Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sixth Grade Shake-up

What can I say about the first day of school that hasn't already been said by a million mothers over hundreds of years? It's a day of trial and triumph. It's a test of patience and a trampling of emotions. It's raw. It's amazing. It's just like every other day but with a gut wrenching twist.

B's in sixth grade now. That's middle school out here in southern California. That means she's in there with 13 year-olds. THIRTEEN YEAR-OLDS. Someday she'll be 13, too. Jesus help me come to grips with that.

When I took her to orientation on Monday she grabbed my hand and held it as we walked onto that massive campus. My instinct was to let go because I didn't want other kids to see and judge her as a baby. She's already a foot smaller than most kids in her grade. She's a year younger. But I didn't let go. I felt her big-girl hand in mine and willed my confidence to flow into her.

My plan today was to drop her off because I thought it would look silly if I walked her in. After all it is middle school. But as we drove up she says "Look mom, there are other parents going in!" So I walked her in. Immediately her girl scout sister runs up to her and gleefully they begin comparing class schedules. That was my cue to go. Kiss on the head, hug around the shoulders, and a promise to pick her up at the end of the day.

B gets more independent every year which makes my role easier every year, and somehow that makes it immensely harder. But adaptation is coming. It's already in the works, and in two weeks' time everything will seem normal and sane. And then next year I'll go through this all over again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

"Foolproof" Roasting

I've tried to roast chicken in the past and I usually undercook it.

I've tried to roast veggies in the past and I usually burn them to a crisp.

How to find the middle ground? This recipe.

roasted chicken and vegetables

2 1/2 - 3 lbs bone-in chicken pieces (a whole cut-up chicken works)
3 + tbs olive oil
garlic, crushed
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

veggies (use what you like, omit what makes you gag)

broccoli, one bunch cut into florets
carrots, 2 lbs, peeled and cut into 2 inch lengths
cauliflower, 1 med head, cut into florets
grape tomatoes
new potatoes, halved
red or yellow onions, cut into wedges

Whisk olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme (stripped off the stems) in small bowl. Set aside. Arrange veggies and chicken on rimmed baking sheet (I needed to use 2 sheets to feed 3 people with leftovers). Drizzle olive oil mixture over chicken and veggies. Sprinkle chicken and veggies with salt and pepper to your taste.

Roast at 425 for 35-45 minutes depending on your oven, until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender. At about 20 minutes, go in with tongs and mess about with the veggies. Some may need flipping or rotating. Leave the chicken alone, though.
If you're using 2 baking sheets, you'll want to rotate those as well.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Maid Simple: How Do You Like Them Sad Apples, and Nose-to-Tail Cereal Boxing

I have two crazy-great tips for you this week, that could have come straight out of a budgeter's handbook. First, a delicious use for those disgustingly bruised, wrinkly, sad-looking apples in your crisper bin: Apple Crisp! You don't need the apples to hold their shape and crunch like you do for apple pie. Crisp is a whole different dish. Because you're putting those crispy crumbles on the top, it's okay if the body of the crisp is more like an apple compote, which is why older, soft apples are perfect for this. So next time you forget about that bag of Fujis in the fridge and find that they've deteriorated a little, just bust out the recipe below, and enjoy with some vanilla ice cream.

Now, you've heard of nose-to-tail cooking, right? Where you use every part of the animal? (For the record, I think this is disgusting, but definitely frugal.) Well, you can "nose-to-tail" just about anything if you get creative. Here's a way to get your money's worth out of all that expensive cereal, by using the  crap out of the packaging.

First, eat all that Cap'n Crunch, or Oops All Berries, or whatever's your poison. Then, make sure to snip out the Box Top, if there is one. Then slice up the box any way you like to be used as a drawer organizer.


Don't throw out the waxy bag that the cereal was in! Go ahead and rinse it with hot water and let it air dry. Then fold it up and stash it in the drawer with your tin foil and zip locs. Next time you need to tenderize chicken or steak, wrap it up in the cereal liner first. Then just toss the liner when you're done. Your meat tenderizer won't rip through the liner like it can through waxed paper, and it's free!


Apple Crisp Recipe
from Family Circle

Preheat oven to 375

2 1/2 lbs apples, pared, cored, and sliced (about 8 cups)
3/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp lemon juice
3/4 c flour
6 tbs butter

Spray 2-qt baking dish with cooking spray. Combine apple slices, 6 tbs sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice in prepared baking dish; stir gently.
Combine flour and remaining 6 tbs sugar in small bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over apples.
Bake 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and top is browned. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Maid Simple: As simple as APC (Always [have] Pie Crust)

Hey all, remember these? Maid Simple posts! Designed to share with you the things that make my life easier! Remember?


Yeah! Alright, let's get started on this VERY SPECIAL edition of Maid Simple. Special because I've only shared this recipe with one other person until now.

Here's a two-step plan that will make sure you always have delicious, flaky, old fashioned, fool-proof, HOMEMADE pie crust at your finger tips for when you want to throw together a pie, tart, or other dessert that requires a pastry crust.

Seriously. This is really easy. Not fake-easy like a lot of those cook books *cough*pieandpastrybible*cough*.

Step One: Make It!

This is my grandmother's recipe for pie crust, handed down through generations. I learned this recipe when I was knee high to a grasshopper, and if a child can put this together, then certainly you can, too. True, you don't have my grandmother's sage advice and steady hands guiding you every step of the way, but the recipe is so simple it practically makes itself.

I'm giving you two recipes, one for a double crust (for apple, peach, and cherry pies) and one for a single crust (for pumpkin and cream pies as well as tarts when you only need a bottom crust).

Double Pie Crust:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup crisco or unsalted butter (crisco makes it flakier, but isn't exactly good for you. I use butter.)
4 tbs water

Single Pie Crust:

1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup crisco or unsalted butter
3 tbs water

Now, put it together. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces (you know, like where the tablespoon markings are on the paper) and dump those in the bowl as well. Using a fork or a pastry blender, cut in the butter. Photo below shows a pastry blender, which I prefer, but for years I used a fork with no problems.

Continue cutting in the butter until the mixture looks pebbled, like this:

Now, you could keep going and finish making the crust for your pie OR you could skip right to Step Two if you're a think-ahead kind of gal. Let's continue.

Now add the water to your mixture, and using your fork or blender, work the mixture until it begins to form a dough. At this point it may be helpful to just use your hands a little to form the dough. Just remember, as with any pastry dough, don't work it too much or you'll have dense, dry crust instead of light, buttery crust.

Flour your work surface well, and roll out your dough. If you used the double recipe, be sure to split the dough in half before rolling.

This is where my grandmother would drape one of her mother's aprons around you and tie it tight. Then she'd stand behind you and show you how to put the stockinette on the rolling pin and flour it. She'd show you the appropriate rolling technique to use with a ball bearing pin, how to rotate the dough and lift it up periodically to make sure it's not sticking to the surface. She'd test the uniformity of the thickness by swiping her palm across the dough, then she'd show you how to carefully pick it up and transfer it to the waiting, buttered pie plate. *sigh*

You could also try this no muss, no fuss way to do it. No flouring needed.

So that's Step One of making sure you always have homemade pie crust when you need it; a reliable recipe.

Step Two: Jar It!

If you sometimes get called on to whip up a dessert for a dinner party, work event, picnic, or birthday and you're short on time (duh, who isn't?) then you're going to want to skip right to rolling out the dough, filling the pie and baking it. Here's how you get to skip all that cutting-in nonsense for a last-minute pie.

Whenever you have a spare 10 minutes or while you're watching your weekly Monday night Golden Girls marathon, cut in a batch or two of pie crust, but STOP THERE. Don't add the water. Just cut in the butter and pour the mixture into a refrigerator-friendly storage jar. Keeps for months! Then when you get a phone call that "Tomorrow is a teacher appreciation luncheon and can you please make that delicious key lime pie that you made last year?" you'll be able to grab your refrigerated mixture, add the water, roll it out and bake it up in no time!

The awesome thing about knowing how to make your own pie crust is that the uses for it don't stop at pies. You could make pumpkin pie bites for a Girl Scout meeting, apple pie roll-ups for your kid's school-birthday snack, or chicken pot pie for dinner. The uses for homemade pie crust are endless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Deep and Thankful Breath

Yesterday B started 5th grade at a new school. Previously she had been at the same school for 5 years. This was a big change. She seemed undaunted, in turns both excited and apprehensive. Anxious to see what it would be like, but nostalgic for the teachers and friends and campus she knew so well.

D and I tried to lead her the best we could, being both her cheerleaders and her sounding board. Championing her toward new and exciting things while at the same time empathizing about the loss of something that had grounded her for so many years.

The first day was strange. We walked her to her classroom. The door was closed and when we opened it almost all of the students were already seated at their desks with a stack of books in front of them. The terror on her face as she looked for her desk was plain. We introduced ourselves to her teacher, briefly mentioning that this was her first year at this school. He seemed immediately receptive and sympathetic. He quelled our fears by saying that he'd make sure she was well taken care of. A handshake and the door closed. On our short walk home I realized I hadn't made plans with B for picking her up at the end of the day. No exit strategy. I obsessed and worried for the rest of the day. I took out my frustration by scrubbing the floors. 

When it came time to pick her up we went to her classroom door and of course there were no students inside. Luckily we met a veteran parent (Joe?) who told us they were most likely at an assembly in the auditorium. They were, and we reclaimed our Bean.

On our walk home she talked non-stop about the band program, which was the assembly she had just been to. She was excited about it, mostly because she already had a year of playing under her belt, whereas at this new school they don't allow students to start band until their 5th grade year. I breathed a sigh of relief as she prattled on about reeds and sheet music, thinking "Well, at least her day ended well!"

I didn't want to press her for information, so when we got home I poured her a glass of ice water and we sat around the kitchen island. She held nothing back. In short, she 1) got the best 5th grade teacher at the school (according to 5th grade students in other classes), 2) made 3 friends, 3) had a most empathetic teacher who called her up to his desk after recess and asked her how her day was going, 4) missed snack because she couldn't find the snack tables, and perhaps most important of all 5) was excited to go back.

This morning was a little different. Her class wasn't in the classroom, but were lined up somewhere on the blacktop. We had no idea where they were so we just hung out in the melee waiting for B to recognize someone. D and I stayed cool "No big deal, honey. It's only the second day, we'll get it figured out." And she just sidled up to me and casually slipped her hand into mine. My heart jumped. I stayed cool. Then it was all "I see my friends!" And she was off. 

We have an exit strategy today. I'm feeling good. And I'm sitting in awe of this little person that D and I made. This child with an amazing capacity for change and adaptation, who stays cool and collected in even the most terrifying situations. Obviously, she's been working some things out in her dreams, anxiety and whatnot, but I'm just marveling at her overall demeanor. She's got this great mix of sensitivity and up-for-anything spirit of adventure. And she was so comfortable telling us all about not only the day's events, but how it all made her feel. She's not ashamed to feel scared or embarrassed because she knows those things will pass. Unbelievable. She's 9 and she's more self-aware than most adults I know. Please, Jesus, let this last! Sometimes I feel like I can see into a future where we're sitting around a table drinking coffee and sharing our lives on an adult level. Eye to eye, heart to heart.

A number of years ago, after I had already moved to California, my mom sent me a plaque that reads "We've been mother and daughter from the very start, but the friendship we've found is God's gift to my heart." I keep it where I can see it every day and I've memorized it because it rings true. It makes me feel good to know that she and I feel the same way about our adult relationship. I'd like to be able to pass that sentiment down to B some day. Right now I know I still need to be Mom, and sometimes even Mean Mommy. But I think if I do that and play my cards right, I'll have built the foundation that's necessary to have that coveted friendship. But today's focus is a little more immediate; making sure I know which school room my 9 year old is in before the dismissal bell rings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to Reality: Clean Burrito Bowl

The end of summer is here, school is starting up again which means it's time to get real about organizing my life and preparing for a busy year ahead. And I'm excited to get into it. Every summer Dave and I have the extreme privilege of having an entire month to do whatever we want while B lives the life of the only grandchild in Pennsylvania with her family. This summer, like every other previous summer, we over did it. We ate too much, stayed up too late, got way too lazy, and let ourselves go in general. By the end of the month we were craving a schedule...and broccoli. Once B was home and my parents had gone back to PA it was time to get down to the nitty gritty. And holy moly! was it ever a relief. I found myself feeling more content and happier than I had almost all month.

So now I'm back in the swing of things, making breakfast, lunches, and dinners. Girl Scout meetings and homework. Piano lessons and band practice. House cleaning and hardcore training. And I'm happy. Really, honestly happy.

Now, I'm no dummy. I know that in a couple months I'll be grousing about how hard it is to make dinner every night, talking about how annoying it is to pack a school lunch every day, and sighing with frustration every time I have to tell B FIVE TIMES to take a shower because no one's going to want to sit next to her at school if she doesn't. But right now I'm basking in the warmth of the contentment I get from loving my family well. Making healthy, tasty food to feed their bellies and their souls, helping B pick out clothes for the first day of school, scrubbing toilets and floors while wearing knee pads with sweat trickling down the back of my neck and doing it with a smile. Well, maybe not the toilet part.

So when I started back to diligently making regular dinners this week I remembered that one of my biggest challenges every year is coming up with dinners that appeal to our tastes as well as my desire to eat clean.

I want to share with you a recipe I fell into one day while trying to work with what leftovers I had in the fridge. It's perfect for these dog days of summer; simple, delicious, and light.

Clean Burrito Bowl

1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 lb turkey
1 15 oz can black beans
1 sm onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup wheat germ or oat bran or flax meal
1 tsp chili pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1 avocado, sliced
lettuce, shredded
tomato, chopped
monterey jack cheese, shredded

Cook the rice according to package directions, or use rice cooker; set aside. Brown turkey in skillet then add beans, onion, peppers, bran, chili and lemon. Let cook and thicken, about 5 minutes.

In a cereal bowl, combine a scoop of rice with a scoop of turkey mixture. Top with cheese, sliced avocado, lettuce, tomato, and salsa.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Dear Christians

Stop it. Stop all of it. Stop your mouths and your hate and your political logorrhea and love all people and obey your God.

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people but love your neighbor as yourself."
Leviticus 19:18

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
1 Timothy 2:1-2

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12