Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Man's Favorite Breakfast

My Man uses few words to describe food. When he loves a particular meal, really loves it, it gets four words: "That's a DO OVER." When my Guy is not so fond of a dish he says, "It wasn't my favorite."

Again, four words.

One can imagine my astonishment last year when this same Man of mine came home from a trip and spent half of his day's allotment of words describing a breakfast he'd eaten while traveling. He used words like crunchy, roasted, cream, crust, and steam. Also included in his description was the size and shape of the bowl, the sound the spoon made when it cracked through baked crust. The detail he used as he told me just how the tiniest amount heavy cream cascaded over the bowl's contents was simply poetic.

What was in that bowl?


You're let down, I know...but don't be. It's better than just oatmeal.

I have, you can bet, been on mission to replicate that perfect breakfast-- the breakfast to which my Man  would certainly compare all other breakfasts.

I'm thrilled to report that I've come very close to the lauded oatmeal concoction and I'm here to share it with you. It's the perfect breakfast for gray winter days because it warms your kitchen first thing in the morning and it warms your belly right after that.

Here goes:

Winter's Best Oatmeal
{from Annies-Eats via Super Natural Every Day}

{Printable recipe HERE}


1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup toasted pecans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup of milk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons melted butter, cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ripe bananas sliced into rounds
1 cup blackberries or blueberries or strawberries (any seasonal great is that?)


Preheat your oven to 375˚. Spray a 2 quart baking dish or a small casserole dish. If you choose a deep dish, you get crunch on top and lots of creamy underneath. If you choose a shallower dish, you get a higher crunch to creamy ratio. It's totally up to you.

Now, let's talk about the pecans. You can also use walnuts if that's what you've got on hand. You can also skip the nuts altogether if you aren't a nuts kind of person. I am, at times not a nuts kind of person. That is to say, I'm usually nuts, but I don't always enjoy eating nuts in my baked goods. HOWEVER...I highly recommend that you give the nuts a try in this. They kind of make it wonderful. Also you don't have to take the extra step of roasting the nuts if you are in a hurry and your kids' bus is heading down the street and all. HOWEVER...if you have time, while you are getting the rest of the ingredients out of the cabinets ROAST THOSE NUTS. It's so very worth the very easy extra step.

To toast the nuts:
Warm a skillet and place nuts in a single layer. Toss them around every few minutes until you can smell the um...nuttiness. Don't let them burn. When you smell 'em take them off the heat and when they are cooled, break them in half or into bite sized pieces. Simple as that!

For the oatmeal:{Pictured in this post is a double batch in a 9x13 pan. The directions are the same for whichever size you are making.}

In a bowl combine the oats, half of the nuts, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl combine the milk, maple syrup*, egg, melted butter, and the vanilla. Stir well to combine.
*(You'll need the Pure Maple Syrup that comes in the smallish bottle with the biggish price tag. This is the only sweetener in this recipe and it's so much better than sugar. The pure maple syrup will last you a long time. You won't be sorry.)

Slice the bananas and place them in a single-ish layer in the bottom of the baking dish. 

 Add half of the berries to the bananas.

Then top that with the oat and nut mixture.

Now, pour the milk and egg mixture gently over the top of the dry mixture distributing it as evenly as possible.

Sprinkle the rest of the berries and nuts over the top...

...and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top has browned and the oatmeal is set.

Serve with milk or if you're feeling especially indulgent, with a little warmed heavy cream (just about 3 tablespoons will do). If you decide to go ahead and prepare a double batch, just keep the leftovers in a sealed container and reheat in the microwave. 

We make this often with blueberries and have used chopped apples in place of the berries with good results as well.

Honestly, it's a wonderful way to begin the day!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Midnight Cry


It was the littlest voice from the top of the stairs and it was fifteen minutes past midnight. Her dad is usually the one who answers her night time calls, but tonight I was not yet in bed so I went to her.

"Molly, what do you need?" She was sitting up in her bed looking about as if trying to figure out where she was or maybe what it was that had woken her.

She looked at me with exasperation...

"Peace, Mom. I just really need some peace! I can hear Meg's radio so loud. I'll just listen to Meg's music for now."

Ok then.

"Molly, do you want me to turn your music off in here?"

There was such a jumbled mix of music coming each of the three rooms upstairs at that late hour.

"Yes Mom, that will give me some peace."

I turned off her CD player and returned to her bed to tuck the blankets under her chin. She squirmed in tight and opened an eye and looked at me.

"Now I'll be quiet and give YOU some peace too!"

Yes. That's just what she said.

Happily, she was true to her word!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Laundry and The Vegetables

My Lego girl came cruising into the kitchen when I called her for dinner tonight.

She'd been hard at work all afternoon folding clothes which is a favorite chore of hers because upon completion of her chore she is well aware of where each piece of her clothing is located. She knows what is still to be washed, what is folded, and in which drawer she has placed each piece of her beloved wardrobe.

Handy knowledge for a girl who is mentally planning what she will wear to activities that are on next week's calendar.

Today, she went above and beyond the call...

So when she entered the kitchen and her brother was just spooning a pile of mixed vegetables onto her plate she looked at me and said...

"Hey, since I...ya know...folded all of that laundry today..." here she paused to tilt her head in the direction of the stacks, sorted and stacked..."how 'bout if I don't have to eat any of those vegetables?"

What I almost said...

"Oh no no no. We've gotta keep YOU healthy, so that you can do all that laundry again next week! Do you think you could see your way clear to eating a few servings of spinach and kale tonight too? How about some steak while we're at it and maybe some broccoli? Did you take your vitamins today?"

What I actually said...

"Oh, Kate. You gotta eat 'em."

Later I said, "And here...ten Legos for you!"

"Well," she said, "I'd think SO!"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lego Worthy

There's this kid we like to call Kate who lives in our house.

Sometimes we refer to her as Hurricane Kate and for good reason. Our Kate moves through her world and ours at a speed that is simply remarkable. In fact, I find myself remarking quite often...

"Kate, slow down."

"Kate, come back here and walk this time."

"Kate, your are runnnn...Come BACK HERE I WAS TALKING TO YOU!"

"Stop running, are gonna get hurt!"

And on it goes. Kate rarely gets hurt as a result of her speed, she is rarely even aware of her speed, but still it does cause her to get into trouble every now and then.

We've learned that Kate moves so quickly because her mind is approximately seven steps ahead of her body and her sprightly little body is constantly trying to keep up! We've also come to the conclusion that the trail that is left behind Hurricane Kate is a direct result of this body/mind conundrum.

Who has time to rinse the post-toothbrushing sink when her brain is frantically planning her outfit for the day?...go, go, go!

She'd like to pick up her PJs, but she's just thought of a perfect game to play with Molly...hustle now!

She didn't mean to spill the sugar for her hot tea but she simply had to tell Megan about a secret plan she was crafting which would be the most wonderful after school adventure...quick, go whisper in Meg's ear!

And that trail of doll clothes from her room to her math papers? Honestly, she was just preparing to pack the doll's clothes for a trip in two weeks, when she remembered that she'd been summoned to school.

Whew! That's just her morning!

Whizbang through the day my gal flies expecting that we can all keep up...few of us ever succeed. The constant pleadings from her breathless parents to please, please, pretty please pick up after herself were not meeting with much success. We'd tried everything we could think of, taking her things, not letting her choose her own clothes (the horrors!), ignoring the problem (sometimes we just had to), begging, using guilt, more begging...until a funny thing happened...

Kate discovered that she rather enjoyed the challenge and the achievement of putting together Lego sets.
{I realize that Kate is blurry in this picture...see above for explanation!}

I remembered something I read years ago from a book entitled Creative Correction by Lisa Welchel and we've morphed it into a plan here at our house. My Man took Kate shopping for a Lego set and surprised her with not one set, but two. One set was to enjoy immediately and the other set, the one she was most excited about, was for her to earn, piece by piece.

We gave Kate a short list of things we needed her to practice regularly: keeping her clothes picked up and neatly folded in her dresser drawers, cleaning the sink after she brushed her teeth, and keeping her room in good order. If upon surprise inspection, her areas of responsibility are found in good shape, she would be awarded a Lego or two from her set. 

Kate's room has never looked better...consistently!

She's gotten the hang of looking after herself a bit better, and is owed Legos on a regular basis these days. Soon, she'll have that whole set and by then she'll have gained a lifelong habit (one hopes) of tidiness. 

Now when we ask our Tropical Storm Kate, "Is your room Lego worthy?" more often than not we are answered with a confident, "Yes sir!," or "Yes ma'am!" We rarely need to even remind her to pick up her things anymore and that absence of nagging, begging, and pleading has been...delightful!

Go Kate!
{oh, but not so FAST!!}

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Story and A Snicker

I wish you could hear the laughter that accompanies this picture...

 My Man was reading to the kids this evening in one of those spur-of-the-moments from a gem of a book of Molly's that has such humor and charm all ages and stages can appreciate it.

That much laughter ensued was a testament to the reader who laughed so heartily between pages that the kids couldn't help but join in. That they were still laughing when I returned with the camera is a testament to very funny book about...
{I know...we're kinda beyond help over here!}

We Are In A Book by Mo Willems

Mr. Willems has also written many other delightful books including Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and, and, and...let's say it this way...if Mo Willems wrote it, you're gonna grin when you read it. 

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” 
~Charles Dickens~

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Reading Race

Last year I lost the contest.

This year I intend to win...BIG.

A year ago I challenged my boy, the most eager reader of my gang, to a contest: who could read the most books in 2012? Turns out, he could. I gave him a good game though.

I began the year with a fun mystery in a favorite series. He started with a favorite series mystery too which, I'm just now noticing was only 24 pages long? Hmmmmmmm.

I landed next in France with this lovely book and my kiddo read Star of Stone which comes in at a redeeming 300+ pages.

Further down on my list were a few books I'd read aloud to the kids. I feel I should get extra points for reading every word of these out loud, but Cole threw a red flag up when I suggested that especially since I told him that he couldn't count them at all even though he'd listened to every word along with his siblings. Read aloud last year:

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Lovely! Lovely! Kate and Molly and I are reading another by the same author right now.)
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (We started this one years ago and didn't finish, we still wanted to know what happened so we began once more and were so glad we did!)
  • The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders (This was a short read, completed in two sittings. It was lots of fun and interesting for the little girls and equally interesting and very thought provoking to the older kids and reader as well. The illustrations by Lane Smith were wonderful and the main character's name is a real winner: Capable!)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (What a treat is was to read one of my childhood favorites to my kids. It took us three starts through the last two years to get a good momentum going with this one and then it just flew! We plan on reading the next in the series this year.)
  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (I read this to Kate as part of her school work this year. Cole and Meg and I read it years ago when they were in 2nd grade. This was the first time I'd read it to a child who had already seen the movie and that certainly put an interesting spin on it. This reading was from The 60th Anniversary edition with a forward by Kate DiCamillo which in itself is worth the price of the book! A treasure.)

Cole, after years of hesitation from his parents, took to the Harry Potter series with a vengeance and completed the first three in the series.

I, too, was reading in a sort of theme-driven way and was attempting to hone my writing skills by reading Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), The Writing Life, and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

At some point during the year Cole's father insisted on him adding some non-fiction to his list and Cole appeased with the likes of Jesus Freaks: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, The Good Life by Tripp Lee and Matt Chandler, Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris,  City on Our Knees by Toby Mac and Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow.

My non-fiction section looked something like a foodie's buffet with Yes, Chef, Food Rules, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Then to work off all of that food knowledge, I plunged into another theme with Born To Run, and Run Like a Mother.

With the end of the year approaching and the time for reading was dwindling quickly, and we did the best we could up until Christmas and then we discovered that to the best of each of our records we were TIED at 23 books each. This would never do. In the precious days between Christmas and New Years Eve, each of us could be found reading with purpose! Cole was intent on finishing some of his books by his new fav author Ted Dekker: Identity, Lunatic, The Martyr's Song.

I read fervently and finished a book on December 30, so did Cole. Not to be out done, I polished off another the very same did Cole and just before the year ticked to an end the next day, he finished another  (all of this while sticking to a vigorous college football bowl viewing schedule) AND he remembered two or three more books that he'd forgotten to list earlier and cinched the victory! My Man, trying to come to my aid suggested that we instead count pages read and not the number of books. Quickly, behind Cole's back, I waved off that suggestion knowing that I'd been well creamed in the page count too.

Soundly skunked.

Since my defeat at the hands of a thirteen-year-old I have spent a happy hour or two or maybe three (?) consulting "Best of" and "Highly Anticipated" lists as well as my smart phone** to compile, in scary uncharacteristic detail, my 2013 Reading List. Cole has chosen, in an equally uncharacteristic move to keep his list less formal and not really have an official list at all?!?!

Here's what I the end of the year...ONLY the books that are actually ON the "Books Completed" LIST will be counted! (Thus sayeth the MOM, a.k.a. the loser of last year's contest.)

I'm excited to report that as of today I am two or three books ahead of The Boy and I plan to keep things that way!!

*WHAT, you may be wondering, has my smart phone got to do with my book list for the year? Well, when I come across book that interests me that I'm not ready to read yet but know that I'm going to want to remember, I snap a picture of it (and also of any the children are interested in) so I'll not forget.

 When I'm ready for a new book, all I have to do is look at my photo gallery on my phone!

Wishing you 
many happy reads
 in 2013!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Little Cheesy

So I've got a head of cauliflower and it's cold as scadoodle out, therefore...soup anyone? I've never made cauliflower soup before but I'm pretty sure this one will be a keeper because it has a very equitable cheese to vegetable ratio. No kidding, my Man loves cheese and has developed a truce with the lowly cauliflower so I'm living in the land of culinary confidence...for now anyway.

Cheesy Roasted Cauliflower Soup
{Adapted from Naturally Ella}

{Printable Recipe Here}

Here's what we're cooking with:
1 medium head cauliflower
2 TBSP olive oil (or coconut or canola)
2 cloves garlic
a pinch of thyme (to your taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (same as above)
3-4 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese for topping

Here's what we'll do:
Turn your oven on to 400˚. Grab that head of cauliflower and cut it into small pieces, a little smaller than you might find it on a vegetable tray. Cut the head in half and then in half again.
Cut out what is left of the main stem and at that point you can pretty much begin to use your hands to tear the cauliflower in to small pieces. Don't get too persnickety, the end result is a smooth soup, so it really doesn't matter if they are all perfectly sized and shaped at this point. Do try to keep them in the same size zip code though, if only for the sake of even roasting in the oven.

Place the cauliflower pieces on a rimed baking sheet and drizzle a tablespoon or so of coconut or olive oil over the pieces and then stir them about a bit so that each piece gets some oil.

Throw some salt and pepper onto the cauliflower and place it in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until it's just beginning to get brown on the edges. You'll know when it's finished because it will be soft and tender when you sample that first piece off of the tray. If it's finished, quickly add it to the soup, if you do not, you will eat it like candy and there won't be enough for your yummy soup. You should guard it well, roasted cauliflower is terribly addictive.

While the cauliflower is roasting you'll need to get your garlic, give it a whack to get the papery stuff off of it then cut it into tiny little pieces.

{Or you could grab that little jar of minced garlic out of your fridge, either way is great!} Place the other tablespoon of oil into your soup pot and heat it over medium heat. Add the garlic and and cook for one minute and not a second more, you don't want to burn the garlic...yick!

Add the broth and the seasonings to the soup pot and add the cauliflower after it has finished roasting.

Bring the soup to a boil and boil for a minute then allow it to simmer for 8-10 additional minutes.

While you're waiting for the soup to boil, you might warn your Man that he's probably going to want to go shopping for more cauliflower as soon as he tastes this soup because he's gonna want you to make more of it. He may or may not tell you not to hold your breath.

After the soup has simmered, remove it from the heat and using a blender or an immersion blender (I just got one for Christmas!!) puree the soup. If you are using a blender, work in batches and let the soup cool a bit first. If you don't, you may have an explosion in when you turn on the blender. I speak from experience.

After blending, taste it and adjust the seasonings let it cook for a few more minutes then add the cheese!  Stir until smooth and serve it up with additional cheese on top if you like!

Cole and I added Sriracha {rooster} sauce in a very modest amount to add a little kick to this ultra creamy and belly-warming soup which is easily worthy of a comfort food ranking except that it lacks the fat and calories that usually accompanies such dishes. It has the feel and taste of a creamy cheesy potato soup with out any of the cream and butter!

The Cheesy Cauliflower Soup was a hit here...except for you-know-who who thought that it "tasted too much like cauliflower." Thankfully, I was not holding my breath!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Plumb Line

You know what's difficult about being a parent?

There are no doubt many, many difficult tasks we could list here:  refereeing sibling battles, cleaning up daily spills of bright red juice, stepping in a sticky spot on the floor made by a bright red juice spill, not losing your religion as you try to peel your fuzzy white sock out of the red sticky mess, removing stains from clothes, keeping up with the laundry, mating socks...I digress.

What I am finding difficult of late, as a parent and really, as an adult, is sifting and sorting through the vast amount of information that comes flooding into our home in any given five minutes of everyday.

It. is. overwhelming.

I just finished a book by Jacques Bonnet who has amassed a library of over 10,000 books in his lifetime. He wrote in his book that the internet has changed the landscape of book collecting since its creation many years ago and that his personal library would look very different if he'd had the internet as a resource during his years of gathering books.

"The problem," he rightly says, "in years to come will not be how to accumulate books in order to have them within reach, but to find one's way through the exponentially mass of publications."

One would think that a bookish person like me would cheer the ever-increasing volume of books available for the choosing and there is a part of my heart that does sing over all of the opportunity. The other part of my heart chimes doom when I think about parenting my children through the rising sea of information.

It's not simply a question of what is or is not appropriate for the ages and stages of the children. That would be an easy one to figure out...

" Sure no problem, just don't look at all those ads."

" Can you watch Phineas and Ferb? Hmmmm, it's on The Disney Channel and is aimed at young kids, sure."

"You want to read the latest Young Adult fiction displayed front and center in the kid's section of the bookstore, well it IS in the kid's section...go ahead."

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Sure, the shows on Disney are {for the most part?} fine for the kids, but, the real issue, whether you are 7 or 40, is whether it is the very best way for them to spend their time? Will watching Phineas and Ferb add quality to their day?

If I let my young teen read the latest novel aimed at him by publishers who sit in tall buildings in New York, will his brain be forever damaged if he comes up against an objectionable passage? Probably not, but should I allow him to fritter his time away with books that are "less than"? Do I throw "fluff" books at my reluctant readers just to get them into the habit of reading? Is that a good use of their mental energy? How much time does a four year old need to spend on in a morning, are those minutes adding value to her existence or merely adding peace to mine?

Add to that questions of authors/actors/sports figures/bloggers with a Christian vs. secular world view? It's daunting.

In his book, Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon reminds me, "You are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

No pressure there! It's a heavy responsibility not only to look after one's own influencers but also to look after the influencers of four young lives who face a world of information just begging for their attention.

One of my favorite musicians, Andrew Peterson, is also an author and an excellent one. He has written a children's books series that has received the highest praise from many corners of the writing community. A parent of three children, Peterson has good words to share on being the gatekeeper of our kids' exposure.
It's always good to know a little about the author before letting your children read a book, and I'd prefer my children read books by Christians at first--that is, if the book is a good one. It's a load of fun being, in essence, the curator of your children's experience in literature and music, but it's also a big responsibility. Not only do I not want them reading books that convey falsehoods, I don't want them reading books that are poorly written. That's what makes {C.S.} Lewis' books such a gift. They tell the truth, and they're beautifully written for the most part. Start there. Let them get a good sense of truth and excellence. After that, they'll have a plumb line to measure the other stuff against. I'm probably more averse to a badly written book by a Christian than an excellent work by someone who isn't. (from an interview with Tabletalk Magazine October 2012)
A plumb line to measure the other stuff against... that's the phrase that rang my bell. That then is my job as a parent to set the plumb line and set it high enough and vibrant enough for my children to discern what they allow into their sphere of influence. I'm sure we'll all experience a book or a TV show or two that fall below the standards we are attempting to set, but my prayer is that we will be able to quickly realize what is "less than" and what is "worthy" of our fleeting time here on this earth.

Finally brothers whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
~Philippians 4:8~

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