Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stocking stuffer idea

What can I say? The boy loves tape. He went through a 3-pack of scotch tape in one weekend. 
I let him because he was quiet and wasn't breaking anything.
 Then I ordered him his very own set of 11 colored masking tape rolls. I could only find 8 of his rolls for this picture. He has one roll in each pocket and another in his hand at all times.
He has a particular fondness for taping the floor, doorknobs and chairs.
His sister made a kite and he made a ring and a handle for his water bottle.
Here's a frugal holiday gift idea:
A large empty box (which every parent knows is usually played with more than the toy inside),
with a few rolls of colorful tape,
and maybe a large lollipop for good measure.
What more could a kid want?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chai Tea party

It's been incredibly dreary outside this week, so I tried to cheer myself up by having a tea party with my son. I simmered fennel seeds, sliced ginger, a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf, whole cloves, white peppercorns, and cardamom seeds in 3 cups of water for about 10 minutes. Then I turned off the heat, added 2 English Breakfast tea bags, 2 teaspoons of honey and let it steep another 10 minutes.
 Add 1 1/2 cups of milk
and voila, a delightful pot of chai tea!
My daughter would have dressed up like she was dining at the Ritz.
My son? Jelly on the sleeve and filthy hands.
He lapped up the tea like a dog.

Friday, October 7, 2011

honorary Indian

I have two words for you people:
Chaat Masala.

How have I lived 36 years on this planet,
had 3 Indian friends - I'm so worldly, I know,
(One happens to be a midwestern girl whose hubby is Indian, but still)
and somehow missed out on the wonder that is Chaat Masala?
SOMEBODY has been holding out on me!

I have Garam Masala in my cupboard,
mango powder,
black mustard seeds,
but nobody told me about chaat masala!?

A couple of weeks ago Manashi's mom made this unbelievably tasty cucumber dish for us
and I dreamt about it for days.
 I called Manashi in NYC and she walked me through the Indian grocery store here in Georgia
where I bought my very own box.
It cost $1.

Sprinkle it on cucumbers with a little lemon juice and salt.
You can thank the Mukherjee family later.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Patti Digh (rhymes with high)

In the spirit of putting my own mask on first, I'm going to leave my family to their own devices for the evening so I can hear author/blogger Patti Digh speak at the library tonight. A couple of years ago I ordered one of Patti's books, life is a verb, based solely on the fact that it was illustrated with artwork created by her readers. I read a chapter or two, but mostly admired the book for its beauty. This is not unusual for me. I have 6 or 7 books stacked next to my bed, mostly non-fiction, but I rarely finish an entire book. I picked the book back up a couple of weeks ago and have surprised myself by nearly finishing it. I'm always a little squeamish about self-help books, but there is so much more to this book than advice. It's full of stories about learning to live intentionally and it gives writing prompts to help the readers discover and retell their own stories. One of my favorite sections of the book, Say 'hi' to Yaron, can be read at her blog.

Years ago, Patti Digh's step-father was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 37 days later. That's how her blog got its name. She and her mother helped him die at home, an experience which she describes as both profound and painful. It made her dig deep to discover what she would do with her life if she only had 37 days left.

Tonight she'll be talking about her new book, what I wish for you (simple wisdom for a happy life), a book written for her eldest daughter who recently left for college. It includes lessons she's learned in life, as well as stories and advice from her readers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Camping on Deep Creek

Over Lil's fall break, we went camping with Alan's sister, Teresa, and her hubby, John, on Deep Creek in Bryson City, North Carolina. We borrowed this pop-up camper from Alan's other sister, Kendra, and now I'm obsessed with getting one of our own. I have no idea where we'll park it, but I MUST have one. It's very compact when folded up and can easily be pulled by a mid-sized car. You just pop it up, plug it in and hook up the water and you're all set. You can get a good one used for about $3,000
and I have fantasies of popping it up in our backyard and making it a room of my own,
a place to escape to.

We were right on the creek, so we went tubing a couple of times.

Sleeping to the sound of the creek was delightful. Is there anything more relaxing than sitting in front of a camp fire? We weren't exactly roughing it, as my husband so sarcastically reminded me. The campground had a bathroom with showers (and only a few creepy crawly things).

The children were so happy. They were thrilled that they got to eat marshmallows every night! Lilly said I'm nicer to her when we're camping. Isn't that another good reason to buy a pop-up camper?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Evening" by G.K. Chesterton

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Here we go round the mulberry bush

(from May 2010)

Until a week ago, that nursery rhyme was the only thing I knew about mulberries. Then our friend, Jonathan, posted ‘mulberries’ as his facebook status. Just ‘mulberries’. He later commented that he was trying to work but all he could think about was foraging for mulberries. He and his wife, Lesley, live in Nashville so I assumed their neighborhood was flooded and that they couldn’t get to a grocery store. Nope, they’re just that cool.

Then Alan informed me that there’s a huge mulberry tree in the field behind our house.

So he carried a bucket down the hill and brought these lovely little berries home.

“What are you going to DO with them?,” I asked. “Are you SURE they’re mulberries? 100% sure? How do you know?” He looked at me like I was the crazy one.

I’ve mentioned that my mountain man has some mad baking skills, but I was terrified to try this suspicious little piece of pie. The crunchy-granola girl in me admires the simple living, back to the land movement and thinks growing and canning your own food sounds swell. I mean, how much more local can you get than these mulberries? But the city girl in me got online, started googling pictures of mulberry trees, and researching the possible side effects from consuming its fruit. I whispered to Lilly, “Let’s wait until tomorrow and make sure Daddy hasn’t poisoned himself before we eat a slice.”

Why was I so afraid of the mulberries? The same reason other people are afraid to eat collard greens, kale, swiss chard, or fennel. We’re terrified of the unfamiliar, but it’s the familiar that’s REALLY scary: double D-sized chicken breasts, antibiotic-laden beef washed in ammonia and chlorine to remove E. coli, fake food filled with ingredients you can’t pronounce let alone recognize. So why was I afraid of eating berries growing on a tree behind my house? Because they weren’t labeled and I didn’t have to pay for them – as if that ensures safety. It’s laughable, I know! The point is, as a society, we’re so completely disconnected from our food. We have dandelion greens and mulberries growing all over the city and hungry people who have no clue that they’re edible. I did eventually try a piece of pie and my exact words were, “This is SO good, I don’t care if it makes me sick.” Lilly woke up the next morning and said, “Daddy didn’t poison himself, so can I eat a slice of pie now?”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

God is good

Ted Clark once described our church on NPR's All Things Considered. He said, "Oakhurst Presbyterian Church is unremarkable on the outside, but the congregation on the inside is quite remarkable. People from the most divergent backgrounds - middle class professionals, blue-collar and pink-collar workers, welfare recipients, old, young, and very young, black, white, Asian, gay and straight. All seem to feel comfortable there and speak their minds." Today we celebrated our church's 90th anniversary.

The following song is called "White Man" and it reminds me very much of our community of faith and the message at Oakhurst. We are all children of God. There are many other definitions that the world will  give us based on our skin color, sexual orientation, education level and economic status. At Oakhurst we're reminded that our primary definition is a child of God. There are no second class citizens at our church. Diversity is a gift.

The band, Gungor, hails from Denver, Colorado and the video was constructed entirely out of felt using a technique called stop motion. It was developed and directed by Goodwin Films.

"God is good, God is good, and he loves everyone."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quote on parenting

"Remember you are not managing an inconvenience; you are raising a human being."
- Kittie Franz

Friday, September 23, 2011

400 year old trees

When we were on our trip to North Carolina, Alan and I got away for a night to celebrate our 12th anniversary. 
We spent the night at the Freymont Inn in Bryson, City and the next morning went on a hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. It's one of the only old-growth, virgin forests on the east coast. It reminded me very much of a mini-Muir Woods, which was where we were 12 years ago for our honeymoon. 

Twelve years ago, when we were younger, thinner, and more carefree,
but no happier
and no more in love.

Separate, separate, separate

That’s my secret for making one dinner that usually sometimes pleases both the tall and short people in my home. ‘Separate, separate, separate’ is an especially important technique for children of the preschool variety. They want power and they want it now. Food is the only thing in their little lives that they have any control over. As much as you’d like to get your screwdriver and your plumber’s helper, open their mouths and shove it in, that didn’t work for Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story and it won’t work for you.

My six year old will eat raw spinach dipped in salad dressing and she’ll devour a container of strawberries in minutes, but try combining those three items and she recoils in horror. I not only physically separate every item on the plate, I also reserve items while I’m cooking before I RUIN them with too much flavor. The other night I made one of my favorite spring dishes, Seared Tofu with Spicy Black Beans and Mango Salsa, which I discovered years ago in Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast. This is how the dish looks when Alan and I eat it.

For my picky little munchkins, I reserved some of the mango salsa before I added jalapeno and cilantro to it. I also separated the food on their plates like this.

Lilly informed me that next time I make this dish, the tomato is not invited to her mango play date. I meant to reserve some black beans before I RUINED them with ginger, cumin, and garlic, but I forgot. Do you see where this is going? Lilly didn’t seem to mind the beans, but this was Jonathan’s reaction:

It gets even better!

Separate, separate, separate!
Separate the food, but don’t cook a separate meal; unless, of course, you want to. If you have endless money, time, and patience, then go for it. Just keep in mind that “kid-friendly food” is a marketing gimmick, one that didn’t exist 100 years ago.

Don’t feel too rejected when the ungrateful boogers refuse the meal you so lovingly prepared for them. You sometimes have to offer a dish twenty or thirty times before a child starts to like it; an annoying fact, but true. My daughter was a really good eater when she was little. She later went through picky stages and turned up her nose at meals she once loved. On the bright side, she’s eating things today that she refused to touch just last year. If I didn’t give her the opportunity to try a variety of foods, how would her taste buds ever develop and mature? Don’t get too worked up about the food they reject. Just laugh at their full-body shudders, try to refrain from lecturing them about starving children in Africa, and celebrate small victories. We’re all in this thing together.

Play with your food

from February 2011

As you can see, it took me over a month to recover from snow week. It was THAT bad. This past week has more than made up for it though. My daughter had a week long ‘winter break’ from school and it’s been 70 degrees and sunny EVERY SINGLE DAY! When we weren’t outside playing, we were in the kitchen playing with our food. It’s amazing how much more likely kids are to eat dishes that are presented in unique and fun ways. They’re even MORE likely to try food they’ve had a hand in preparing. Case in point: potato mice.

Sure, the kids may have eaten a plain old baked potato, but they’re still talking about these 3 days later. We got the recipe from this Mom and Me Cookbook, by Annabel Karmel and they were really tasty. You remove the inside of the potatoes, mash them with butter, milk and cheese, and then fill the potatoes back up with the mashed potato mixture. You then add more shredded cheese on top and broil the potatoes a few minutes until golden brown. My daughter had a blast giving the mice eyes, whiskers, ears, a nose and a tail. They were so cute, she didn’t want to eat them (but she eventually did).

From the same cookbook, we also made this recipe for Avocado Frog Dip.

We took rolled up turkey, the frog dip, warm pita bread strips, and a plate full of raw veggies outside and had a picnic on our porch. Now THAT’S fun, simple food!

Slow Food

Le Creuset, I love you so!! I found this 5.5 qt Le Creuset Dutch Oven the week before my birthday at Tuesday Morning for only $150. ONLY? I know, it sounds like a ridiculous amount of money, but these French Ovens usually cost $230 (on sale) and I’ve been pining for one for years. What makes these pots so highly coveted? After all, a cast iron skillet only costs about $20. These lovelies have two layers of enamel on top of the cast iron, which is a BREEZE to clean up, and is ideal for slow-cooking just about anything. Soup, stew, chili, you name it. No more burning the mirepoix at the bottom of my stock pot! You can brown a chicken in the dutch oven and then stick the entire pot in the oven to roast. They come with a 99 year warranty, so I fully expect to will it to my favorite grandchild. All this and they’re beautiful to look at too.

Over the weekend, we roasted this free-range, organic chicken using this recipe aptly titled the,”Best Roasted Chicken in the freaking world. Period.” I then made chicken stock with the remains.

Beans and rice, rice and beans

I made a huge pot of Cuban Black Beans on Wednesday and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH! I soaked 1 pound of dried black beans ($1.49) in water for about 8 hours, drained the beans and then simmered them in fresh water with half an onion and half a green pepper for 2-3 hours. I chopped the remaining onion and pepper, which I then sauteed in bacon grease for 15 minutes or so. I also made a garlic paste by smashing 7 garlic cloves together with a pinch of sea salt. When the beans were tender, I added the sauteed green peppers, onions, bacon grease, and garlic paste to the pot, along with the juice of 1 lime. I also added a pinch of salt, oregano, cumin, and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I served the beans with rice, avocado, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, and pickled jalapenos. The second night, we made whole wheat burritos out of the leftovers. Today, I had more rice and beans for lunch and I look forward to devouring the rest tomorrow. Seriously good, seriously cheap, and the kids liked it!

Taste a little of the summer

“Taste a little of the summer, taste a little of the summer, my grandma put it all in jars.” That’s a line from a Greg Brown song, Canned Goods, one of my all-time favorites. My grandma used to can the vegetables my grandfather grew in his garden. My husband is a volunteer at Sugar Creek Garden twice a week and has brought home quite a bounty of summer veggies. Cucumbers and tomatoes and okra, oh my!

 I’ve never canned, but should probably learn how. I really don’t cook much over the summer. All I seem to crave is watermelon and peaches. In fact, I could be a raw foodist from June-August if I didn’t have kids and a husband to feed. Wait a minute, raw foodists don’t eat ice cream, do they? Never mind.

Last night, I did cook my favorite braised cabbage recipe and prepared some mac & cheese from a box (gasp). I also tried out this new okra recipe, which was SO easy and deeeeeelicious! Tonight, I have no idea what I’m going to cook. I might cook the same Caponata recipe I made over the weekend so I can use up the eggplant Alan brought home from the garden. I’ll probably buy some bread to spread the caponata on, though last week we just put it on top of nachos, along with some Lemon Feta Dip and hummus. The Decatur Farmer’s Market is this afternoon and Pearson Farm will be selling the last of their Georgia peaches. I’m not sure what else we’ll eat. Maybe ice cream? Let’s see, that’s a veggie, a fruit, a carb, and dairy. Sounds good to me. I can just hear my mom asking, “What about PROTEIN?”

School started back yesterday, which is why I have a moment to blog. The boy is napping (don’t be jealous, he woke up at 5:40 a.m.) and the girl is enjoying the heck out of her first week of school. Who doesn’t love the start of the school year? Brand new school supplies, back-to-school clothes, and classmates. Imagine the possibilities.

We had a lovely summer break and spent lots of time at Lake Chatuge.

Alan picked these wild blackberries while we were there.

Grandma Ashe baked a blackberry cobbler, which I’ll surely dream about all winter.

We hired goats and sheep to eat invasive vegetation behind our church, which was a sight to behold. They ate kudzu and poison ivy like it was chocolate. The company is called EweniversallyGreen and the owner, Brian Cash, can be reached at 678-595-0147.

We must have paid the animals 2 dozen visits while they were there working.
We were sad to see them go.

Jonathan's birthday

July 2nd, 2011

Three years ago, my bald baby boy came barreling into the world on his due date, and I’ve been chasing after him ever since. He’s loud and fast and has a penchant for headbutting. He breaks things just to see how they’re put together. His favorite song is Kick Drum Heart by the Avett Brothers. He has a habit of sticking his bottom out and chanting, “I got my boo bootay,” like he’s in a hip hop video, and I’m sure he’s going to get suspended from preschool for being a bad influence. He adores his big sister and follows her every move. “Every family has a kid who won’t eat,” and in our house, Jonny is that kid. He’ll eat sweets, of course, and especially loved the dirt on his cake. He gets away with a lot because of this smile.

Jonny's first day of preschool

Planting seeds, in more ways than one.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


We're gearing up for summer vacation. This summer I hope to focus on the rhythm of our days. I'd like to give the kids (and myself) something fun to look forward to each week, but also balance busy, physical activities with quiet, creative ones. In my experience, the joy of summer dissipates quickly when you don't build a little structure into your day. Our house is small and tends to feel even smaller when we don't get out of the house before noon. Here's our summer bucket list (so far):

*Invite one of Lil's friends over to make body art with homemade Henna 
*Start a writing club with Lil
*Start Lil's own gratitude journal and "hunt" for gifts to be grateful for together.
*Decorate t-shirts with fabric paint
*Practice hula hooping
*Beginning embroidery - buy burlap, an embroidery hoop, a blunt sewing needle, and embroidery floss 
*Write letters 
*Catch lightning bugs
*Stay up late (every now and then) and study the night sky
*Weekly movie night - FINALLY get around to watching Up & Toy Story I.
*Set up a scavenger hunt with a map and hidden treasures
*Braves games
*Water balloon fight, running through sprinklers, and the Slip 'N Slide
*Write a song with the kids - piano and guitar
*Visit Daddy at work
*Camping (even backyard camping will do)
*Spend lots of time with Grandma, Granddad, aunts, uncles, and cousins at Lake Chatuge
*Take Jonny-boy fishing 
*Visit Cochran Mill Nature Center (20 miles south of Atlanta)
*Blueberry picking at Hard Labor Creek
*Hike up Arabia Mountain 
*See Martha Speaks at Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts (July 19-31st)
*Visit Squire Boone Caverns, near Corydon, Indiana, while we're visiting the grandparents in Louisville.
*Meet Aunt Jessica at Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim's house in the corn fields of Indiana

I recently purchased an incredible book entitled Making Make-Believe, by MaryAnn F. Kohl and have gleaned all sorts of creative ideas for our summer vacation. I'm think my kids will be thrilled to make their own TV out of a cardboard box, crawl inside and host their own show; create a miniature garden in a pan with real plants, dirt, rocks and toys; make an edible goldfish container using jello, mandarin oranges, gummy worms, star fruit, etc.; build a sticky cracker cottage (much like a gingerbread house, but with graham crackers and peanut butter); and make our own purple mural, inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon (one of Jonny's favorite books). The author also recommends setting up a play office, a flower shop, a carpenter's workshop, and my personal favorite: Let's Play Window Washer, because we all know how messy the house gets with everybody home 24-7. Hmmmm, how about let's play housekeeper, let's play masseuse, and then let's play naptime? Notice in the picture above how Jonny is being forced to play make-believe with his big sister dictating every single move.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

my girl turns 7

If you're afraid of snakes, don't look down! 
Aunt Jessica, that means you.

Our girl turned 7 last week. S E V E N! We hired Mr. Greg's Reptile Roadshow to entertain her friends.
Lil channeled her inner-Bindi and had a ball with these scaly creatures.

Lil holding a milk snake
Nice bracelet!
Lil passing around a Blue-tongued Skink
This alligator was by far the scariest reptile in the program. Don't worry, there was no touching this guy.
A Mexican Gopher Snake
Lil is one brave kid.
The grande finale - a very large boa contrictor!
And six very happy girls.