Breakfast Introspection

breakfast

Before I begin, check out my monthly post on Hometown Pasadena!

Tomorrow my youngest child turns six.  Of course he’s all excited about getting older (OK, yes, and getting presents.)  For whatever reason, I always get a little teary the day before my children celebrate another year of life.  My mind drifts back to what I was doing the day before they were born.

In Grayson’s case, with a scheduled C-section, six years ago today, I knew it was the last day of my pregnancy.  With a one-year-old and two-year-old at home with me (I know, right?), being a 38 year-old pregnant woman with a 10 lb. baby in my belly I was mostly focused on gettin’ that kid out.  FAST.  I seem to recall a tearful checkup with my OB where I pretty much begged him to move up my delivery date by a week as I just didn’t think I would make it to the finish line.  He didn’t.  I did.

The aching back, insomnia, swollen feet and baby shoved so far up my rib cage I couldn’t bend forward to even wash the dishes by this point… all those memories have dissipated by now.  Mostly now I think back and realize that six years ago today I was pregnant for the last time in my life.

I felt then and still do feel so incredibly lucky to have carried three amazing little people in my belly.  From the first to the third I marveled at them from the moment I looked into their brand new eyes.  I kept them in the hospital room with me and despite exhaustion and the opportunity to rest before returning home, even with my not-so-little guy I held him and gazed at him constantly.  Just couldn’t get over the miracle of the whole thing.  Still can’t, really.

Tomorrow I’ll be awakened early–I know it–by an eager kindergartener who can’t wait a moment longer to open his gifts.  But today I will sip my coffee for just one extra minute and bask in these quiet memories.

Introspection French Toast

Ingredients: for every 3 eggs, 1/4-1/3 cup butter milk, dash of sugar, dash of vanilla, 1/2 dash almond extract, few shakes cinnamon.  Bread of any kind. (I don’t really measure–sorry Teri and Lisa.  These measurements should work though!)

Directions: Put bread aside.  Mix everything else together.  Dip bread into mixture and cook on griddle.  Serve with butter and real maple syrup whenever possible.

Tip: I often make this recipe with a dozen eggs and an entire loaf of bread.  Freezes great, pop it in the toaster and wah-lah!  French toast any time you want.  Life contemplation is optional.

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Double Header

cake

So we threw a double-header birthday party last Saturday (Rhea’s favorite part of the cake pictured here.)  Two of my three kiddos turn a year older within a week of one another, and this year I decided to combine and conquer.  It was a total blast–so much fun, in fact, that I didn’t even think to grab my camera much during the festivities.  I was completely immersed in the excitement!

Lucky for me my kiddos have made friends with children of parents I love to hang with, so, I’ll admit it, it was kind of like a big party for me too.

I love to throw parties.  LOVE IT.  I always wanted a big sunny house so that I could cook up a bunch of food and make pitchers of sangria, and then invite over my family, neighbors and friends to eat, drink and be silly with us.

Entertaining can be expensive though–and I am a thrifty girl by nature.  I won’t short change my guests’ party experience and I wouldn’t dream of serving cheap, crummy food (heaven’s no!)  For me there’s something about the challenge of working from a budget and making due with clever vs. expensive/easy that gets my party juices flowin’.  Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still do stuff from scratch and play the party-budget game each time.  Keeps my on my toes and my children don’t need wedding-reception style parties to celebrate life anyway.

Here are my top 7 tips for throwing BIG, fun, manageable and affordable fiestas:

1. Plan ahead with food prep.  Making your own food is key to saving money.  I shopped for groceries on Wednesday and started prepping food on Thursday.   Working on my menu on Thursday and Friday helped break up my efforts and not make the time investment feel so burdensome.

Prepare as much as possible before the party to insure a more relaxed time for the hosts!  Even though we served grilled chicken at Rhea’s party, I baked the chicken on Friday.  This way Mike could toss it on the grill for 10 minutes to warm it up.  Done!

2.  Double up or share resources if possible.  By throwing two parties in one day I cleaned my house once, prepared a ton of food once, and cleaned up once.  My middle child is already pondering ways to stretch the dollar for her October birthday–and even suggested we team up with another October-baby friend so the families could share some of the costs. “Plus we invite the same kids anyway, mama!”  I don’t know if these plans will materialize but that’s my girl!

3. Choose food items wisely. For example, I made a triple batch of my cole slaw.  Cabbage is inexpensive, and cole slaw actually tastes better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days (made mine on Thursday!)  Grayson (first party) wanted Dodger Dogs and Rhea (fiesta numero dos) wanted chicken and ribs.  Cole slaw goes with both!

Make pitchers of lemonade or punch instead of purchasing expensive juice boxes  (saves on trash too.)

4. Bake your own cake.  No-brainer from a financial standpoint.  I like Trader Joe’s Vanilla with real vanilla bean cake mix.  It tastes homemade and if you’re not a baking fan (hi!) you can save the headache and still impress your guests.

5. Instruct kids to write thank-you notes before the party.  I got this idea from my sister, Deb, and I absolutely love it.  “An attitude of gratitude” is a very important concept at our house.  Rather than having my kids write out thank you notes for gifts, they now write out a “thank you for helping me celebrate” note that gets handed out to guests upon departure.  Not only is there more motivation to write notes before the party, I like the emphasis on thanking friends for their presence, not just their presents.

Grayson’s (dual immersion kindergarten) notes are in Spanish as that’s the only phonetic system he can use at the moment.  Each note says “Thank you for coming to my party!”

thank you notes

6. When appropriate, include kids in financial decision making.  Like I said, I stick to my party budget.  We usually have pinatas for our birthdays, but I suggested to Rhea and Grayson that since we were doubling up our party fun, we could splurge a little and get a bouncer for the day–but doing so would mean no pinata for either one.  I want my kids to feel celebrated, yes, but I think it’s important for them to understand that money doesn’t magically appear in my wallet in copious amounts.  We can do a lot of things, but we can’t do everything.

7. If you can swing it, I really must advise you to rent a Gy-normous Tweety Bird Bouncer like this honkin’ thing:

bouncer

Although we normally don’t go the “bouncer route” for our birthdays, by doubling up Mike and I could justify the cost.  And then, for an extra 15 bucks we got this larger, super-ridiculous bounce-house. (I mean, seriously, does it get more ridiculous than this?)

My kids, seen here with a neighbor, were literally speechless when they saw this thing inflate.  12 or so kids could easily jump around inside.  Between the two parties, neighbors coming over in between and my extended family wrapping things up at the end, there was someone jumping up and down in this thing for eight hours straight.  Toh-tally worth it.

Thank you, everyone, who took time to come bounce-eat-drink with us on Saturday.  Rhea and Grayson had a ball (and Josie too!) and so did Mike and I.  We feel extremely blessed to have our three amazing kids and so many great friends to party with!

Summer Rice Salad

Summer rice salad

I’m renaming this 2002 Better Homes and Gardens recipe.  It’s original title is “avocado salad.”  My girlfriend, Shandy, brought this to our last PTA meeting of the school year and for me it was love at first bite!

I keep a stock of hearty prepared salads in my fridge at all times right now.  Seems like my kids are always hungry and with summer right around the corner, they’ll be able to request food on an even more regular basis, so I figured I’d better get my act together or we’ll just start grabbin’ for the box of crackers…!  Plus, I love grabbing a quick bite this way.  Filling, nutritious, tasty, quick; summer salads rock.

Shandy’s Summer Rice Salad
Ingredients:
3 cups cooked basmati rice
1 large tomato, chopped
3/4 cup chopped sweet onion
3 tbsp snipped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp seeded & finely chopped jalapeno pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2-3 avocado, chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
Directions: Combine cooked rice, tomato, onion, cilantro, lemon juice, jalapeno pepper, olive oil, salt, pepper.  Toss avocado with lime juice; stir into rice mixture.
Tips: Although the jalapeno makes the dish, in my humble opinion, I left it out for my kiddos and just tossed it in with Mike and mine.  Also, as I made a large batch of this salad, I left the avocado on the side to add in when it was time to eat.  Kept things fresher I think.  Finally, I used jasmine rice–worked fine–and didn’t measure a darn thing.  Seriously.  I gave a squeeze of this and poured a few glugs ‘a that.  I threw in a ton more tomatoes than called for because how can you have too many?

Life

tomatoes

So our tomatoes are coming in.  Or should I say “OUR TOMATOES ARE COMING IN!!!!!!”?  This is very exciting news at our house.

I used to have a bigger garden, but have found over the years that I’m not enjoying it as much as I used to.  (Plus I foolishly planted a lemon and lime tree in the middle of the space and they now cast such shade that hardly anything will grow.  I know.  What a bone-head, right?  They were so small when we planted them I just didn’t envision this.  What do I know?  I’m from Minnesota–we don’t have citrus trees there.  I do love the fruit at least!)

I still enjoy growing something though, and so do my kids.  So this year we opted for a few potted plants of tomatoes, beans (from Grayson’s kindergarten science class) and a handful of fresh herbs.

I love growing our own food not only because I can control it, but also because I want my kids to have at least some connection with the source of our sustenance.  I’m not going to ask everyone to join hands, go vegan, and sing “We are the World,” but it’s hard to argue with the importance of understanding from where our food comes.

I saw a documentary once about how, when asked, many inner city children couldn’t identify vegetables like “tomatoes” and “corn” when shown photos of it growing naturally.  They had never seen these things before.  That’s frightening.

My point is that to eat well, I believe everyone should have some connection to, you know,  “the source.”  Good ol’ Mother Nature is a friend to the healthy family.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of our little patio garden spread.  Boy oh boy!  It’s spring!

And just in case you’re curious, here’s the lemon tree that gloriously prevents my garden from growing.  Makes me want an iced tea!

Lemon tree

“Out of this World” Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies

Third grade assignment: Make a visual representation of the solar system.  Be creative!  (be careful what you ask for…)

Rhea decided that she (and by “she” I mean “we”) should make a sugar cookie solar system.  Why waste your time with a plain old shoe box diorama situation when you can make a project the class can eat when you’re done?

You may notice that there are two of each planet (in case of interplanetary disaster) but what you can’t see is how much time this child took to mix/choose/remix/rechoose the exact right colors for each dang piece.  We may have a detail-oriented baker in the family, ladies and gentlemen… Or an astronomer, I’m not sure which.  Either way she doesn’t get it from me!

We made the solar system a week ahead of time and then froze the cookies to keep them fresh.  Besides eating the extra planets, we also made little star cookies for each classmate.  No doubt, Rhea’s presentation gained rave reviews from the audience! (and even though I’m poking a little fun, I am very proud of my daughter’s creativity and effort to make a top-notch presentation.  She did great!)

My Mom’s Sugar Cookies (which, incidentally, are the best sugar cookies in the world)

Ingredients: 1/2 cup butter, 1/ cup sugar, 1 egg, 2-2 1/4 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. vanilla (frosting optional–unless you’re making a solar system or something similar, of course.)

Directions: Roll out and cut with cookie-cutters.  Place on cookie sheet at bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes (depends on how think your cookies are though–check’m and see.  Should be slightly browned on top, but not too much.)

Tip: If I’m pretending to be Sally-organized-baker (hardly ever, but this is still a good tip) I make the dough in advance and refrigerate for an hour or so.  The chilled dough is easier to roll out and cut–especially for little bakers.

Some things I learned while assisting: Although Uranus has rings, Saturn is the only planet whose rings are visible from Earth.  Saturn has a moon named “Rea” (and no, that’s not where I got the name.)  The red-dot storm on Jupiter is several times larger than planet Earth.  Sprinkles on planetary rings are a big hit with 8-9 year-olds…

 

Mothers love Margaritas!

margarita

I made this grapefruit margarita last night (thanks, Alli, for changing my life with these!) in celebration of being one happy mama.  Plus, unlike New England where the temp dipped to below freezing yesterday, here in Pasadena it was nearing 100 degrees.  While I’ll admit I prefer the heat, for May 12 that was a bit much!

Besides something wonderful from my appreciative husband, I also received some original art:

moms day art

And a new book of The Silliest Poems in the World  for night-time reading:

moms day poetry

My favorite poem is the one about the goat with a coat (he crosses over a moat.)

Despite the ridiculous heat, I treated myself to a good morning walk–and while I was away Mike and the kids vacuumed the house!  While my undergrad Women’s Studies classmates may raise an eyebrow, this was actually my favorite gift of the day because it equals T-I-M-E.

Grape fruit Margaritas (Alli’s recipe was a bit more specific, but mine works just fine)

Ingredients: shot of Tequila, dash of triple sec, grapefruit juice, splash of blood orange soda, a lime wedge (I went without last night) and ice.

Directions: Pour in glass, stir and enjoy! (repeat as needed…)

 

Spring Fruit! It’s Here!

spring!

So at the farmers market this week Josie and I were doin’ the “cherries and apricots” dance–which basically consists of holding hands in a ring-around-the-rosey fashion and jumping up and down squealing “Cherries and apricots!  Cherries and apricots!”

SPRING FRUIT HAS ARRIVE TO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA!–and I don’t mean by way of air travel from Chile…

I hold out.  Plums, peaches and other stone fruit have been available at Whole Foods all winter long, but I refrain from buying.  I do this partly because I believe in supporting the local economy and partly because I live in southern California so there actually are other produce options year round.  (Believe me, the “supporting the local economy” notion would likely go right out the window each winter if I still lived in Minneapolis…)

I also hold out because there’s just something about it.  Waiting.  Anticipation.  Build up.  I like this stuff.

We’ve been tiring of the winter citrus that is very tasty, but has now been in our fruit bowl for months.  (I’m such a whiner, right?  Can you imagine complaining about endless amounts of delicious locally grown oranges?  This is what I’ve become, I’m afraid.)

Holding out was worth it.  Holding out actually made it all the more de-lish.  We gobbled up the cherries right quick and are motoring through the golden, sweet apricots.  I only bought a couple of peaches which weren’t the greatest, but were still pretty darn good.

We bought the flowers at the market too–aren’t they a nice touch?  At our house, this is how we celebrate spring!

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Kitty Purgason's Chili

I met this chili, and Kitty Purgason, at the Pasadena Covenant Church meal contest last fall.  This church provides shelter and meals to homeless folks on cold, wet winter nights..  Roughly 12 members of the congregation volunteered to whip up their favorite home-cooked recipes, provide a “taste off,” and use a vote to choose the upcoming menu.

People, this is my kind of church experience–it’s got “Midwest” written all over it.

My Michigander transplant girlfriend, Lisa, is a Covenant Church member and she lets me tag along when I’m in the mood.  As a native Minnesotan raised in a Methodist home and church, from the first time I popped my eclectically-spiritual face onto the Covenant scene I felt right at home.   Throw in a pot-luck taste test with a recipe made by the you-can’t-get-more-Midwestern-than-this: Kitty Purgason… Girlfriend, that is a taste of Michelle’s heaven.

The Midwestern United States isn’t exactly known for its gourmet approach to food.  Common references to “casseroles” and questions regarding the usage of cream of mushroom soup have arisen.  And while, yes, casseroles (actually, the correct term is “hot-dish,”) and cream of mushroom soup are something with which we Mid-westerners are familiar, we offer much more to the culinary world.

The Midwestern philosophy to cooking is actually quite a hat-tip to the modern mama.  Savory.  Efficient.  Satisfying.  Wholesome.  These are words that, when used to describe dinner, are often met with smiles.  I said SMILES.  Who couldn’t use more of those at the table?

I love Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili for three reasons.  First of all, it’s easy-tasty-healthy. Second, the ingredients can be kept on hand (most in the pantry) for easy whip-up’ed-ness. Also, you can totally fudge the quantities on pretty much everything (just throw in extra this if you are missing a can of that) and still present a delicious meal for your family.  Now you can smile too!

Finally, the name Kitty Purgason makes my heart smile.  Back in Rochester, Minnesota I had a classmate named Kitty who, in the third grade, helped me with fractions and taught me how to draw trees that didn’t resemble lollipops.  My childhood friend, Kitty, was friendly and generous, much like the Covenant-Church-Kitty I recently met.

Besides “Calva,” my elementary classroom rosters had a list of surnames including Torgrimson, Olson and Thompson.  So, when kind hand of someone named Kitty Purgason was extended to me over my chili sample that fall day, I just knew this recipe would join my life and table.

Now it can join yours too.

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Chili Ingredients: 1 chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, couple three cans chicken broth (0r approximate equivalent), leftover diced cooked chicken, 1 can drained white or pinto beans, 1 can corn (drain but save liquid in case you need it), 1 can chopped tomatoes with liquid, 1 (or 2) small can mild green chilis, optional: chopped fresh tomatillos if available.  See toppings ingredients below…

Definitely serve with: fresh lime, tortilla chip crumbles Optionally serve with (unless you’re at my house, then this is definite too!): sour cream, fresh chopped cilantro, diced green onion, hot sauce

Directions: Saute onion and garlic with a few splashes of olive oil.  Add everything else and bring to a simmer.  Um… you’re done and it likely took all of 12 minutes.

Notes: This is a very mild chili, which works great for my kids.  We all love the lime and chips on top and I put the rest of the accoutrements on the table and we sprinkle as desired.  Mike and I add hot sauce, but of course…  Doctoring your bowl of yum up with all the fixin’s is really half the fun.  Also, even though I live a stone’s throw from a Latino super market and could get tomatillos in a second, I have never gone to the trouble when making this recipe and and it still tastes stellar.

Final Note (still with me?): Feel free to use fresh corn, fresh tomatoes, etc… if you have them on hand, of course.  But isn’t it nice to know you don’t have to?

Hand Print “Art” on my Wall

handprint

Look close, but not too closely.  I did and I found not only a hand print but about a dozen other little finger smudges, ball bouncing scars, what appears to be an unfortunate booger (I thought we were done with that…) and a couple ‘a dog hairs.  My house was just cleaned from top to bottom, btw.

Happy Monday everyone!

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” –Phillys Diller

“A messy house is a must – it separates your true friends from other friends.  Real friends are there to visit you not your house!”–Jennifer Wilson

“Law of Window Cleaning: It’s on the other side.” –Unknown

“Cleanliness is not next to godliness. It isn’t even in the same neighborhood. No one has ever gotten a religious experience out of removing burned-on cheese from the grill of the toaster oven.”–Erma Bombeck

“I’m not going to vacuum ’til Sears makes one you can ride on.”–Rosanne Barr

“The obvious and fair solution to the housework problem is to let men do the housework for, say, the next six thousand years, to even things up.  The trouble is that men, over the years, have developed an inflated notion of the importance of everything they do, so that before long they would turn housework into just as much of a charade as business is now.  They would hire secretaries and buy computers and fly off to housework conferences in Bermuda, but they’d never clean anything.”  ~Dave Barry

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow
So quiet down, cobwebs
Dust, go to sleep
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep”.–Anonymous

Gorgeous Carrot Slaw

carrot slaw

I simply cannot call this salad “carrot slaw.”  “Gorgeous” must be in the title because, duh: it is so divine to look at!  I placed that blue vase (pronounced “vahs” for effect) in the background as it makes such a stylish contrast.  I am so artsy-shmartsy.

My carrots slaw recipe is tweaked and a bit simplified from Once Upon a Chef.  I eased up on a few ingredients but it could be because the farmers market carrots I get don’t need as much stuff on’em; I don’t know.

The photo above is made with hand grated carrots as I couldn’t find the correct attachment for my food processor that I hardly ever use.  Lucky for me, child labor laws are a bit lax at my house…

Josie grating carrots

“Mommy, my arm is getting tired…”  “Hang in there, honey.  Only 10 more carrots to go!”

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound grated carrots, or 1-1/3 pounds carrots, peeled and grated (if you wash them well, don’t have to peel)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice, from one orange (or a splash of orange juice)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • a little bundle of green onion, white and green parts, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • dash of salt
  • dash of pepper

Here’s what all the yummy stuff looked like before I mixed it up.  It’s already getting pretty!  I went ahead and and tossed my walnuts in as our mouths were beginning to water at this point and I was fairly certain the salad wouldn’t last long.  I was right.

carrot slaw ingredients

Directions:

Bake walnuts at 350 for about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.  Throw remaining ingredients into a bowl and toss it up a bit.  This salad will keep well in the fridge for a few days, but don’t add the walnuts until you’re ready to eat.

I made my gorgeous carrot slaw for a potluck last night with a few bags of store-bought shredded carrots.  Much less work and a different texture than the hand grated method.  What made it still yummalicious was that I made the salad 24 hours in advance so the flavors had time to really get to know each other.  They got along great, btw.