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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kitties & Puppies & Munchkins, OH MY!

Before I was a parent, people would say something a la "You can't imagine how much you'll love them till you have a kid." I thought I certainly could imagine. But, no - I couldn't. 

Likewise, parents told me how my priorities would change. Again, they were correct.

A few examples of things that matter less than my daughter's well-being:
  • Her momentary happiness
  • My momentary happiness
  • My well-being
Fortunately, I've never had to put that last one to the test. And, thus far, we've had few conflicts between either of our happiness and her well-being.

This past week, I got a taste of tough choices to come. Simply put: I wanted a cat. I've wanted a cat since a few months after I gave my year-old kitty to a friend in a fit of post-partum anxiety. (Any friends considering an "I told you so," please take a peek at my FB posts from around that time & don't kick a girl for when she was down.)

I further decided that my daughter wanted a cat. She loves our dog, who tolerates her but by no means loves her back. I thought she should have her own pet. So, we decided to try it out. A lovely group (Ana's Angels) was sharing kitties for adoption at PetCo. We took two home as a two-week foster. If it worked, we could adopt them. If not, we could take them back - no questions asked.

Love them she did. She just didn't quite know how to show it. Turns out 17 months is exactly the wrong age to get a girl a kitty. Mobile enough to catch them easily; little enough understanding to grab them by the paw or tail and try to lift them in the air. Oh, and zero ability (interest?) in listening to mommy & daddy sternly shouting "No, no, no!"

It was on the 5th or 6th such incident, when a simple "no, no, no" became "G*D D*MM*T, NO!" - that I realized this foster should not become an adopt

To the kitties' credit, they never retaliated in the least bit. I just feared terribly that some time that would end.I certainly would get fed up with someone lifting my butt in the air by my tail!  I didn't want her hurt; I didn't want them blamed. 

They are absolutely wonderful cats. They just weren't meant to be our cats.

The truth is: I jumped the gun. I confused what I wanted with what she would want. If a pet is going to be hers, she should be old enough to help take care of it ... or at least to name it ... or heck - even to ask for a kitty!

It was tough taking them back to the original foster mommy tonight. I mean look at their sweet faces looking at me on the drive there! But I know it's the right choice for my family at this time.

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I also know that those other parents are going to be right about something else -- it's not going to get any easier. This time, doing what was best for my daughter meant taking two adorable kitties back to a really nice woman, not to some horrible fate. This time, she was too young to argue with me ... or even realize what I was up to.

Overall, it was a positive experience. She does love kitties. Now I know orange tiger kitties are awesome & laid-back. I know that I really really do want a kitty! I also know about a great organization in my town and will seek them out when we are ready to adopt.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, Part 10 of 10 (Make-ahead Meatless Magic for a Monster Monday: Menu as Movie)

Teaser:
Here's why I love cooking dinner in advance: because when you have a tough day, dinner is waiting for you. Stick with me, kids -- more revolutionary insights await you!

Set-up:
Today was a tough day. As I have yet to develop cloning technology, I am still finding it difficult to be in two places at once in the mornings. Various & sundry other factors need not be mentioned here, but let it be known that in the middle of it, I remembered we had a late meeting with our financial planner.

Yikes! Enough to send you to the drive-thru, right?

Wrong.

Not when you took advantage of a nap-time Saturday to make ahead a delicious & wholesome meal. One that didn't even require reheating!




As with so many of my posts, this is more concept than recipe, and another "go-to" at that.

The Concept
Grain, veggies, nuts, beans, feta

Tonight's Star:

Barley


(Confession: I'd never cooked with barley before & only eaten it in beef barley soup. Spoiler: delicious! The hubben prefers to my usual - bulgar wheat & my back-up - quinoa.)

Today's below-the-title stars

Green onion
Zucchini


Supporting cast (who do not get pics during the opening credits)

Baby spinach (right out of the bag)
Black olives (small can of sliced, drained)
Chick peas (1 can, drained & rinsed)
Reduced-fat Feta cheese, crumbled (1 small container)
1/2 cup walnuts (broken up a bit & toasted lightly)
1/4 lite Caesar dressing (Publix brand)

The plot:

Follow directions to cook the barley. (1 dry cup makes 3 cooked.)
Meanwhile, toast the walnuts.
Add the spinach while barley still hot, so that it wilts slightly.
Add everything else.
Top with the dressing.
Stir it all together.
Store in trusty Gladware. 


The review:
So far, we're going on 2 nights. 2 meals so far, and I'd say we have another 2 easily. Drawback: not a great meal for a toddler. The chewy deliciousness of the barley was a hit with the adults but no easy task for one just getting her molars! (Luckily, there was still leftover pesto pasta for her!)

The morals:
We will certainly incorporate barley in future recipes. Although the cook time is a bit long on the front-end, it's simple & doesn't require your undivided attention.  I love to offer a variety of foods to the family, so adding new items to the repertoire is always exciting.

Take advantage of little breaks when you can. It just might spare you a headache or a tummy ache later in the week! (Or very early in the week.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pre-Mommy Confessional

All this talk about mommy guilt & mommy bullying has me feeling - well, guilty.

Why?

Because, before I was a mom, I kind of was a bully. Only in my head, but still.

I was the single traveler silently judging the haggard mom dragging the screaming baby on to the last flight out.
Pre-baby me: "Why would you ever take a baby on such a late flight? I'll never do that!"
Post-baby me: "Because sometimes that's the only flight that works. And that's exactly what you're doing in about a month."


I was the well-read pregnant lady who simply knew that I would never end up sleeping in a rocking chair with my baby. Yep, silently judging sleep-deprived work pals.
Pre-baby me: "All you have to do is just follow the books. Life will work out just like they say!"
Post-baby me: "PLEASE BURN THOSE BOOKS." I think this as I wish fervently for a time machine & fall asleep on a travel mattress with my baby.


Perhaps this is why I can so easily recognize the silent judgement in the eyes of other pre-parents. That "not gonna happen to me" look. Worse of course is the "didn't happen to me" look from present parents. It makes me want to run to my predecessor parents and beg their forgiveness!

On the bright & self-growth side, it makes me work very hard at not judging other parents now. When I hear someone talking about their school-age child or teenager, and I think I'll do something differently (i.e. better), I immediately counter with this:
You have NO IDEA what it will be like. You have NO IDEA how you'll handle that.


Hey, that's a pretty good lesson for life in general. Being a parent is good stuff, no matter what your philosophy.
Best of luck to all parents of today AND tomorrow! (And, what the heck, to everyone!)





Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, part 9 of 10 (1 for 2, 2 for 1)

When I made dinner Sunday, I had two notions in mind.

  1. "Cook once; eat twice." - I think that's a Rachael Ray-ism. I hope she doesn't have a copyright.
  2. Use one prep technique and cook meats each family member would eat. - I love fish; my husband does not.
It didn't quite work out that way. But let me explain.


Sunday night, I did a repeat of the salmon I'd made for my munchkin & me while the Hubben was out of town. Since he despises cooked salmon, I did the same prep on chicken cutlets. My plot was to feed one to the Hubben and use the leftovers in a pesto pasta'n'veggie combo later in the week.

2 problems:
  1. The chicken was overcooked.
  2. The chicken was overly lemony.
So lessons learned:
  1. Chicken cutlets cook more quickly than 1/2 lb of salmon fillet.
  2. Chicken cutlets can't stand up to much lemon.
That brings us to tonight.

2 more lessons:
  1. No summer supper is simple when you've decided to foster two kittens, and your toddler wants to chase them, play in the food, play in their litter box -- unless of course, she's going for the old stand-by of playing in the dogs' bowls.
  2. Chopping veggies and boiling pasta is still cooking!

Nonetheless, it wasn't a bad turnout. 

The method:
  1. Cook ~1/2 pound of whole wheat penne.
  2. Meanwhile, quarter & dice 2 small zucchini.
  3. Micro-steam the zucchini with a little S&P + garlic powder.
  4. Drain the pasta.
  5. Toss the pasta & zucchini + a ~1/2 cup or so of frozen peas/carrots + ~1/4 prepared pesto.

A little higher on the pasta & lighter on the pesto than I'd intended, and the veggies were a little more al dente than I'd have liked. On the plus side, plenty of leftovers for lunches the rest of the week. 
One downside to a one-pot-dish: it didn't allow me to feed the munchkin her veggies first, and yes -- she did pick all the penne out, took maybe a few peas but mostly left me with a pile of carrots & zucchini.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Grass is always Simpler



I remember so well ... actually, I hardly remember at all! All the bottle & pump part sterilizing. The careful fanangling if I wanted a glass of wine. Not to mention the time spent pumping itself. I did it for nine months, from the time I went back to work, till just after my daughter's first birthday.

I never questioned it. It was completely worth it to me. I wholeheartedly believe "the breast is best." I was lucky to have a good supply and no complications. My work place was an incredibly supportive environment, with several devoted lactation rooms. I even made friends through the lactation rooms! I have a very flexible work schedule, so I was able to set aside 2 half-hour chunks everyday. They were simply off-limits on my Outlook Calendar.



I did occasionally long for the days after that milestone first birthday. As a food lover, I couldn't wait introduce my daughter to exciting & healthy foods. Drumroll, please ... it hasn't always worked out like I pictured it.

Family meals are a wonderful time for bonding. Unlike breastfeeding, they are a bonding time that my husband can actively take part in. But they aren't always harmonious or successful. Tonight was a big, fat case-in-point. Whether it was tiredness, teething, or who knows what, she was done before we'd even really started. It did not improve my feelings of self-efficacy to have to put underdone pork chops back in the grill pan!

Then there's the whole working-mom necessity of handing over feeding duties to others 3 or 4 times daily. How strictly can you expect them to follow your food philosophies? Is it skirting the issue if I simply note when she'll be given juice and try to pick her up early on those days? (Daycare gives juice all of once a week, and usually for the 5:30 snack, by which time she's nearly always home.)  I wish I could pack her lunch & snacks for the day. Or do I? Friends who have to do this tell me frequently how lucky I am!

It's all enough to have me longing for the breastfeeding days. No questions. No conflicts. Just me & my baby, just peace & quiet. Well - other than the times that it was just me & my pump, and that mechanical hum. Okay, maybe I remember it well after all!

Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Definitely one of my top ten best decisions! :)


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, Part 8 of 10 (a few of OUR favorite things)

If my entire Blogspot/Twitter existence has not proven it, tonight's menu does: healthy cooking does not have to be complicated, time-consuming, or overly pricey.

The menu:

  • Broiled lemon-pepper shrimp - from frozen, with light spray olive oil & lemon-pepper seasoning (5 minutes or so, 2nd rack down)
  • Potato & peas with onion - light spray of olive oil, S&P - leftovers steamed yesterday in microwave & reheated in micro tonight.
  • Zucchini - chopped in my go-to half moons & steamed in the micro with a little olive oil spray, a little pepper, a little dill (and NO, I did not forget to say salt. I didn't use any, and it was fine. Great even.)
  • Arugula & mango - that's it. That's the whole salad. This was a treat for me. I did not share with the baby or the husband.

Ridiculously, almost embarrassingly easy. And this is how happy it made the munchkin.

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Tonight's meal was also a triumph for another of my food philosophies: try, try again. Maybe your kid won't like steamed broccoli but will like it roasted, or mixed into pasta. In my case, offering the veggies first has down wonders.

Some time ago, I tried mango, one of my very favorite foods on earth, and very likely in the universe. Daphne was no fan. I admit, I was  miffed - sort of like, "Fine. You don't like it. I'm not going to waste it on you!" Tonight, while I was chopping one up for my "salad," I went about my usual business of chewing every last morsel off the pit. THAT got her attention. I let her try some. She made delighted little noises and wanted more & more. Much as I hated to share, I was delighted!

Shrimp has been a much easier sell. She always enjoyed it, but the last couple times, she has gone totally bonkers for it. Tonight, she was having a fit when she saw them ready to go under the broiler. [Sidebar: toddlers do not know what "raw" means. Maybe she'll love sushi like mommy & daddy!] When they came out of the oven piping hot, fit anew. Then she proceeded to eat them, faster than I could blow on them & cut them in two. I began to fear that she wouldn't save me or her daddy any! I started cutting them into smaller pieces just to slow her down. Finally, after about a dozen, she told me "all done!" Phew! I got a few! Hey, if you're going to have a fit and eat your weight in something, why not broiled shrimp?!?!

*Confession: I could not find my camera at dinner time. The pic is actually from the weekend when she was licking peanut butter off apple slices. She seriously was at least this happy with the shrimp.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, part 7 of 10 (Brinner)

Breakfast, it's what's for dinner.

Last week, our air conditioner stopped working. This house is less than a year old, so thank all that is good - it was something small (a cap, I think the repairman said). Also, thank all that is good - the repairman came the very next day, so we had less than 24 hrs of oven living. Still, when I got home that night, it was HOT. Not a night for slaving over a hot stove, as they say.

Lucky for me, my plan that night was waffles, anyway! I seriously love breakfast foods, but never have time to make something through the week. Also, I am TERRIBLE at flipping pancakes. So ... we bought a waffle iron. Last week was its inaugural flight. It was even better than I'd dreamed. You don't even have to wash it. I mean you should, but you don't have to. What's it's made of? I have no idea, but nothing sticks to it. Amazing.



I did Aunt Jemima Whole Wheat waffles. Just follow the directions. I didn't quite do that myself - seriously, wait for the steaming to stop, or your waffles will be limp. If you are impatient or, for any other reason, take the waffles out too soon - you can always toss them in the toaster for a bit.



I topped our waffles with PB & banana. The munchkin LOVED it. She had a mask and gloves of peanut butter. It was beautiful.

I served the waffles with soy-sage. I've done these in the microwave before & remember liking them. This time the texture was off. So I'm not sure what was going on.

Next time, I will monitor the steam situation, perhaps give a variety of fruits, and definitely look at turkey sausage or bacon!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Punk Rock Girl v. Princess

My husband & I were terrified when we found out that we were having a girl. Why? One word - princess.

There's plenty out there on princess culture. Or, you can just take a quick look around to see it. Little girl jammies with "princess" emblazoned over the bottom? Seriously? Yes. And so on.

So all we had to do was not buy those things, right? No tiara, no mani/pedi before age 5, etc. That's how we had it figured. 

And it looked like we were right on. Our little one plays in the dirty like you wouldn't believe and loves to hug and frollic with the dog. When she falls down, she almost always just gets right back up. The height of drama is a sing-song "uh-oh."

Yesterday, my mom picked her up a collection of Disney books at a garage sale. Today & yesterday, I tried to read her a few of them. They're 24 pages each & pretty wordy for someone under 1.5 years, so I wasn't sure how far I'd get. 

The Brave Little Tailor - 2 pages. 
Oliver & Company - 4 pages. 
Cinderella - 24 pages. Make that 48 pages, because she wanted to see it again. Oh, and 72, because she went back for it tonight.

As far as I know, Daphne's never seen Cinderella in any other format. I'll have to double check with school, but that's not the kind of thing I've seen. I think my parents would have mentioned if they'd watched a movie with her.

What does this mean? It means my daughter was innately drawn to Cinderella. What does that mean? Quite probably nothing. I'm not sweating this particular small thing. At the moment, I'm just observing with curiosity.

And here's a curiosity: Cinderella is nothing at all like the "princesses" in the princess culture. She certainly doesn't have time for a mani/pedi! She's kind, patient and a hard worker. (She's also beautiful with tiny feet.) I guess that's a role model I can accept.


In the final analysis, I don't think any aspect of a person's personality is wholly nuture OR nature. I think it's our job as parents to present a wide array of opportunities for my daughter. Where we see interest & talent, provide additional encouragement. Whether she turns out to be a princess or a punk rock girl, as long as she's kind & patient, and works hard - I'll pat myself on the back for a job well done. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Simple Summer Suppers, part 6 of 10 (Mommy & Me)

My husband is away for a few days for work. What do I do? Go get mommy/daughter mani/pedi's? Watch a princess movie marathon? Nah! I buy salmon. I giant hunk of salmon. 



The hubben loves sushi but hates cooked fish. He will tolerate tilapia but never with a smile. He once grilled salmon for me next to his chicken and complained about how the grill smelled.

Well, sorry, sweetie - after this meal, there will be more salmon in our house.

Disclaimer: I cooked this right after we got home from grocery shopping. And, of course, this was the first time ever that my little one became a true bearcat at the store, garnering stares of both sympathy & irritation. Once home, she became very lovey, insistently so. I made some minor adjustments to the menu to account for the fact that I was holding 27 lbs of squirmy love for most of the preparations.

So we get home & I throw everything inside as quickly as possible. Daphne puts up with this from her carseat perch, I think, for its novelty. I lock the door (because she can now open it), set the oven to preheat to 400F, set the alarm (because I'm paranoid), and set to work unpacking. Delightfully, the little one entertains herself for a good 15 minutes. As I find the various ingredients for tonight's meal, I set them aside. Once I have all the perishables stowed, I quickly slice one small yellow onion into half moons & spread them on a piece of foil. Then my luck runs out, and I have to start balancing a baby while prepping. Somehow, I managed to halve 1/3 a container of grape tomatoes (and even washed them first!). I put those on top the onions, then the salmon. Then salt & peppered the salmon, then topped off with some lemons. Wrapped the packet & set it in a shallow baking pan. Into the oven for about 25 minutes. 

Out came this!


Here's me tooting my own horn: it was fish-tastic! The lemon flavor came from the top, onion from the bottom, so each bite was a fabulous combo. I really love salmon, but sometimes the fattiness is a bit overwhelming. The acid of the lemon & tomatoes + the slight sweetness of the onion cut right through that (with a little help from tonight's cheap chardonnay).

While the fish was still in the oven, I chunked up a couple zucchini & tore into a 90-second pack of Uncle Ben's brown rice. I sprinkled the zucc with lemon pepper & a spray of olive oil Pam - micro for 3 minutes; then the rice went in.



And parents: yes, my daughter ate this. I like to give her her veggies first, so she eats them before she knows about the glorious starch. At first she wasn't too sure about the fish, but I did a bit of low-key coaxing/playing, resulting in her eating a good 2 ounces of salmon!

A couple of times while cooking this meal, I wondered if I'd lost my mind. It was just her & me. Why bother? Why not just "phone it in" & do PBJ's? She'll never remember this! Perhaps not. But I think she will grow up with the idea that meal times are special & that she is special. That being said, I think they're'll be very little cooking tomorrow!

Oh, and bonus - here's my lunch for Monday!



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Refrigerator Redux Rotini

Long story short: pasta salad and pasta sauces are a great way to use up leftovers. Those of you who want more details, read on.

So ... it's just possible I've gone a little overboard with my return to healthy cooking. I have ended up at the end of a few weeks with unused ingredients. I've also {... ahem...} not always gotten recipes just the way I imagined them.

So, what's a girl to do? Tonight I made pasta sauce!

Monday night I had roasted zucchini, yellow squash, an onion, and a red pepper. The yellow squash cooked much faster than the other items. It tasted great, but it was mushy - just not a fun texture. Also, after a couple meals, we were sort of tired of eating them in the same form.

There were some other random & sundry items hanging out in the fridge. As you can see above: 1/2 a container of grape tomatoes, ~2/3 a block of reduced fat feta, and maybe 2 TBSP Greek olive hummus.

I fired up a pot of water to boil & added about 1/2 a pound whole wheat rotini.


Meanwhile, I tossed everything else into my trusty food processor and let'er rip! I ended up adding a cup or so of plain marinara sauce (which was sitting half-full in the fridge). This just helped to smooth everything out.


After I drained the cooked pasta, I warmed the "sauce" through in the same pot, then I tossed it all together.


I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to call this a recipe. It's more of concept or method. But it is a great one to add to your arsenal.
It hits a couple highlights:
1. Frugality -- nothing frustrates me more than tossing out even half a container of grape tomatoes!
2. Creative use of veggies -- I really did not decide to do this meal to "hide" veggies and "trick" my daughter into eating them. My preference is to expose her to a variety of vegetables with a variety of preparations, with the hope of instilling a general love of vegetables. That being said, she chowed this down better than the whole roasted veggies!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Make-ahead Mondays (Simple Summer Suppers, Part 5 of 10)

I've been hearing "too hot to cook" with fair frequency the past few weeks.

I've seen lots of great solutions: 
  • Entirely cold-prep items, like entree salads
  • Minimal cooking, such as just grilling or pan-grilling the protein and serving cold sides
  • My personal favorite solutions have involved my grill-pan and my microwave.

Last Monday I hit on a novel (to me) solution, which I got to repeat tonight. I am lucky to have my parents watch my 16 month old daughter twice a week. Last week & this week, they've been at our house on Monday. As luck would have it, I was able to get off work early both days. My parents were able to stay while I did the motherload of prep work for the week's meals.


There it is, folks, a big chunk of what we'll be eating all week. (And LOTS of whole milk for the munchkin. And, yes, that is a Yuengling Light up there ... right next to the leftover Chrystal Light margarita mix ... behind the Boto Box Chardonnay. Okay, okay - and that's Hersey's Dark Syrup behind the milk!)

Tonight's steps:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Marinate 2 bone-in pork chops in Newman's Own Lite Lime Salad Dressing.
  3. Chop 3 small zucchinis, 4 small yellow squash, 1 red pepper, 1 sweet onion.
  4. Toss those veggies in a large metal bowl with EVOO, S&P; spread on two foil-lined cookie sheets.
  5. Snap ends off a bunch asparagus; toss in saved bowl; line up next to other veggies (don't mix in).
  6. Stick both sheets in oven; remove asparagus to a plate after 15-20 minutes & cover with foil; leave other veggies in 15-20 minutes longer.
  7. Meanwhile - whip up a half-batch of the magic BBQ sauce (see "Nothing to Brag About" - May 16th)
  8. Pour over 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a small, shallow pan. Cover with foil.
The menus:
  • Monday - grilled pork chops, roasted asparagus, whole wheat couscous with cilantro (leftovers)
  • Tuesday - BBQ baked chicken breasts, roasted veggies, microwave-steamed corn on the cob
  • Wednesday - Chicken sausage with sweet Italian peppers on whole wheat buns; leftover roasted veggies.
  • Thursday & Friday - TBD - there's some tilapia and shrimp in the freezer, some frozen stuffed peppers, a frozen pasta dish. There's pasta & sauce in the pantry. There's salad galore in the crisper.
Can you tell I like to stock up, in addition to making ahead?
Room for improvement --- what would be even cooler, is if I didn't have to even turn the oven on the rest of the week. Maybe I'll make that the goal for next week. Not only would it keep my kitchen cooler, but it would be good for the planet!

Monday late afternoons don't work for you? Can you  find a make-ahead moment (or 2)?