - are not worth ignoring that little voice in your head. And I'm not talking about God's voice this time, although certainly pants aren't worth ignoring His either. I'm talking about that voice that says, "Don't go in there. You're not part-cat anymore. And you will hate it."
Monday, May 12, 2008
Oh. My. GOSH. This one blew me right over and knocked me out. Quite honestly, not only one of the best cakes I've ever made, but one of the very best I've ever tasted. The texture is sheer perfection, the flavor is outstanding, and the icing - ohhhh the icing - is a delightful departure from a traditional buttercream or cream cheese variety, and instead comes out as a mild, almost pudding-like, vanilla fluff that compliments the cake flawlessly. This one is flying to the top of my favorites list!
Red Velvet Cake & Icing - at Velvet Lava
If you like to bake...or eat...I recommend that you drop whatever you're doing and go make this. Immediately.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
One area, though, where I need not harbor unnecessary concern is my health. And that is because I am undergoing a rigid schedule of frequent checkups with my current primary doctor...my preschooler-turned-physician. She calls herself "Doctor Maya", makes convenient house calls (she lives here, and all), and she takes her job very seriously. She also utilizes top-of-the-line equipment, i.e. the Fisher Price Medical Kit, circa 1978. Lest you concern yourself about my current physical state, I will fill you on the report I received at this morning's appointment...
Doctor Maya began her exam, as per usual, with her trusty stethoscope. It's missing the original foam padding, but that makes it all the better for shoving confidently against any spot on the victim *ahem* I mean patient's chest, leaving a perfect red circle on said patient's skin, to the doctor's delight. At this particular check-up, she chose not to listen to my heart at all, actually, after deciding that testing hers would be "a really great idea". Seemed like a rather unusual method, but I guess once you've heard one heartbeat, you've heard them all.
My reflexes were tested next. You'll be glad to know that I showed remarkable response. Granted, it's hard to say how much of that was due to my fabulous reflexes and how much could be attributed to the sight of a three-year-old approaching me wielding a hammer. But regardless, my reaction upon being whacked in each knee proved most satisfactory to the doctor.
My temperature was judged "pretty perfect", when taken in the space between where my forearm rested on my thigh. An unorthodox choice of locations, to be sure, but I was nonetheless happy to hear the good report.
The multipurpose light tool was Dr. M's next selection. You won't even believe this, but she's such an experienced medical professional that she need not even look through the back of the instrument during the exam. In fact, by merely pressing it to the tip of my nose, jamming it forcefully into each ear ("This part tickles", she warned me. "ACK...erm...yes, yes it does", I replied.), and then holding it in frighteningly close proximity to my twitching eyes, she is able to give a diagnosis. "Looks good."
The blood pressure test is arguably Doctor Maya's specialty. She's exacting in her technique. So dedicated is she to getting an accurate reading, that if the Velcro tabs on the cuff don't line up to her specific liking, she thinks nothing of removing and repositioning it as many times as it takes to get it "just right". She's also quite thorough, squeezing the bulb approximately 21,345 times, all the while reminding me to "hold verrrrrry still". But never fear, I came through the check just fine, and she cheerfully gave me a reading of "Twenty-nine Cents". Phew! I don't have to tell you what a relief that was. I was hoping for under a quarter, but what can you do.
The final stage of the check-up, the grand finale, is always the shot. No matter how recently my last check-up happens to have been, I somehow always need an immunization of some sort. Doctor Maya relishes this task. With a sober expression, she loads up the medication, borrows an appropriate quote from the Berenstain Bears ("You won't even have time to say 'Ouch', Mama..."), and then plunges the blunt plastic syringe into my arm, punctuated with the spoken declaration - "Shot!" It's actually a nice touch. If you're going to get the shot anyway, you might as well celebrate it. I might suggest that to the nurse next time I need a tetanus booster.
So all is well, I checked out fine. She did suggest that I go straight to bed, for some reason. After having been up four times last night with her baby brother, I was actually quite excited by those orders. Unfortunately, she recanted them almost immediately when it was time to turn the tables and receive a checkup from Doctor Mama.
Ahhh...nice to know that I'm in such good hands.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Our current tube of basic white paste bears a label that boasts about it's "Great Regular Flavor!" Really? This is how you want to make the sale? By trying to drum up excitement using the word regular? You may as well market it as "Fabulous in it's Lack of Improvement!" or "Our Least Creative Version!"
Seriously, I'd suggest either using the word "Classic" or "Original" as slightly more positive replacements. Or stamp the product simply"Regular Flavor"without the unnecessary enthusiasm. When was the last time you raved to someone about the fantastically regular movie you saw last night, or the delightfully regular dessert at the new restaurant in town?
I'm such a backseat advertiser. I will say, though, that my teeth feel satisfyingly regular after having brushed them with my Colgate toothpaste...
Thursday, April 17, 2008
"Can Thomas and James go on the ark too, Mama?"
"Um, sure." I answered. After all - if talking, feeling, thinking trains had existed back in the day, I'm sure God would have included a pair among the ark-bound menagerie.
The updated twist on the classic tale grew more involved a few days ago when I was interrupted again, this time in the middle of the Lord's monologue to Noah about the upcoming flood and his related instructions.
"And Noah listened to God, " I was explaining, "and obeyed what he was told about..."
"And THEN, " Maya interjected excitedly, "Noah heard a 'Peep peep!'! Here comes Thomas the Tank Engine!"
That's right - in current repetitions of this story, Thomas and James have developed speaking roles. The new version also involves Thomas carrying all of the animals to the ark. He's sort of a railway assistant to Noah.
It's all good, I suppose. She's taking an interest in Bible stories and exercising her creative muscles at the same time. It does make me wonder what new fusion will show up next. Elmo at the nativity? Boots the Monkey curled up next to Moses in the woven basket floating through Egypt? Only time...and my three-year-old director...will tell.
My featured dinner is one that Mary Ann posted on her blog the other week, and I knew I had to try it! Totally yummy chicken and asparagus dish. I made biscuits to go with it and they were so good with the extra sauce!
Here's the link to Mary Ann's post...
Saucy Chicken & Asparagus Bake
And my baking venture? A spur-of-the-moment decision to whip up something for a playgroup gathering I hosted yesterday resulted in a delightful new favorite...Strawberry Bread! First time I made it, but it won't be the last.
2 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350. Butter & flour two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Slice strawberries and place in bowl. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and let sit while preparing the rest. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda in large bowl. Mix well. Blend oil and eggs and stir into strawberries. Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture, blending until dry ingredients are just moistened. Divide batter between pans and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes, remove from pan and cool completely.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Grilled Chicken Salad
2 - boneless, skinless chicken breasts; grilled, seasoned, & diced
1 - head romaine lettuce, rinsed & chopped
1 - or 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 - yellow pepper, cut into thin slices
1- avocado, diced
honey mustard dressing (my favorite store-bought brand is Marzetti's, but I'd like to start making my own)
Toss chicken, veggies, & cheese together and top with dressing.
This was my new baking recipe of the week! All I can say is...holy crap. These. Are. Good.
|2||cups All Purpose or Unbleached Flour|
|2||cups quick-cooking rolled oats|
|1 1/2||cups firmly packed brown sugar|
|1||teaspoon baking soda|
|1 1/4||cups margarine or butter, softened|
|1||(12.5-oz.) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping|
|3||tablespoons All Purpose or Unbleached Flour|
|1||(6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips|
|1/2||cup chopped nuts|
|Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9-inch pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake at 350°F. for 10 minutes.|
|Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.|
Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Maya and I baked up these cookies this afternoon...
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips
Mix together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. In separate bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars gradually, then eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and butterscotch chips. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for 2 minutes, then remove to wire rack.
And later this week, I'll be serving this awesome macaroni and cheese for dinner. It's a recipe I got from my sister, and it rocks.
Macaroni & Cheese
3/4 box elbow macaroni
2 cups sour cream
2 cups cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
salt & pepper, to taste
Cook macaroni to package directions. Mix with remaining ingredients and spread in 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs, if desired. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Made these for the first time this week - really good!
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 c. very warm water
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. ricotta cheese
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. diced pepperoni
1/2 c. mushrooms, green peppers, or other veggie of your choice
1 tsp. dried basil
1 egg, beaten
marinara sauce for dipping
Dissolve yeast in water; add oil, sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add remaining flour gradually, forming a soft, workable dough. Knead 5 minutes, until elastic. Place dough in oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place for about 40 minutes, or until doubled.
While dough is rising, mix together cheeses, pepperoni, veggies and basil and chill in refrigerator.
Punch dough down, divide into two portions. Roll out each portion on lightly=floured surface into thin circle. Top each circle with half of the filling mixture and fold in half, pinching to seal edges. Place on baking sheet and brush tops of calzones with egg.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce on the side for dipping.
On the baking front, my mom's birthday is this weekend, and as always, I'm making the cake! She's requested a basic white cake with my favorite chocolate butter cream frosting. Here's what I'll use, both out of my Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. The cake is for two layers, but I usually adjust it to make three. I like nice, tall cakes!
White Cake Supreme
3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
5 egg whites
Beat shortening at medium speed until creamy, gradually add sugar, beating well.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to shortening mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition, just until blended. Stir in vanilla.
Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold bean egg whites into batter.
Pour batter into two greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.
Rich Chocolate Buttercream
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Melt chocolates together over low heat, stirring often. Beat butter at medium speed until creamy. Add melted chocolate and remaining ingredients. Beat until spreading consistency.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I am so, so guilty of ritualistic consumption. Before the birth of my son a few months ago, a Monday just wasn't a Monday without a trip to Starbucks following a grocery shopping run with my daughter. There are certain times of year or even mood swings that simply seem to require the purchase of something...whether it be a new pair of sandals at the first sign of Spring, or a baked good loaded with chocolate when I need a pick-me-up. It's not something I particularly enjoy about myself, but there you have it.
Holiday seasons, however, most definitely bring the most challenges to my love/hate relationship with "stuff". Easter weekend in my childhood years was full of "things"...a brand-new dress, often paired with hat and gloves...a corsage purchased by my father for each of his daughters and our mother...a basket filled with sweets and goodies and hidden somewhere downstairs for us to gleefully hunt on Sunday morning...great memories. Mark and I negotiated this point a bit when determining how to celebrate the season with our kids, as his Easters in growing-up years contained far less...er...fluff. And because, let's be honest, spending money in any capacity isn't something he jumps up and down about. (Love you, honey.) But he's fine with each of the kids wearing a new outfit on Easter morning, so long as it fits the constraints of our clothing budget, and he relented on the Easter basket debate (we keep them verrrrry basic).
I struggled at times with the question of whether or not these froufrou indulgences would diminish the true meaning of the Easter holiday. But I've determined that this no longer concerns me all that much. Even with all of the Easter extravaganza of long ago times, I still very much knew as a child that what really made the day special was the celebration of Christ's victory over death. And I've decided that it's much more important to ensure that both the birth and resurrection of Jesus be truths that are held close in our hearts and minds as a family year-round. The holiday hoopla, reindeer and rabbits, stockings and baskets, candy canes and jelly beans can be modestly embraced without undue paranoia as festive ways to mark the seasons, but we will do our best (God, help us) to make the deeper meanings a part of daily life.
There is an element in all of this that does cause me some alarm, however. And that is the fear that our kids (mine, and in society in general) will pay the price for our growing obsession with stuff, stuff, STUFF. I took a trip to Target the other day to pick up a couple of small items to put in the kids' baskets, and I was in complete shock standing in the holiday-themed aisles. Not kidding, it looked as though the Easter bunny had fallen into a blender along with Dora the Explorer, the Sesame Street gang, Mr. Potato Head and a box of pastel crayons and then someone had turned said blender on high and removed the lid. And don't get me started on the candy. Every form of sweet confection in existence...now in convenient egg form! So. Much. Stuff. And all of it for one season. I stood there reeling in front of the shelves and shelves of chocolate bunny choices and wondered just how much we're all messing up our kids by buying into this. Because here's the thing: as nauseous as it all made me, it got to me too. I found myself picking up several knick-knacks and thinking, "Ooo, Maya would really like this Elmo/bunny Pez dispenser...", and "Hmm...I could spend a bit more money and get her the chocolate bunny that's twice as big and wearing a dress..."
I had to work hard to restrain myself from those purchases, and then I walked away feeling guilty! Why?!? I mean I know that part of it is because I love my daughter and want to give her things that will bring her delight. But I know a lot of it is this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing that I so easily fall into. I was part of a conversation the other day where a friend asked, "So, what are your kids getting for Easter?" Totally threw me. Is this what Easter's becoming now? Another Christmas? Because I struggle then too. The part of me that shudders when I see mounds of gifts under Christmas trees wrestles with the part of me that wants to shower my kids with everything I know they'd enjoy...or at least enjoy for five minutes. And now it's happening with Valentine's Day too. There are some circles in which I feel awkward admitting that I *gasp* didn't get my children anything on February 14th. But seriously, when did that become traditional? Did I miss the memo? What's next - 4th of July buckets filled with red, white, and blue M&Ms and Cookie Monster waving a flag? Chocolate turkeys at each child's place at Thanksgiving?
It frightens me, because mine is the generation that is said to have "entitlement issues". But for all of my daily struggles with addiction to STUFF, I didn't have nearly the amount of things handed to me that I could easily hand to my children. And I worry that I will totally mess them up. Or that they'll hate me when they go to school and find out that the Easter bunny brought the kid at the next desk an egg-shaped Playstation or something.
So yeah, that's where I'm at. I've made my peace with a small amount of holiday "stuff", not wanting to fall into the reaction mode of boycotting it altogether. But I do see the downward spiral looming in front of me...and I fear that one day I'll push my Target cart too close to the edge and find that I've set my kids up for a life where they expect everything and are thankful for nothing. Lord, help me...
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Maya and I made some yummy "bird nests" treats on Monday. Fun, easy, and she loved the whole process!
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
2 cups chow mein noodles
candy eggs or jelly beans (we used Cadbury dark chocolate eggs)
Melt butterscotch chips over low heat and stir in chow mein noodles. Drop in piles on cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Make indentation in middle of each pile to form a "nest". When they're cool, place "eggs" in the "nests".
At church this Sunday we're having breakfast together before the Easter service. I signed up to bring muffins, so I'll be taking these - one of my all-time favorite muffin recipes!
French Breakfast Muffins
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and beat well. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with milk, mixing each time until just blended. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes. Mix together cinnamon and sugar. Roll muffin tops in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar mixture.
Friday, March 14, 2008
I'm changing Maya's diaper in her room and Mark comes in. This is the conversation that follows:
Mark (softly): There's a body in our backyard.
Me: What, dead?!?
Mark: No, alive.
Me: That's called a person!
Mark: What's a person?
Me: What did you come in here and say?
Mark (louder): There's a bunny in our backyard.
Turns out he was telling me quietly because he didn't want Maya to get all excited about the bunny if it were to run away before we had a chance to get to the window. (Which it did.) But I couldn't for the life of me figure out who would be in our backyard during a snowstorm, and why Mark would choose to label said person as a "body"!
Ah, yes. Classic.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I was introduced to this one by Keara, and it's quickly become a weeknight favorite in our house! The chicken turns out so tender and flavorful, and the BBQ adds a nice kick.
Easy Barbecue Crispy Chicken Melts
Prep Time:15 min
Start to Finish:45 min
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup Original Bisquick® mix
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup milk
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/4 lb)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (2 oz)
1. Heat oven to 425°F. In 13x9-inch pan, place butter. Heat in oven 2 to 3 minutes or until melted.
2. In shallow dish, stir Bisquick mix and pepper. Pour milk into small bowl. Coat chicken with Bisquick mixture, then dip into milk and coat again with Bisquick mixture. Place chicken in pan.
3. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170°F).
4. In small microwavable bowl, microwave barbecue sauce uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until warm. Spoon sauce evenly over chicken; top with cheese.
The next one is a dessert I made for a family dinner on Sunday night. It's a slightly adapted version of a recipe from Great Food Fast, a cookbook by Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart publication. If you're a tiramisu fan and don't have the time to put into the full-on authentic stuff, this is an easy and satisfying alternative.
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (or reduced-fat cream cheese)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cups strong coffee, cooled
2 packages (2-3 oz.) ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
Beat cream cheese, sugar, and whipping cream with electric mixer until fluffy. In 8-9 inch square or round serving dish, place one layer of ladyfingers. Generously brush with cooled coffee, moistening but not soaking the ladyfingers. Spread one-third of the cream cheese mixture over ladyfinger layer. Repeat layers twice more, ending with cream cheese mixture. Dessert may be refrigerated up to a day. Dust top with cocoa just before serving.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
(This morning as Mark is in the bathroom, Maya is laying on her stomach outside the locked door, peering under the crack at the bottom and yelling at full volume...)
"DADDY!! DO YOU WANT SOME PRIVACY?!?"
#2 - Reasoning with them is futile.
(Yesterday, after she requested raisins for her afternoon snack, and I walked by to notice that she had eaten half of them and left the other half neatly in one side of her bowl...)
Me: "Are you going to finish your raisins?"
Maya: "No, these ones are yucky."
Me: "They're yucky? Why?"
Maya: "Because I don't want to eat them."
Me: "Why don't you want to eat them?"
Maya: "Because they're yucky."
Me: "Ok, but why are those raisins yucky?"
Maya: "Because we should throw them away."
Me (taking deep breath, trying one more time): "Ok, what makes them yucky?"
Maya (shooting me an exasperated look): "Me!"
[I give up]
Monday, March 3, 2008
This week's baking project is compliments of my friend and fellow baking addict, Stephanie, who alerted me to this Dorie Greenspan recipe last week. Tomorrow morning will find me mixing up these delightful-sounding muffins! I'll be sure to report on my impressions.
Ricotta Berry Muffins
And my dinner spotlight recipe of the week is one that I sampled at a Pampered Chef party last week (where I also placed an order for some fun new kitchen gadgets, much to my delight and my husband's chagrin). It's everything I like in a recipe - easy, tasty, and (as food should be) pretty!
Family-Size Baked Burrito (from Pampered Chef, although I've adjusted the recipe so as not to entirely need their specific products)
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 cups diced, cooked chicken
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup salsa
1 T. taco seasoning
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby & Monterey Jack cheese, divided
4 burrito-sized flour tortillas
1 can bean dip (I'm substituting a can of fat-free refried beans)
assorted toppings, such as lettuce, olives, snipped cilantro, and Avacado Lime Sauce (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 425. Squeeze juice from lime half into bowl, and add chicken, onion, salsa, seasoning mix, and garlic. Microwave mixture about 3 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese.
Arrange tortillas on a baking stone (or baking sheet) in an overlapping, circular pattern. (Tortillas will hang off the edges a bit.) Starting in center, spread beans over tortillas, forming a 10-inch square. Spoon chicken mixture evenly over beans. Fold edges of tortillas up and over the filling in an envelope fashion.
Arrange tomato slices in rows over top of burrito. Sprinkle remaining cheese over burrito, covering completely. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and edges are brown. Cut into rectangles and serve with toppings.
Avacado Lime Sauce: Mash 1 ripe avacado. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T. lime juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Drizzle over burrito.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I like to have a baking project every week. This week, what with snowstorms, sickness, and lack of exotic ingredients, I turned to an old standby comfort treat...chilling in my fridge as I type this!
No Bake Cookies
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 tsp. vanilla
In medium saucepan, combine sugar, milk, butter and cocoa powder. Heat to boiling and cook for 1 1/2 minutes (be careful not to over- or under-cook). Stir in peanut butter, oats, and vanilla. Drop by large spoonfuls onto wax paper-lined baking sheet and chill until firm.
As far as dinners go, I'm doing some soup and a good ol' spaghetti night, but I also went with our all-time favorite salmon recipe on Sunday night. We try to eat salmon fairly often because of the health benefits, and this is by far the best way I've found to make it!
Spicy Southwestern Salmon
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 lb. fresh salmon filets, skin removed
Place salmon filets on broiler tray. Brush with olive oil. Combine brown sugar and spices and sprinkle over salmon. Broil for 2-3 minutes, or until brown sugar mixture begins to melt. Reduce oven temperature to 400 and bake for 10-12 minutes more, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I've often had people tell me, "The older you get, the faster time flies." That wisdom fell on deaf ears during my childhood years, when the months between Christmases seemed endless and summer vacation felt like a blissful eternity. As I entered adulthood, however, I started to believe it. I remember clearly the year I realized that all of the college athletes I watched in televised competitions were younger than me. And now I'm feeling it even more as I approach a full decade of marriage, as it's now the professional athletes who are approaching retirement at my age, and as I discovered not long ago that this year would have been the last year I could have legally auditioned for American Idol. (Not that I ever would...or ever should...but you know, it's good to have options.)
And then there's the huge spotlight that glaringly and constantly points out the passage of time - parenthood. "They grow up so fast" is both the most overused adage that's spoken of this stage of life and the one that's most hauntingly true. It's incomprehensible to me that we've gone from making decisions about when to start solid foods to discussions about when to start preschool. How did this happen?
The other day, as I held my second-born, my sweet two-and-a-half-month baby boy, I watched as he woke from a short nap. As he stretched his chubby arms above his head, his chin jutted out in a look of sleepy, pouty-lipped determination. And I was instantly and unexpectedly transported back to another time, when I gazed down at another beautiful newborn - his big sister, now three years old, who used to make the same face when she slept. "Honey, look! She's doing the chin thing", I'd often call to my husband during those simpler days, when we had little else to do but stare at our little girl and coo in amazement at every expression. I smiled as my mind traced over these memories, and then my eyes misted over as I recalled another one...
Fast forward a year and a half from those days of early parenthood. My tiny newborn girl was now an active, precocious toddler. Those first few weeks of sleepless nights and working hard for smiles were distant memories as the same child now charmed and exhausted us with her happy busyness. One afternoon, as naptime was approaching, she uncharacteristically fell asleep in my arms as I rocked her on the couch in the living room. I gave an inward, "Woohoo!", gathered her up carefully and started a careful trek through the house towards her waiting crib, eager to settle in for some rest and relaxation myself. As I passed through the dining room doorway, though, I glanced down and stopped in my tracks. For my eyes had fallen on her sweet face; eyes closed, cheeks flushed, hair pushed clumsily behind her ears...and that chin...that sweet, silly chin shoved forward, with her lips forming that familiar pout from long ago. The realization of time's ever-quickening pace came crashing down right then, and I knew I was receiving a gift in that moment; both a glimpse back in time and a moment I'd remember the rest of my life. My baby was, for a fleeting second, my baby again.
I don't know how long I stayed there. My arms grew tired and my back ached. A group of teenage girls strolled by outside the window, laughing and yelling in the summer sunshine. And I stood beside my dining room table, tears falling from my eyes as I rocked my baby. My baby who could now run and dance and sing and give hugs and kisses. My now three-year-old baby who today shot me a confused look when I offered to help her switch to a different computer game after she was done with the first one. "I am playing a different game, Mama", she said. "When I was little I couldn't do it because I needed help. But I'm a big girl now." Yes you are, sweetie. I stand corrected. And I stand in helpless, bittersweet awe as I watch time pass by. It keeps marching, yes it does...