Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Just had to add these. She's changed so much in just two months!

Fried Rice and Dumplings

My cerebral laziness continues so here is another recipe. OH JUST GET OVER IT!

Continuing in the International theme (oh, didn't you know there was a theme? Well, there is. And it is International. Keep up, please), here we have fried rice and dumplings. For when you want Chinese but don't have the money to eat out and don't want to spend the rest of your evening wondering why you feel so lousy after you go out for Chinese (hint: MSG). True story: on Sunday, my parents stopped by after church. After a few hours, during which The Viking managed to fix the window of Mom's car, Mom asked if we wanted to go out for Chinese. I had to say, apologetically, "Sorry, I'm making Chinese tonight." It was ever so hard not to sound smugly superior but I managed, I'm sure.

So, ahem!

Pork Fried Rice (mostly Rachel Ray)

-2-3 cups cooked rice
-3 T veg oil
-2 eggs, beaten
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-2 inches fresh ginger root, minced or grated (dried, ground is fine, too)
-1/2 cup shredded or chopped carrots
-1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
-4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle (optional, I never use them)
-2 cups or so diced, cooked pork loin*
-1/2 cup frozen peas
-1/4-1/3 cup Tamari, dark soy sauce (regular soy sauce is fine, too)

1. If using leftover rice, skip to step 2. If not, make rice, whichever way you prefer (I have a handy dandy microwave rice cooker I use all the time). Set aside to cool.

2. Beat eggs and set aside in a small bowl.

3. Chop garlic (I usually mince it), grate or mince ginger (if using fresh), chop or shred carrots, chop pepper and slice scallions (if using) and throw it all in a medium bowl and set aside.

4. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add 1 T oil to the pan. Add eggs and scramble, then move them off to the side of the pan and add a little more oil to the center. Add garlic, ginger, carrots, pepper and scallions and quick-fry for about 2 minutes.

5. Add rice and pork and combine with veg. Incorporate scrambled eggs and continue to cook another 2-3 minutes.

6. Add peas and soy sauce and stir-fry one more minute, then serve.
*I make this the day after I've made our favorite marinated pork loin, great way to use leftovers!

Pot Stickers/Dumplings
(Everyday Food)

-1/2 c finely chopped Napa or Savoy cabbage
-coarse salt
-6 oz ground pork, not all lean
-3 scallions, finely chopped
-1 T finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger
-1 t soy sauce
-1 t toasted sesame oil

-24 rectangular or square wonton wrappers
-2 T veg oil
-2 scallions, finely chopped (optional)
-1/3 c reduced-sodium soy sauce for serving

1. Chop cabbage, peel and chop ginger (I use ground at times with no noticeable difference), and chop scallions, if using.

2. In a medium bowl, toss cabbage with 1/2 t salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Wrap cabbage in a double layer of paper towels, firmly squeeze out excess liquid. Return cabbage to bowl; add pork, scallions, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix well with a fork. Refrigerate leftover filling up to 2 days.

3. Work with one wonton wrapper at a time, and keep the rest covered with a damp towel. Spoon one rounded teaspoon of filling in center. With dampened fingers, wet the four edges. To make a triangle, fold wrapper in half over filling, making sure the ends meet and filling is centered; press edged down firmly to seal.

4. Moisten one tip on long side of triangle. Then bring together both tips on long side, overlapping them slightly; press tips together to seal. *Steps 3 and 4 are great tasks to give to the kids--put them to work!

5. Fold remaining top corner back. Transfer to an oiled plate; cover with a damp towel to keep moist. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

6. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet with at tight-fitting lid, heat 1 T oil over medium-high heat. Add half the wontons and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side. Carefully add 1/2 cup water (oil may spatter), cover, and steam until translucent and just cooked through, 2-3- minutes. Repeat with remaining T oil and wontons. Sprinkle pot stickers with scallions, if using, and serve with soy sauce.

These are great the next day as leftovers themselves. We got two meals out of these, though I did make extra pot stickers as we all really like them.

Okay, I'm off to bed. I got all my chores done today and was a good little housewife so I'm making myself a cup of tea and heading upstairs a little early.

OH! I almost forgot! I actually made a semi-successful meatloaf tonight! Oh, yes, I did! I made meatballs last week that were actually delicious so I decided to try my hand at meatloaf again. It still fell apart a little too easily, but was decidedly NOT the dog food-like mush I usually produce. Even Man-Cub, Mr. Particular when it comes to meat, liked it. He was unhappy about the presence of the ketchup, but once we let him scrape it off, he pronounced it, "Not bad, not bad at all." I ask you, what 8-year-old boy doesn't like ketchup? The same one who doesn't like mashed potatoes and won't eat pizza, that's what!

Seriously now, it's bed time. I changed the sheets today and have been daydreaming about crawling between them all day long!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm being lazy, here's a recipe

I'm giving my brain a vacation and refusing to do anything that requires more than ten minutes of thought. I haven't been able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time for about a week and I think my brain is overwrought.

I haven't been able to de-stress from having to teach my class. People tried to tell me it would go so much better than I thought, it wouldn't be as bad as I was making it out to be, my nerves would calm down after a few minutes, blah, blah, blah. Well, it was awful. No, it didn't bomb, it wasn't a disaster. But it was so uncomfortable and felt so unnatural and I hated it! And my nerves STILL haven't calmed down! I am so glad it's over, but I cannot stop running through all the material (especially the words to my song) over and over in my head! I thought I was going to come home, crash into bed and sleep like a baby last night. But no, it took me almost 3 hours to fall asleep and I kept waking up singing my song! And then I couldn't sleep all day today either, with phrases of the song tramping through my brain!

Tonight I'm going to be doing some drinking before I go to bed. That usually helps. But in the meantime I'm turning my brain off as much as possible. So, tonight's post is going to consist of things I can just look at and copy. How about a recipe? Would that suffice? I hope so cause that's what you're getting!

This is The Viking's favorite meatless meal and one of the few I will eat:

Indian-Style Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas, and Chickpeas

From America’s Test Kitchen

This curry is moderately spicy when made with one chile. For more heat, use an additional half chile. For a mild curry, remove the chile’s ribs and seeds before mincing. Onions can be pulsed in a food processor. You can substitute 2 teaspoons ground coriander, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon for the garam masala. Serve with Basmati rice, yogurt and chutney, if desired.

Serves 4-6 as a main course

-2 T curry powder (sweet or mild)

-1 ½ t garam masala (an Indian spice blend, see note above)

-¼ c vegetable oil

-2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 c)

-12 oz Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 2 cups)(I've used white and yellow potatoes and have peeled them first with no noticeable change)

-3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 T)

-1 T finely grated fresh ginger (I often substitute ground ginger)

-1 to 1 ½ serrano chiles, ribs, seeds, and flesh minced (see note above)(these are hard for me to find so I use a jalapeno which seems to work fine)

-1 T tomato paste (I've used ketchup in a pinch)

-½ medium head cauliflower, trimmed, cored & cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 c)

-1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, pulsed in food processor (some brands sell petite diced tomatoes and I use these without processing)

-1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

-Table salt

-8 oz frozen peas (about 1 ½ c)

-¼ c heavy cream or coconut milk

Here's how I've learned to do it quickly:

1. Start rice, however you prefer to cook it. See, I have to make sure I write this part down first. I can't tell you how many times I've dished this up only to discover I'd forgotten to make rice.

2. Rinse and core cauliflower and cut into 1-inch florets. Set aside.

3. Scrub or peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Throw into a medium bowl. Chop onions and throw into bowl with potatoes. Set aside.

4. Combine curry powder and garam masala in small bowl and set aside.

5. Toast curry powder and garam masala in small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until spices darken slightly and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer spices from skillet back into small bowl and set aside.

6. Heat 3 T oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized and potatoes are golden brown on edges, about 10 minutes (reducing heat to medium if onions darken too quickly).

7. While onions and potatoes are cooking, mince garlic and pepper, grate ginger (if using fresh), and place all three in another small bowl. Set aside. Open chickpeas, rinse them and set them aside to drain.

8. Once potatoes and onions are done, reduce heat to medium. Clear center of pan and add remaining T oil, garlic, ginger, chile and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add toasted spices and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute longer. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until spices coat florets, about 2 minutes longer.

9. Add tomatoes, water, chickpeas, and 1 t salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to boil, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 10-15 minutes. Stir in peas and cream or coconut milk; continue to cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning with salt and serve immediately, passing condiments separately.

Right, then. I have the kitchen to finish and a bedtime story to read.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Day of Rest?

I've been quite the busy little bee today. We all have, in fact.

Well, you know, it's Spring now, so it's time to come shuffling out of our caves, blinking in the brilliant sunlight, ready to resume our old, more active lives. And we've got cleanin' to do! Three months in a cave builds up quite a smell!

So, yesterday, I got very little done. I cleaned our room, made the beds, made up the overdue menu and grocery list, and that was about it, aside from making one of The Viking's favorite meals for dinner: Vegetable Curry. He deserved it as he got a lot done yesterday. He raked the flower beds, hauled trash from inside and behind the shed, took Nutmeg for a walk, took Man-Cub for a bike ride, and then threw a baseball around the backyard with Man-Cub while poor, restricted Redheaded Snippet watched.

She is tremendously bored, which I am taking as a good sign with a good sigh of relief. She wasn't herself until a good 48 hours after the injury and I was really on edge because of it! I hadn't watched her that closely since she was about two! I wouldn't let her go anywhere without me and kept after her, asking questions and looking her over until I'm sure she was ready to bash me in the head! But now she is back to her old self and chafing mightily at having to sit down and be sedate all the time. But if boredom is the worst of our problems, BRING IT ON!

After church, we hit our favorite supermarket, Wegmans. There are two Wegmanses near us, but both are not really all that near us. Both are about 25 minutes away and in places through which you have to fight a lot of traffic to reach. One of them is right on the way to church so we sometimes hit it on our way home. Well, today was a nightmare. What is it about grocery shopping that brings out the worst in people? By the time we were done, I was one more shopping cart to the back of the ankles away from going Hulk on everyone I saw! I had frightening visions of my rapidly expanding muscles popping through the arms and legs of my clothes (with modesty preserved, of course), turning a hideous green and roaring my rage to the sky before smashing carts together and beating old ladies over the head with fresh baked baguettes. That was when The Viking ordered me out to the parking lot and took over paying for everything. It's a good man who knows by looking at her when his wife is completely overwrought and ready to lose it.

Despite the nonsense suffered in the process, the trek to Wegmans was a happy success. We bought a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables with which we plan to ruin every day of our children's week. And when we got home, we set right out to wash, clean, peel, chop and wedge everything so it's ready for consumption and no one has any excuses. I've told Redheaded Snippet in no uncertain terms she is to eat some form of protein and fruit for breakfast now. No more, "I don't have time". She can grab a hard boiled egg and two orange wedges on her way out the door just as easily as she can grab a Pop-Tart. Don't bother commenting on the evils of Pop-Tarts. I rarely let the kids have them. That's just the breakfast she would choose if she could.

We now have a fridge full to bursting with good things to eat (isn't that similar to a line from Little House in the Big Woods?)! We have strawberries, oranges, tangerines, apples, bananas, and cantaloupe. There's broccoli, peppers, cucumber, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes for salads and for dipping (a new alternative to fries I'm serving with the kids' burgers this week, but they don't know it yet).

I didn't get the laundry finished I intended to do, but two loads are done and everyone has clean clothes for the next few days. But I did help The Viking make a fantastic dinner (shrimp scampi for us, homemade cheese steaks for the kids--you have to know your target audience), whipped up a batch of breadcrumbs, and toasted another batch of granola which is cooling right now on the stove, waiting to be made into bars for Man-Cub's lunch tomorrow. In fact, as it is getting quite late, they are probably cool enough and I should go finish and get to bed.

Tomorrow, I get to go help a friend who just had a baby two weeks ago via C-section and needs help with her 3 year-old. That's right, I'm spending the day with Mrs. Councilor Nugent and Cindy Lou Who! It should be fun, but I've got to be there early and can't afford to be tired.

So, good night!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bruised Brains and Stays of Execution

Are you intrigued? Well, the last 24 hours have been fraught with drama and I shall tell you all about it!

To get to the point, Redheaded Snippet got herself a nice little concussion yesterday evening. She took a line drive to the head at the end of softball practice yesterday, which knocked her out and everything and she didn't even tell me about it until almost 2 hours after it happened. She thinks she is Superwoman.

She was only unconscious for a few seconds, she thinks. But she was anxious, dizzy, had difficulty focusing her eyes, and had a pretty bad headache (go figure). Gradually, other symptoms began showing up, such as nausea, more feelings of being overwhelmed, recurring dizziness, and even a short period during which one pupil was larger than the other.

Long story short, we took her to the pediatrician who confirmed she had a concussion and sent us right over to have a CT Scan. Thankfully, nothing serious showed up in the Scan, but we're still supposed to check in with the doctor in the morning. And, horror of horrors, she restricted from physical activity for the rest of this week and quite possibly into the next. She may as well have been told to hold her breath for four days. She's going to go quite mad.

Now, did you happen to remember on which night all this excitement has occurred? Yes, another Wednesday, worst of all days. But not just any Wednesday. The Wednesday I was supposed to teach my class, the day I had been preparing and bolstering myself for and dreading for weeks, weeks! I don't know if it was Friend or Foe, but someone didn't want me at that class tonight! And I'm really not sure what else to think about that!

I felt really guilty for being all kinds of glad and relieved that I got a reprieve on teaching tonight, but those good feelings were short lived when I realized this only delays the inevitable. I locked the door this afternoon with the profound thought, "When I open this door again, it will all be over with," greatly anticipating the feeling of triumph and relief I would surely feel upon my return. Instead, I walked back in more tense that I had been when I had left, worried about the welfare of my baby and wondering what the next few hours and days would hold.

Truly, I know that teaching my class is the least of my worries right now. Redheaded Snippet is what I'm focused on right now. I keep hovering over her, asking how she feels, if her head hurts, if she's dizzy, if she can see okay, if she knows her name, who is President and what her address is. She thinks it's all pretty amusing, until I start teasing her about her unfortunate bruised brain. But she's also trying to milk it for all it's worth, protesting that she can't possibly finish her homework, feed the dog or complete a single chore because, after all, she has a concussion and was knocked unconscious recently. Funny kid.

So, we're all relieved and grateful for God's protection of our precious (not-so-)little girl. The ball that hit her did graze a low-hanging tree branch and the very edge of her mitt before cleaning her clock and I can't help but wonder how much worse her injuries would have been if the force hadn't been deflected even that little bit. And if I have to go through anxieties of insecurity over teaching for one more week, it's a small price to pay to have the peace of mind that Redheaded Snippet is probably going to be just fine.

Now all I have to do is catch up on all the chores I've been neglected while preparing my lesson...I begin reclaiming the house tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aye Me!

Okay, I have to get this post done quickly! I'm trying to get things out of the way to free up my schedule. Why? Glad you asked, my friend, glad you asked!

Did I not mention having to teach my Bible Study class tomorrow night? I didn't? I honestly can't remember if I did and am too pressed for time to be rummaging through my own blog to see if I have so I'm assuming I didn't. Well, yes, I am being forced, forced mind you, to teach my class tomorrow night. Every poor soul in the class is being made to take a night. Thankfully, they've shown a shred of mercy and paired us up with a partner (which, between you and me, is more because of the class size than out of mercy) but that doesn't change the fact that I still have to get up in front of my class and act like I know what I'm talking about for 2 hours.

And guess which topic I have been assigned? Time Management: Goals and Priorities. Oh, go ahead and laugh, I've been laughing bitterly for months about it! It's ludicrous! It's like asking me to teach a class on growing a second head or building a robotic arm for NASA (I knew a guy once who did that--very strange fellow)!

I could go on, but there is no time. My execution is set for tomorrow night at 6:30 sharp. Ouch. So that means I have little more than 33 hours to finish my preparations, highlight my hair and give myself a manicure (I have to at least look the part, you know). AND I have to manage laundry, dinner and my other usual housewifely duties in there somehow. I'm making corned beef tonight for the first time! I'm strangely excited!

So, I'm off to write up my index cards and put the finishing touches on my Power Point presentation. Don't call me, I'm screening all my phone calls (or screaming my balls off, Daria).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pizza and granola...together at last.

Now that I've got that special little gadget doohickey thingy I'm going to be posting a nauseating amount of photos! You're going to be so sick of me!

So, I'm trying my hand at a few new things, culinary-wise. Last night was pizza.

Since I am head chef in the kitchen I can do whatever I want with the pizza but I decided to have mercy on my children and make one large cheese, one small pepperoni and one small green pepper and olive. That way, everybody was happy.

Despite my ever-widening horizons, I am still prone to making wifty mistakes and managed to forget to spray the baking sheets before adhering the dough to them. And adhered they were. It took the assistance of the dreamiest sous chef you ever saw to pry those pizzas from those sheets.

I don't think it mattered much, though, because the plain cheese pizza was gobbled up so fast I couldn't even get a photo of it. You can see a few of its decimated remains on those plates behind the other pizzas the children were afraid to approach. I don't know what their problem was, they eat pepperoni pizza all the time. I think it may have been its proximity to the pizza tainted with healthy green things that caused them concern. They were probably afraid of cross-contamination. Let me tell you, that pepper and olive one was quite possibly the best I've ever had. I see no reason to order pizza anymore. Especially now that my new friend from Bible Study has given me her homemade pizza dough recipe and I can stop wrestling with the frozen dough I've been buying at the grocery store. Leave me alone, I'm taking baby steps!

Coasting on the success of my pizza (which was even pronounced "gourmet-looking" by my mother, high praise indeed), I decided also to get a start on some homemade granola (am I copying you too much for comfort, Leila?). I got all the ingredients at my favorite Mennonite/Amish market and mixed, stirred and roasted to my heart's content. The children requested honey as the sweetener and I didn't have all that much, but the stuff seems sweet enough as they've been picking at it ever since it came out of the oven without any complaints.

The pan in the front is for The Viking and me. It's got slivered almonds, flaked coconut and dried cherries, papaya and pineapple. We're into all that dried fruit stuff (except bananas, dried bananas are right up there with candy corn in disgustingness). The pan in the back was reserved for the children's granola. I decided to make concessions and add chocolate and peanut butter chips to theirs. They need to take baby steps also. The chips aren't visible in this photo because they hadn't been added yet. Even I understood I had to let the stuff cool completely so the chips wouldn't melt all over the place...although...that could have been an interesting way to make the mix nice and gooey and moldable...I'm trying that next time. What's the worst that could happen? We'd have some really ugly looking, gooey snack food? I'd probably be Man-Cub's hero!

So, there you have how I spent my Friday night. And I must say it was very productive and rather enjoyable. Come on over next week, I'll make pizza!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Geeking Out About My Menu

Oh I am so excited! I've got my menu planned for the week and even I am happy with it! I've been trying to be very conscientious about my cooking and cleaning habits lately. We've been talking about Stewardship in Bible Study and I've been doing some hard thinking. And I've been feeling that little (nagging) voice urging me to strive for excellence in my Homemaking duties.

So, I've been doing some organizing and research and tackled the cooking first. Cleaning is next because I'm dreading it. I figure I should accomplish something and then use the momentum to spur me on to the more dreaded task.

I went through all my cookbooks and brainstormed about all the meals I've loved before and all the meals I want to master. It's quite a list. I never really thought about it before, but I'd like to have a good quiche in my repertoire. I'd also like to learn how to make a souffle', just so I can say I can. And Eggs Benedict. I always order Eggs Benedict when we go out for brunch but I have never, ever thought of making it myself. That's just madness!

Then I looked over my schedule for the week and went through my favorite store's circular. Hmmm...I have piano lessons on Monday so that needs to be a relatively quick, easy meal. Wednesday is going to be even worse than ever because I'm teaching the class that night. Can you believe it? They're making me teach! I am very anxious about it and have decided there shall be no cooking that night or I shall self-destruct! That will have to be a leftover night or sandwiches or something. Nothing else is going on, but look at that! Boneless chickens breast are on sale...and so is corned beef...I've never made corned beef...oh, that's right, St. Patrick's Day is Tuesday. Me being only a smidge Irish and The Viking being none at all, we've never celebrated St. Patrick's Day, not even to the degree of decking ourselves out in green (someone once told me Irish Protestants wear orange instead of green on St. Patrick's Day and I've never wanted to be disrespectful, but maybe that's being a little too rigid?) but if all the items to celebrate St. Patrick's Day are on sale...

So, I've decided to branch out and make corned beef. I'm braising it, of course, but since none of us like cabbage, I'm making Brussels Sprouts with it instead. And the best part? I'm going to make enough so I can just slap some between slices of rye bread with Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing the next day and keep to my Wednesday Cooking Embargo whilst serving scrumptious Corned Beef Special sandwiches! I am Woman, hear me roar!

As far as the rest of the week goes, the kids are excited about making pizza tonight and I think I'm going to make it again on Sunday. We're usually most tempted to order pizza on the weekends so I'm trying to build it in so we don't have to incur the extra cost. The same goes for Saturday's dinner of cheesesteaks and fries. Since chicken is on sale, I'll make the kids' favorite Herbed Baked Chicken with sweet corn and a garden salad and then I'll round the week out by using that head of cauliflower and the rest of the peas and potatoes to make The Viking's favorite veg curry.

See? It all works out! We won't be eating out, we'll be saving money, and we'll be eating well. I'm also adding things to the grocery list for breakfasts, as I've decided to start giving the kids something better than cereal each morning. I had to make Man-Cub eat a string cheese and drink some orange juice this morning. He wanted fruit snacks for breakfast and since I wanted to use up the rest in the box anyway (and never buy them again) I let him have it with the condition that he eat some cheese and drink some juice with it. He thought he would renege halfway through breakfast and that's when I had to remind him of how he earns his TV time after school: by obeying his parents.

Oh, and I'm also making granola and seeing if I can manage to mold it into bars the kids will eat as willingly as they scarf down the over-processed and fake-tasting bars of goo they currently think of as granola bars.

I'm not sure I've ever been this excited about a menu before. Sure, I had Menu Plan Mondays, which I've gotten away from because I just kept forgetting since I do my menu planning on Thursdays. But this is different. The perfectionist in me is rarely this satisfied with a weekly menu. I guess this just goes to show what a little commitment and planning can do. I highly recommend it!

On that note, I must be off to do the shopping for this stupendous menu or it is all for naught. See you in the produce section!

Guess What?

Oh, you'll never guess. I'm just going to have to tell you.

The Viking got a handy-dandy little gadget off of E-bay that allows us to magically (I think fairy dust is involved somehow) retrieve photos from Redheaded Snippet's camera (the only one available to us since the loss of The Viking's camera last Spring) and then post them on the computer! Yay! No more having to steal photos from my sisters' facebook pages!

So, to celebrate, here are some photos of recent events I've been wanting to share but couldn't. Everybody comfy?

We begin with an inexplicable photo of Man-Cub. All I know is his sister is holding the camera so, wait, I guess it is explicable after all...he's making this horrendous face at her! Who cares, I just love this shot. I think it captures his essence perfectly.

Redheaded Snippet and Bitsy during our trip to Chicago. Redheaded Snippet was such a big help that weekend, running after Bitsy and helping take care of her. They bonded in a big way. Aren't they adorable?

Lobelia doling out the Cheerios to Vantastic and Bitsy, getting some nice Auntie action in. Made for some very cute photos.

The Boyz, Man-Cub and Vantastic. Yes, I know I'm showing my age, but I don't know what the modern version of that would be.

And there they are, all the cousins. The Fab Five: Rosebud, Redheaded Snippet, Bitsy, Vantastic, and Man-Cub. We've been dying to get a sofa shot of all of them and here it is!

Man-Cub demonstrating one of his birthday gifts, some Star Wars Wii game that came with these killer lightsabers. He and Lenny had great fun playing with them at his birthday party.

Another demonstration of another gift, this one for Christmas. Can you tell Star Wars and Batman are two of his favorites at the moment? I particularly like the bathrobe part of the ensemble.

The Viking and his brother at Grand Central Station, during our trip to visit him in Manhattan. My brother-in-law said the "New York" thing to do is to "meet at the clock" and then go to the Concourse downstairs for a bite to eat. I had a really good gyro down there (something you cannot get here at home).

A surprisingly good shot of the four of us in front of the iconic clock. Hmmmm...this might make a good profile pic...

My brother-in-law (hmmmm, might need a blog name for him...) took us to a great burger joint in the Village for dinner and he and Man-Cub hammed it up at the giant burger display outside. Peas in a pod, those two.

Whew, I'm kinda tired! That was a lot of photos for one post! I'm not used to that. But now that we have this little miracle gadget, I wouldn't doubt if it becomes a much more common occurrence around here. But right now, I'm off to bed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thawing Out

You know, I think we should make New Year's Revolutions (if we're going to make them) in the Spring, not in the dead of Winter. It feels more appropriate. And for all my loving of Winter, I sure do feel reawakened and refreshed and rejuvenated when the first warm breezes blow in and things start to thaw out.

I'm ready for new beginnings! New menus, new diet plans, new chores schedules, even Spring Cleaning. I hate to clean, but every Spring, I get the itch to pull my nest apart and scour it but good. I don't always get to everything on the list, but usually I get to most of it.

So, wanna hear about how I've conquered my beef problem? Sure you do! I decided I wasn't going to hide from the beef section of the meat counter any longer. Rump roast was on sale and I was going to make do with what I have/could get my hands on, blast it! The menfolk in the household looooooooooove beef (and the womenfolk are pretty fond of it, too) so, really, I felt I had no choice but to face my fear and hurdle this...hurdle.

I took a lesson from the last beef I braised from the dead and decided simply to braise from the start. You know, I didn't realize the deal with braising. I don't know why, but it had never really occurred to me to braise anything before. I just thought it wasn't done anymore except by snotty French chefs (you know, the kind who make $100 hamburgers with Kobe beef, truffles and champagne sauce). That's so dumb, I realize that now. That Heavens my ignorance has been penetrated!

I patted a 4.5 lbs rump roast dry with paper towels and sprinkled it with salt and pepper before searing it very carefully, being sure not to leave it and go find something to amuse myself between turns. I don't know why it's so hard for me to stand at the stove staring at a piece of meat, but it is. Then I turned it so the fat side was up (read somewhere that that will help the fat run down and keep the meat moist as it breaks down in the braising process). Then I added a cup of red wine (just some stuff I keep on hand for cooking--couldn't tell you what kind it is), a can of beef broth and a can of chicken broth. No, I don't make my own broth. Not yet, anyway. And I had mistakenly only bought one can of beef so I threw in a can of chicken. That filled the pot about half-way up the sides of the roast. I brought the liquid to a simmer, put the lid on and left it for about, oh, four hours, checking periodically to make sure it wasn't bubbling too much or too little.

About 30 minutes before we had to leave for church, I peeled and chunked carrots and potatoes and threw them in there. Lid back on. Half-an-hour later I lifted the meat and potatoes out, sprinkled some cornstarch into the liquid in the pot, set Redheaded Snippet to whisking and began to dish up.

The meat was tender and juicy. The veg were just the right texture, not to hard, not mushy. Once the gravy had thickened and was strained (it needed no added salt or pepper), it was perfect! Rick, dark, thick and flavorful...mmmmmm! I fed the kids their portions, then packed up mine and The Viking's to take to church.

I must say, that roast was probably the best I've ever made. Everyone in my class was really distracted by its aroma. I suppose it was unfair of me to eat it in front of all of them, but I gotta do what I gotta do on Wednesdays.

The Viking came out of his class later and told me that at one point during their discussion of Stewardship, he took a bite and stopped dead in the middle of his sentence to look down at his food, pause, and say, "Wow. This is really good." I've never cooked anything that stopped a Bible Study in its tracks before. THAT'S a good roast! I felt like such a WOMAN!

So, now, buoyed by my stunning success, I'm contemplating all kinds of new culinary endeavors. It's Menu Plan day (I do my shopping on Fridays--usually--so I like to plan on Thursdays) and this week I'm adding homemade breakfast foods and granola bars to my list (thanks Leila)! I am sick and tired of feeding the children processed foods for breakfast every morning and putting them in their lunches each day. If they will insist on subsisting largely on granola bars, fruit snacks and cereals, I'm going to at least make sure they're eating healthy varieties or altogether substitutes. Made lovingly by ME. The other day, one of Redheaded Snippet's friends asked her what her favorite food was and she said, "Mama J's home-cookin'"! I thought she was yanking my chain at first, but she was serious! Isn't that cool? And Mama J is what she and her friends call me. Isn't that cool, too?

Right, so I'm off to plan menus and write up grocery lists. Tonight is an easy meal: beef pot pie made with leftovers from last night's spectacular roast! This one gets a yippee from 3 out of 4 Cottage at Witsenders (guess which one is the lone holdout?)!

And I think I need to hang some more clothes on the line...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

High Finance

So, Man-Cub walks into the kitchen today and says, quite seriously, "I want to spend my birthday check." EGOD gives each of us a $100 check for our birthdays and he got his last week. He all but held his hand out and tapped his foot.

I turned to him in surprise, "You want to spend your check?"


"Well, you know, you don't get the entire $100, don't you?"

I suppose he did not, in fact, know it. His sly, little face registered complete shock and dismay. "WHAT?!"

Let me interject. We have never just handed over the kids' checks to them. In fact, I don't think they've ever seen any of the money bestowed upon them each year. We simply deposit the money and use it to pay for whatever festivities we've decided to host. You may cry, "Foul," but that's how we do. Believe me, they get enough gifts from the rest of their relatives that they do not miss it.

Sadly, this was very disillusioning for Man-Cub. He has recently become aware of money and has quite an interest in it. He's either going to be a Master Swindler or Master Financier when he grows up, I can feel it. He saves his pennies and dimes and dollars and plots and plans what great things he will do with them (those plans almost always involve the Hobby store). He keeps meticulous records of just how much he has and always has special hiding places for it. Apparently, he had great things planned for that $100 birthday check.

He was beginning to well up in frustration and disappointment so I grabbed him gently by the arms. I said softly, up into his face, "Don't you know it's not good for an eight-year-old boy to have all that money all to himself? What on earth would you do with $100?"

Do you know what the little shyster said? "Buy something for you...!"

I just laughed and laughed and even he had to laugh cause he knew I was onto him. He tried to hide it but he couldn't help himself. A guilty grin kept stealing, unbidden, across his lips! I teased him for a bit, excitedly asking if he would buy me shoes and bags and new dishes. He just hung his head bashfully, giggling at himself.

But then he realized I was serious not letting him have his money and he got angry. He flapped his hands helplessly and spat, "But I'm the ONLY kid in my class who doesn't have $100!"

Now we had gotten to it. I was surprised, "The only one?" He's in second grade! Seriously? All the other seven- and eight-year-olds have $100 just lying around? And this is a topic of conversation on the swings at recess? What ever happened to having cooties and daring each other to eat boogers and pulling the legs off Daddy-long-legs and chasing the girls with them? Now we're discussing bank accounts and comparing Ugg boots and texting dares on cell phones in the second grade?

What is wrong with people? Am I some kind of miser because I won't let my child have $100? I won't even let my 13-year-old have a cell phone, let alone allowing my eight-year-old to have more than $10 at a time! And, apparently, I'm some kind of weirdo.

As a way of turning this into a learning opportunity, I told Man-Cub we will discuss this with his father, but only after he has presented us with an itemized list of what he plans to buy should he be allowed to have custody of the entire $100. He was upset by this, too. He hates to write. Even a financial plan. And the first list I got was written entirely in crayon and consisted of:

Buy toys
Buy [Redheaded Snippet] stuff
Buy you stuff
Buy Dad stuff
I'm going to get some whiskey for Daddoo Baddoo or cigars

I told him we would need to see some more specifics such as the whiskey and cigars for Daddoo Baddoo). He stomped away in a sour mood and is now avoiding the situation by actually doing his homework.

I can't wait to continue this when The Viking gets home...!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Laundry Day

Do you have a laundry day? Do you designate a day when you do a mammoth wash and get every article of clothing crisply, freshly clean? Or do you simply do a few loads each day to keep up with the constant demands for clean clothes? I've heard the merits of both and over the years have come up with a system that uses principles from both that works rather well for my household.

I try to remember to keep the washing machine constantly humming (I say humming euphemistically, most of the time it kind of shrieks and wails), but I'm not always good at remembering things. I did sit down once and figure out that if I could just wash two loads of laundry a day, our laundry situation would be kept well in hand and no one would be tearing around on a Tuesday morning feverishly looking for another clean sock. And basically, that's what I do. Sometimes I do just a load one day, then I'll bulk up and get three loads done the next. Sometimes if I get a good chunk of time to myself and there's something particularly good on PBS (though, snort, not lately), I'll do as much laundry as I can get my hands on and throw in some ironing to boot. So, my daily laundry habits work out to averaging about 2 loads each day.

But I supplement my daily laundry habits with weekly ones. I like to strip the beds once a week. Well, I strip my bed once a week. I like fresh linens. I sleep better with fresh linens. I used to strip the kids' beds each week, too, but as they're getting older I find myself waging inner debates over the benefits of stripping the beds for them or making them do it themselves. Half the time I just shrug it off and figure I'm not going to expend that kind of time and energy on something I'm just not sure about. I do like them to have fresh clean beds, but I don't want them to have their mother following them around doing their chores for them. And if they are content to sleep in beds that are a mere step above sleeping in the backseat of our car, well, then that's their affair. Right? Oh, I don't know! Sometimes the thought of the condition of their beds drives me in there to strip and remake them no matter what. But anyway...

Long ago I designated Monday as supplemental laundry day. Or Strip Day. Not nearly as naughty as it sounds, don't get excited. Especially you, My Viking, in case you're reading this. Monday being Strip Day was a calculated decision on my part. See, I like stripping and remaking the beds and washing all the linens. I like laundry and I like beds. I don't know why. Just do. So, of all the weekly chores I've set for myself, stripping, washing and remaking are my favorites. So I decided to begin the work/school week with my favorite chore. Doesn't that make sense? There's also something satisfying in starting the week with such a physical chore and one that feels so old-fashioned to me. Despite our modern conveniences, we haven't yet found a way to modernize stripping and remaking beds. We strip the beds and remake them much as our Grandmothers and Great-Great-Grandmothers used to. It's a chore that always makes me feel connected to women from long ago. It makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something, providing something for my family. The ability to strip away something old and dirty and replace it with something sparkling and fresh has great appeal to me. For some reason that doesn't translate to sweeping or mopping floors, but that's another topic for another day.

So, it's Monday. Strip Day. And Spring is coming. Something about Spring makes Strip Day all the more enjoyable. I throw open the windows and listen to the birds and I peel away the dirty linens. I leave the windows open to let fresh air circulate while the mattress and pillows lie naked, airing out while waiting for clean linens. The sheets, duvets and coverlets smell so sweet and fresh and I love the damp feel of them while I'm hanging them on the clothesline. I love snapping the wrinkles out and smoothing the creases before I secure the clothes pegs. I love when the sheets billow toward me and brush against my cheek in the breeze. I love the sound of them flapping in the wind and the sight of them floating on the air. And I LOVE the smell of the linens when they're dried. Nothing beats the smell of sheets fresh off the line after being washed in white vinegar and lavender. That smell fills the entire house and always makes me smile. Tide and Downy can't touch it!

So, right now I've got my sheets on the line and more in the washer. I've noticed all my pegs are wearing out, snapping in two when I try to peg out the towels. Must add them to my grocery list. I'm also out of laundry detergent and am getting low on white vinegar. But I have to wait a while for the clothes to dry before I can wash another load anyway, so that's no problem. Maybe that's another reason I love laundry: built-in periods of rest.

Whatever the reasons, it's Strip Day, Laundry Day, and the first Warm-Weather one in a long time. I'll be out by the clothesline if anyone needs me.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Okay, so Spring is coming but I'm still crabby.

Ok, I yield. I'm ready for Spring. BRING IT ON! We had a lovely, big snow (though not the 10-14-inch event we were promised--still 6 inches is nothing to sneeze at the first week of March in Southern New Jersey) and now I'm ready.

The weather has been tantalizingly warm. Not very sunny, mind, but still, warm enough to shrug off the outer layers of wool and fleece and venture outdoors in one's shirtsleeves. We rode home from church with the sunroof cracked and blared a song I know I should hate but like anyway ("Man, I Feel Like a Woman").

No hints of green yet, besides in the grocery store floral departments which are all screaming themselves silly with promises of Spring Happiness if you'll only buy yourself some premature blooms! Parking lots still have mounds of yucky, dirty snow in the far corners. But last night, I heard it. I was kneeling by the open window breathing in the fresh, warm air (as I am wont to do this time of year) before climbing into bed and I heard it. The first, slow peeps of what could only be about 2 intrepid tree frogs. They must be lonely, those two lone frogs. I admit, it still feels a little early for them, I'm not quite ready to pack the flannels away yet, but it was still magical to hear them for the first time. In another week, they'll all be singing us to sleep.

I am still recovering from this long, lingering illness and feeling like an invalid. I just can't seem to get my strength back and am wondering if I need The Viking to carry me up the nearest Alpine mountain so I can drink bowlfuls of fresh goat's milk and eat hunks of fresh goat cheese and breathe in the fresh mountain air and get the roses back in my cheeks. Except there is nothing that even resembles an Alpine mountain in the Delaware Valley (hello, it's a valley) and goat's milk gives me hives. Not the kind of rosiness I'm looking for.

I must say, having now spent almost an entire week ensconced on the couch with nothing but the Wii and tv remotes to keep me company, that public television has really let me down. I love PBS, I watch it more than any other network. We only have antenna service, not even basic cable, so PBS is usually my only hope when it comes to prolonged tv viewing. I can usually count on it for my favorite Britcoms, Masterpiece Theater, Mystery! and the like. But, this week, the very week I am convalescing? It's pledge week. And, you would think they'd pull out all the stops and run their very best programming, but instead it seems their sole purpose is to drive me screaming into the hills. If I see one more "seminar" about how to care for my heart or heal my brain, I'm going to have to start watching the CW network! And the concerts, my stars, the concerts! People I've never heard of, pairing up with other people I have heard of and would rather punish myself by collecting garbage than by listening to them! It's been terrible! What I really needed this week was an episode of Rosemary & Thyme, or a re-run of a Miss Marple on Mystery! But, no. Instead there was Boz Scaggs, Andrea Boccelli and Katherine McPhee singing old, played-out dentist-office music with people like Kevin Costner doing voice-overs in between.

I did too much this weekend (Man-Cub's birthday party last night followed by church this morning AND losing an hour of sleep--heinous) and am scheduling a nice long repose couchward. And do you know what's on our two PBS channels? Dudu Fisher in concert from Israel, Celtic Woman: The Greatest Journey, Ed Slott's Stay Rich For Life, and the mysterious-sounding-but-I'm-not-getting-my-hopes-up Masterpiece Classic. AAAAAIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!

This just might drive me to Netflix. The Viking's been trying to get me to sign up for months.

So, yay, Spring is here, but until I'm feeling able to be up and around, it's not enough to ease my quality programming needs!