Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Do Bananas and Tori Spelling Have in Common?

To answer the blog title question, what they have in common is this post. There are three things on my mind that I need to write about: bananas, toddler vocabulary and Tori Spelling.

To understand why I want to talk about bananas, I first need to go back to the whole 30-Day Green Monster breakfast shake challenge. I am about halfway through and, while I am loving it, I am always hunting for new recipes, since my banana-blueberry blast is getting a bit played out. There is a world of food blogs out there that I am just starting to explore. It is very time-consuming. A friend sent me a link to a Green Monster blog that one day had a picture of something called banana soft serve. It looked appealing, so I googgled it and — lo and behold — there is a veritable underground movement to bring this tasty treat to tabletops everywhere.

It is the simplest thing: Peel ripe bananas; put them in the freezer; take them out and blend them in the food processor for a few minutes and viola, you get this delicious banana soft serve ice cream. That’s it! I add cinnamon and sometimes a little vanilla for a little extra kick. Did I mention it is delicious? This is going to be in heavy rotation in our house. Apparently it also qualifies as “raw” food, which is another thing I keep reading about on these foodie blogs. I can’t begin to adequately describe how tasty this is. Just try it. You will be shocked and stunned and in awe what a frozen banana turns into in a food processor. It really does taste like soft serve ice cream! The kids will think it is delicious too. Just try it. Did I mention I want other people to try it?

Moving on. The girls’ expanding vocabulary was cute at first, but now we seem to be stuck in a fugue of a few favorite phrases. Avery says one of the following four things ALL of the time:

• “I do it.”
• “Avery’s turn.”
• “Mine.”
• “No, Maddie, no!”

So she needs to do everything herself. And by “everything,” I mean everything. I made the mistake of lifting her off a stool at the sink after a short period of water play, but NO Momma, Avery has to climb down herself. So she promptly climbed back up the stool and down again. By herself. She has to put her shoes on herself. She needs to snap her car seat buckles and put milk in her sippy cup and screw the top back on. She wants to do to all and that is making certain tasks interminable. She tried to shred one piece of paper yesterday: It took her three minutes to get the flimsy paper into the slot. (Yes, I was supervising.) Thanks to this vocabulary detour, my responses to her have been reduced to “You did it!” and “Good job!” and “Keep trying…you can do it.” Which is fine and dandy, but when will we be able to move onto new topics?

Maddie’s favorite phrase is actually a word: “Bunge budge,” which is Maddie for Spongebob, which happens to be her favorite show. Maddie says other things that we don’t always understand. But Avery does. Last night at dinner, Madleine kept asking for something. Nicole and I had no idea what she was asking for. Avery cleared it up: Yogurt. Avery knew Maddie was asking for yogurt. How cute is that? I love the idea that these two may have their own secret language going on.

And now, apropos of nothing, Tori Spelling. I think I have mentioned in some posts how I read her two books and watched her show. Why on earth, some people want to know, do I watch her show and read her books? Fair questions. It is interesting how she has come to represent the cultural low brow, which has forced some people to be on the down-low about their appreciation of her. But I think I have figured it out. Her appeal to me, that is. First of all, she has issues with her mom and she isn’t afraid to write about it or talk about. What other Hollywood person can you think of who is outspoken about a problematic parental relationship? Some may call it airing dirty laundry, but I think it is just a coping mechanism and comes from a desire to truly make things work out. Hope springs eternal, right? There are some parallels there, between her and I. And I bought both books hoping to read an in-depth treatise on mother-daughter relationships. Someone needs to write that exploring the at times painful and prickly yet enduring and eternally important relationship between mothers and daughters.

And the show, well, I am not usually a fan of those type of reality shows, yet I find her show fun to watch. Yes, I know all reality shows are scripted, and this is too, I’m sure. But I feel like we still get a little flavor of real life in there, fights and all. I think it accurately portrays marriage as something that is wonderful, but something that is also difficult at times, something that takes work and compromise. And then there is something about the way Tori’s husband treats her. He is the picture of devotion, which reminds all of us watchers that we shouldn’t settle down till we find that too. The way he supports his wife and loves her and treats her like a princess and showers her with gifts and compliments her all the time? The compliments are the best part: It’s crazy how good a few words of niceness make one feel. Yes, I know their relationship started as illicit affair, but they seem to prove that you can get do-overs in life and you can get that happy ending. So regardless of what people think, I am going on the record and admitting I am a fan!

Pictured above, banana soft serve! Make it! And pizza, made instantly healthy with the addition of arugula. If only it were that easy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

No Borboun, No Scotch, No Beer

Seven years today, I drank a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Grand Dame (a bottle of champagne given to me by Ru.pert Murd.och…long story) and never drank again. That was Day One. I still can’t believe it has been seven years since I drank way more than I should. I have to admit there are times when I miss it. Or, more specifically, I miss certain aspects of it. Squinting through hangovers and trying to piece together fuzzy nights and checking my Recent Calls on the cell to see who I spoke with: I don’t miss those parts. But I miss the social-ness of drinking; the (temporary and artificial) relief it brought me at the end of the bad day. Or, more truthfully, at the end of every day. When I get together with friends and they casually order a glass of wine (which the may or may not finish) I envy them. I wish I could take or leave liquor; get a drink and not feel the need for another and another and another and hey let’s go to another bar the night is still young. I wish that I never let it get the better of me and I wish I still had control.

But I don’t, and I am grateful that I got to the point in my life when I realized my consumption wasn’t normal and I am glad that I was able to stop, after many fits and starts. I couldn’t have done it without the unconditional support that I got from Nicole. What a difference it makes to try to stop when your partner supports that fully. She stuck with me as I fidgeted through the newly long nights, which didn’t include the requisite nightly bar visit. She held my hand as I walked past dark havens and old haunts, with their siren call of yeasty beer smells and sticky floors and super-friendly bartenders. She was a pillar of strength as I fumbled through those precarious early days, and is a daily reminder just by her presence of all that I got for giving up drinking. Because if I still drank, I can guaratee that I wouldn’t be with her, we wouldn’t have children, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. My drinking path was destructive and isolating and not conducive to healthy relationships, let alone parenthood. Now, each year to mark this occassion, she writes me the most beautiful cards, telling me how proud she is (usually accompanied by a gift!) because this is, in sober land, truly a day to celebrate.

People don’t believe me sometimes when I tell them how bad it was. But it was bad. Blackouts and spoken regrets and drunk-dialing and reckless nights dancing on bars are the tip of the liquor iceberg. There was the time when I literally almost died. I was drunk and walking home to my boat when I slipped off the undulating dock and fell like a stone into the cold, choppy Hudson River. I was wearing clogs that slipped off my feet and sank and a dress, which billowed up around me, making my struggle that much harder. I struggled to find the surface for the water. I finally came up, but I was underneath the dock, still under water and panicking and choking. I struggled like a caged animal, trying to find air and trying to find the edge of the dock to pull myself up. My ex fished me out, using that supernatural strength that one is only capable of in dire, life-or-could-be-death situations. It was eye-opening and terrifying, but did I quit the drink then and there? Nope. That was not enough of a wake-up call.

Fourteen rounds. I remember nights at bars drinking 14 rounds of beer. I could drink many people under the table. I used to be proud of that; about how much I could drink.

It was so difficult in the beginning, but it is not terribly trying now at all. There are days or moments when I say to Nicole “I really, really wish I could drink now” but they are usually a gut response to a bad day or some emotional upheaval. There are those hot summer nights when I would kill for a wheat beer with a sliver of lemon and those cold nights when I want a glass of throat-warming scotch, but, in general, my desire to drink coincides with a desire to make a bad situation better or a boring evening more enjoyable. Sometimes when Nicole and I go away, especially to new places, we will be walking and pass a bar and one of us will say “If we were still drinking, we would be there right now.” And we would have.

The question I get asked most: Do I mind if others drink around me? No, I don’t mind at all if you drink. It doesn't tempt me or make me feel weak or compromise my sobriety. I have a couple of friends who will still ask, when we go out to dinner, if I mind if they drink. I think that is very sweet, but, as I tell them, I don't mind at all.

For me, quitting was a life-saving decision and one I am so grateful to have made.

Pictured above, me, the subtle drunk. Notice the almost-empty glass of scotch on my hand. I couldn’t even take my had off that glass to take a picture. And, apparently I couldn’t blink in time with the shutter. Also pictured, another drunk-in-the-day shot. This time, on my boat, sitting on my smoking perch. Notice the empties over my shoulder. And the vinyl pants.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Owe It All to the Italians and Their Superstitious New Year’s Diet

Fireworks and champagne were out of the question, so this year Nicole and I had to find another way to bring in the new year. For reasons I don’t understand, I wanted to add some sort of tradition; that is, one beyond my tradition of crying when the ball drops or the latest tradition, which involved sleeping through the ball drop (babies and their schedules and oh so tired mommies, I blame). I read how southerners eat black-eye peas and how the Japanese eat long buckwheat noodles: If they can eat one without chewing or breaking it, that means they are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. But I don’t like black-eyed peas and the noodle things sounded like a choking hazard.

I took to the nets and found a slew of Magical Foods from different cultures that make big promises if you consume them on New Year’s Eve or Day. Many of those foods offended my delicate taste sensibilities (aka, my super pickiness; to wit: A whole fish, eyes and all) so I selected Italian Lentils, the kind that look like little orangey-golden coins. The lentils, the Italians say, symbolizes money and good fortune. Who couldn’t use that? Eat them and money will fall you’re your lap. Whatever with long life, show me the money.

I went to Westerly, the local health food emporium, and scooped a giant portion of lentils into the plastic bag, paid and brought them home, completely unsure how one even cooks them. Back to the internet, and I got a recipe for these lentils, these lentil which would CERTAINLY change our lives.

So on January 1, 2009, I made a big dish of Italian lentils and made sure it was the first food we consumed in the morning on the first day of 2009. And, believe it or not, they worked. And worked. And worked. The first cash surprise was a completely unexpected check in the mail, some sort of real estate rebate that was cancelled by Bloomberg then reinstated. Then came a check for some overpayment of something. And then I got a very unexpected and large editing job. Last month, I won a baking contest at Nicole’s work and it unexpectedly came with a $100 gift certificate.

Anything that arrives in this house outside of Nicole’s paycheck I chalk up to the lentils. Yes, all of this would have happened I’m sure if we didn’t eat the beans but I am not taking any chances. I realized that some superstitions are fun. If I even find a sticky coin stuck to the floor in the laundry room I think “It’s the lentils working again!” I keep a scoop it the house at ALL times now (which is my variation on the superstition: Eat first thing in the new year and keep on hand at all times…) and will definitely be eating them on the morn of 2010. I want others to try it. What can it hurt? At the very least, the lentils are good to eat!

Pictured above, the lentils, in all their uncooked glory. And below that, dinner. I love salad but really don’t enjoy making them. It is so labor intensive. When I look in the fridge I must say that salad makings don’t really jump out at me. This was my modified Cobb (no bacon and no chicken) and it was really good. Cobb is my second favorite, right behind a bleu cheese wedge.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rolling With The Punches

First, thanks for all the comments and email. I appreciate every word of advice, encouragement, empathy, etc. This is all a learning process for me; letting go is just not in my nature. My sister-in-law said to me in her deliciously blunt way that I get disappointed when things don’t work out the way I want. Not just a little disappointed; a lot. I am very good at planning things, so my level of disappointment is continuous. And she is right. I need to be better at accepting things that I can’t change, and changing the things that I can. I want relationships to be a certain way, but there isn’t a cookie cutter for that. There is only so much I have control over, right? So I need to let go a little and let everything just be the way it is supposed to be. Easier said than done. I feel ok right now, but I am pretty certain that this feeling of calm acquiescence will ebb and flow.

In the meantime, I am distracting myself with tons of reading. I just downloaded Middlesex and am excited to begin it. So many books, so little time…

Avery is battling a summer cold, complete with rattling cough and runny nose. It also came with a fever, but that stopped a couple of days ago. Maddie has a minor version of it, and I suffered through a few days myself. I thought summer was the magically healthy time for toddlers. It makes me dread winter and its virus fest. But fall, I am so ready for. Enough of this summer in the city already. I want sweaters and leaves and scarves and brisk days.

Phrases heard in our house now all the time: “My turn.” “Mine!” “I do it!” “No Maddie no!” “Sorry, Momma!” Yes, we are definitely smack dab in the middle of a challenging phase. Which translates into eating battles too. Madeline eats great: Lots of fruit and veggies all day and an adventurous palette to boot. She will choose carrots over Fig Newtons and raspberries over chips! But Avery…not as good. She will not touch fruits of veggies and leans heavily on carbs. Our latest battle is getting them to eat at the table. They like to take their food on the run. We try to make sure we all eat dinner together at the table every night, but so far, no luck with breakfast, snacks or lunch.

Countdown two days till my seventh sober anniversary... quitting drinking was worth if only because it created a gift-receiving occasion!

Pictured above, morning shake before and after. It’s Day 12 already! I think I have found a good ratio of blueberries and bananas and milk and Chia seeds and powder. I may start adding flax seed because I am feeling cocky now. I got Nicole drinking them too. Today is Day Two for her. Also pictured, raspberry bars that I made for Nicole to take to work. I gave one to Maddie and she loved it. And then I remember that there are nuts in it. She has had minor allergic symptoms to nuts, so I guess I will be on high alert all day for hives and such. And the last picture, if you look closely at that car, you will see it is stuffed with oatmeal cookies I made for the girls. Not the best use of my baked good, though pretty creative, I must admit.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nothing To See Here

You know where to go for the secret blog. It’s up and ready for comments.

But here, business as usual. How about a boring shake update? I am loving my breakfast shake. Loving it. I experiment with different combinations of fruit each day; some are winners and some suck more than you think it could be possible for something that is mostly fruit. But it is such a great way to start the day. I am very much a momentum person, so if I start out eating healthy, then I can carry on with that throughout the day. Or, at least, until four-ish. My eating has been horrible lately. I skip meals daily, because it is summer and I am not fond of eating when it is hot out. Having that shake in the morning makes me feel like I am at least packing some nutrients into my scatter shot diet and starting the day off right. I have a feeling I may keep this habit far beyond the initial 30-day trial.

Nicole’s big news, for those of you who are so patiently waiting, is that she is moving to a new division in her company into a role that she is very excited about. May not seem milestone-y enough, but it is for her. The benefits of working for a bank with like 70,000 employees is that there is always room to grow, laterally and vertically. It is like Nicole just slid up a chute on a corporate game of Chutes and Ladders.

Random question: Has anyone read Middlesex? Should I read it? Yes, I am making you all responsible for my reading list. I am reading The 19th Wife and loving it. I am always up for a book about polygamy. I also just finished This is Where I Leave You and it was very, very good. It will make an awesome movie (already optioned).

Pictured above, blueberry and bananas and vanilla (and a scoop of the Green Monster powder). And the girls in their news shoes. They picked out their own colors! And, for the first time, really, they both feel ownership over something specific with permanence. Heretofore, they trade shoes and clothes and toys and everything belongs to everyone. But the red shoes are Maddie’s shoes. And the pink are Avery’s.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time to Batten Down the Hatches; Storm's a-Brewing

I want my money back because the so-called calming chamomile with hints of relaxing Tahitian vanilla shampoo is NOT working.

The background: I am back home in the city after a week on Long Island with four kids: my own and my niece and nephew. We stayed there for a week, in what is to become the first year of Camp Cousin, a tradition I would like to keep up so the kids can spend a week together. Cousin bonding time, if you will.

Of course, nothing goes quite as planned. And my next post, coming later today or tomorrow but certainly before the weekend's end, will be a private one. So dust off your passwords and email me if you lost it/forgot it.

I will say it is so nice to be home. Five days without Nicole is way too long, for the girls and for me. The only downside so far: Poor Avery is feverish and has a bad cough, which makes her even more cuddly than usual. It looks like it will be a quiet day for us at home.

Pictured above, Camp Cousin!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Lawsuit That Got Away....Maybe

About six weeks ago, I was in a major NYC food store (rhymes with “P-ristedes”) and had a bad fall. An embarrassing, flat-on-my-side kind of fall. One of the freezers along the back wall of the store was leaking and there was a big puddle, the size Lake Titicaca, that I somehow missed. In my haste to buy whatever it was I went to buy, I slid right into the puddle and fell hard on my ankle. I was a little stunned, and a couple of other shoppers came over to help me up. It hurt SO much. I got myself up and hobbled toward the exit, but my gait was slow enough that I saw one of the employees return to the scene with a mop and one of those danger cones.

I limped out of the store and back home, but the next day I was in so much pain I could barely walk. That has never happened to me before. Thirty-seven years on this planet and I have never limped. I had to hop to get around. We were going away that weekend (it was my birthday weekend) and we thought about canceling. But I didn’t want to do that so we kept our plans and hoped for the best.

Advil wasn’t cutting it. There were some extra Percocets left over from my C-section prescription. I didn’t finish the pills because I was so paranoid about breastfeeding and taking all these pain meds, even though all the doctors gave the ok, so I parsed them out and gritted through the pain, ostensibly to save my children from becoming addicted to pain meds in their first weeks of life. So I took the Percs while we were away and it help immeasurably with the pain. Within 20 minutes, I could walk with no problem. It is a miracle pill. Sure, I probably did extra damage by masking the pain and keeping on keeping on. But I am not the convalescing type. Thank you, Percoset, for getting me through hat rough week.

When it happened, one of the customers at the store mumbled that I should sue this store that rhymes with P-ristedes. But for what? I have health insurance, so any doctor visits are covered. I don’t have a physical labor job, so my income is not impacted. I had pills at home, so I didn’t even have to head to Duane Reade to get painkillers. The worst case scenario is I might have to go to the doctor and inconvenience Nicole to take a few hours off of work to stay with the girls. These things happen, and I was happy it wasn’t worse and I wasn’t going to sue. Besides, lawsuits take way too much time and money and note-taking. As my lawyer friend Jon says, lawsuits are not for the forgetful.

Except now, the pain is STILL there. A dull, throbbing pain that is intensified if I flex my foot or point the toes down. If I am sitting on the floor with the girls for a while, I feel it get tight. When I walk far distances, which I do daily in NYC, I feel a dull ache. I feel it when I run. The pain is not completely going away and I am pissed. But what’s a girl to do? Despite my revenge-driven theory that someone MUST pay for this, I am not going to sue. But I guess I have new insight into why people do sue, even when it seems like there experienced no real impact from an injury. It sucks that I have to deal with this because the store that rhymes with P-ristedes isn’t taking proper care of its freezers. (I have seen puddles there before, for the record.)

It’s Day Two of Green Monster, and I think this smoothie is better than the last: Bananas and blueberries and vanilla and milk. And the green powder. The semi-gross green power that promises oh so many things. Nicole tasted it today and declared it not undrinkable, but that very specific healthy powder flavor…well, it is a bit strong.

I am taking the powder on the road for a week, as I am heading to Long Island, where I will be hosting Camp Cousin. Leif and Skye are coming out for the week and I will be mothering four kids all. week. long. Yes, maybe I am biting off more than I can chew, but with a backyard and dens and kitchens and living rooms and dining rooms and a portable Bounce Castle, I feel empowered. I’ve created a menu for the week and will enforce a strict bedtime. There will be one movie per night, before bed, with popcorn. It is going to be difficult, but I am curious to see if the shake-in-the-morning helps me. I won’t be able to run, unless I get up WAY early and ask my mother to be in charge for that early morning hour. But we’ll see. I will be my new running shoes and maybe head to my old high school track, the site of many an embarrassing 440s and Presidential Fitness Tests.

Pictured above, Madeline in Nicole’s shoes. And the girls with Mommy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Would You Like A Side Order of Sleek, Functional Design with That?

Today is The Day. It is Friday, August 14 and this is the day that Molly and I begin of 30-Day Challenge. Thirty days of Green Monster Smoothies for breakfast, every day, without fail, dammit. And than means we have thirty days to find out if we reap any of the oft-hyped benefits, such as increased energy, healthy skin and nails and hair and a scrubbed-out set of internal organs. I want a spotless lower intestine. I want my sparkling liver. I want hair so shiny it can be used as a mirror. Whatever this magic powder promises, I want, plus a little more. Is that too much to ask?

Yesterday, Avery presented me with an additional milestone: She apologized to me, for the first time. Maddie took her crayons and for the tenth time created some art on various walls. It is frightening how fast she is and how many walls she can cover while I go into the kitchen to get some water. This is a girl with a mission. And then I come back and yell NO and, just to spite me and show me who’s boss, she does it in double time, as she knows the crayon will quickly be pried from her sticky little fingers and put back in the crayon drawer.

Back to the milestone. So as I am scrubbing away at yet another wall that will have a hazy hint of orange on it because I am not putting enough muscle power into it, and Avery came over to me and, for some reason, said “Sowwy, Momma.” I think she could tell I was frustrated by Crayon-gate, even though she only uses crayons on paper, like good girls everywhere do. And she also apologized after a ten-minute temper tantrum she had a few hours later. That apology came with a hug. It melts the heart!

Yesterday was hectic, with four kids in this house. Anyone with more than two kids, you have my COMPLETE awe and respect. For me, two kids are manageable. I am used to that dynamic and I can handle it, most of the time. But when you start adding kids, my patience gets shorter, my temper surfaces more and my exasperation is tripled. With two two-year-olds, a four year old and a six year old, there is always something going on. Someone’s fort is invaded, someone’s flashlight is pilfered, someone’s Gameboy — apparently called DXs or something now — is running out of batteries, someone’s stuffed dog Pepper is kidnapped. And, at certain times, everyone wants to sit on my lap at the same time. Life would have been a lot easier if I could find a cartoon that spans this toddler-preschooler-first-grader age range.

I know I promised to write about Nicole’s milestone, and I wrote it all up, in glorious detail, and read it to Nicole to make sure it was okay, but Nicole redacted it. I was censored! Which is not to say that I can’t share; I just need to write a less-detailed version. This is a woman who is not as used to sharing as I am! So please stand by.

In the meantime, I am flustered and excited by a surprise that showed up last night. Yesterday, due to a house full of kids and that lowered patience level, I was not capable of making dinner. I was in the mood for a chopped salad anyway and asked Nicole to pick it up on her way home from work. She did and when she came in she gave me the bag and asked me to set it up because she was SO hungry. That should have a been a clue.

I opened the bag and pull out my salad and her wrap and some cheap forks and an iPhone! She went to the Mac Store and got us both iPhones yesterday! I have been a Mac girl since my college days and converted Nicole. We both have been coveting them since they were announced, but thought we should wait eight months until our Verizon plan expired. She is pragmatic and logical and not the type to pay the extra fee for terminating a contract early. But I am glad she had a lapse!

The modified Gift of The Magi part was I was going up to The Mac Store today with the girls to buy one for Nicole. She has been talking about getting one a lot lately, and I thought, aha, here is a gift that Nicole will love and I am going to make it happen, extra fees be damned. She is so hard to buy for so when an opportunity presents itself, I like to jump on it.

I had my surprise for her all planned out, but she beat me to the punch. The best part is the only reason why I didn’t go yesterday was because I thought four kids in the Mac Store would push me over the edge. Otherwise I might have run into her! So let the record reflect that once again, she buys what she wants and needs when she wants and need them, thus ruining every gift-giving occasion. So when she gets dish towels for her birthday, she really has no one to blame but herself.

Pictured above, the best Chop't salad I have ever had! And the kids and their digital childhood.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to Build A Cookie Burger

Yeah, I know I promised to reveal Nicole’s Big Milestone, but I have to wait one more day. Or, specifically, until later this afternoon but the likelihood of me posting twice in one day are slim. Leif and Skye are coming over again today, and with a house full of children, it is impossible to squeeze in time for things like that. So tomorrow, tomorrow.

There is a good chance that I will have melted by tomorrow though. It is HOT in the apartment. I reason that it is on the top floor so all of the heat must rise into our home. Plus, we are under the roof, so we get that extra hit of warming sun. But it is consistently 85 degrees in this apartment. And that is not an exaggeration: I have an indoor thermometer. We have an AC in the bedroom, and used to have one I the girls’ room to, but we never put the second AC in and moved it out to LI instead. Big mistake. It gets unbelievable hot in here, and when I use the oven, forget it. If you don’t believe me, ask Ms. Unwellness
. She and Beck came over yesterday and can attest to the fact that it felt like an oven. So today, I am looking for two ACs: One for the girls’ room and one for the kitchen. I can only imagine what our electric bill will be: Right now, with one AC that is usually on just at night, our bill is $240 a month.

These days, pretty much al of my recipes come from Cooks Illustrated. I love that book/magazine/website. Amazing recipes and pretty much everything I make from it is a huge hit. So the Challah bread recipe came from there. It is way to long to type up! The website is one of those that you have t pay for, but the do have a free 14-day trial.

And here is the hamburger cookie recipe:

Hamburger Cookies With A Side Of (French or Freedom) Fries

• 1 big box (12 oz.) Nilla* wafers
• 1/2 cup powdered sugar
• 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips or about 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate in bar form
• 1/3 cup milk (whole, skim, almond, whatever)
• 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
• 1/2 teaspoon water
• green food coloring
• Red and yellow decorating gels, the kind usually used to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY on a cake (for ketchup and mustard)

If You Want A Sesame Seed Bun:
• Melted butter or gum Arabic
• Sesame seeds, or, if you insist on maintaining the sweet integrity of the cookie you can use marzipan or fondant to create little things that look like sesame seeds.


Put about twenty Nilla wafers into a Ziploc or mini food processor and crush into small pieces (not a fine crumb…more like a chunky crumb). This should yield about 1½ cups. Mix wafer crumbs with powdered sugar in a bowl. I will not be pedantic and say what size bowl to use. I think you can figure it out.
Melt chocolate and milk on stove (or in the microwave). Stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once melted, pour chocolate mixture into wafer mixture; stir until combined. It will be chunky and kind of fudge-like, like a really thick cookie dough. Cool for 10 minutes. Then, after it has cooled a little, roll this chunky fudgey-like dough into little balls (about one tablespoon each). Then flatten them so they look like little patties.
Combine coconut, drops of water and green food coloring in a Ziplock. Seal bag and shake shake shake till it’s as green as you want.
Now build the burgers. Start with one Nilla wafer, then add the patty, then add a smidgen of green coconut, then add ketchup and mustard. I squeezed the mustard and ketchup in ovals on the patty’s tops, so it sort of dips down on the side of the bun. Put Nilla wafer on top. If you want to add sesame seeds, then melt butter and brush a little on top and drop on some seeds. Or use Gum Arabic, which is an edible adhesive used in baking that is flavorless. You can add flavor to this flavorless gum if you want by adding Colorless Vanilla. But melted butter works just fine too, and is easy.
Ideas that I may try in the future: Using fruit rolls up of a yellow or orange variety and cut into little squares to make cheese. Also, there has to be a gummi candy that can be slice to look like a tomato. And, finally, I bet you can use white chocolate and then color it to make it look like veggie burgers or chicken/turkey burgers.
The Fries:
Make sugar cookie dough OR just buy the rolled-up, ready-to-bake kind. I did the latter for my first attempt. Roll out the sugar dough on parchment paper, then sprinkle sugar all over the tops and then, using a pizza cutter, slice it into thin strips. Then — and this is very important — put the whole thing in the freezer, like you do if you are making cut-out sugar cookies. If you try to separate the pieces before freezing it, it will not work. Once frozen (I think about 15 minutes) then you can lift up the dough and break off the strips. Unbelievably easy.
Put the thin strips on a parchment-paper–covered baking sheet, spaced apart, and cook. When they are done you are going to think “This doesn’t look right” because the pieces are all puffed up and look like fat fingers and not like French fries at all. But that’s ok. As soon as you take them out of the oven, take your pizza cutter and immediately cut the puffed up pieces into thin shoestring-like strips. If you wait too long (just minutes) the cookies will harden and it will be impossible to slice into thinner strips. Also, as soon as you take it out of the oven, you can sprinkle more sugar on it to make it extra delicious and make them look like extra-crispy fries.
* I use Nilla wafers, but I am sure any old kind of vanilla wafer cookie will work.

Pictured above, cookie close-ups. And my Green Monster Smoothie! The thirty-day challenge has not officially begun yet, but I wanted to have a couple of days to try to ramp up my smoothie-making skills. My fruit combining skills begin and end at banana-strawberry. So I am trying to add blueberries and blackberries and orange and everything else. Thinking outside of the fruit box, if you will. The color is not very appealing and the taste is decidedly healthy. Let’s just say my versions won’t be mass marketed anytime soon. I made one yesterday and, this may be a revisionist history, but I had A TON of energy afterward. While watching all four kids, I cleaned the bathroom, organized the bedroom, and cleaned up the entire kitchen. I was unstoppable? Coincidence? We’ll see….

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Green was My Monster?

It was a milestone sort of day round these here parts. And each person in this family has one to share.

Avery’s Milestone: Avery put on her shoes all by herself. Her new and constanly repeated motto is “Avery do eet” and, I am proud to say, she is dabbling in personal pronouns, which translates into “I-a do eet.” Now she says this all the time, which can be charming and wonderful, but can also turn any simple task into a fifteen minute event or a thirty-minute massive inconvenience. Avery wants to pour her own Cheerios? Five minutes, including clean-up time. Avery wants to use the remote to put on Curious George? That is easily ten minutes. Because when Avery does it that mean I can’t do a thing, except bark orders like a coach on the sidelines, trying to use as many words that she understands as possible. Which sounds a whole lot like “Now touch the round button, no, the circle button, in the middle, right there, circle, circle, circle, round, right there, yes round, no touch it, oh, no, you have to point it at the TV, now touch it, touch the round button…” and just play that on a loop for ten minutes and you will get what I am up against.

Back to her milestone. Today, I couldn’t find her trust summer crocs so I dug in the bag of niece and nephew hand-me-downs and found a pair of Velcro sandals. And Avery put them on all by herself. Yes, she put them on the wrong feet, but still, progress. And she wouldn’t let me fix them. Which makes me wonder, is she already turning into a surly teenager?

Madeline’s Milestone: Not to be outdone by her sister and coming in just under the wire, Madeline flung herself out of her crib tonight. This is her second time; the first being about two months ago. Nicole and I were in our bedroom and heard the whole thing on the monitor, including Avery egging Maddie on with “Go get it, Maddie.” Hmmm. And then, that unmistakable thunk of thirty pounds of toddler hitting hard wooden floor, cushioned only by a thin rug. We have no idea where she hit herself, because by the time we made it to their room, she was already standing and screaming. We soothed her and Avery the Instigator and put them back down. But, at ten, while the girls were sound asleep, I went into their dark oasis of a room, scooped up Madeline and nestled her in our bed with Nicole on one side and my pillow on the other, since I am here typing in the kitchen. I feel better having her close to us after she takes a fall like that.

My Milestone: I made mini hamburger cookies today for Leif and Skye, who are under my care tomorrow. The cookies have received praise from Nicole and several friends already. I am happy to explain how it is done, if anyone wants to know. I made them with the girls, but I gave them decoy tasks: “Here, Avery, mix these Cheerios with cranberries.” “Here Maddie, add these cranberries to Avery’s mix.” Because they like to help, and, as I pointed out before, their help is my hindrance, usually. Once they were distracted I was able to build a better cookie burger. And tomorrow, I will make its fries. Next up on my baking short list is a14-layer cake. Oh, yes I am. I just need a function to bring it to. So someone, quick, invite me over and ask me to bring dessert. And I will, and it will be a 14-layer cake.

Nicole’s Milestone: Here’s where I get to be coy. Nicole has a big milestone, but I won’t be able to announce it until tomorrow.

And, in exciting news (for me), breakfast change is a-foot. I have been struggling with the breakfast dilemma for a while now. Peanut toast became very unappealing once we went through the mouse issue, and peanut butter was used as bait. I am not a cereal eater; nor do I enjoy yogurt. Sadly, fruit is not top on my list and toast is boring without protein-packed peanut butter slathered on it. I love pancakes and French toast and such, but they are way too intense for a casual weekday meal. I was talking with my friend Molly and she is all about smoothies and Green Monsters. She has done all sorts of research and has collected anecdotal evidence of Green Monster Smoothies being The Answer to All That Ails You. After a short conversation I was convinced smoothies were the answer to everything, too: Not only are they easy to make, but they pack in a huge amount of healthy fruit and veggie servings in a teeny spoonful of powder. I ran off to Whole Foods to buy the powder and once Molly’s package arrives in the mail, we will be embarking on a 30-Day Challenge of one smoothie a day, with the intention of finding out if our nails and hair grow faster; if our skin looks all glow-y; if our energy levels increase and if we feel detoxed. Stay tuned.

Pictured above, Avery’s milestone and my milestone and the new Green Superfood. Miracle in a can? We’ll see….

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Perhaps I am Overthinking This Whole Parenting Thing

I have had more than one person comment to me recently that they are not the mother they thought they would be. They then are quick enumerate the many, many ways in which they claim to be a disappointment to themselves. In the past I never gave this much thought because I have said the very same thing myself and had my own list at the ready. But now, I’ve been thinking, maybe I (we) need to let up on myself (ourselves) a little.

Yeah, I had a vision of what kind of mother I would be. But this is a vision I created before I knew what it was like to have children; a daydream I created while going through the hell of trying to get and stay pregnant; a carefully designed mirage that turned out to be pure fantasy and speculation and wishful thinking. And we are beating ourselves up because we don’t live up to this? I also thought pregnancy would be a lovely, glowing Madonna and Child(ren) experience, steeped in wonder and awe. Nope, sciatic nerve zaps and constant urination and perpetual discomfort weren’t a part of that image.

Like many people born in the seventies and earlier, there are just a handful of blurry and fading pictures and a few fuzzy home movies to encapsulate my childhood, which pales in comparison to the blogs and pictures and home movies and books that my own children have. Perhaps the girls will someday be embarrassed of this biographical bounty. Time will tell. I guess I am motivated by my personal lament for more evidence that I existed before I was ten/twelve years old, which is around when most of memories start. (I will never, ever win that “When was your earliest memory?” game.) So I observe and record and capture and document and save save save every last detail of the girls’ lives, for their sakes and for my own. Someday when one asks me what there favorite food was when they were two, I need to be able to answer it. (For the record, Avery is loving fig newtons and pizza and, suddenly, pastina, and Madeline leans toward all types of fruit.)

But for most people, memories makes up for what lacks in pictures and warping VHS tapes. This is where I fall way short. My memories are so fractured and just plain scant.
But it is, for me, impossible to parent without conjuring up how I was parented. How I parent either aligns with what was done with me or, more often than not, contradicts it. And there is a whole lot of just guessing on my part, of sort of feeling around in the dark until I find something that resembles a door knob so I can open a door and let in some light, because there is a whole lot I don’t remember. What I do remember is not so great. And it makes me feel sorry for the little me. Yeah, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true. I look at my beautiful daughters every day and think how DARE everyone not love them to pieces. Did my parents think that about me?

This might be a good time to recall that actions speak much louder than words.

So I kiss the girls each a hundred times a day, at least, and despite my tendency toward hyperbole, this is not a case of exaggeration. I do it because I never remember that as a child. Specifically, I have no memories of being kissed, or hugged, or even really touched much. Therefore, “Kiss Often” is part of my Parenting Blueprint. And the rest of it, I think Nicole and I are making up as we go along, and that seems fine.

There are a million books out there and lots of unsolicited advice, but maybe parenting is such a unique and highly personal endeavor that it is impossible to define it in broad strokes or ten chapters. Maybe it’s not about enrolling the girls in dance classes or taking them to the playground every day or limiting their television viewing. And maybe my parenting prowess will not be measured by how many food groups I can get them to ingest or by the length of their afternoon nap. Maybe it won’t even be measured by the girls’ memories. Maybe it is just a new small, attainable goal each day, and striving to make sure the girls feel loved.

I have said to other people — and other people have said to me — that the very fact that you are thinking about your parenting skills makes you a good parent. Let’s hope that is true!

Pictured above, what happens when Madeline eats applesauce unsupervised! And Avery with her new hair do (introducing: Barrettes!) And Madeline with the French Toast Nicole made from the Challah bread I made. Did you follow that? It was my first try making Challah and it was pretty good!