Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taxachusetts

When it comes to taxes, my blood runs bright blue. Of the four states we've lived in (Georgia, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now Massachusetts), the quality of life goes up with taxes, bar none, as does the quality of education and sense of community. I could go on and on...bike trails, parks, public transportation, trash and recycling pick-up, health care, welfare for those in need, et al. are all better in highly taxed areas. I am not necessarily saying all places must have high taxes; I just prefer it that way. To me, there's a fundamental paradigm difference between the do-it-yourself-low-taxers and the farm-it-out-to-someone-else-high-taxers, and I'd like to relay my observations for my readers to ponder in an uncharged, theoretical, and conversational manner.

I believe I can boil down the argument into one question: How annoyed do you want to be when you are purchasing food at a drive-thru window? If your answer is a little or not at all annoyed, then I would suggest you pay higher taxes. If it's a lot annoyed or so annoyed that you want to jump out the car window and strangle the attendant, then low taxes is your game. Now, I'm not suggesting this is a fool-proof system, but allow me to elaborate. I've noticed many low-tax communities invest less in education, perhaps thinking they can still get great education with low taxes by paying for private school for their own kids. However, I'm here to tell you that if you don't pay for the masses to be educated, you're in for a world full of grievances and, in my humble opinion, you'll end up spending that money on policing a group of uneducated hooligans. Personally, I choose tax state over police state.

Having professed my love of Uncle Sam, I must admit when I opened a 2011 tax bill from our town for our new Toyota to the tune of a whopping $675, I promise you I wasn't feeling very warm and fuzzy inside about taxes. I know this expense is probably similar in most states, and my shock probably also has a lot to do with not having owned a new car since 2000 (a time when my parents bailed me out of sudden unexpected $700 charges). Still, this bill is the icing on the high tax, high regulation cake, which is sometimes not as sweet as I'd like it to be.

Luckily, just one day after the expletive-inducing bill, I was able to benefit from a wonderful service called Early Intervention, courtesy of the public health system here. Any parent who suspects a developmental delay in their child can arrange for occupational and/or speech therapists to perform a free in-home evaluation. I was worried about Charlie's lack of vocalization and rolling over, so it gave me peace of mind to have them take a look. As it turns out, she tested above normal on quite a few tasks, within the normal range on her motor skills, and below average on her verbal ability. They are going to come back for a follow-up exam to retest her verbal skills in a month or so. Hopefully she will have caught up, but if not they will arrange for future visits at a very reasonable cost. Bring on the warmth and fuzziness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

fennel brined pork chops with roasted root vegetables

I thought I couldn't possibly love Ina Garten any more...and then I found this website and learned I can make fun of her too. My favorite recipe of hers is fairly simple: roasted root vegetables. I pair them with a fennel-brined pork chop Cooking Light recipe. You can use the links to get their original recipes, and I'm summing up my adaptations here too.


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fennel-brined pork chops
serves 4

4 thick-cut pork chops
fennel bulb with fronds
1 tbs. fennel seeds
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. kosher salt
water & ice
black pepper

Boil water in small saucepan (about a cup, eyeball it) with chopped fennel fronds (save bulb for roasting later), seeds, salt, and sugar. Let cool and add it to a big glass bowl with 2 1/2 cups water and 1 cup ice. Add pork chops and let sit in fridge for 4 hours. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Heat iron skillet over med-high heat. Crack pepper on both sides of pork chops. Sear on first side, flip and put in oven to finish cooking for about 10-15 minutes. You can tell they are done when they feel like the back side of your hand (the spot between you thumb and forefinger bones when you make a fist).

Pictured here is just carrots. Same principle.

roasted root vegetables

fennel
red potatoes
carrots
butternut squash
onion
olive oil
pepper
your favorite seasoning mix

Cut all veggies into chunks, toss in olive oil and pepper (I also use Trader Joe's "21 Seasoning Salute") and cook on a baking sheet at 425 deg F for 35-40 minutes. Toss once or twice in the middle of cooking.


Image Credit (pork chops): Morguefile.com


Editor's Note: This post is a part of Life As Mom's Ultimate Recipe Swap and Real Food Wednesday.

Vivisms, vol 5


Vivi: It's snowing AGAIN?! But I want it sunny. I want it sunny Mommy!

Vivi: I'm glad we went to the park.
Daddy: Me too.
Vivi: Me too!

A poltergeist moment when Nate was putting her to bed...
Vivi: When you shut the door and turn off the light, I talk to my friends.
Daddy: What friends?
Vivi: The friends on the wall!

After a meltdown in public...
Daddy: Big girls don't cry in restaurants, do they?
Vivi: No, big girls are happy ever after!

Friday, March 25, 2011

opting out of junk mail

Getting away from junk mail has been a life-long quest for me that has been on the back burner up until now. It has always seemed like an impossible battle to fight the steady stream of paper nonsense flowing to our mail box on a daily basis. Remember how I mentioned my low tension level in my last post? Well, here's another thing raising it. I suppose you could sum up the cause of my anxiety in one word: junk. I don't have it, and I don't want it. When you are as into recycling and not wasting paper as I am, the very idea that someone is going to send you vast quantities of paper you don't want is some kind of cruel joke.

With this move to Boston, I decided to start with a clean slate and fight junk mail as it happens. I WILL CLAIM VICTORY! I owe my first glimmer of hope to some friends who recently moved across the country. Because they didn't know their new permanent address when they needed to begin having mail sent, they opted for a temporary PO Box. Eureka! Behold step one in Justine's plan of attack: when you move, forward mail to a PO Box instead of your house to foil the current junk mail senders. This decision requires you to update addresses manually for mail you regularly need (like your insurance and bills), but trust me when I say it's completely worth it to help stop your unwanted mail from following you.

Step two also came to me somewhat accidentally. A non-profit organization I had discovered years ago recently sent me an email requesting me to update my information. When I first heard about Catalog Choice, they did little except stop some catalogs from coming in the mail...which was useful to me when I desperately needed to kill the Victoria's Secret onslaught. I had completely forgotten about CC, but I decided on a whim to log in to my account and see if they had updated their services. Boy have they ever! For a small donation of $20/year, they will assist you to opt out of unwanted mail. This fee has been worth its weight in gold.

The third step is one that everyone should know about, but somehow I missed the memo. The Federal Trade Commission runs a phone number (888-5-OPT-OUT) that allows you to stop the credit bureaus and other companies from sharing your information for promotional purposes. The free call will take you about 3 minutes and will stop mail for five years. Oh so worth it!

Unfortunately one of the most annoying types of junk mail we receive has become requests for philanthropic donations. Save the wildlife, save the people with lupus, save the children. Phew! It's exhausting, and if we gave every time we got a request, we would have gone broke a long time ago. We've gotten more address labels than we could ever use, and I spent far too much time digging through envelopes to remove nickles stuck to the paper. And so my final step is really more of a side-step: if you want to donate to organizations like these, rather than donating via check, I recommend donating online if you can somehow avoid providing your address.
 
I am happy to report that because of these four easy steps, we no longer receive ANY junk mail! Our PO Box is another story, so I look forward to canceling it. Goodbye junk.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

spring bargain fever


Rarely do I ever feel anxiety, but when I was pregnant with Genevieve I was very anxious about the amount of stuff I was about to accumulate. A combination of a desire to be environmentally friendly, my thriftiness, and my penchant for getting rid of my possessions added up to make one very panicky lady. Then I discovered the abundance of mommy consignors just waiting to sell me their used goods cheaply in an organized manner in giant warehouses. Yay! I HATE regular shopping, but I love consignment shopping for the girls' clothes and toys. In fact, I am sooo cheap ("How cheap are you?") that I always patiently wait for the sales' last day half-price extravaganzas. Sometimes I will occasionally splurge on full-price used items at a great store near my mom's house in Roswell. If you're in the Atlanta area and haven't yet been to Ladybugs and Lizards, I highly recommend it. She stocks very beautiful items from all the fancy brands...of which Ralph Lauren is the only one I can remember right now. A word of caution: The owner is a mom and closes the store somewhat randomly with the school calendar. Call ahead if you're coming from far away to be sure it's open.

My crocuses (croci?) tell me spring is on its way and with it come bargains galore. The girls are actually all set on clothes, so I'll just be in search of toys, movies, and books. Along with consignment sales and the fact that I have 2 girls, allowing me to pass clothes down, I have also been the lucky recipient of many boxes of hand-me-down clothes from a very generous friend in Wisconsin. And we aren't talking cheapo items here; Vivi has been decked out from birth in a variety of gorgeous flowery print hand-made dresses and OshKosh B'Gosh overalls. So cute! I have purchased exactly 4 outfits for Charlotte's first year of life. Gotta love frugality! What am I doing with all of the clothes Charlotte grows out of, you might ask (if you're like me)? For now, I am boxing them up and storing them in the "you never know" section of the basement. I am hoping eventually to pass them along to Nate's sister if she has any girls. Hint, hint. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vivisms, vol 4

Duh Mommy...
Me: You need to be careful how hard you play with Charlotte because you are bigger than her.
Vivi: No Mommy, I am big girl than her.

Me: Do you want spaghetti for dinner?
Vivi: Yay, Mommy's bisketti! Bisketti is my favorite!

Nate came home from working out and sat down on the floor next to us.
Vivi: It smells like cheese in my nose.
Me: It's not cheese, it's Daddy's feet.

Me: Drink some water please.
Vivi: No thank you, I'm not drinkey.

The scariest thing a toddler can say to you when walking up to you from another room...
Vivi: Mommy, I wasn't doing anything.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

need some help wasting time?

I'm too busy wasting time on the internet to write anything poignant. Two websites that have become daily reads for me in the last week are:

1) STFU, Parents! I definitely need an occasional reminder that just because my kids are the center of my universe right now doesn't mean everyone should hear about their every poop or temper tantrum. Hilarious and true.

2) Damn you, Auto Correct! Even though I don't have a smartphone, I can still appreciate this humor. Ok, ok, maybe they are fake, but who cares? Don't be a killjoy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

remember: this is your ride

A few days ago I arrived early to my yoga class to find an unfortunate group of doughy, sweaty, uncoordinated ladies doing what they called zumba but I call horribly embarrassing. If you've never seen it, allow me to paint a picture. From what I could tell, to do zumba you must have: a) a belly-dancing type sash with little bells and mirrors on it, b) a giddy instructor with a fake, too-wide smile, and c) guts. Oh, and did I forget to mention they all hug and give each other high-fives at the end of class? Yak. I hope I didn't offend any zumba lovers with my snap judgment. Perhaps I am too quick to judge, but I am afraid I'd need some sort of grain alcohol or a xanax to give it a try, so I'll never know for sure if it's good or not.

Anywho, as I was saying, I got there early and was confused when the class seemed to be going late into the yoga time slot. So I turned to the people stretching next to me and asked "It is Wednesday, right?" They both stared at me for a moment too long and then one said "Uhhh, yeah" (read: duh, idiot). Cue Justine sheepishly slinking away to the opposite corner. Yup, I have officially crossed the line over into pajama-wearing, makeupless, could care less what day of the week it is, stay-at-home motherhood. Yikes. One of the dizzying side effects of homemaking is that you begin to lose sight not only of what day it is, but of why it matters to know what day it is. Let's call this sign #1 that I might be ready to consider finding a job again. But as we public healthers love to say, we'll just put that one in the parking lot for now and come back to it.

One of the many encouragements my high-tech spinning cycle at the gym gives me is the title above, which I suppose could metaphorically apply as a pep-talk for my life in general. You get one ride in life, so to speak, so take the time to enjoy it, right? Stop and smell the roses. Live life to its fullest. "This IS my ride!," I happily think to myself. I'm not quite sure my bike was actually telling me all these things, but I'll take it anyway. I am in need of such occasional prompts during this temporary jaunt into someone else's life. And hey, maybe I'll suggest to the Star Trac equipment company that they add "Remember: it's Wednesday" to their list of friendly reminders.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

a musical interlude

Maybe I'll change my mind again, but for now I'm not going to post "toddler tips" on Thursdays any more. I exhausted my ideas quickly, and I've discovered lately that while I love to organize my time and my stuff, I don't like to organize my brain...at all. It's no fun. Plus, if my digressions start having an aim, then I'm defeating the whole purposelessness of my blog. I'm going to take a hint from this famous lady blogger and just write about whatever I feel like; although I will be the first to admit hers is quite organized with its categories and pretty icons. Oh well, my five blog readers and I can go on the adventure of figuring this out together. For now, here are some albums I'm enjoying right now.

Arcade Fire- "The Suburbs"
Mumford & Sons- "Sigh No More"
Yeasayer- "Odd Blood"
Belle & Sebastian- "Write about Love"
Norah Jones- "...Featuring"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vivisms, vol 3


Getting dressed...
Vivi: These are my nipples, right Mommy?
Me: Yep, you're right.
Vivi: They are my favorite parts.

Just for the record...
Vivi: We are making pretty play-doh. It looks like a long poop! But we don't eat it.

Now that I have started making steel-cut oatmeal, Vivi refuses to eat the instant stuff I make when I'm in a hurry.
Vivi: I don't like it.
Me (tasting some): See Vivi, it's yummy!
Vivi: You eat it then.

Happy birthday, Bonnie/Mom!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

start 'em young...

Vivi loves to sing. She particularly loves camp songs, so I recently introduced her to this High Meadows favorite. I keep it short, just the first verse. We were singing this one and "Let me see you bugaloo!" the other day, when Nate came into the kitchen saying "What are you two doing in here?"

video

Charlotte babbles!

Phew. Finally.

video

my so-called life

A few days ago I watched a program I hadn't seen since I was a teenager. As it was about a girl my age at the time, it was my favorite show. Apart from the fact that there was more plaid than I thought humanly possible, it was still mostly watchable. While I did feel some nostalgia for my youth, I also found myself identifying with the parents more than the teenager. Concerned, I did the math and realized Vivi is now closer in age to 15 years old than myself...which was the point I turned the show off and tried to forget it. Fat chance. I have been contemplating the feelings it stirred up ever since.

When I was 15, my dad took me bowling. I didn't think much of it at the time. Honestly, I didn't think much of anything at the time except for boys and which friend had made me happy or wronged me. The memory that haunts me from the outing was that there was a group of 17-year-olds on a date next to us. I was mortified and feeling quite peevish. Not just because I was with my dad rather than with a boy...and I was never with a boy instead of my dad...but because my sweet dad was jovially showing me how to bowl as they looked on and laughed (which probably had nothing to do with me, but when you're 15 the world revolves around you, doesn't it?). I wished I could disappear forever.

I am plagued by my chagrin. I treasure every experience I had with my dad as a child, from seeing the beauty of the Grand Canyon to watching the local racing events at Dixie Speedway. Growing up in a divorced family meant I didn't get to see my dad on a daily basis, so my memories of our time together are very dear to me, and I hate that the angst-ridden teenage feelings seep their way in there a time or two, poisoning the good impression I want to cherish. Mostly though, I don't want the miserable kid to contaminate my thoughts because I no longer identify with her, and because I know in a relatively short time I will have wretched and suffering daughters who feel that way about me. I guess it can't all be rainbows and lollipops, eh?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

toddler tip: moving to a big kid bed

Fussy Vivi being passed around at her baby dedication. "Auntie M" (aka my sister Millie) holding her here.

The bad news about Vivi as a baby was that she was horribly colicky from 2 months to 5 months. The good news was that from 6 months on she was a very easy baby. It wasn't that she was easy-going; in fact, it was quite a while before I could hand her to someone that wasn't me or Nate and she wouldn't explode in tears. But when it came to feeding and sleeping, two of the major activities of babyhood, she was a champ! She would occasionally wake in the middle of the night if she was having a growth spurt, teething, or just generally feeling icky, but for the most part she slept through the night from 6 months on, from 6:30pm to 6:30am (or even as late as 8am on weekends).

I give a lot of the credit to Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. He is an advocate for early bedtime, which I think single-handedly changed the way Vivi slept. He also says that it's not as much where you put your baby, in bed with you or in a crib, as much as it is that you are consistent. While I also like the Dr. Sears' collection of baby books, it just never made sense to me to put our kids in bed with us. I have seen many households where bed-sharing lasts throughout childhood. Even now I feel a cold shutter just envisioning that unfortunate predicament. And as I've said, I love and need my sleep, and I just can't imagine giving up our tranquil bed (a king size with flannel sheets=my idea of heaven), even for my beloved children.

When it came time to transition Vivi out of her crib, I knew that we could encounter some difficulties. For one thing, we weren't making the switch because she asked us for a bed (one of the traditional reasons) but because Charlotte needed the crib. We had also been having trouble with her climbing out of the port-a-crib when I was at my mom's, so I figured as soon as the jail cell walls came down, she would be getting up at all hours of the night to play or visit with us. I had even read that some kids will wake up at 5am and assume they can get up, so they come storming into their parents' bedroom to start the day. My worst nightmare realized!

Luckily, Vivi's great sleep habits have continued on to toddlerhood. Since we moved her to a bed, we haven't had a single night of her getting out of bed. Naps are a different story, but when she gets up before it's time, I simply use Dr. Weissbluth's "silent return" technique, which works like a charm. More about that method and others are on this website. Mommy bloggers gave me some additional ideas that I think also helped. Below is the timeline of what we did.

1. Transition slowly; put the bed in the room before you plan to use it. We let Vivi sit on the bed during story time or jump and play on it until it became a regular part of her room and not something scary and new.

2. Get a book that explains the transition. I recommend this trick for potty training too. Vivi loved her Elmo book and wanted to read it over and over.

3. Let them pick out their own sheets. This tip would likely work with picking out the bed too, but we got ours as a hand-me-down (thanks Uncle Joe & Aunt Kim!). Target has some adorable and reasonably priced bedroom sets.

4. Buy a toddler clock. This clock is expensive, but it's worth its weight in gold. No kidding, get one of these!! It turns blue at bedtime and nap time, and it turns yellow to signify it's ok to get up. I was amazed that Vivi understood the concept right away. I found out about this idea accidentally when googling "good night light" because Vivi has gotten to the age when she's a bit afraid of the dark (this clock came up in my results). The reason I got the pricey one is that it also turns green when you want to have some "special play time." It turns red for time-out too, although it seems a bit melodramatic to take your kid to their room and turn the clock red for a 2 min time-out. There are even some features I don't use: it will play music and/or white noise, and it will read a story. Why you'd want your clock to read a story to your kid instead of doing it yourself is beyond me, but to each his own.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Vivisms, vol. 2


Cuddling and reading "I'm a Big Sister" together...
Me: Even though you're a big girl, you'll always be my baby.
(Vivi sat upright, with a face a mixture of serious and smiling) 
Vivi: Ok then, if I'm a baby then I want to scream inside and eat that baby food.
...it was like she was waiting for me to slip up and call her a baby so she could give me her list of demands. Little did I know she even had a list.

Me: What do you want for breakfast?
Vivi: I want a Friday egg!

Making conversation...
Vivi: Daddy, my name is Genevieve. And over there, that's Mommy and Charlotte. Mommy has a head.

Talking to my mom (Babci) on Daddy's condition...
Babci: Is your Daddy sick?
Vivi: Yeah. I am feel bettering than Daddy.

Monday, March 07, 2011

it turns out I was right

After a tough week of long working days, poor Nate brought home the flu with him from New York. We were so worried about bedbugs but didn't consider other nasty critters that could accompany him back home. I just wish he had gotten the flu shot like I asked! Sigh. Some good friends introduced us to the concept and phrase "it turns out you were right," which when uttered by a spouse is accompanied by an agreement that the winner will refrain from gloating...or from doing the "Nate's wrong" dance. But how could I gloat when my pitiable hubby is horizontally indisposed for a week, not to mention spreading germs to the rest of us? Being right sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, Vivi and I are doing our best to lay low and play quiet games like reading stories and making art collages. And occasionally I wander about wiping away the germs. Luckily Charlie got a flu shot at her 6-month check-up today, so I just hope it does its job.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Daddy's home!

Nate's been in New York on a business trip all week, working from dawn until 1am some days. Vivi has missed him soooo much, more than she ever has before. I think my mom said three years old was the year I became a real Daddy's girl, and for the first time I can see how it's happening with Vivi. He's coming home today, and Vivi is super excited to see him. She said to me yesterday, "Mommy, I want to go on a work trip with Daddy. That would be fun! It will be just the two of us, right Mommy?"

To get her ready for his return, I took her to get her hair cut for the first time yesterday so she'll have something to surprise him with. Her pure unconditional love for us is so adorable, and I just wish I could keep a version of her this age forever. I will miss the little girl! While she was getting her hair cut, I was thinking of the munchkin who used to sit in the back of the car singing "Papa, Papa-zizi!" when she could barely talk. That little chubby tot is already forever gone! They grow up so fast.



Thursday, March 03, 2011

toddler tip: creating a good eater

As I've mentioned, Vivi is a great eater. Aside from likely genetic factors (e.g. her father only has sweet potatoes on his "refuse to eat list," and he's been known to eat even those a time or two in the form of a french fry), I believe there are a few environmental factors partly accounting for her wonderful palate. Here are some suggestions based on what we did with her.

Offer a variety of tastes and textures. As they say, variety is the spice of life. I attribute half of Vivi's willingness to try new food on our offering many different types as soon as she grabbed for a spoon. I made most of her baby food from scratch, which isn't difficult you'd think and probably deserves its own blog post (see recipes here and here). When you make baby food yourself, you can gradually select spices to add and exotic foods to blend that aren't offered in the jars, or even just basic proteins and like chickpeas or quinoa.

Give them what you are eating. When I see parents order a burger and fries off the kids' menu for an 18-month-old, I can't help but roll my eyes. When she was younger, Vivi's meal at a restaurant consisted of parts of our own meals, except in rare cases when we ate at a place that didn't offer adult food she could eat like sushi, Indian or Ethiopian. She has eaten Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Afghan, Italian, Mexican and Salvadoran food and loved all of it. She even ate an entire meal with chopsticks once! Whether in a restaurant or at home, always offer some of your own food to your children, even if you think they won't like it. They might surprise you. Now that Vivi has a great palate and strong appetite, we do order her a meal off the kids' menu. For her, it's a special treat she can't get at home.

Be a good role model. This one's simple. If you want your kids to eat vegetables, show them how tasty you think they are not by sampling a single pea off their plate, but by serving yourself some peas too.

Offer one meal for everyone. After watching a number of parents make two or three different meals for their kids, I vowed I would never do that in my house. I wasn't sure how to accomplish such a feat until Jacques Pepin, one of my favorite chefs, discussed his method of teaching his daughter to try new food when she was growing up. He said they always offered only one meal for everyone, and if she didn't want to eat any of it, she would simply not eat that meal. His view is so refreshing to me. Americans seem overly concerned that our children might go hungry, to the point that we have created picky eaters. When Vivi won't eat a meal, she sits at the table until I'm finished, then I let her down to play and simply feed her more at the next meal.

Put away the ketchup! I introduced condiments very slowly and only after I was sure she could eat everything, including fish sticks and meatballs, without any sauce. She learned the word "ketchup" anyway after eating with other kids, but she is still willing to eat her meals without it. I have been using butter for quite a while because I think the fat is good for her as is the small amount of salt in it.

Insist upon good table manners. Vivi knows it's a rule that she tries two bites of every food, and then if she still doesn't like it, she can say "No thank you." While she sometimes forgets the latter part and says emphatically "I don't like it!," after a quick reminder she's back on track. I think it often takes a few bites for kids to adjust to a new flavor and texture, so they shouldn't be allowed to shy away from new tastes so quickly. What started as a way for me to avoid embarrassment should Vivi ever eat something someone else served her and shout "Eww, gross!" has, in my opinion, now contributed even more to her willingness to keep trying until she gets used to new foods.

It will be very interesting to see if Charlotte ends up with an equally good appetite. Good luck!

Vivi sucks the juice out of an orange slice at 9 mon old
Update (1/9/12): I've learned a few things since writing this post. First off, don't reward good behavior with food unless you want your child to have a life-long association between the two. It may be better just to teach them there are "anytime" foods, "sometime" foods, and "rarely" foods. Additionally, Charlotte is an eater who is going through a tough low-eating phase at 16 months, which is something Vivi never did. I stand by my original encouragement to offer a set-amount of foods at each meal and not give up easily if your child doesn't like it at first taste.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

out of the mouths of babes



Here's the first installment of what I'm sure will be many hilarious things Vivi says. These are just a few of this week's. She is so spirited and routinely does what I call throwing us some major 'tude. She never ceases to make me laugh, and I often wonder where she got her spunkiness.

Daddy: Vivi, go get your hat and coat on.
(a few minutes later...)
Me: Vivi, where are you?
Vivi: I'm looking for my goat, Mommy.
Me: Why?
Vivi: Because Daddy said to get my hat and goat!

Me: Vivi, move please, I'm carrying Charlotte (in her carseat, up the basement stairs) and she's heavy.
(Vivi stands at the top of the stairs watching me walk up, not moving...)
Me: Vivi, I need you to move so I can get by. (still not moving...) Vivi! Shoo!
Vivi (hands on hips, very adult expression): Mommy, I am NOT a kitty. Don't shoo me.

A moment of brutal honesty...
Vivi: Mommy, I've been eating Daddy's cake all day out of the garbage.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

most banana-y banana bread EVER

Update (2-19-12): I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen (ATK) that got me hankering to tweak my recipe below. It turned out splendidly! Great banana flavor, and the bananas on top add a nice touch. I incorporated some of their ideas below while still maintaining the backbone of my original recipe. If you want their decadent version (with even a sprinkle of sugar on top!), see here.


Now that I have some semblance of a normal life again, two of the activities I like doing best are cooking and going to the library. Sometimes I like to combine the two by checking out a new cookbook, which is a great and seemingly little known way to get new recipes without having to own a million cookbooks. I think I will spend my afternoon taking the girls to the library and then baking banana bread. Vivi loves to "help" me bake. Here's the recipe, which is delicious and essentially fool-proof. I got it from my mom-in-law, who originally got it from Cooking Light. It's been adapted several times.

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most banana-y banana bread EVER
makes one loaf

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unbleached white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 large eggs
6 ripe bananas (or 3 bananas if not doing ATK technique)
1/4 c. plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped lightly toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degF. Grease loaf pan. Combine the flours, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Put 5 peeled bananas in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cut small vent holes, and heat until juices are released; start with 2 minutes and add 30 seconds at a time if needed. (Note: You may not need to do the microwave step if you have frozen and defrosted the bananas; this process also draws out the juice). Pour juice (about 1/2 cup; add water if needed) into a small saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat to 1/4 cup. Mash bananas until smooth. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer until well blended. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add banana, juice, yogurt, and vanilla (and walnuts if you so choose). Add flour mixture; fold together until just moist. You should still be able to see a few flour streaks.

Pour into greased loaf pan. Slice remaining banana and add it to the long sides of the pan. Leave a wide middle so the loaf can rise. It will look about like so after it cooks:



Bake for about 55 to 75 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 min before trying to remove it from the pan, then cool completely on a wire rack or inside a tea towel for a softer crust. (Note: If your baking soda is doing its job, your bread should crack down the center while baking. If not, it's time to get new soda. You can also test it by stirring together 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 2 tsp. vinegar; it should bubble right away if it's good).


Editor's note: This post is a part of Monday Mania, LHITS DIY Linky Party, and the Homestead Barn Hop.

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