Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Little Bit Better

Sometimes life is like having to share your Dilly Bar with your baby sister...

...and sometimes

 ...it's a little



Friday, April 26, 2013

Weekend Wishing

Wishing you a weekend full of...

...cuddles on the couch,

...laughter in your heart,

...affection that cannot be contained,

...and a great big helping of contentment.

Happy Weekend!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bread and Wine... and Jellybeans!?

There are some books that are simply "plow books" as my friend Winnie liked to say. Winnie and I both liked to read and talk books when we worked together in the double digit floors of a North Carolina bank, she 40 years my senior and a true professional mentor. Every now and again she'd describe her current read as a plow book, one that either in part or in whole caused the reader to have to trudge through each page by sheer force of will like a determined farmer laboring to turn hard clay into softly tilled soil.

Often there is a happy return for all of the effort, but not always and one never really knows for certain until the book is finished if the plowing was worth it.

It is another kind of book altogether whose pages seem to turn with too much speed and too much pleasure...kind of like eating Starburst jellybeans which aren't around very often and taste so good and go down so fast that before you realize what you are doing, you've come to the bottom of the bag...or so I'm told.

The thing about two-fisting Starburst jellybeans until your bag has run out is that there is no small bit of sadness involved - not, as you might expect, a sadness about the result of all of the calories and sugar you've ingested*, but instead, the sadness of facing the reality that there will be no more jellybeans left to look forward to enjoying tomorrow, in fact there may not, unless you aren't opposed to robbing Easter baskets, be any more shiny, colorful, special-tasting jellybeans until next Easter (which is rather late on next year's calendar...I've checked).

I've just finished reading a book that made me feel like I was eating Starburst jellybeans.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table With Recipes by Shauna Niequist is a book of essays about food and eating, about sitting around the table with those you love, about faith and belonging and about so very much more. Between most chapters there are recipes-delightful, different, and defining recipes. I've made almost half a dozen of them so far and they've all been keepers. 

The recipe for Gaia Cookies, the author's take on cookies from the Gaia Cafe in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has caused my gang and possibly Meg's piano teacher to do a happy dance or two.

And Cole and I nearly had to arm wrestle for dibs on the left over Mango Chicken Curry at lunchtime the other day until I remembered that he is taller and stronger than I and that I am older and more likely to sustain lasting injury that will prevent me from making any more Mango Chicken Curry in the near future and that just wouldn't be prudent!!

 {Mango Chicken Curry prep chef}

It was not an accident that I finished, with a sigh, this written-just-for-me book curled up on the crumb-dusted floor in front of the oven waiting for bread to finish baking. I've not been without this book in the kitchen since it came in the mail just a little over a week ago. I'm not sure whether reading the words makes me want to be in the kitchen, slicing and stirring OR if  it was being in the kitchen with thoughts of feeding my family that caused me to want to read more and more of Bread and Wine.

And so tonight, I ate the last jellybean, turned the last page, arrived all too quickly to the end and I'm a bit melancholy - not because I won't get to read it for the first time ever again, all shiny and new, though there is that, but because there are no new pages waiting on my eager eyes tomorrow, my book mark no longer necessary, I've come to the bottom of the bag.

There are however, a few recipes still awaiting my best efforts...watermelon feta salad anyone? Blueberry crisp?

See ya around the table!

*A note about calories from Starburst jellybeans: the calories from Starburst jellybeans do not count if eaten during the week of Easter. Neither do they count if eaten the week after Easter but ONLY if eaten out of a plastic egg. 

From the author:
My prayer is that you'll read these pages first curled up on your couch or in bed or in the bathtub, and then after that you'll bring it to the kitchen with you, turning corners of pages, breaking the spine, spilling red wine on it and splashing vinegar across the pages, that it will become battered and stained as you cook and chop and play, music loud and kitchen messy.
And more than anything, I hope that when you put this book down, you'll gather the people  you love around your table to eat and drink, to tell stories, to be heard and fed and nourished on every level.

"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I believe that's absolutely true. Not that the way to land a guy is by baking him cookies, although it never hurts. But that if you can satiate a person's hunger, you can get a glimpse of their heart. There's an intimacy in it, in the meeting of needs and the filling of one's stomach, that is, necessarily, tied to the heart." ~Shauna Niequist

Thursday, April 18, 2013

100 Easy Lessons

To teach a child to read is a heady thing. I began teaching children to read nearly 10 years ago when Cole and Meg were late into their 3rd and 4th years of life. Why I thought teaching a three year old and a four year old to read was a good idea is beyond me now, a decade later, but I'd snagged the teaching book for a mere $4 at a discount bookstore and I was raring to go.

I do know that there was something deep inside of me that wanted to prove something to the world, that even though I was staying home with my children and that the most important part of my day was keeping them fed and safe, there was still something else I could contribute to their preschool existence.  I suspect that I wanted to, on a much less noble level, be able to brag that I'd taught two very young children a vital life skill and notch a belt on behalf of homeschoolers everywhere.

Motive aside, instruction began curled up on a green-striped couch and continued sporadically, very sporadically, until we quit altogether when our family moved 10 hours north. The reading book was packed up and ignored until the Wright Academy officially opened a year later with students who were a grand four and five years old.
{Cole, 5 with Rescue Hero backpack; Megan, 4 with Dora the Explorer backpack}

Reading lessons were the focus of that school year with each student finishing Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and moving on to read actual books. You can rightly imagine that this green teacher was patting herself pridefully on the back. {Green as in new and fresh and also green from morning sickness...Kate was on the way.} Yes there had been some stressful lessons in those 100, not all had been as easy as advertised but with relatively few tears and no visible twitches or mental scarring we, the three of us, had survived teaching and learning to read. All of us pros...or so I thought.

Then, just four extremely short years later, I began to try to teach Kate to read. Kate had no interest. None at all. No big deal, I've got tons of time. So I quit trying to teach her and she was free to concentrate on her fashion and her baby dolls for a few more months. When Kindergarden officially began in the fall, Kate was not one centimeter more ready to tackle learning to read than she had been earlier. I, however, was beyond the no big deal frame of mind, and insisted that we get down to business.

After months and months of tears, stress, bribery, begging, loss of flip-flop and lip gloss access, Kate decided she might like to be able to read. Do not think that any of the above actions convinced her. She took all of the discomforts of life that I threw at her in stride and waited until she was nearly six years old to take things seriously. Then, on her own terms, she learned. Toward the end of her "100 tear-filled and ulcer-inducing Easy Lessons" the light of success began to shine brightly at the end of the tunnel...here's video evidence...

I'm thrilled to report that three years later Kate is an avid reader who is currently enjoying mysteries and is consuming them at an impressive rate. 

I was just about recovered from teaching Kate to read when a small voice following me through the house said, "Mommy, can you teach me my ABCs?" 

"Sure," I said, and not turning around I began to sing the old tune, "ABCDEFG..."

"No, Mommy. In here." I turned to see in her raised hands the battered and bruised "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". 

And so we began and have, just as in my maiden voyage with this book, been proceeding with stops and starts and stops and starts. 

I'm not in a rush this time for there is absolutely nothing to prove, there never really was. 

There is only the joy of a lesson well taught and a lesson well learned.

I'm taking these lessons as slow as Molly will let me...

 ...because its my last time through these "100 Easy Lessons."

It's been my favorite book and my most dispised book and my most loved book all through these years, 

...and I'm not looking forward to retiring it.

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark."
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Woman with a Dream...

"Mommy, you look so cute sitting there...you look like a woman wiff a dream!"

This woman wiff a dream was sitting on the porch, soaking up the sun and the warm breeze for the first time this season, sharing carrot sticks with Molly while we watched her siblings ride all manner of wheeled contraptions up and down the street.

We'd arrived home earlier in the afternoon having completed our annual standardized tests and we were all enjoying the relief of that accomplishment. There was a new book at my side and another on my lap. A roast, nestled in the slow-cooker, was scenting the house with the promise dinner and wouldn't be needing my attention for at least another hour.

"Molly, YOU are the cute one," I answered back and then thought...

 Today, I'm not really a woman with a dream. Today, just now...I'm living the dream.

Then she flashed a smile that made me think that perhaps she was thinking the same thing too.

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Poultry Convictions

I'm quite an opinionated person sometimes.

My sisters are smirking at that opening and either aloud or in their heads they are saying..."SOMETIMES?!?!?!" My Dad and my Man have tried to teach me that there are "hills to die on" the implication being that not every hill is worth my hot-hearted, loudly-stated allegiance. I'm learning that...slowly.

Still, there ARE those hills toward which to focus one's ardor and my heart beats hard after what may perhaps be more than my fair share of hills.

I'd like to address one of my tightly held convictions right here and now...


Yessiree, I feel very strongly that a significant portion of a couple's pre-marital counseling should cover the how to's of chicken roasting. I think that before a minister agrees that a couple is fit to be wed, he should take the betrothed pair into the church kitchen where there awaits a fresh bird to be roasted. The couple should be able to demonstrate, with a fair amount of competence, that they can handle themselves in the kitchen with that chicken. If they cannot, the pastor's wife should be summoned forthwith to give a demonstration.

You think I'm kidding...I'm not.

No, I can't find a verse in the Bible to support my conviction, strongly held though it may be, nor can I  convince my very OWN pastor to cooperate on this point.

No, I couldn't have passed that test as an engaged 21 year old or even, as a married 28 year old mother of two. In fact, as a newlywed I may or may not have grown a bit queasy while cutting a whole chicken into pieces while my Man read the directions out loud from my shiny new copy of The Joy of Cooking.

BUT I KNOW HOW TO ROAST A CHICKEN NOW and that knowing has made all the difference. A roasted chicken feeds a family for many more meals than the first. It can feed a family, even a family the size of mine, for at least three meals, and can contribute bits and pieces to even more. Roasting a chicken is also a very economical approach to feeding a family. Knowing how to roast a chicken also  gives the cook a bit of "street-cred" (which is like confidence for those of us reading this post with glasses!) in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, roasted chicken is one of those things which can be intimidating (as it was for me for way too long) but is soooo much easier than baking cookies or even making pancakes. Whodda thought?!

Recently I learned a new trick that has taken my simple roast chicken to new heights, which is really nice for a bird who in its natural life, didn't experience many heights at all!

First, have a tray or casserole or roasting pan ready to place chicken on or in while you are working with it. Remove the chicken from the paper, or plastic wrapping. REMOVE the giblets from the cavity if they are there (every rookie makes the mistake of roasting the bird with the giblets inside...don't be a rookie!) If you have giblets, throw 'em in a baggie and into the freezer for use in another chicken adventure. Rinse away the juices with cold water and place the chicken on/in your predetermined spot. Grab three or four paper towels and dry that chicken inside and out. I know it's not glamorous to get all up in that chicken's er...business, but it's important.

Know that you are not ever going to get that chicken completely dry. Its going to be releasing juices and water for a while, but we can take care of that. You want the chicken very dry so that when you roast it the skin gets super crispy. Dry bird = crispy roast chicken.

After your chicken is as dry as you can get it, pour a few tablespoons of kosher salt into a small dish. You'll work out of this dish so you don't contaminate your entire salt supply with chicken-gooed hands. Sprinkle the chicken all over with kosher salt, about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon per pound (if you have a 3 pounder use about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons. For a 4 pounder, 2-3 teaspoons).  The amount doesn't need to be exact, use more if you have a saltier palate, less if not. Make sure to salt the inside of the cavity as well as under the legs and the wings.

Add any other seasonings as well, I like a black pepper blend on my chicken but you can use what ever you'd like as well because the salt will soak into the chicken and it will carry those other flavors with it too.

Now here's where you've got to trust me a bit. Place the chicken in the fridge uncovered and walk away for at least 24 hours. I know, I know, I don't like to leave things uncovered in my fridge either there's just so much that seems wrong with that but Molly, {not my Molly, another Molly altogether} the person from whom I learned this trick, said so and I trusted her. She is the award winning author of a 537 page book completely dedicated to roasting after all...and for the record, she was exactly right! The lady knows her chickens!

Molly says...
Arrange the salted chicken on a wire rack (a cake cooling rack or roasting rack works well) set in a baking dish or on some kind of tray to catch any drips. (The rack allows the air to circulate and promotes crisper skin all over, but it's not absolutely necessary. If space is tight...just set the chicken in a dish.) Refrigerate--ideally uncovered...for at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours.

When you take the chicken out of the fridge, it will finally be dry and there won't be any salt on the surface. It's gone deep into that chicken! Let your bird rest on the counter for about an hour before roasting it so that it can come to room temperature. Just before you place it in the (400˚) oven, rub canola or olive oil or butter evenly over the breast and legs to help it brown evenly, and then place it in a 400˚ oven atop either a layer of lemon slices or onion slices. I sometimes add a half of a lemon and a few smashed garlic cloves to the cavity for extra credit just before placing into the oven.) I like to roast mine with smashed potatoes too, but that's another post all together!

Roast until juices run clear with only a trace of pink when you prick the thigh (or meat thermometer registers 170˚ in the thickest part of the thigh) which can take from an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.

Let the chicken rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving. How to carve a chicken? Go here for a great video...How To Carve a Chicken.

...and now down the aisle with you...as long as you both shall live and so on.

NOW you are qualified for Holy Matrimony or at least to make a nice chicken dinner to impress someone special.

As I think about this whole roast chicken and marriage thing I realize that no one should wait until they are ready to walk the aisle before learning to roast a chicken. Perhaps it should be mandatory to graduate high school! Yes! Let's get that in the books! Somebody call the governor!

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