Thursday, March 31, 2011

Presentation Matters

We were invited over to the in-laws for dinner tonight.  My husband missed out on pot roast the last time his mom made it so she is making another one...for her "baby". *insert eye roll*  However, my mother in law does not do desserts (or rarely).  And my father in law LOVES desserts.  Banana cream pie in particular.  And what a coincidence...I happened to have all the makings of banana cream pie at home. Which makes it a two-fer...I bring dessert and score points with the father in law.  WHOOT!
I wish I could say that I have this original recipe for banana cream pie, but I don't.  I have found that Betty Crocker's Banana Cream Pie recipe (actually, in the Betty Crocker Cookbook, it's really the Coconut cream pie, minus the coconut and with more vanilla, but the link shows the exact recipe).   I DO however take a shortcut.  I found years ago that my hands are simply too warm to work with pie dough. My hands melt the shortening in the dough and makes the crust tough.  Luckily, I have found Pillsbury All Ready Pie crusts are about as close to the real thing as you can get (AND lots easier).  So I use those.
I am going to digress for just a moment.  My dad was in the Air Force and he learned through the mess hall that presentation DOES matter.  He found that the eye can fool the stomach into believing something will taste as good as it looks.  I think most wedding cakes are proof of this.  Well, except mine.  Mine was the exception because it didn't taste as good as it looked, it was INFINITELY better.  But that's another post.  So, he taught me early in my "culinary career" that when I served something, that I just needed to take a few extra seconds to make something ordinary, extraordinary.  My mashed potatoes for example...I do not set them on the table without a dab of butter in the center and a sprinkle of parsley and paprika on top.  It makes it pretty.
So, back to the banana cream pie.  I could slather the top with cool whip (GAG) or I could take the extra step and whip up some fresh whipped cream, which really takes seconds.  I could slather the top with just whipped cream, but then the Pampered Chef  Easy Accent Decorator that I worked so hard to earn back when I was consulting would be yet another tool taking up space in my kitchen drawers.  And really, how long did it take to fill the tube, gently decorate the top of the pie?  Maybe 5 minutes.  Of course that really should have been all that was necessary but in cooking, I can sometimes be a bit of an over achiever (it helps to compensate for those areas in which I fail miserably).  So, I thinly slices a strawberry and fanned it out  in the center and sprinkled some sliced almonds on top.  I think the overall effect works, don't you?
Dad is SO right...presentation matters. But not for the purpose of fooling you.  This really does taste as good as it looks.  Honest.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Open Letter to My Daughter's Friends' Parents

Dear My Middle Daughter's Friends' Parents,
I would like to start off our relationship on the right note, so I'm going to start off by saying, "I'm sorry".  Yes, I need to get that out there first.
My daughter is a very different child than the one who clung to my leg as I attempted to drop her off at preschool at the age of three for her one day/week social interaction with children who were not her siblings.  I forever lamented that she would be my shy (HA), introverted (HAHA), quiet (ARE.YOU.FRIGGIN'.KIDDING.ME) child.  As she approaches her teens, just a short 5+ months away, I have seen the error of my ways.  Wrong...WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.  For those of you who think I can't admit when I am wrong...I.WAS.WRONG.
I bring this up because we have had multiple talks about how loud she can be, typically when she is surrounded by her friends,  but she can also be that way with family.  Last night she had two friends sleepover and I will give them credit for keeping their voices down as we all settled down to sleep.  My issue came at 7am...on this Sunday morning...when their (her...she is very distinctive) squeals reverberated through the house, causing me to get out of bed and quietly pull her aside and remind her that the rest of the family was still sleeping and she needed to dial'er back a notch.  I could hear her clearly a floor and half a house away.  My poor son was in the room right next to her and while he sleeps the sleep of the dead, zombies could not have slept through noise of that decibel.  And within 20 minutes, the noise level had returned, so she was again reminded to be considerate of her family members.  At the third rising, I was grateful that most of the kids were already up preparing for church so I chose not to offer yet another reminder.
However, realization struck.  This child simply cannot modulate her voice any more than she can stop herself from offering that one final "opinion" after I have informed her that a discussion is over.  And because she is incapable of maintaining an appropriate noise level for early Sunday morning in her own house, I am left wondering what is she like at YOUR house?  I thought so.
And I'm sorry. 
Please take note that we ARE aware of this and we are working to correct the situation, but I am not sure if this will be easily fixed.  I would ask that if she is exceedingly loud at your house, you not hesitate to address her directly and ask her to pipe down.  As many times as is necessary.
And if all else fails...duct tape works.

Your Daughter's Friend's Mother

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Feeling Their Pain

My son has played baseball for almost 13 years.  He was 4 when he started playing t-ball and turned 5 during the season.  I was concerned because at the time, he seemed so tiny.  And young.  But play he did.  Every year he played in the town's recreational league.  When he was 9-10, my husband coached his team for 2 years.
Then came the time to make the dreaded decision: to play in house or move on to traveling ball.  There were SEVERAL factors that we needed to mull over before we made this decision:  3 young girls who would by necessity have to spend practices and games in a dusty hot field, time commitment, GAS commitment, $$ commitment.  And last but most certainly  not least was the season commitment.  Most of these are fairly self explanatory except "season commitment" so let me 'splain.
Minnesota has about 8 months of winter-like weather.  Seriously.  From late September through April and partially into May, we can count on some frosty temperatures.  They actually caution people not to plant their annual pots until after Mother's Day for fear of frost.  Now that doesn't mean that we don't get the occasional nice or even beautiful day(s) in March, April, October or November.  But the reality is, you can't "count" on summer before June or after September (and sometimes even late Aug).  When we spend so much time under weather constraints, the last thing we want to do is spend a beautiful 80 degree Saturday in July dragging 4 kids half way across the state so that the boy can play baseball.  Instead of being on a boat, yes, I'll say it, drinking a beer.  So when the time came to make this decision, we didn't do it lightly.  We told all the kids, no traveling sports.  We ended up relenting this year with basketball, mostly because we didn't mind giving up the weekend when the temp was -10 degrees.
So, the boy continued with the recreational league until he started playing for the Jr HS.  He continued to play school ball until, well, today.
/vent on
He is a junior this year. He figured he'd be playing baseball, like he has every year since he was 4.  He delivered phone books this fall as part of the baseball fundraiser.  He also went out and sold discount cards as part of the baseball fundraiser.  And last month, he bagged groceries as part of the baseball fundraiser.  We paid his $90 to play baseball.  He started practice this week even though he has been throwing occasionally on days of open gym.  Cuts were today and he learned today that he was cut from baseball.  Not just varsity, which he really didn't figure he would make.  But JV as well.  The coach decided that because he and a few other boys did not play summer ball last year, their skills had not improved enough to make the jump from the "B" squad (basically the 10th grade team) to JV and they were cut from all school baseball.  Because as a junior, he can't play down.
So, I have to look at this situation and ask myself this MY fault?  Should I, as a parent, been willing to give up the one season that makes living in this ice box (OK...we're at the end of winter here and this is the drama queen speaking) bearable just so that our son could have the POSSIBILITY of playing school ball?  What about the job he had last summer?  He worked lawn maintenance from 6am until 3pm Monday through Thursday. 
Let's play "what if?"  What if we martyred ourselves and had him play summer ball.  Would skills he MAY have acquired last summer, then let go dormant during the winter, be enough to have him on the team?  What if he STILL didn't make the team?  Then what?  A calculated risk where we both lost?  What if summer ball last year had interfered with his job, or as I'm sure the coach would phrase that, his job interfered with summer ball?  Which one was of greater importance?
The upshot is, the boy just wanted to play baseball for no other reason that he loved playing baseball.  But he (and we) wasn't (weren't) willing to make it his life.  I am shocked and dismayed that summer ball was made a requirement for him being able to play school ball this year.  Knowing that now, would hit have changed our plan of action?  No.  I think as parents AND as a family, we have to sometimes make decisions that require us to buck the system, especially with regard to the general consensus.  The general consensus is that parents give up any semblance of a family life to allow a child to pursue a competitive sport.  And I think that until more parents make the right decision for their kids, we're going to see more kids, more competitive and losing their drive earlier because the fun is gone.  They will have reaped what they sowed.
That doesn't change my son's pain and disappointment.  And I feel it too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When Words Matter

It started sleeting last night around 9pm...and continued until 4am.  Know how I know?  I heard it.  ALL.NIGHT.LONG.  I kept getting up, checking the computer, SURE that our school district had succumbed to the dreaded "snow day" (of which we have had ZERO).  I mean...c'mon, there was 2 inches of ICE on the ground at 4am.  That's when the snow started.  Up again at 5am to see if the district made the call.  Nope.  Since my middle daughter gets up first and needed to shower, I checked again at 6am.  Alas...there was no snow day today.  You don't want to know the "kind" words my children had for the school superintendent.
Since I had so little sleep, and since it was still snowing, and since I had hit the grocery store in preparation of the "winter storm advisory", I knew I didn't have to leave the house until I had to pick up Beanie from school.  So, I did what makes me feel good on snow days.  I cooked.
I made chocolate chip cookies.  I prefer not giving the kids warning when I do this...just have the smell of fresh baked cookies when they walk in the door.  But seeing is believing:
Then, since my oldest daughter requested it, I made her more shrimp salsa.  I have altered the original recipe a bit.  I only use one jar of salsa and use about 6-8 fresh roma tomatoes.  I also add a bit of cumin and some pepper.  The rest is as written.  My daughter was vera, very happy...see:
She asks that you not notice the horrible shape of her nails.  It's end of quarter/final week at school.  She's a little stressed.
Dinner I started while I had the cookies going.  A huge pot of beef vegetable soup.  Cubed chuck (beef) seared in a little oil.  I added one diced onion, 3 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes, 1 1/2 tsp thyme, 3 bay leaves, 1 tsp black pepper, 2 Tbs Tones beef stock concentrate and 1 qt water.  Stir well, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  After about an hour add 3 stalks of celery sliced.  After another hour add 2-3 potatoes, peeled and cubed and half a bag of baby carrots cut in thirds.  Continue to simmer until meat is tender.  Add 1 16 oz bag frozen mixed veggies.  These will cook very quickly and the soup is ready.  I served it with a loaf of french bread warmed in the oven:
So, I had all these smells wafting through the house as my children came home.  My son was last to arrive as he had baseball practice.  He walked into the kitchen, saw the cookies and said...YES(in that way that you KNOW you just made your child very happy).  Then the next question was what all the kids ask me upon seeing me, "What's for dinner?"  I replied, "I have a big pot of beef vegetable soup on  the stove" to which he replied, "I LOVE coming home to this".
I got a little teary eyed.  Words DO matter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Resistance is Futile

My youngest got what I thought was a head cold a couple weeks ago.  A slight fever that came and went.  A really stuffy nose, so much so that I threw out there..."do you want to try a neti-pot?"
"What", she asked, "is a neti-pot?"
I wish I could have been more "been there done that" with her but I had only heard the praises of the neti-pot, but hadn't tried it myself.  For those with a fairly strong constitution, read on.  For those without, full stop.
This is a neti-pot:
And what it does is flush your sinus cavity with a warm saline solution, pouring the solution up one nostril and draining out the other, making it easier to breathe.  Again, EVERYONE who had tried the neti-pot, sang its praises.  As I related this to Beanie, she apparently was miserable enough to want to give it a try.
So she tried it.  And while she said it felt funny, she continues to ask to use it when her nose gets stuffy.  I guess it worked as intended.
I, however, had yet to try it.  Until this weekend.  I have some kind of head cold happening and nothing is touching the pressure that is inside my head (Insert obvious joke here) so I gave it a whirl.  It hasn't really gotten rid of the sinus headache, but it does make it easier to breathe.
It's not really something you wish to do with an audience, but the relief is worth it.  I'm not sure why I resisted buying one for so long, probably because of the possible audience factor, but I should have known, resistance is futile.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Acquired Taste

St. Patrick's Day has come and gone and we celebrated it with our typical St. Patrick's day fare:  corned beef and cabbage.  I look forward to this all year, and I'm not exactly sure why I ONLY make it on St. Patrick's day, but I do.  This year I found a recipe in Epicurious for Chocolate Guinness Goodness which of course I had to give a try.  Then I was left with all the eggwhites so I found a recipe at Epicurious  (again) for an Orange Chiffon Cake which I also made.  I was in a "makin'" kind of mood.
Anyway, I was on facebook and was a little taken aback at the number of people who not only don't like corned beef and cabbage, but DETEST it.  I guess it's one of those meals that you either love it or hate it.  I also wonder if it maybe people haven't had it prepared they way I prepare it.  I boil the meat in a pot with the pickling spices (and I add more than just the pkg that comes with the corned beef) for 2-3 hours.  When the beef is tender I remove it and strain the liquid to remove the spices, then I put it back on the stove and add red potatoes (unpeeled) to the liquid.  I cook them until the potatoes are almost done (and of course this will depend on the size) and add  a head of cabbage that has been cut into 6ths (with the helps hold the cabbage pieces together) and cook until the core is tender.  Usually about 25 min.  I slice up the beef and serve with dry mustard that has been reconstituted with beer.  Caution:  this can be nasal clearing hot.  The potatoes I serve with butter salt and pepper.  The cabbage I serve with malt vinegar.  On the side I serve a rye/pumpernickel bread (no caraway seeds).
Here is a little known secret:  if you  plan correctly, you can turn this into a scrumptious meal.  I usually boil 2 corned beef roasts for this purpose:  to make reuben soup.  The original recipe came from Taste of Home but I rarely follow it to the letter.  Today, for example, I sort of doubled the recipe, I used all beef broth instead of a mixture of beef and chicken broths and I had two potatoes left over from St Patricks day so I diced those and added it to the soup making it a little heartier.  I also used the leftover rye/pumpernickel to make croutons which I sprinkled over each bowl of soup.
I don't ever remember not liking corned beef and cabbage.  I know my sister has never liked it.  I do know that over the years I have come to LOVE it.  Maybe it is an acquired taste.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Table Scraps Speak

Table scraps is what we call the anticlimactic day that follows the Chrisapalooza by 3 days:  my birthday.  And it went the way most of them go...I got up, got the kids to school, went to yoga, came home, cleaned up, went to lunch with a friend, came home to children arriving home from school with the typical question:  "What's for dinner?"  My response?  I don't know.  
The husband decided that since we have a driver (the boy) who is capable of getting Beanie to and from dance on time (debatable), the two of us would go out to dinner. (JimmyJohns for the kids)
We sat at the bar had a pre-appetizer drink:  him a greyhound, me a Brazilian Thyme (which was DELICIOUS).  Then an appetizer of  sesame ahi tuna, that was also delicious .  We had plenty of time to study the menu so when we were finally seated, we were able to order right away:  I had the Alaskan Cod on a bed of whipped yams and sauteed spinach with raisins and a cider glaze.  He had the Arctic Char on a bed of yukon golds, roasted brussel sprouts with a red wine reduction sauce.  Both were excellent.
An interesting architectural feature of the restaurant was that the walls separating smaller dining areas were actually wine racks..  Oh, to be certain, we did what we could (1/2 off bottle of wine on Tuesday) to take down those walls.
But there is only so much time.  Our next visit, we'll bring reinforcements.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It's Over...But the Fun Will Never End

And yet another Chrisapalooza has come to an end.  Just when we thought nothing could top last year's 'Palooza, but I was wrong.  We have friends that are so clever and always seem to find that "something" that sums us up.
This year was no exception. Earlier this week, in conversation, they mentioned that we have had a REALLY fun year.  I concurred and didn't think anything more about it.  But apparently she had been working on the Palooza gift to end all gifts.  It was a game of "Photo-opoly".
Think Monopoly but with your pictures taking the place of the various properties.  Oh, and the pictures they included, all from this previous year's activities:  the football game, the fall ball, the state fair, the white elephant, neighbors night out, and a plethora of other fun events.   Oh, there was also a special picture that didn't include us.  It was one of Anne Hathaway, who is Chrisapalooza's "gimme"*.   Yes...THIS picture.  Anyone care to guess what her caption reads?
We got the opportunity to group the pictures into "colors" (like Boardwalk and Park Place) AND to add captions to each property.  We had so much fun just setting up the game.  Can't wait to play it.
So, the Chrisapalooza finished off his "birthday week" with a dinner of eye round roast (cooked to a perfect medium rare), smashed yukon gold taters, "the" gravy, drunken shrooms, fresh green beans with a bacon soy glaze, and popovers.  I even made made the man a home made checkerboard cake with a fresh black and red raspberry filling.
It's a good thing Chrisapalooza only happens once a year.  Time to recover from year to year.

*a gimme is what we call it if that person (celebrity, usually) happens to show up on our doorstep and claim to be unable to continue on with their life without a night with one of us.  Anne is his gimme.  I'll share my gimme when it's appropriate.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Get Your Party On...2 Days Left of Chrisapalooza

It's that time of year again...that week long celebration that celebrates the life of my husband.  I'm sure you recall last year's kickoff?  And then the Chrisapalooza party-week itself?  No one does a Palooza party like our friends.

This year's kickoff came in the form of a T-shirt transferred from the poster that was worn last week to the wine tasting to "advertise" the upcoming ChrisapaloozaThe comment most repeated?  "Wow, that looks like Will Ferrell".

Then last night came the gifts:
The items on the left...his.  On the right...mine.  Don't you worry...I don't intend to drink it all in one setting.

There may yet be a few more surprises in the Chrisapalooza birthday week.  You'll have to stay tuned to find out. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sweet Child O' Mine

After your sisters postings you came to me asking why I hadn't done a birthday post on you.  It was a fair question.  The simple answer is that I didn't THINK to do this until Beanie's birthday.  The more complicated answer is that I was at a loss as to what to write without making you sound like some type of fictional super hero, which we both know you are not.  Adding to that is the fact that of all 4 of my children, you are the one most like me in so many ways, some good, and some bad and I wasn't sure I was prepared to explore that not just about you but about me.  Yet funny enough you have figured out a way of making the bad ways better.  And isn't that what we hope for for our children.  Let's start with looks.  At a year, it was obvious to me that, yes, you DO look like me, minus the dimple.
At 15, you are everything I wished I had been at 15.  The thing you got from your dad...the metabolism...if I were you I'd thank him EVERY day for it.  You can thank me for the height.  You're welcome.

You and I are both pretty sensitive and we get our feelings hurt easily.  You, at 15, have learned to let it go.  I have not.  Believe me, that learning to let go is a blessing.  I think you are a good judge of character as you have surrounded yourself with smart, goofy, loving friends who love you as you are.  That is a gift.

You amaze me with your ability to come into a group of strangers, whether children or adults, and treat them as if they have been your friends your whole life.

You don't take yourself too seriously.  Nothing is off limits to you and that includes your own mistakes, whether  intended or not.  Embrace that ability to laugh at yourself because it will serve you well your whole life.

You scare me with your ability to make a rational argument, even at a young age.  Yes, at 15, I CAN sometimes say, "because I said so" and YES you must accept that.  But I so admire how you are able to calmly discuss and use logic and facts to make your point.  While I don't think the world needs any more lawyers, if you choose that path, I have NO doubt you will excel.

Lest all think you are some kind of imaginary perfect child, I feel it necessary to inform the masses that, yes, like me, you are a slob.  Sorry sweetie.  This one, I suggest you not so much embrace as try to reform.  Reformation will be not only YOUR friend, but your future roommate's friend as well.

You are also like most teenagers and self absorbed and *I* struggle with this.  How to get you (and your brother and sisters) to think outside of your own little "me" world?  My prayers are that maturity will play a factor there and that I'll be around to see that day.

When we first allowed you a facebook page, I was touched that you tagged me as "the person you can talk to about ANYTHING".  That meant a lot to me because you KNOW that I neither want nor seek your friendship.  You have friends for that role.  I am your mother and as such, it is not my responsibility to tell you what you want to hear.  I am here to help to guide you when you have to make decisions, sometimes life altering ones.  To set boundaries for you because life is full of boundaries and it's best to learn that now.  To show you that yes, there ARE repercussions to your actions and I will NOT insulate you from those.  There will be times when you won't like me and I'm sure there will be times when the feeling is mutual.   The purpose of your friends is to be there and like you.   I have a different purpose.  My purpose is not to have you like me (although, it would be an added bonus).  My purpose is to raise you to be a respectful, responsible, intelligent adult.  To always put your faith in God first, yourself second, your dad and me third. 

I think we're halfway there, Sweet Child O' Mine.  
Happy 15th Birthday!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekend Update

Sunday evening and I am POOPED!  Activities abounded.
Friday night we had tickets to the Senior Class fundraiser...Wine and Beer tasting.  We went with friends, and SIL, and met more there.  We started backwards and worked our way around the venue, which made us similar to salmon swimming upstream to spawn, but like the fish, we made it work.  While there were a couple wines that were OK, we actually REALLY enjoyed many of the beers.  I'm thinking #9 (yes, that was the name of the beer) will become our new summer beer.  After we made the rounds, we headed to the Cove for burgers.  At that point, we had to cut the evening short as my middle daughter had her state basketball tournament.  First game?  8am.  Location?  An hour away.  OY!
The husband needed to head north to visit his uncle in the hospital so I got the basketball duty.  Up at 6am...on a Saturday morning.  Yeah me.
So, we're in a double elimination tournament, so we had to lose two games to be out.  OK, this is where the whole parent thing is sorta shot to heck, because, I was SO done with basketball. *aside-was it written in anyone's manual the number of weekends we as parents are required to give up so our children can pursue their athletic abilities?  I didn't think so.  BUT...I was the dutiful parent and went and cheered on my baby and her team.  Game one...WON.  Game two...LOST.  Now had they won both games, they would be done and we'd be looking at game three at...yes, 8am Sunday morning.  But having lost one game that meant there would be a game three on Saturday.  Game three...won.  Which meant game four at?  8am Sunday morning.  Yeah me.  OK...yeah husband.
We got home and I was greeted with 4 huge porterhouses the husband had picked up and plans to have friends over.  Details of that will be up at A Side of Steak but I'll let you know it included ginormous buffalo shrimp, and seared tuna steak and the aforementioned porterhouses.  The oldest daughter went to Beastly and had a sleepover.  Middle daughter (she of the basketball games) had a sleepover birthday party which we had let her know in advance, it was possible that she would not be able to do the sleepover part due to the hour in which she would need to be picked up.  Her brother picked her up at 11pm.  So ending the day with friends, food and a bunch of wine..what more could a girl want.
Sunday arrived with, yes game four.  We played nose goes.  I won.  Husband went.  Game four...lost.  In overtime.  Does silently cheering it being over (even though I wasn't at the game) make me a bad parent?  Yes,  I thought so.  However, this actually fell in well with the plans we made LAST weekend and that was to use a Groupon that was supposed to expire last week but they extended since we couldn't get reservations last week.  We went to Santorinis for brunch.  HOLY BUCKETS was it ever fabulous!  We pub crawled home.  And hot tubbed.  And ordered pizza.  And watched Easy-A with the little girls.
Now, I think there is a pillow with my name on it.