Monday, August 31, 2009

An empty nester's lunch, and introducing what's for dinner

One of the many beauties of a laptop is the ability to take it anywhere. Today, as I type, my youngest is taking her sweet old time eating a delicious lunch of noodles mixed with a meat filling, of which I will explain later.
Today is her first real day of eating lunch at home while the other two are off at school, and although she can't quite express it, she's probably wondering where her brother is.
This is his first full week of kindergarten, but if you ask the little sister, she'll tell you "at 'chool." I suppose she might also be thinking that she's happy to have the run of the house, dibs on her mom, and the ability to watch her favorite TV shows and not have to watch big brother skateboard or listen to big sister practice, begrudgingly, the piano. And I admit that even though I miss my other children, I'm enjoying those things too. Mostly the chance to sneak back in time, when I was a one-kid-mom, focused on stacking blocks, reading books made of stiff cardboard, and enjoying the slow-paced life of toddlerhood.
For example, there are a ton of hummingbirds out today. Just as I sit here, over this long lunch, have watched them come and go, sipping nectar from the flowers around my yard, purposely avoiding the hummingbird feeder I put up for them.
If I had been juggling three kid lunches and skateboards and piano practice, I don't think I would have noticed them.
In any case, I have really enjoyed my lunch hour today. Not only for the peaceful reflection of the changes of motherhood, but also for some pretty delicious leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers... I've decided to add a feature to this blog, sharing a favorite recipe each Monday. (Please stop back each week to see "What's for Dinner?"!) This week I'm posting what I made for dinner last night and am happily eating today as well. Probably for lunch and dinner, because I got a little squash happy. But that's a good thing.

Turkey Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash, cut, seeds scooped, and cooked*
1 pound ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, diced
brown sugar

Saute onion in a little oil until translucent. Add turkey, breaking up, and cook thoroughly. Add salt and diced tomato and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Spoon meat filling into acorn squash and cover with as much brown sugar as you like. Broil them until the brown sugar gets crusty and delicious.
Goes well with a nice salad for a late summer meal.

*To cook acorn squash, cut in half and scoop seeds. Put cut side down in a dish with ~1" water, cover, and microwave for 8+ minutes, checking to make sure the squash is soft. Or you can bake it in the oven, but really, I just don't have time for that sort of thing...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The truth about dance halls and fortune cookies

Confucius says, “respect your elders.” If Confucius would have met my grandparents, he would have said, “respect your elder’s right to party.”
I only know this because of a recent visit to my grandparents’ house, where I swear they outlasted, outsang, and outdanced me. And they are well into their 80’s, working with hearing aids, plastic knees, and orthopedic shoes. I, who can hear quite well, sat in a folding chair and smiled in complete awe.
We arrived at their home in which is situated in a giant retirement complex only to find their entire garage emptied and their car and precious golf cart missing. “Oh, they’re at the neighbor’s,” Grandpa said. “More room for chairs.”
A closer look showed me that my uncle, another visitor to their home, had set up his guitar and karaoke machine and planned on singing the night away for the 70+ crowd that would be arriving later, armed with canes, diet soda, and chip dip. The neighbors were all coming over for a sing-a-long.
“Oh, boy,” said my husband.
We helped gather every chair my grandmother had and set them in a giant circle around the outside of the garage. The middle, I was told, would be for dancing. Visions of shuffling feet and walkers came to mind, maybe someone dragging an oxygen tank. I was thankful my husband knows CPR.
But the night went on. The bowls of chips were set around, someone brought brie cheese which half of the older crowd couldn’t pronounce quite right, and the distinct sound of corks could be heard popping in the kitchen. It was going to be a party, the kind we weren’t quite ready for.
The music played, my uncle picked his favorite songs and before the end of the very first one, there were already two women dancing, the truest sign of a good party. Soon enough, the few young children in the crowd took their bowls of corn chips and snuck away in embarrassment as their grandparents did the jitterbug. Later they returned as spies, keeping notes of the entire event:
“Old people are dancing. Old people are singing. My mom is dancing.”
Before long, a man who had suffered two strokes and a broken hip and wrists stood up to dance with his wife. As if that wasn’t enough, my Grandfather who can barely walk, soon pushed himself out of his chair and grabbed my incompetent hand. He twirled me around the honky tonk [garage] floor and though he can’t even pick up his feet, his dancing skills far surpassed mine. But for the smile on my face, the humiliation was all worth it.
Sitting down, I watched my Grandpa take my Grandma’s hand and their son played and sang one of their favorite songs. Not many moments in a lifetime make such an impact, but seeing what true love looks like after 62 years of marriage? Wow. Pow. So that’s what fireworks without a fuse look like.
It didn’t take long for the women to start grabbing the microphone, and start belting out “You Are My Sunshine” in fifteen different keys, all at different tempos. Their husbands clapped loudly and smooched them and sooner or later, I got up to sing my Grandma’s favorite song. I only hope I made her proud as she made me.
I watched my children get sleepy and a few people shuffled home from the garage turned dance hall. The chips, soggy from the heat and humidity, were put away and the chairs folded up.
“Well, everyone’s gone,” said my grandparents. “Doesn’t mean the party’s over!” And we sang into the night as the tree frogs came out and my own eyes got droopy.
I went to bed before my 80-something year old grandparents. Embarrassed? Nah. Role models? Definitely. Put that in a fortune cookie, and party on, Grandma and Grandpa.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One-line Wednesday

And my parents are taking me back to Ohio???

Saturday, August 22, 2009

As requested, zucchini recipes galore

I love, love, love hearing from readers! After my column about zucchini ran in the newspaper, someone contacted me and asked about recipes. I'm happy to share two of my own favorites, and a new favorite care of my Aunt 'Na. Thanks, 'Na!

Marinated Grilled Zucchini
My cousin and I taught this recipe at Buehler's back when they had cooking classes. It was part of an Italian Appetizer party menu.

2 zucchini (small)
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbl fresh lemon juice
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Wash zucchini and slice thinly on a diagonal. Grill zucchini on an oiled rack for 6-8 minutes per side. (You want grill marks and tender zucchini.) Remove and cool. Meanwhile, whisk together garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, salt, and red pepper flakes (optional). In a baking dish, layer zucchini and cover with marinade. Cover and chill. Best served at room temperature.

Zucchini Sausage Spoonbread

3 cups shredded zucchini
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup (4oz.) grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 - 3/4 lb ground sausage, browned

Place zucchini in a strainer over bowl and let drain for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400. Grease a baking dish (like a small casserole or gratin dish).
Squeeze out the zucchini.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Add sour cream, cheese, onion, butter, and salt, mixing to combine well. Stir in zucchini, cornmeal, and browned sausage. Pour into prepared baking dish.
Bake ~25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and center is set. Check it with a knife. (Keep in mind the baking time often depends on the size of your dish. Best bet is to check it often and find the time that works best for your dish.)

Aunt 'Na's fabulously easy zucchini
My farthest away aunt recently came to visit. She remains super cool, fun, and beautiful. I wish I knew her more, but instead I'll just eat her zucchini recipe.

Zucchini
Can of diced tomatoes (I like the "garlic" flavored diced tomatoes to save a step instead of adding minced garlic)
Mozzerella cheese

Slice zucchini thinly and spread out in a baking dish. Pour the can of 'maters on top. Microwave it until the zucchini is about cooked and tender. Douse the whole works in mozzerella cheese and nook it a little more until the cheese is melted.

Since we are dairy-free around here, I haven't made this with the cheese yet. But I imagine if you diced the sliced zucchini so there were little bits, you could serve it with crackers or crostini for dipping.

OH GREAT, NOW MY MOUTH IS WATERING.

Poof! There went the summer

The entire month of August seems to be a struggle. Merely flipping the calendar page sends shivers up my spine because there, somewhere near the end of the month, is the dreaded first day of school. It’s the day with which both children and parents have an exceptional love/hate relationship. Most children are at least somewhat excited; the chance to once again see their friends and drive someone else besides their mothers crazy is appealing to anyone. The parents, well in need of a break, are also anxious for the school year to start, and I believe some even perform a ritualistic dance of joy when the bus pulls away on the first day, robes swaying and coffee cups still in hand.
But despite the shiny new pencils and pristine folders, there are some rather obvious reasons why going back to school is so hard. It goes without saying that children are not looking forward to getting up early and doing homework, and funny enough, the parents are dreading the same things. But for some, like me, we fear a little more.
We are afraid that we just spent three months with our kids and that in some weird way, we wasted the summer. That somehow, despite the fourteen bottles of sunblock we went through, it all just wasn’t enough.
A look back at the summer might better explain this odd phenomenon…
June. School is out and children spend the first two weeks sleeping in and staying up late because they can. They are happy to be home, so no major outings are planned. Hey, it’s June. We’ve got all summer, right? Once the end of June arrives, everyone is going stir crazy and remembers that daytime television isn’t really what it’s cracked up to be, so the outings and the play dates start slowly, and then come to a screeching halt once the holiday hits.
July. The Fourth of July, a single day that requires nothing more than throwing some burgers on the grill and staying up until 10:30 to watch fireworks, seems to take up the first solid week of July. There is nothing planned and nothing to do except focus on the holiday and make patriotic crafts and cupcakes with red, white, and blue sprinkles. And it seems that even before the cupcakes are gone, so is the month. July goes faster than a kid down the slip-and-slide and before you know it, the main aisles of the stores are full of glue sticks and crayons and you refuse to look at it because it’s only July.
August. It hits harder than a water balloon, and as a parent you suddenly realize that all of the educational activities you wanted to do with your kids, things like museums and science projects and improving reading skills, have all been ignored for the lure of the lazy summer. You had wanted to have a nice and calm ease into the school year, wanted to be completely organized for a change and not have to run around on the first day unpacking the backpack that was still full of last year’s papers. But there is no time for organization. No. You have to cram an entire summer’s worth of extracurricular fun into a week’s time because it just feels like the right thing to do. You take a last minute beach vacation and do flash cards in the car until someone gets sick. You take along a book about marine life and learn to identify one of the seashells that you hastily glued onto a photo frame for a memorable keepsake of the summer. Not surprisingly, you bought the photo frame at the store where you also picked up a handful of sharpened #2 pencils and a roll of paper towels for the school supply list.
Out of the blue, the first day of school arrives, and kids, in their resilient and amazing way, smile for their back-to-school photograph and head off to school, well-learned and semi-rested. Parents, some weary, some teary, take a deep breath and go about their little dances. Listen carefully enough after the roar of the bus goes by. You just might hear them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A conversation over lunch

Note: Verbatim. I swear.

"You know what I would do with the money if I went on 'America's Got Talent'?" said my son, obviously daydreaming about anything but kindergarten.
"I'd give half to daddy so he could buy scrap metal." My husband in fact does work in the recycling industry, so this was awfully kind of the little guy.
"What would you do with the rest? Do I get any?" I asked, already feeling that the teen years are really going to suck. "And what about your sisters?"
"Wellllllll, I'll buy you each a stuffed teddy bear. And with the rest of the money, I'm going to buy 30 pounds of bubble gum. And an RV. And if I have enough money left over, a van."

At this point, I'm imagining myself, chomping on bubble gum, hugging a teddy bear, and us all sitting around in an RV while we pull a van behind. Wouldn't that just be his dream come true?

"So, what are you going to do on 'America's Got Talent'? What's your act?" we asked him.
"I don't know. I can't do any tricks with our dog because she's too old and too blind. I think I'll just spin around on my thumb."

OK, then.

Ten minutes later, after we'd finished lunch, he comes walking back in. "I just can't help it, mom. I keep thinking about that bubble gum. I'd buy every flavor in the world!"

"Well, of course! That goes without saying," I answer, thinking that if I had a million dollars I'd spend almost every last penny for even a slice of that innocence, and the rest I'd blow on bubble gum. Every flavor in the world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One line Wednesday


A mysterious man, only revealed by coming back to read the blog in a week or so. [insert evil laugh, which doesn't count as a line.]

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Monday, August 17, 2009

What the world needs now is zucchini, sweet zucchini

And then there’s the one about how you don’t park your car with the doors unlocked if you’re carrying around the world’s largest zucchini because something terrible might happen. Someone might put the second largest zucchini in there, too.
There is soft spot in my heart for this obscure garden plant that goes from beautiful blossom to colossal bland vegetable in the blink of an eye. For years, my family has been planting zucchini in our gardens, and for years we’ve been wondering why. Because what seemed like such a good idea in the spring, the thought of freshly baked zucchini bread, or cheesy zucchini sauté, becomes just a big old plant with an extraordinary output of fruit. The Guinness Book of World Records has the largest zucchini to date as a whopping 64 pounder. I reckon the gardener was very proud of his accomplishment, but after spending fourteen hours grating the giant beast of a veggie, he swore to never, ever let his plants get that large again.
In my garden this year I thought I was being very reasonable. One set of zucchini plants, I thought, would more than suffice. I could bake the bread and freeze a little for the next time. Keep it simple, keep it small.
But as mentioned there’s nothing simple or small about zucchini.
Zucchini is a wave of a vegetable. It literally comes at you every which way and in great proportion. Chances are if you don’t have some growing at your own house, you know someone who does. And chances are that person has offered you more than your fair share of the green vegetable. Eventually you break down and take it, and before long everyone in the great state of Ohio has a freezer full of bread and a refrigerator full of zucchini that we all don’t know what to do with.
Then it becomes a bit like the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, only Bubba Gump had to clear out the shrimp for the vegetable whose slogan is “no, I’m not a cucumber.” We all start getting overly creative. Zucchini pancakes. Zucchini stirfry. Zucchini pickles. Zucchini pasta. Zucchini casseroles so plentiful that if ever there was a national food for the month of August, that would surely be it. Zucchini cake, zucchini ice cream, zucchini donuts, zucchini-tinis. Zucchini anything, just to get rid of the thing that breaks every law of physics with its outlandish growth rate.
In fact, someone went as far as to declare August 8th every year as “Sneak Some Zucchini onto your Neighbor’s Porch Day,” a cruel and unforgiving holiday that only ends up with good people and possibly good friends, shaking unwanted zucchini in each other’s faces.
But in hindsight, we should all take a good look at this plant and learn a few lessons from it. There is great wisdom in the mighty zucchini.
We can learn a lesson in needs versus wants: Be wise and plant only what you need.
We can learn a lesson in care and patience: Tend to your plants well, or else they will quadruple in size and cut their flavor in half if you turn your back on them.
We can learn a lesson in sharing, especially when we have not learned the previous two lessons, and pass on the wealth of our misfortunate crop with all that have ever muttered “sure, I kind of like it.” And that person can learn a lesson in being truthful when asked a such a serious question.
Self-control, thoughtfulness, charity, and honesty. All that from a single over-sized squash, not to mention some pretty delicious zucchini bread.

A couple of readers have actually requested recipes!! Stay tuned. I'll post them soon!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not the only dirt-lover in the family

We are just a little proud of our son, who is cool enough to make the National Wildlife Federation's GreenHour weekly email magazine this week. Check it out at
http://greenhour.org/content/activity/detail/8263
and find us all napping on the moss floor that was recently added to his home away from home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One-line Wednesday

They grow so fast.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

From this dirt, to this hotdog

It doesn't matter if I grow a dog turd and can it with a rotten peach. If I grew it, and I canned it, it is better than gold in a jar. Thankfully, I think this stuff tastes a little better!

This year we finally finagled a small garden in our little patch of woods and it's been a great success. Square foot gardening really works, and we've enjoyed fresh veggies all season long. The freezer has beans and zucchini, the tomatoes are awaiting their turn in the food dehydrator. The broccoli is long gone and if we have to eat one more salad we're all going to grow buck teeth and fluffy tails.

But the peppers.

I love love love banana peppers, but only in the last few years. Upon becoming pregnant with my third child I instantly became a fan of hot peppers, mustard, onions. Anything in that pungent family that would ordinarily send mommies-to-be straight to the Tums.

My banana pepper crop this year produced just enough for me to make Sweet and Sour Pepper Relish, a recipe from the good ol' Ball Blue Book (a staple for any canner) and one that i haven't made in years, mostly because a) we haven't had a garden and b) anyone who has tried to can with 3 kids on their feet understands the complexity of the task.
However, yesterday I was bound and most determined to get it done. It may have taken a long time, but the sense of accomplishment and odd feeling of peace are worth blowing the whole day on seven little jars.

Chopping by hand into teeny tiny pieces is something I cherish, and having to chop up, oh, about 10 cups of it was long, tedious, and wonderful. The salting, the boiling, the canning.
We all gathered around the half-pint jars waiting for the pop of each one sealing.

Pop, pop, pop.

Music to my ears.

And relish for my hotdogs.
The recipe I used can be found here. The recipe I made can be found here...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Old Gray Mare ain’t so gray anymore

I grew up bombarded by country music. If it wasn’t straight from a honkeytonk or the Opry stage, it was strictly taboo in my household. Often times it was quite difficult to sing along with the other children waiting outside the Jazzercise room, but at least I had the distinct opportunity to know a full collection of cheating and drinking songs by the time I was five. I also got to know Dolly Parton.
Even though she wasn’t a family favorite, I learned her music here and there and laughed with the rest at the size of her colossal chest and counterfeit curls. There were jokes about mountains I never really understood, but I chuckled anyway at the expense of this famous and beautiful country singer.
Years passed, and late one night not that long ago while watching a talk show, I saw an interview with Dolly. She was promoting a new album and was dressed to the Dolly nines, complete with tight jeans and a bright pink jacket that had to really work to cover all that it was supposed to.
In the interview, she laughed and threw back her head and was the most charming and down to earth “star” I had ever seen. Beyond that, she was honest. When asked if she had work done on her face and figure, she definitively answered “well, of course!” Continuing on she said something to the likes that she was fighting aging because she could, and why wouldn’t you? This confirms one of her famous quotes, “If I see something saggin’, baggin’ or draggin’, I’m gonna have it nipped, tucked or sucked.”
Not that I’m ready to go under the knife, but I kept her little nugget of philosophy tucked away right next to my Grandmother’s words. She always says “take care of yourself because you’ll feel better and have a better day.” I should mention that a few years ago at the age of 80, my Grandma went to a Halloween party dressed as Dolly Parton. Coincidence? I think not. Smart and good looking women? Absolutely.
All of this information and opinions really start spinning in your head when you’re nearing a birthday, as I am currently doing. The fact that my daughter and I have birthdays just a few days apart is both beautiful and painful; to watch her grow taller and change into a lovely young women, and to watch my eyes grow little wrinkles and my hair change to gray.
However, the work and unnaturalness that comes with covering up your age doesn’t really appeal to me. I think it’s mostly because I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes to get my nails done or my hair colored, but I have honestly spent the majority of my life happy being exactly as I was intended to be.
But not on a birthday week.
I’m taking a stand against the calendar this year, bound and determined to have someone say that they really can’t believe I’m as old as I am, a goal in vanity for which all women strive. I have gone to extreme lengths as far as my own habits are concerned, actually exercising (blech) and taking the plunge with some semi-permanent hair dye.
There I stood in the pharmacy aisle, completely overwhelmed with the number of choices. Children running amok, I recruit them to help choose a color. “Ooh, Cinnaberry! Plums! Tea! I’m hungry, mom, can we get something to eat?”
“Of course,” I said, choosing whichever box was closest to me. And we left the store, got in the car and cranked up some of our favorite country songs.
Dolly would be proud.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One Line Wednesday

Watch your fried green tomatoes, folks...

(This one was just too good to not subscribe to the "Wordless Wednesday" idea.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thought for a Tuesday

There are few things better than staying up late with old friends, good wine, and outdated photos.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Back in the dating game

Nearly ten years ago I stood before my friends and family and professed my eternal love to my husband. And even though we are very happily married, I find myself dating once again.
I didn’t think it was dating at first, but then as I sat there re-reading emails over and over before sending them to this other person, I was immediately taken back to when my husband and I were first going out. In true courtship form, we’d leave little notes for each other; notes that I know I wrote and re-wrote fifteen times before actually delivering them. I was nervous day and night, and can still hear my college roommate laughing at me.
She had good right to laugh—I was using a blow dryer to clear-up the nervous sweat from my armpits while I waited for my soon-to-be husband to pick me up on our first real date.
I was, obviously, sweaty. But I was also panicky and jumpy and anxious and swore I wouldn’t eat nearly as much as I normally do. I spent eons on my hair, probably twice as much as I spent on my wedding day, and tried on a dozen outfits before finally sweating up the one I actually wore.
Not that it’s that bad now, but every so often I catch myself reverting back to my old ways. Because even though I’m married, I’m still out there meeting new friends and wouldn’t you know, it feels just like dating again.
Mostly it’s other mothers. Maybe our kids are in the same library hour or preschool class. We pass each other by on a regular basis, and deep down there’s a tiny spark, a tiny beautiful clash of our auras. There is a casual conversation here and there, compliments on each other’s children and eventually we find we have something in common. Is it a love of coffee? Scrapbooking? Crafts? Cooking? Church? Politics? Rainy days and Lifetime movies? Identifying local flora? Music? Something strikes a chord, and the dance begins.
Such has been my experience lately with a wonderful woman and mother, who also delights in naming every plant and fungi in our backyards and folk music. Our paths crossed by chance when her daughter attended a music class I was teaching and what was once a weekly sing-a-long turned into playdates with the kids and cultural outings.
Being both veteran daters, we oddly enough laid it all table right up front.
“I was nervous to have you over,” she wrote in an email after our first real “date.”
“I was afraid of you, too,” I wrote back.
And with that, the worst of it was over. That doesn’t mean that I’m not on my best behavior during this new and tender stage of our friendship. I am starting to feel that I can really trust this woman but don’t want to unload my personal dramas on her just yet, nor do I think she’s ready for me to completely let loose my crazy side.
We continue to enjoy each other’s company, and I swear that if I was still back in college I’d be up late blabbing to my roommate about this new person in my life.
Instead, my poor husband hears it all. “Guess what?!? We’ve got a new sewing pattern we’re both going to try! And this weekend we’re getting the families together for a pie iron extravaganza! I wonder what the kids will wear…”
He rolls his eyes at me, having made it through that fresh and new part of our relationship and onto the phase when I can be my own goofball self that he loves so much, all without so much pointless sweating.
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