Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dinner Week #3 Ramen Two Ways

Okay, I have two good recipes that use ramen noodles and the reason I am posting them together is that they are actually complimentary. One uses two packs of noodles and one seasoning packet; the other uses one pack of noodles and two seasoning packets. 'Cause, you know, ramen is expensive and you don't want to be wasting any.

Asian Beef Noodles
*Have everything prepped and ready to go before you start. This cooks in seriously like 5 minutes.
1 (8 oz.) rib-eye steak
1 tsp dark sesame oil, divided
1 cup green onions in 1-inch slices
2 cups packaged cabbage-and-carrot slaw
2 pkgs oriental ramen soup
1 1/2 cups water
1 T soy sauce

Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices. Heat 1/2 tsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add steak and green onions; stir fry 1 minute. Remove and keep warm. It's okay if the steak is barely cooked - I promise it will get done later. Heat remaining 1/2 tsp oil ove med-high heat. Add slaw; stir-fry 30 seconds. Remove and keep warm.

Remove noodles from packages; reserve 1 seasoning packet for another use (like Chinese Chicken Salad below.) Add water and remaining seasoning packet to skillet; bring to boil. Break noodles in half; add to water mixture. Cook 2 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Stir in steak mixture, slaw and soy sauce; cook until thoroughly heated. Careful - the steak and noodles easily overcook! Makes 2-2 cup servings.

Serve with: mandarin oranges.

Chinese Chicken Salad
1 bag cabbage or cabbage-and-carrot cole slaw
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
About 2 to 3 cups shredded chicken (I use most of a rotisserie chicken; you can also use canned)
3 to 4 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 small bag slivered almonds, toasted
1 pkg oriental ramen noodles, crunched up
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 T sugar
3 T red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 pkgs oriental flavor ramen noodle seasoning packets

Make the dressing first, early in the day if possible. In a jar with a lid combine the last 6 ingredients (vegetable oil through seasoning packets.) Shake to combine and refrigerate. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. Adjust sugar, vinegar and salt to your taste if you like.

Mix slaw, onions, chicken, sesame seeds and almonds. Pour dressing over all and toss. Sprinkle with noodles and serve immediately. Makes at least 4 servings

For fun, serve in lettuce wraps or eat with chopsticks and good luck with that.
Serve fresh fruit on the side, like watermelon, pineapple or mango. If nothing good is in season, make a Jello salad- my fav is some red sugar-free Jello with frozen raspberries, mandarin oranges and bananas mixed in. Marshmallows on top, natch.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dinner Week #2 Skinny Joes

We just call them Skinny because we use ground turkey instead of beef but you could use either. It's strange, Sloppy Joes is a very common kid-friendly dish but I had never made them nor thought of them until I came across the recipe in The Best 30-Minute Recipe. They just sounded good so I gave them a try.

Ed and I love them. But the kicker is, SO DOES GINGER. And it is a miracle and a delight to see her get excited about anything besides Jello. She even wants the leftovers for lunch the next day. Unprecedented! Hazel, our eat-anything-girl, for some reason does not care for these but once in awhile that's just tough. She can eat the bun.

Skinny Joes
2 T vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground turkey or lean ground beef (if my turkey comes in a 20 oz. package I use the whole thing)
1 cup tomator puree (I use tomato sauce)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
1 tsp brown sugar
Tabasco sauce
Hamburger buns (I like Arnold's whole wheat sandwich rolls)

1. Saute Aromatics: Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, chili powder and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Cook Meat: Add turkey/beef and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until almost cooked through, but still slightly pink, about 3 minutes.

3. Simmer Sauce: Stir in tomato puree, ketchup, water, brown sugar and 1/4 tsp Tabasco. Simmer until sauce is slightly thicker than ketchup, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Season and Assemble: Season with salt and Tabasco to taste. Spoon meat mixture onto hamburger buns and serve. Makes about 4 servings but 5 or 6 if you use a little more meat.

Serve with: pickles, your favorite chips, and strawberry-kiwi-banana fruit salad

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dinner Week #1 Black Bean & Avocado Salad

A few weeks ago my friend did a recipe week on her blog. Each day she posted one or two recipes that are her go-to dinners. We all have our favorite recipes that are easy, and awesome, and that we know our families will eat (for the most part.) But until I read Lindsay's Recipe Week, I guess I assumed everyone had the same ones as me. Not so. Every single thing she posted was new to my rotation and offered a welcome reprieve from our same old dinner rut.

So as I sat the next Tuesday night, painfully trying to put together a menu and shopping list for the week, I realized that although I don't think twice about my standby's, they might be new to someone else. Someone like you. I immediately listed 15 off the top of my head, so proud of that, and then edited for variety to give you 7 days of maybe-different-than-you-always-make dinners. Fall always seems to bring tight scheduling, so it might be nice to have at least one week of meal planning done for you! A short word on that (meal planning). I've visited this before, but I know you don't want to go back in the archives. Here is how I kind of do it:

  • I keep a file folder of all the scribbled weekly meal plans I've made over the last two years or so, so I often turn to that for ideas. The recipes you'll get this week feature often on those papers.

  • I also usually try to do one slow cooker dish a week. I have a binder of crockpot recipes that I collect from everywhere - magazines, online, friends, cookbooks. Believe it or not, I have been trying new ones ever since Slow Cooker Week two years ago, and still don't have enough good ones for another Slow Cooker Week. But I keep at it. Once in awhile there is a gem. When I get seven, I'll let you know.

  • One night is always leftovers. If there are no leftovers in the house, which is rare, it is hot dogs or pancakes or grilled cheese or whatever else can be thrown together.

  • I subscribe to a few cooking magazines. When they come, I flip through and tear out recipes I like. Then I file them in a hanging file box. It's more fun to go through the file box than a cookbook because I already know I like every recipe.

  • Spaghetti or pancakes every Monday night. On paper plates. Or else we would never have Family Home Evening.

  • Finally, I have a new favorite cookbook - America's Test Kitchen's The Best 30-Minute Recipes. These guys make great magazines and great cookbooks and I have had a lot of success with this one, though I've only had it a few months. So I often pull one or two recipes from there. The ingredients are generally simple, they do not take long to make, and so far they've all turned out well.
I am starting the week with one of my newest favorite recipes that I CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF this summer. My friend Ashley brought it to an end-of-year thing for our Peewee group and I wanted to eat the whole bowl. Since then I have made it at least five times. Ed and I eat it with Scoops chips for dinner and that's it. And it's totally healthy. Unless you eat it with a whole bag of chips. Which we do because it's sooo good. The girls will eat a little but the flavors are a bit mature for their taste. All the more for us.

Ashley's Black Bean & Avocado Salad

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz.) can corn, drained
1 red pepper, minced
1/2 red onion, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup olive oil
2 avocados, cubed
Salt and black pepper to taste

Combine first 8 ingredients (black beans through cumin) in a large bowl. In a small lidded container shake lime juice and olive oil until blended; pour over salad. Add avocados, salt and pepper just before serving and toss gently with clean hands. Serve with tortilla chips and some awesome drink, like Coconut Lime Chiller.

Coconut Lime Chiller

1 cup coconut milk
1 cup lime sherbet
1/4 cup frozen limeade concentrate (not thawed or diluted)
Lime slices and/or mint, optional
Place milk, sherbet and concentrate in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour into frosted glasses; garnish with lime slices or mint. Makes two servings.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hazel's Etymology: Quesadillas

"I think they're called quesadillas because they are like a case that carries cheese and they help your brain have ideas of what you're making. "

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Already 4 Months

This is madness. How could she grow so fast? When, at her checkup, the doctor says things like "roll over", "solid foods", and "sitting up," I think NO NO NO. She is still a newborn! She is not - she cannot be - growing up! "Four shots" is not popular either, but when he says "sleeping through the night" it's okay. I like that one.
I have titled this age "Take-Aim-and-Grab (and-then-stuff-it-in-your-mouth)." Every day she becomes more adept at obtaining her target, which means that, among other things, the days of holding her on my lap at the table while I eat are numbered. But it also means she is just starting to hold a small toy and entertain herself with it for a few minutes. There is also some friendly pummel-and-claw action while she nurses, which is a great reminder to me to keep those nails trimmed! This girl is strong.She loves the morning walk to school - so entertaining to watch her sisters on their scooters and get some fresh air. Sometimes we also sit outside after dinner to blow bubbles and wait for Ed to come home. See how small she is?
But cute. So cute. At least one thing never changes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kindergarten Diaries: The Walk

We're adjusting to our new life with kindergarten. You wouldn't think it's too big a deal. Or rather, people who have never been through this might not think it's a big deal. But for us it's very big and there is a lot of adjusting taking place. New theme on the blog.

We live too close to the school for bussing so walking it is. Some days we drive but only if I have somewhere to go right after. It's not actually any faster or more convenient because street parking is a premium so we park a few blocks away, get three kids out of seat belts, walk there, back to the car, back in seat belts, etc. So most days we walk.

Within the first week we got drenched no less than three times on the walk home; school gets out at prime thunderstorm time. I will be investing in some good rain boots or shoes for myself - any suggestions? They need to have good arch support and lots of padding. Oh, how I digress; my foot issues are a whole separate thing.

As you saw, we recently got the girls new scooters. And they're great. The girls got the hang of it really fast and once we trained Ginger to use her brake instead of jumping off at full speed, dragging her foot, or crashing into the bushes, we have serious mobility. So most days they ride their scooters and Poppy goes in the stroller.

The walk is gently downhill to school and gently uphill back. Ginger can't quite make it back on the scooter so about halfway she gets off and rides in the stroller the rest of the way home. So on the way home in the morning this is what we look like:
Two kids, two scooters, two helmets.

We are truly a spectacle but at least I finally figured a good way to hang the scooters on the stroller. It took about two weeks and I went from most awkward (two scooters balanced across the top, falling off both sides and bonking me in the face) to least (as pictured), but I think we have it down. On thundery days we also bring the rain cover.

And it didn't take long to also start including a first aid kit. Both girls have seriously scraped-up knees from minor scooter falls (hitting a bump or stick or one time a Dr. Pepper can in the middle of the sidewalk - awesome.) Ginger was getting so scraped up she was just opening up old wounds every day so we finally started putting knee pads on her. Just one more thing.

A word about my stroller. It is FABULOUS. We have the Phil & Ted's, whatever was before the one that came out in 2007. The sheer mileage and abuse it has endured for us over 3 1/2 years is a testament to its quality and design. Love it, recommend it to anyone. Worth every cent.

And look at this. It's called the Mommy Hook - my sister got it for us when Poppy was born. As you can see, it's just a massive padded caribener and oh, how I could have used a couple of these in New York!!! It's so useful - on our walk I hang my keys, a hair elastic, and my water bottle on it so they are all handily in reach. Also if Hazel is scooting I hang her backpack and lunchbox on it as well. Super totally handy.

I mentioned we were a spectacle, right? Practically a full-blown entourage. But this gentle-but-not-insignificant walk is probably just what I need to bridge the gap from baby recovery to considering-getting-back-in-shape. I'll be so happy when the cooler fall weather comes, but for now,um, I'm adjusting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Movie Giddy

Just got back from Inception. I've got 2 minutes to write my post before feeding the baby. Juno and Leonardo were superb. Smart, mind-bending, perfectly played out. About time for this new (and improved) Matrix-esque thriller. I want to see it again and again. Favorite scene: hotel fight.

Also. Saw a trailer for the new Tron movie. You read that right. Hot, very hot.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Other Quilts

Thanks for all the enthusiasm over Poppy's quilt. Mom did all the work and I took all the credit. In response to popular demand, here are pictures of the other girls' quilts.

For Ginger's quilt, we debated between a city park and a fruit stand, both somewhat representative of our life at the time in Brooklyn, NY. In the end we went for the park because we spent our whole lives at the park. Note the paths, the green patches, the fence around, and the activities both inside and outside the fence.
Detail: boat pond
Detail: sandbox, swingset and jump-ropers

Detail: fire engines and apartment building outside the fence (I love this art deco material and I think a piece of it was used in Poppy's quilt too)

The back is a vintage schoolhouse ABC print.

Gorgeous, right? Now Hazel's. I asked for a graded water scene in blues and purples. See how it's sky at the top and deep ocean at the bottom. I am so soothed every time I look at this quilt.

Detail: starfish in contrasting colors at the bottom

Detail: massive but somewhat camouflaged mariner's compass in the middle

Detail: I love this seagull fabric that comes in a few times near the top. Many of the other fabrics have fish, waves and water stain looks to them.

The back is this yummy watery batik -
I just want to wrap myself in it!
Also gorgeous, no? My mom is amazing. And I love how the girls each have totally unique and especially-for-them quilts from her.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Territory

Yesterday as we walked home from kindergarten, Hazel and I followed our usual routine: I ask about school, trying my darndest to eke out any and every detail I can, and she answers.

"So, what else can you tell me about today?"

"Well, I am in love with a boy in my class."

Well indeed. Hundreds of thousands of thoughts and feelings exploded inside me in reaction to this. Which is why I'm writing this post - so I can get them out, since I held them in at the moment. Had to think quick, react quick. Where did "in love" come from? She has been in church and preschool classes with boys her whole life, once even claiming to have a "boyfriend." But never, ever has "in love" come up. Really? We really have this already? I know it doesn't mean anything, but she has the language now. Did she already have it and just now decide to use it? Or did she pick it up at recess? Seems a bit coincidental this comes up 4 days into kindergarten.

"How do you know you're in love?"

"Well, I like the way he looks. He's handsome." Again, I'm bursting with thoughts. First, naturally, that looks aren't everything. But second, what does he look like? What's her taste? I'm dying of curiosity.

"What's his personality like?"

"What's personality?" OK. Now we have an entry point. Something we can talk about so I don't tell her she's too young to be in love, that I don't want her thinking or feeling that way, that it's too early and she needs to learn how to read first. Um, but how do you explain personality to a 5-year-old and why am I not prepared for this?

"Personality is how someone talks, what they're interested in, how they treat other people, what they like to do." Not bad for flying by the seat of my pants, pushing a double stroller uphill in 100% humidity.

"Well he's got a high voice (of course, he's five) and he's sooo nice and he plays with the other boys."

Turns out she has never spoken to him (an admirer!) and for awhile couldn't remember his name; it's unusual. She asked if we could invite him for a playdate and I said she needed to get to know him better and try to talk to him or play with him at school; that they should become buddies before we invite him over. I was feeling pretty good about this conversation, thought I'd handled it well, until dinner time.

Ed asked Hazel about school and she told him a few things. Then I said, "There's big news! Hazel is in love." I was not teasing, or did not mean to be, but Hazel turned pink, ducked her head, and looked at me pleadingly, shaking her head.

And that's when I realized, really realized, we are in uncharted waters. It's more than liking a boy at school. It's being insecure about it. It's having secrets. It's having a new, separate life from home.

And it's me, walking a tightrope, starting now, to be what she needs me to be, even though what that is, is in constant flux. Last night, that was someone trying to smoothly change the subject so she doesn't feel embarrassed or betrayed. (Never mind that I'm now writing a blog post about it!) Today, thank heavens, it was someone to give her a popsicle, a bath and an extra story at bedtime.

Tomorrow, I just pray I can be what tomorrow needs.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

First Day

11:06 am
Hazel's in kindergarten and I am FREAKING out. How did this come so fast? She's so big. And so small. Ed went with us and we all walked her to school this morning. She waltzed down the halls in her pink dress, pink shirt, pink shoes, pink backpack and pink lunchbox, saying, "C'mon, Dad, I'll show you where my class is!" She put her lunch in the lunch cubby, hung her backpack up on her hook, sat down at her seat and started her coloring worksheet right away. I hugged her, everything looked blurry, told her I was proud of her. "Yeah, Mom, bye."I feel so jittery, can't really wrap my mind around anything except, "What's she doing now?" Forget being productive today. Surviving is the best to expect.

1:23 pm
Things are quiet. Poppy is sleeping. Ginger is having quiet time, reading cookbooks. I still have the anxious panic feeling inside. I know Hazel is only 0.7 miles away but I feel like she's been taken from me. I'm so worried. Don't ask what about, there's no telling. Just worried. I admit it's nice having the one-on-one time with Ginger. She doesn't have her playmate but there is also no fighting. And we could all stand a little more quiet love and a little less confrontation. This is prime get-things-done time but all I can do is stare out the window, wander around aimlessly, and finally sit down to type.

When we got back from Colorado, we got the letter telling who her teacher is, and the supply list. School supply shopping is now one of my most favorite things to do. Thanks to Target. And to our school being the only one in the district on the modified calendar* so we get the jump on supply selection.Yesterday we walked over to the school to meet her teachers and see her classroom. They had a scavenger hunt worksheet for her, to find things around the room like her seat, the calendar and the bathroom. That's how she knew the drill this morning. Like she'd been doing it her whole life.

And speaking of whole life, that's what we're facing here. From age 5 to 30 I lived the academic calendar (except for my mission.) Then when Hazel was born and we moved to New York my life and the seasons were my own. It's been a good 5-year run, doing what we want. But we have to stay globally competitive, don't we, so our kids go to school and we're once again slaves to the Man. Until Poppy finishes graduate school. And then I'll be old. The End.

Lots of thoughts going through my head today. Like how freaking hot and humid it is, and how we'll be walking 2.8 miles every single day for this. And how bundling up for cold weather will add a good 15 minutes on either end when that comes along. And how my life is suddenly so focused on 8:45 and 3:41. And how I have to pack her a lunch every single day. I mean, I guess she can buy sometimes but mostly I'll pack it. And that will have to be its own blog post soon because it's only the first day and I'm out of ideas. Or maybe just faint and foggy because my brain is not getting oxygen. Breathe, gotta breathe.

5:58 pm
Picking her up was a great relief. We got there on time. I was so happy to hug her. She came out smiling and immediately entered into a running report starting with, "Hi, Mom. We learned math!" and going from there. Partway home I looked in her backpack and it was missing her lunchbox so we went back for it. Her teacher told me, "Hazel had an excellent first day." But, you know. She's a kindergarten teacher.

Things were blurry on the way home but this time it was from the buckets of sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes. Hazel's hair was dripping. Even Ginger and Poppy were bright red and they were just riding in the stroller. I had brought 2 bottles of water but we guzzled them right away; tomorrow I'll bring more. Now, two hours later and in air conditioning, I'm still sticky and steamy. I think this may be a good month for two showers a day.

Last night we had a special back-to-school party/FHE. Hazel requested pizza and lemonade for dinner. Chocolate cake with vanilla icing and sprinkles for dessert: Ed gave a brief age-appropriate lesson about learning and education. And I'm so glad our overflowing recycling bin is in this picture. After dinner, dessert and lesson was the best part: blessings. I don't know if other families do this, but my father always gave us blessings before each school year and I believe they were a source of protection, strength and inspiration because school is a tricky thing, especially when you get a bit older. So Ed gave Hazel a blessing. Ginger wanted one next, even though we will have another back-to-school night for her when she starts preschool. By then I was bawling, and heck, I wanted one, too. Thanks, Ed.

So Hazel's report of the day was scattered, as I expected, but I got some choice details - lunch math (adding up and comparing who brought, who wants turkey sandwiches, who wants yogurt, etc.), two recesses, how Anthony moved to yellow on the behavior chart and has to stay in for recess tomorrow (there was much speculation over dinner about what Anthony did), and the reading of a book called Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. When we got home we had a snack and Hazel asked to watch Cars. I told her OK as long as she stays sitting up. A friend of mine warned how tired new kindergarteners are and I didn't want her to fall asleep.

So, success! She went to school. She survived. I survived. Amazing.

I can't believe we have to do it again tomorrow!

*Modified calendar is not exactly year-round school but close. We get out at the end of June, same as the rest of the district. School starts beginning of August, then there are two weeks off in October and two weeks off in March/April, prior to spring break. Two weeks off for winter break is the same as everyone else. The October and April breaks are called intersessions, and the school offers optional enrichment courses that you can pay for - this is good for kids who may be behind and need extra help catching up or just things for fun, like African dance or cooking with math. Or your kid can just take a break or your family can go on vacation in the off-season. Love that. Unfortunately the October break will always coincide with Ed's elk hunting trip, so there will have to be some negotiations on that in the future.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Happy Middle Birthday

Yesterday I told the girls today is my half birthday. They asked what that means and after I explained it Hazel started calling it my middle birthday. At bedtime as I tucked her in she whispered, "Mom, I'm so excited for your middle birthday tomorrow!" This morning she shouted, "Happy Middle Birthday, Mom!"

I was greeted out of my shower with quickly scribbled handmade Middle Birthday cards. A party is expected this evening. In my single days I'd always get an ice cream cake. Today I would like well-behaved children and either banana splits or strawberry pie. Either way I'd have to go to the store. With three kids. Which would foil my first wish. I don't know, it's a toss-up.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Tonight, 7:55 pm. I am just taking Poppy out of the bath. Ed has just put the other girls to bed and retired with ice cream in front of the TV. So naturally, Ginger comes down to see what I'm up to.

"Dad forgot to turn on the music. Did Poppy have a bath?"


"I want to have a bath."

"It's too late for you to have a bath tonight; it's bedtime. I'll give you a bath tomorrow."

Low rumbling sound: Ginger's temper boiling. Chin down, eyebrows down, glaring out from underneath.

"If you give me a bath tomorrow, then I'm going to hit you on the head!"

Eastwood squinty eyes. Cue western stand-off music.

"Really? What happens if you hit me on the head?"

Trying to hold the glare, but a smile creeping in.

"I get time out."

"That's right."

A moment to think and recompose squinty glare. Cogs of logic turning. How. to. get. her. way?

"Then you BETTER give me a bath TONIGHT because I DON'T want time-out!"

The reasoning is impeccable. But we're still doing baths tomorrow.
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