Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Song That was a Hit Before Your Mother was Born

If you can name the song lyrics used for the title of this blog post without the help of Google, you will earn major respect points from me!

Matthew recently discovered the Beatles and their music while perusing our little library in the office. Back in high school, the Beatles were my music obsession. I knew every lyric from every song they ever recorded as well as every published detail from their lives and careers. During this time, it was not uncommon for me to receive Beatles paraphernalia as gifts from friends and family members. As a result, I have quite the collection of biographies, discographies, coffee table books, and even children's books about the Beatles. Matthew started out reading a biography of the Beatles written specifically for children. Next, he shuffled through my extensive vinyl collection and pulled out all the Beatles records and listened to them intently. Then, he began reading through my more extensive biographies. Soon enough, I had a Beatles historian in the making walking around the house, spouting off various facts like, "John Lennon had a skiffle band when he was a teenager and then he met Paul McCartney when he was 15. Paul was a better guitar player and John didn't like that he was a better musician than him but he wanted to make the band better, so he let him join."

Matthew has declared his favorite Beatle to be Paul because he tends to like more of Paul's songs. His least favorite Beatle is George because "he looks scary in a lot of their pictures." His favorite Beatles song by far is "Ticket to Ride" and he has questioned the legitimacy of the Grammy Awards when he discovered that they did not award the Beatles Best Song of the Year for that single. When I showed him that the Beatles DID win the 1967 Song of the Year Grammy for "Michelle" and played that song for him, he balked: "Ticket to Ride is WAY better than THAT song. They're not even singing in English!" 

Maybe he will appreciate the artistic beauty of that song one day. It's one of my favorites. But then again, I could probably count over 100 of the Beatles' songs as my "favorites".

Emma and Lucy have also become quite enraptured with the Beatles' music because Matthew has been playing so much of it around the house. Emma and Lucy both love the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" just because they love to pretend that the song is about our Lucy. They request that I play it often while I'm preparing dinner so they can sing and dance.

I actually didn't realize how deep the Beatles influence was with my children until the other day when Lucy kept reminding everyone that love is the only thing necessary for life. She actually really annoyed her siblings at several points because any time anyone would request anything, she would respond with "All we need is love!"

Emma: "Mom, can I have a glass of water!"
Lucy: "We don't need water...all we need is LOVE!"

Matthew: "Mom, I'm hungry. When are we having lunch?"
Lucy: "But Matthew, we don't even need food! We just need LOVE!"

Me: "Lucy, it's time to get dressed for the day!"
Lucy: "We don't need clothes - Just Love!"

Finally, I just had to ask her where the heck she got all this love nonsense from. Not that I'm disagreeing with it, but she was so insistent. Her reply: "Oh! Mom! It's from that song! Remember?"

She then proceeded to sing, with a little dance and dramatic, widespread hand movements: "All you need is Love! Duh duh duh duh duh! All you need is Love! Love! Love is all you need!"

The Beatles influence runs deep in this family. I'm actually getting a lot of joy out of seeing my children discover and enjoy their music as much as I did as a child.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Love Notes

The school year has finally come to a close and my children are thrilled to begin their summer vacation! Little do they know that they will not be allowed to forget all the lessons they have learned throughout the school year during these lazy summer months, for I am determined to schedule in "schoolwork time" each and every day during the week. I am especially excited to tutor Emma throughout the summer as she continues to develop her reading and writing skills. She ended the school year on a very high note, earning top honors and marks on her report card. Her teacher wrote a lovely assessment of her work throughout the year, praising her for her literacy and budding interest in writing.

Emma is turning into a mini-Harriet the Spy with her writing. For the past few months, she can be seen carrying a notebook and a pencil or pen around with her. While the other kids are off playing various games, Emma is quietly off to the side in a little corner scribbling a note out furiously. Her notations are often just things she is observing or thoughts that she holds in her mind and heart. She is very private about her writings and does not like to show me her notes, but every once in a while she will leave her notebook out and I can't help but take a peek. Her spelling is very phonetic; the words are often misspelled but if you read it aloud you can see that she has reproduced the spoken sound of the word. I recently shared a note of hers on Instagram that I found next to her cereal bowl one morning. It read:

"I love you Dad.
Hapee Fathrs Daye.
you love evreeone in yoor famlee.
I love you sow much Dad.
you hav love me yoor...."

She trails off at the end of her note, but I imagine she was going to write "you have loved me your whole life" because this is something she says frequently to Paul and me. I think these notes are so dear, so sweet, that I couldn't help but share one of them on social media. Of course my sweetheart of a sister Amy just had to comment: "I take it spelling isn't her strongest subject?" For Pete's sake, she just turned SIX!

I found another note this morning outside next to the water table where she had been playing with Daniel. I believe she took a break from playing with him to scribble down the following message (my translation of certain words is in parenthesis):

"God made you. God made me. God made evreeetheen (everything).
God made chrees (trees). God made wrms (worms).
God made evreetheen (everything).
Jesus I trust in you.
I love the nachr (nature).
I love God. 
I love you."

In addition to her constant journaling, Emma loves to sketch quick little drawings and give them as "presents" for her friends and family. Of course, not everyone is completely appreciative of her art. This afternoon, Emma scribbled off a quick sketch and handed it to Matthew: "Look! I made this for you! It's a picture of me and you!"

Instead of a "thank you" or a "how nice", Matthew's reaction was one of indignation, "EMMA! Why did you draw me SO FAT???" 

Not sure if it was intentional or not, but the Matthew of her sketch does look a wee bit short and pudgy. 

These children of mine are growing up way too fast. The phrase "the days are long but the years are short" truly applies to my experience raising these crazy kids. 

Here's to a wonderful summer learning, laughing, and loving together!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Baby the World Forgot

On Easter Sunday, I posted a few pictures on my Facebook wall of our family that we had taken following Easter Morning Mass. The kids all looked sweet in their pretty spring outfits, including Daniel who was sporting a pair of white pants, with a light blue collared shirt, suspenders, and a polka dot bow tie. One of my sisters commented on the photo - "Daniel has hair now! You need to share more pictures of him!" And that's when it hit me. I really have not been taking nearly as many pictures of Daniel and he is walking, talking, and throwing tantrums like a big kid! I have almost been keeping him hidden away with little update on his growth or maturation. He's the baby the world forgot.

This was his facial expression in every single picture we took on Easter Sunday.
He really was showing a lot of personality for the camera.

I believe that I'm experiencing with the addition of each child how hard it is to take time to record memories and unfortunately Daniel follows three very demanding children who eat up a fair amount of my time. Some of my lack of free time is Daniel's own fault too. He is a terrible napper and I rarely have a moment without him clinging to my pant leg or handing me a toy drenched in drool or completely dismantling my pantry multiple times a day, which takes me a lot longer to clean up than it took him to tear apart. I'm pretty sure he doesn't mind the lack of pictures or the absence of a baby book, but he might in a few years.

Matthew recently was raiding our cabinet in the family room and found a baby book that I filled out. It recorded all my thoughts during pregnancy with him and all his major milestones up until about the age of two. There were ultrasound pictures, copies of medical records, footprints, handprints, and lots of pictures of him scattered throughout this fairly thorough record of his babyhood. He was so happy while paging through it - commenting on how cute he was, how adorable he was, and reading all of my loving thoughts about how happy I was to have him as a son. Emma was nearby looking through the book with him and then walked over, tapped my shoulder with purpose, and asked, "Mama...where's my baby book?"

I think you know where this is going. Matthew got the baby book, hundreds of photos, and lots of individual attention that we are still paying for to this day. Emma, Lucy, and Daniel did not get a baby book. To my credit, I did purchase a baby book while pregnant with Emma, having every intention of completing it upon her arrival, but I didn't get much further than recording her initial birth stats. So, sorry Emma, you don't have a baby book. She wasn't too happy with that response.

Lucy didn't even bother asking. I think she knew the answer. At least Emma and Lucy have their babyhood fairly well recorded on this blog. I didn't begin writing regularly until Matthew was over a year old and Daniel, as mentioned above, has been fairly ignored. I like to think that it's not all bad news though. With each additional child, I think I have grown as a mother. I am more patient, more relaxed, more happy to just spend time doing simple things with my children. I have learned to soak in the little moments - like watching Daniel attempt to fit Mr. Potato Head's eyes into his body or helping Lucy build a puzzle - because I know, having done this rodeo before, that these moments are fleeting and childhood is very transient. I've been far less concerned with my own agenda the past few years as much as I have been with trying to give more of myself to my kids by simply being present to them. Maybe memories of having me around to play with them, take them to the park, plan picnics in the sunshine, make crafts, and read books will mean more to them down the road then having a baby book detailing when their 4th tooth finally broke through their gumline.

Don't worry, I'm still taking pictures of my precious little Danny. But I'm also taking the time to soak up his babyhood so that I never forget this precious time of his life.

And on that note, I should probably share that we celebrated Daniel's 1st birthday this month! He is now officially a one year old and I'm almost certain that his siblings were much more excited for this momentous occasion than he was! They were so sweet to him - Emma in particular had spent the entire week leading up to his birthday making little presents for him with the sewing machine she had received for her birthday. Matthew, Emma, and Lucy were also allowed to "purchase" a few little gifts for him at the store - Matthew chose a wooden pull-behind train, Emma a cute little xylophone, and Lucy a squeezable pink unicorn toy which busted shortly after the birthday boy unwrapped it. It was very sweet to watch the older siblings celebrate their baby brother. Daniel loved each and every gift he received - he really did! He played with each toy and even became super possessive of them because he realized that they were HIS. He will be in a completely different room, but if he hears someone pounding on his xylophone, he will scurry towards it as fast as his tiny little legs can go, shrieking all along the way, and rip the mallets out of the perpetrator's hands. It's both amusing and slightly alarming to see our baby evolve into a bit of a brat.

This year with Baby DJ has flown by! He is so dear, so affectionate, and such a happy little boy. Daniel, you are so loved and cherished by all of us!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit and Streusel

As I mentioned in my previous post, Paul made his triumphant return home from Anaheim a changed man. He had just finished listening to an audiobook that touted the benefits of a low glycemic index diet for overall mental and physical health as well as increased energy levels. Paul had been feeling very sluggish as of late and after gleaning the wisdom this book had to offer determined that his diet was probably the culprit. I personally would have blamed the 60+ hour work weeks and extensive travel schedule, but sure his diet could be playing a part.

So, Paul has announced a new beginning! He will no longer be drinking beer since it doesn't fit into a low-GI diet. Nor white wine. Nor eating white carbohydrates. Nor dessert. Potatoes, popcorn, and pineapple are his enemies. Lentils, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal are his new friends. All meat is welcome. Overall, it doesn't sound like a diet that is too terribly difficult to live by but I have my doubts. How long can Paul really go without a cool bottle of beer enjoyed after a long day at work? I give him five days.

Warning: the following recipe does not fit into a Low-GI diet. Paul can cook these pancakes, but he can't eat them.

Sundays are typically the day that we take our time with breakfast. We get up early, head to church, enjoy a donut (everyone except Paul!) and a bit of coffee with our fellow parishioners, and then head home where we gradually prepare and enjoy a late brunch before heading off for a family activity in the afternoon. Paul is almost always in charge of brunch on Sundays which makes it extra enjoyable for me. We typically brew coffee (we drink a lot of coffee on Sunday mornings) and chat while he slowly prepares the meal because the kids are typically off playing together - or, more accurately, fighting - and we are in no rush to gather them to the table. Paul usually alternates a carb-centered breakfast one week with a bacon/sausage/egg featured meal the next. He has been making the same recipe for pancakes and waffles for years but recently upgraded his pancake recipe after sampling the delicious gourmet ones offered by a local brunch chain here in Colorado. Lucky for him, the restaurant shared its recipe for their fluffy-as-a-cloud pancakes. I think they tasted even better at home. Filled with the fruit of your choice and topped with a crunchy granola topping, you couldn't ask for a better pancake.

Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit and Streusel
recipe courtesy of Snooze 

For the Buttermilk Pancakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Fresh blueberries or thinly sliced banana
Butter, for cooking
Maple syrup, for serving

For the Streusel:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

First, make the streusel. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine oats, flour, and brown sugar on a small rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with butter and toss to coat. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 15–20 minutes. Let cool. The streusel can be made up to a week ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk egg, buttermilk, and butter in a medium bowl, then whisk into dry ingredients.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and lightly coat with oil. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter into skillet and top each with 2 tablespoons berries or a few slices of banana. Cook pancakes until bottoms are golden brown and bubbles form on top, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Serve pancakes topped with syrup and streusel.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Garlicky Shrimp Pasta

It's been almost a month since my last post? I'm the worst blogger ever - but things have been so busy!! Quick update on the kids as I probably have approximately 3 1/2 minutes before Daniel awakens from one of his freakishly short naps. The kid is allergic to sleep, I swear. So, here are a few quick updates followed by an excellent recipe.

Let's start with the youngest child...

Daniel has developed a high pitch shriek that can break windows, explode ear drums, and summon all the dogs in the neighborhood. I have nicknamed him "The Baby Ringwraith" since his cries are reminding me of the screams uttered by the spooky characters from the Lord of the Rings series. Fellow dorks will understand the reference. This shriek/scream/torture has made it incredibly difficult to take Daniel anywhere since everyone turns their heads as soon as they hear his supersonic wails. There is no rhyme or reason to when he screams - it happens when he's happy, sad, curious, etc. He's still cutting a lot of teeth, so I'm hoping it's related to the teething? Probably just wishful thinking on my part.

Emma has been practicing hard and now can finally whistle....sort of. She makes whistling noises but it takes way too much effort for the result. However, she is very proud of herself as is evidenced by the fact that this is exactly what she wanted me to type here for her update. I'm also going to add that this week she will be turning six. This is the most highly anticipated day of the year for her, second only to Christmas, and I hope her expectations won't be too high since this slacker of a mother has planned nothing for her big day. I better get on that.

Matthew has started playing baseball for his school and for a kid as uncoordinated as he is, he is not half bad. He's no superstar for sure, but I appreciate how hard he tries and how enthusiastic he is about playing. I have already seen massive improvement since practices started a couple weeks ago. Baseball is my absolute favorite sport to both watch and play, so I'm excited that Matthew is so happy and determined to play!

Lucy my little water baby is back in the pool. This girl loves to swim and I signed her up for swim lessons at our local gym so we can get a jump-start on summer pool season by reviewing some water safety basics as well as trying to encourage her to actually try swimming. For a child who loves being in the water so much, she still hates getting her head wet. Bloodcurdling screams are always heard when I am washing her hair. I'm really hoping that lessons will encourage her not to be so afraid of having water anywhere near her head.

Paul has been out of town quite a bit as of late. He recently came back from a trip to Anaheim, CA and announced the beginning of a new lifestyle for himself after gaining inspiration from a book he was reading while traveling. I'll provide more details later, but rest assured that it involves dietary changes only. I felt the need to clarify that since announcing a "new lifestyle" has so many connotations nowadays.

And me? I have been doing a lot of reading and not a lot of sleeping thanks to Daniel. But I know it's a phase and a short-lived one at that. Daniel brings me so much joy in so many other ways that it is easy to look past all the hardships involved with his care and keeping and to give thanks that I am privileged enough to be his mother. Things are so much more difficult when Paul is out of town making me really respect single parents - it's so hard! When it's just me and the kids, I barely cook. We survive on cereal, yogurt, eggs, and raw fruits and vegetables because I just don't feel like preparing a big meal for just us. So, as soon as Paul comes back to town, I am dying to make something a little more substantial, fancy, and delicious.

Enter this Garlicky Shrimp Pasta. We had dinner at a friend's house during a Friday in Lent a couple weeks back and they made this for us. It was so darn delicious, that I immediately asked them for the recipe and made it for our family after Paul's triumphant return from California. It's easy, relatively quick,, and something the entire family - nearly toothless Daniel included - really enjoys eating. Take advantage of all the deals on shrimp around this time of year and make this fantastic dish. It's so much tastier and healthier than Shrimp Scampi!

For our family of seafood lovers, I doubled the shrimp and the marinade. Paul and I also like to toss our portions with a bit of fresh arugula to add a bit of peppery bite and an additional nutritional boost. Fresh spinach would also be a great toss in too at the very end - just stir until it begins to wilt. Or just serve as is and enjoy!

Garlicky Shrimp Pasta
from Cook's Illustrated 

Note: Marinate the shrimp while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

5 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 teaspoons), plus 4 medium cloves, smashed
1 pound large shrimp (21-25), peeled, deveined, each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
Table salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound pasta in short, tubular shapes, such as fusilli, campanelle, or mezze rigatoni
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice plus 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Ground black pepper
Fresh baby arugula, for serving (optional)

Toss 2 teaspoons minced garlic, shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 20 minutes.

Heat 4 smashed garlic cloves and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to remove garlic from skillet; discard garlic. Set skillet aside.

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water, and transfer pasta back to Dutch oven.

While pasta cooks, return skillet with oil to medium heat; add shrimp with marinade to skillet in single layer. Cook shrimp, undisturbed, until oil starts to bubble gently, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to medium bowl. Add remaining 3 teaspoons minced garlic and pepper flakes to skillet and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute; stir in vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Add clam juice and parsley; cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter and lemon juice. Add shrimp and sauce to pasta, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Season with black pepper.

We like to serve this with the extra lemon wedges for drizzling and a handful of baby arugula tossed with a bit of olive oil and then mixed in with the rest of the pasta. It's so good. Then again, this pasta would be great eaten straight out of the pot without any garnishes. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Mediterranean Meatballs with Orzo Salad

This was one of those meals that I was certain would be hated and detested by all my children. As I was rolling out the meatballs and seeing the flecks of white from the feta cheese and the bits of green from the parsley and spinach, I could just envision all the children balking and gagging and possibly picking their food apart so as to avoid the suspicious flecks and specks. I met Paul for lunch shortly after I had finished forming the meatballs and left them to rest in the fridge and told him, "I don't know what I was thinking making this for dinner tonight. I know everyone is going to hate it!"

But, you know what? Nobody hated it. Well, except Lucy. And even she didn't exactly hate it, she just didn't eat anything but she rarely eats dinner even when it's pizza, so she doesn't count.

Matthew praised the meal and called me "a genius" and "an amazing chef." He might have been trying to earn an extra story at bedtime or possessing some ulterior motive like that, but I don't care. I took the compliments and ran with it. Emma even praised the Orzo salad and I normally can't get her to touch anything with lettuce, olives, or vinaigrette with a 10-foot pole.

Daniel was a fan. This kid. He so has my heart. I can't get over how voracious his appetite is. Even without teeth, he gobbles down as much meat as we are willing to give him. He's so different than my other kids who far preferred carbohydrates at his age. But he's all about the meat! Although in this picture, I'm obviously trying to distract him with applesauce and cheerios. Notice he's not eating them. He's waiting for me to fry up some bacon.

The beauty of this dinner is just how adaptable it is. I love Greek flavors and have lately been throwing them together with every protein I can and then serve it on top of a salad of some sort. That's what I did with these meatballs - I put together an Orzo salad with Mediterranean flavors and serve the meatballs over top. However, these would also be amazing served stuffed inside a pita along with lettuce, tomato, red onions, and Tzatziki sauce. You can also use ground turkey instead of ground beef for a healthier option.

Mediterranean Meatballs with Orzo Salad

For the meatballs:
2 pounds 90% ground beef
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 heaping teaspoons salt
1 heaping teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil. Grease thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly with clean hands. Shape into walnut
sized meatballs. Place meatballs in prepared pan so they are just touching.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until meatballs are browned and cooked through, flipping once during cooking. Serve with the Mediterranean orzo.

For the Mediterranean Orzo:
16 ounces orzo pasta
1 large yellow or red pepper, diced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup herbed feta crumbles
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
The zest of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper, to taste

Cook orzo according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and drain.

In a large bowl, toss pasta with chopped bell pepper, olives, spinach, basil and feta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. You will need a generous amount of salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, and vinegar. Season with additional salt and pepper. Pour over pasta vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Chill before serving.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Cheeseburger Chowder

Looking back on my life over the past ten years, I realize that I have changed in one, very distinct way.  I'm not referring to the obvious changes like an increase in wrinkles, a prominence of gray hair suddenly sprouting on the temples (actually that's Paul, not me...but my day is coming!), an inability to sleep for more than two hours at a time without being awoken by a hungry little midget, or being the not-so-proud owner of a large, non-sexy vehicle that can cram as many human beings inside as possible without being a city bus. What I want to talk about today is why, ten years ago, I never once would have considered serving something called Cheeseburger Chowder for dinner.

Ten years ago, I was a complete food snob. This was mostly because I didn't have any children and had loads of time to plan, execute, shop for, and make all kinds of gourmet recipes. Risotto, chicken Milanese, fresh french baguettes, fresh pasta, homemade sushi...all of these wonderful dishes were made in my tiny apartment kitchen! It was great actually because it was during that time that I learned how to cook and I am so very grateful that I had that brief time without picky little eaters to really develop my skills as a cook and baker so that, ten years later, I could retire and rely on boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, and hot dogs.

Because, dear readers, that is where my life is right now.

I might spend hours preparing a meal, only to serve it and then proceed to eat it myself while hearing the groans, wails, and protests from the little minions I helped create as they question my rationale behind serving them this swill! This has been such a frustrating experience that I actually cave on days where I am feeling the most vulnerable and weak and unable to take the taunting my children give me each time I try to feed them something delicious, nutritious, and homemade, and I actually give them what they want - the hot dogs, the macaroni and cheese, the frozen pizza.

The events of the following Calvin and Hobbes comic strip are a daily occurrence.

But I know that this is a really short phase in life, for soon my kids will grow up and their taste buds will grow along with them. We can have sushi later. We can eat risotto later. But for now, while they are little, I have to serve things that might tickle their palate while still being approachable to them. That's where this Cheeseburger Chowder comes in. Matthew spied a recipe for it and the name is what caught his eye. The recipe had the word "cheeseburger" in the title. To his little 9-year-old mind, of course it had to be delicious! Emma and Lucy were also equally intrigued, for they too would include cheeseburgers in their small list of foods that they will actually eat without complaint. As I said before, ten years ago I never would have even thought twice about making a recipe for something called Cheeseburger Chowder, but since my kids were actually asking for something different, I practically sprinted to the store to find the ingredients to make this for them. A mother's love knows no bounds.

And you know what? Shame on my snobby, 10-years-younger self, for Cheeseburger Chowder really is something delicious, comforting, and wonderful. No sashimi-grade fish, imported ingredients, or fancy, expensive seasonings that can't be found at a typical grocery store. This is American comfort food. Paul reveled in this soup, for it contains everything he loves - meat, cheese, and potatoes. He complimented me on it no less than four times while eating it. I should note that all the kids ate it as well, without complaint, although Lucy was disappointed that it did not contain any pickles (to her that vinegary condiment is essential to any decent cheeseburger). 

So break out the ground beef, cheese, and potatoes and make yourself a piping hot bowl of Cheeseburger Chowder. The most important part of our jobs as personal chefs to these little ones is that they do eat and that the food they eat isn't too terribly awful for them. This meal does just's nothing fancy, but it certainly makes a good, homemade meal.

Cheeseburger Chowder

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon garlic salt
¾ cup chopped onion
¾ cup shredded carrots
¾ cup diced celery
1 teaspoon dried parsley
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups peeled and diced potatoes
¼ cup all purpose flour
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for serving
1½ cups milk
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)

Brown the ground beef in 3 quart saucepan. Drain and set aside.

In the same saucepan add 1 tablespoon butter and add onion, shredded carrots, parsley flakes, and celery. Saute until tender.

Add the broth, potatoes and beef and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

In small skillet melt remaining butter (3 T) and add the flour. Cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until bubbly. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low.

Stir in the cheese, milk, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until cheese melts. Stir in the heavy cream, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve, passing extra cheese to sprinkle on top.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Unwanted Luncheon Guest

When a product fails to meet your expectations, do you ever contact the company and let them know?

Don't worry, the puppy photos have nothing to do with this post. He's not the product that we are disappointed in. Same goes for the children.

Recently, Paul and I were enjoying lunch on a Saturday while the kids played outside with the dog. We decided to "make" a package of organic stew that is both healthy, due to its high vegetable content, and economical. It's one of the only prepared foods we ever purchase on a regular basis because it is incredibly delicious. Paul says he doesn't even normally miss the meat since it's so yummy and filling on its own.

Well, we sat down to eat and Paul was just about to take a spoonful when he noticed something unexpected, unwanted, and rather disturbing floating in his bowl of stew. He gingerly picked it out, placed it on a napkin, and passed it over to me so that I might confirm that the thing was in fact what he thought it was.

It was.

So, I grabbed the package of stew out of the garbage and turned it over to find where the company might be contacted with any questions or concerns. This was definitely concerning. Only an email address was provided, so I sat down to type the following message out. To preserve the identity of the company in question, certain items have been redacted.


Hello there,

I have been a huge fan of the Tasty Bite Indian Madras Lentils for several years now. I buy them in bulk at Costco and eat them at least once per week. They are fabulous.

HOWEVER, my fondness for this product has now been spoiled because I prepared a bag for lunch and enjoyed 3/4 of the product before discovering, to my horror, that there was a large beetle in my bowl among the beans. I instantly wondered if this was a poisonous beetle and did a little research and found that it is probably a subspecies of the common Leaf Beetle which enjoys feasting on legumes. While I generally support your mission to bring whole, organic food to the table, this is going a bit far, don’t you think?

I want to alert you to this fact so you can work on quality control in packaging this product in the future so as not to lose more fans because otherwise it's a pretty tasty product.

For your reference, the barcode number on the infected package is 8273300002. The expiration date is September 30th, 2019 and the timestamp on it is 08:23:31.

Should I be pitching the rest of the box? Please advise as to my next actions. I'm unsure if I am willing to continue purchasing Tasty Bite products in the future if I am going to be eating bug protein.

Attached is a couple pictures of my six-legged luncheon companion. I have more should you need to see additional photographic confirmation.

Thank you for your attention to this matter,



As I was typing this out, admittedly giggling a bit while doing so - the majority of this was written to be very tongue-in-cheek, Paul was conducting a little research of his own seeing if he would die after eating his bowl of stew. He claimed that his mouth was feeling a bit numb. His primary concern was that the bug in question may have consumed some fertilizer and died as a result of poisoning and perhaps some of the poison had leeched into the stew. And he thinks I'm the worry wart.

I should note that the company in question immediately responded to our inquiry and launched an investigation of the contaminated batch. They were extremely responsive and very courteous. 

Here is a picture of our little friend, just in case you were curious.

Cute little guy, isn't he?

Don't worry, I shan't be posting a recipe because I imagine all appetites have been spoiled by this post.

But tell me true, would you complain to the company if this had happened to you?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Pork Carnitas with Salsa Verde

All the best parenting books claim that you should strive teaching your children from an early age how to responsibly complete chores and contribute to the general maintenance of the household. Ever since Daniel started crawling, his favorite place to be is underneath the kitchen sink, rummaging through the contents within.Of course he WOULD choose the place where all the harshest chemicals and cleaning agents are kept. It was during one of his raids that he discovered the Swiffer duster, which has quickly become his new favorite toy. Whenever I see his diapered little butt quickly moving towards the kitchen sink cabinet, I quickly intercept him and hand him the duster because that's what he was looking for anyway. He likes to wave it around and tickle his own face with it and occasionally accidentally whack Lucy with it. Since he was showing such an attraction towards household cleaning products, I figured it was high time we put that little guy to work and get him started with earning his keep around here.

He thought it was one big joke...

We started with trying to teach him how to actually dust with the duster. He can pull himself up very efficiently and at a staggering two feet tall can reach a respectable height. I showed him how to run the duster over the top and sides of furniture to try to trap dust particles. He smiled his most enchanting toothless, gummy grin and seemed to generally get the idea. He grabbed the duster back from me and began making the general motions that I had just showed him by moving it back and forth. I complimented him and then went back to making dinner. When I looked over to check on his progress, he was sitting on the floor dusting his own toes. Obviously that lesson failed.

Considering my school-age kids can't seem to remember where to hang their coats day in and day out, I'm not really sure what my expectations were with Daniel. (Please note that this whole thing was written with extreme sarcasm. I know perfectly well that a 9-month-old cannot be expected to clean).

My best helper is Lucy by a long shot. Ever since I bought a new mop about a year ago, Lucy has been obsessed with it and is constantly begging me to let her wash the floor. The thing is, she actually does a decent job of it - so I am more than happy to let her wash away!

Then there is Emma, who is honestly a very detailed-oriented individual who can be of the greatest help when she puts her mind to it. For example, we instructed Emma to clean up her craft table in the basement since she had made quite the mess of it when she was cutting up paper to make snowflakes. She whined and moaned about it for a while and then got down there and finished the job. We only intended for her to clean up her table, but she ended up straightening up the entire basement and she did a fantastic job. Everything was in its place, right down to the perfectly placed throw pillows on the couch. She's also very good about keeping her room clean. This is a stark contrast to her brother Matthew who can't seem to keep anything clean. However, he is very good at scooping up and throwing away Peyton's poop in our backyard.

My goal is to one day train one of these little people I helped create  to cook dinner for me. I love to cook, but cooking dinner every night can get tiresome and stressful at times. This is especially true when there is a little baby crawling around on the floor, rummaging through all the kitchen cabinets, and whiny kids who are simultaneously hungry, tired, and unwilling to finish their homework. I'm usually helping with homework while cooking and making sure the baby doesn't eat dried up macaroni and cheese off the floor.

That's why I generally like meals that can be made in steps, even if there are multiple steps to be done, throughout the day. Like this recipe for Pork Carnitas. The steps to complete this authentic staple of Mexican cuisine can be spread out throughout the day. First, the pork is prepped and then braised in the oven for 3 1/2 hours. Then, everything is strained, the juices from the pork are reserved, and the pork is shredded and stored in a refrigerator until ready to be served.

A basic tomatillo salsa is made from the reserved liquid and then that is refrigerated until serving time. To serve, the pork is heated under a broiler, which also serves to crisp it a bit. Easy! Serve with the salsa, cheese and pork piled high on tortillas. Throw a bag of chips on the table and call it a meal! Even better, this makes enough for us to have leftovers the following day. This is one of Paul and Matthew's favorite type of dinners. The leftovers the day after are one of mine.

Pork Carnitas with Salsa Verde
from The Food Lab

2 medium onions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 pounds boneless pork butt (shoulder), rind removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt
1 medium orange
6 cloves garlic, split in half
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into three or four pieces
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half
2 jalapeƱo peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed
3 limes, cut into wedges
1 avocado, thinly sliced or cubed
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or feta
24 corn or flour tortillas (we love the street taco size)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 275 degrees. Cut one onion into fine dice and combine with cilantro. Refrigerate until needed. Split remaining onion into quarters. Set aside. Season pork chunks with 1 tablespoon salt and place in a 9 by 13 glass casserole dish. The pork should fill the dish with no spaces. Split orange into quarters and squeeze juice over pork. Nestle squeezed orange pieces into casserole. Add 2 onion quarters, 4 cloves garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick to casserole. Nestle everything into an even layer. Pour vegetable oil over surface. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook until pork is fork tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

Set large fine-meshed strainer 1 quart liquid measure or bowl. Using tongs, remove orange peel, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves from pork. Transfer pork and liquid to strainer. Let drain for 10 minutes. Transfer pork back to casserole. You should end up with about 1/2 cup liquid and 1/2 cup fat. Using a flat spoon or de-fatter, skim fat from surface and add back to pork. Shred pork into large chunks with fingers or two forks. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer remaining liquid to medium saucepot.

Add tomatillos, remaining 2 onion quarters, remaining 2 garlic cloves, and jalapeƱos to saucepot with strained pork liquid. Add water until it is about 1-inch below the top of the vegetables. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until all vegetables are completely tender, about 10 minutes. Blend salsa with hand blender or in a stand-up blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: Place casserole dish with pork 4-inches under a high broiler and broil until brown and crisp on surface, about 6 minutes. Remove pork, stir with a spoon to expose new bits to heat, and broil again for 6 more minutes until crisp. Tent with foil to keep warm.

To serve, add two to three tablespoons carnitas mixture to center of tortillas. Top with salsa verde, sliced avocado, chopped onions and cilantro, and queso fresco. Serve with lime wedges.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Blog Hopping!

Hello Friends!

Today, I am guest posting at my friend Maddy's blog. Maddy and her husband Joel just welcomed their 4th child, a precious little baby Boy they have named Blaise. He's the sweetest little thing and I know he will be absolutely spoiled by his big sisters and big brother. Congratulations, sweet Pidel Family!

Maddy is a hard-working, energetic Mom and health coach who runs her own blog and community encouraging mothers to be their best selves for their families through proper nutrition, exercise, and routine self-care. Her blog is a wealth of information on how to achieve this lifestyle. I was honored to be asked by Maddy to write a guest blog post for her while she takes a much needed break to bond with her brand new baby. I happily complied by sharing a recipe for a rich and creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup.

Please head over to Maddy's blog to see the post. While you're there, please take a look around and see all that she has to offer! Head on over to by clicking on the link:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Kouign Amann

Who doesn't enjoy watching The Great British Baking Show? All those super nice, happy contestants just baking away under a little tent in the English countryside. No backstabbing. No drama. Just a group of people who legitimately enjoy baking trying to do the very best they can with the challenges thrown at them. It's a nice relaxing change of pace from most American cooking competitions, like Hell's Kitchen (which is ironically run by a Brit who couldn't be more different than Mary Berry).

For those of you who love the GBBS as much as I do, I wanted to tell you about the exciting new project that my recently married sister has undertaken. She has started a blog where she will be tackling each of the technical baking challenges on the Great British Baking Show and providing honest feedback about the difficulty of each recipe. So far, she has made Mini Pear Pies, Princess Cake, Ciabatta, Tiramisu Cake, Florentines, Cherry Cake, and an interesting pastry called Kouign Amann (pronounced "queen- a-mawn").

Sophie texted me while she was making these weird little pastries that are made from a laminated dough and then baked in a muffin tin. I had never once heard of them and neither had she, but after having a rough week making the detested Princess Cake recipe, she was thrilled to report that this recipe actually was turning out perfectly as it was supposed to. Basically, they have a soft, croissant-like texture on the inside and a crunchy, caramelized crunch on the outside. I did a quick little internet search on them and found that the New York Times dubbed it "the fattiest pastry in all of Europe." Wow, that's saying something.

When Paul heard that review, he wanted me to make it. Butter is his first love. Cheese is his second. I'm his third. It's ok, I've come to terms with that.

After Sophie raved about how breezy and relaxing the recipe was to follow, I tackled it one gloomy Sunday afternoon while I was not exactly feeling very well but thought some therapeutic baking might lift me out of my doldrums. The recipe was a breeze to put together. There is lot of waiting between steps and none of the steps are overly complicated. While I was waiting between turning my dough, I actually went back and watched the episode of the GBBS where these were featured as I couldn't imagine they were all that troublesome to the contestants. On the show, a few individuals had some minor issues, but overall I think they were all pretty successful attempts. This is a simple pastry as long as you have the patience to wait between steps.

Well, the Kouign Amann baked up beautifully. Brown, puffy, and piping hot when I grabbed them from the oven, I nearly burnt my fingers trying to pry them out of the muffin tin. Paul and I bit into one while it was still warm and swooned at the rich, buttery flavor. However, I tried one the next morning alongside my cup of coffee and thought they tasted even better at room temperature. My kids were all over these as well. The recipe only made 12 and they all vanished by the time my kids discovered them. My only complaint about these pastries is the mess they created when eaten by my angelic children - the pastries were so flaky that little bits of buttery crumb littered the floor where my children sat stuffing their faces full of buttery dough.

I shall be making these weird little things again! They were a different, interesting, and delicious new pastry that I had never before heard of and am now happy to welcome into my recipe archive. Thank you, Sophie for introducing me to this treat!

You should head over to Sophie's blog to read about her experiences attacking all the technical challenges from The Great British Baking Show. Her blog name is Piece of Cake and can be found here.

Also, try your hand at Kouign Amann! It's a great recipe to start with if you have never before worked with a laminated dough before (like croissant dough). Guarantee you'll be able to produce a treat even Paul Hollywood would be happy to eat!

Kouign Amann
from Paul Hollywood of The Great British Baking Show

Note: I am presenting this recipe exactly as written on the BBC Food website. You will need a food scale to complete this recipe.

300g/10½oz strong plain flour, plus extra for dusting
5g fast-action yeast
1 tsp salt
200ml/7fl oz warm water
25g/1oz unsalted butter, melted
250g/9oz cold unsalted butter, in a block
100g/3½oz caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

Put the flour into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other. Add the water and melted butter and mix on a slow speed for two minutes, then on a medium speed for six minutes.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Put into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for one hour.

Sandwich the butter between two sheets of parchment paper and bash with a rolling pin, then roll out to a 14cm/5½in square. Place in the fridge to keep chilled.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 20cm/8in square. Place the butter in the centre of the dough diagonally, so that each side of butter faces a corner of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter to enclose like an envelope.

Roll the dough into a 45x15cm/18x6in rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough up over the middle, then fold the top third of the dough over. You will now have a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. This completes one turn.

Repeat this process twice more, so you have completed a total of three turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between turns.

Roll the dough into a rectangle as before. Sprinkle the dough with the caster sugar and fold into thirds again. Working quickly, roll the dough into a large 40x30cm/16x12in rectangle. Sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and cut the dough into 12 squares.

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin well with oil. Gather the dough squares up by their four corners and place in the muffin tins, pulling the four corners towards the centre of the muffin tin, so that it gathers up like a four-leaf clover. Sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to rise, covered with a clean tea towel, for 30 minutes until slightly puffed up.

Preheat oven to 220C/200C(fan)/425F/Gas 7. Bake the pastries for 30-40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cover with foil halfway through if beginning to brown too much. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Be careful not to burn yourself on the caramelized sugar, but don’t leave them to cool for too long, or the caramelized sugar will harden and they will be stuck in the tin.

Serve warm or cold.