Monday, March 31, 2008

Crimes of the heart(burn)

I read an interesting post on SlashFood today about "speakeasy" restaurants. Someone has reported a trend of people operating pseudo restaurant/supper-clubs out of houses and occaisionally other locations without the official stamp from the local health department. Generally, you have to know someone who knows someone who knows how to get a "reservation" at one of these "restaurants", where the food is whatever the hosts want to serve, and the price can be quite reasonable, especially when they offer all-inclusive drinks and multi-course meals. The whole thing sounds kind of shady and illicit and....a lot like some of our own evenings with friends.

I had a friend once refer to our house as his favorite restaurant. Before having kids, we used to entertain a LOT, but among friends the cost of that entertainment was usually shared by all. We'd collect money (or at least a credit-card-carrying-representative of each family/couple), and then go shopping for ingredients, then cook and serve. My husband likes to play bartender, and I prefer to play chef/caterer, and a good time is had by all. Yikes, does that mean we need a health department sticker?

Granted, we never attempted to make a profit from our dinners together (unless you count leftovers as profits), and while hosting, we probably spent more of our own money in depleted liquor and other basics (salad dressings, butter, spices, etc). I suppose we could have upped the price to make a little extra money on the side.

Hmm...should we ever run into money problems, this presents an interesting idea. I wonder just how far we could stretch the "supper-club" or "casual dinner party" idea without running afoul of the law.....

"Honey, I've found a way to finance a kitchen remodel!"

--Ok, so my title is in poor taste, so to speak. I'm all about the puns today.

Random Kitchen Equipment

Awhile back, I posted about my forays into Ebay. I am happy to report that I have sold my entire collection of back issues of Burda magazine (5-6 years worth), and managed to collect a lot larger profit than I had imagined. I did not come close to recouping my "investment" (maybe 50% though), but I cleared enough to buy myself a little something else: a food processor. I have had one for the last several years that does some basic slicing or shredding, though Charlotte managed to modify it for me a year or two ago so that food would come shooting out the side thanks to a broken piece. I am now the proud owner of this Kitchenaid one. It is larger than the old one, came with two extra bowls, a dough blade, an egg whipping thing, a citrus juicer, and it's not nearly as loud as the other one. I'm excited. Of course, it sat in the box all weekend until last night, when I finally got a chance to shred some cheese with it. Kind of anticlimactic, but it did a beautiful job.

On a bit less exciting of a note, we replaced our crockpot last fall. The old one still worked fine, but the knob was removable and the handles barely attached from years of use and from being toted all over the city. The new one I picked out had a couple of cool sounding features--namely a programmable timer, and the supposed ability to brown meat on the stovetop. When I make a stew or a pot roast, I frequently do the browning step in a saute pan to get a nice browned crust, and then deglaze the pan and finish the roast in the slow cooker. That works fine, but I have to clean a second pan, which detracts a bit from the beauty of using a slow cooker. So this one sounded wonderful.

Not so fast. The directions say that you can only heat the pan up to "medium" on the stove top, and with an electric stove like ours, there was a metal rack that you set the pot on top of (the rack doesn't fit inside the crockpot to store either...kind of awkward). Medium doesn't brown meat particularly well, and the stoneware took a really really long time to heat up enough (granted, stoneware isn't known for fast heat transfer, just for holding heat). Unfortunately, "medium" on our stovetop must be a little too hot, because the pot cracked the last time I tried to use it--with our dinner still inside! That was almost two months ago..shortly after my whole stand mixer issue (January was a bad month for kitchen equipment). I finally had time to call customer service for Rival last week to get the pot replaced, and a new one should be shipping shortly. Actually, they don't have just the pot in stock, so they're sending me a whole new unit...makes me wonder if I'm not the only one having this issue! No matter, this new pot is not going to be browning any more meat--from here on out, it's strictly a slow cooker with a timer (and a knob and handles).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easter Photos

I took Charlotte and Trystan to get their pictures taken in their Easter outfits about a week before Trystan's birthday. Both kids were really good, though I'm not sure I'd do it again without reinforcements, as it's getting harder to keep Charlotte off of the store computer without leaving Trystan to spill Teddy Grahams all over the floor...

Aren't they cute? There are half a dozen more shots that were also extremely cute.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Four x Six

I have been meaning to post some ultra-cute photos of my kids that I just had taken in their Easter outfits, and/or some adorable cake-smeared birthday photos. But somehow, access to both my blog and photos has not happened at the same time. So, to lighten the mood, here's something completely different:

Four jobs I’ve had in my life:
1. Fast-food worker (Arby's)
2. Movie theater box office
3. Comptuer lab help desk
4. Software developer

Four movies I’ve watched more than once:
1. Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water For Chocolate)
2. The Princess Bride
3. Willow
4. Shakespeare in Love

Four favorite places I’ve lived:
1. Fishers, IN
2. San Luis Potosi, Mexico (only for a summer)
3. Chicago (ok, more a series of long visits...)
4. St. Louis

Four favorite places I’ve travelled:
1. Teotihuacan -- location of the tallest pyramid in the world, which I have climbed
2. Chichen Itza. I didn't climb the pyramid there, due to obnoxiously swollen feet from assorted skin allergies. I will if I get a chance to go back though!
3. Negril, Jamaica. Really just the Sandals Resort there. But it was beautiful.
4. Myrtle Beach, SC. The older part of the strip. A little less plastic, a little more rustic, beautiful beach and happy family vacation memories.

Four places I most want to see before I die:
1. Venice, Italy
2. Vatican City
3. The giant sequoias
4. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC, to see Starry Night by Van Gogh. And the other art too, I guess.

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Chocolate, dark
2. Noble Romans' breadsticks and cheese sauce. Their pizza's good too.
3. New York Strip, perfectly seared and cooked medium. Au Poivre or red wine reduction sauce optional
4. chocolate chip cookie dough (homemade)

Rebirth and Salvation

Yesterday is the one-year anniversary of the worst day of my life. Yesterday was the day after Trystan's birthday, and was the day that his imperforate anus was discovered, and he was transported away from me to the NICU at Childrens' hospital. I remember asking a nurse about why Trystan hadn't yet passed a meconium, and she was the one who discovered that there was no opening where there ought to be (it wasn't that obvious at first). Within minutes, one of the residents had taken him from my room down to the nursery, and I didn't see him again for probably an hour. I remember being wheeled in a chair, myself only 24 hours out of surgery, barely able to sit myself up, down to the nursery where the transport team was waiting already. Trystan had an IV, and a pacifier, and he wanted me to nurse him. And I couldn't. I probably cried the entire time I held him before he was driven away. I wouldn't see or hold him again for over 24 hours, after his first surgery.

My mom, a 20+ year NICU nurse who had done patient transports herself, and my husband went with Trystan, leaving me with my baby sister (now 11, not so much a baby!) at Missouri Baptist. It was my mom's birthday. My mother-in-law brought Charlotte later that afternoon. I don't know what those girls really thought and felt, keeping company with me and my postpartum hormone avalanche, empty womb and arms. I had to explain to my 2.5 year old daughter when she immediately asked, "Where baby brother?". They were wonderful and I don't know that they will ever really understand just how helpful it was to have their company, their smiles and hugs, and even the (now funny) point where Charlotte pulled the emergency cord in the bathroom, bringining a dozen nurses running to my room.

After a while, my in-laws then took both girls back to my house, leaving me with a book, the tv, and a breastpump for company overnight. And they were all very poor company. I took some small comfort in the familiarity with the breastpump, having spent many hours with one pumping for Charlotte. But even knowing the ropes, and having the pressure of the incoming milk supply eased, I could not help but feel so completely horrified about how all of the milk my little baby had so enthusiastially eaten since birth could actually be killing him even as I sat and made him more.

I think I cried more than I slept that night, counting the hours until I was discharged, and until my inlaws arrived to drive me accross town for Trystan's surgery. I don't think I was really ok again until I held Trystan after his surgery.

Yesterday was Trystan's first Easter Mass but not his first Easter. When I joined the Catholic Church some 7 years ago now, I attended every holy week service--from the foot washing on Holy Thursday, the silent, hungry desolation of Good Friday, to the cleansing baptisms of Easter Vigil and the jubilation of Easter Sunday. I don't remember last year's service at all, I only remember leaving the church and driving across Forest Park to pick up my baby and bring him home. I don't think my faith in the resurrection had ever been stronger than it was sitting at home that night, munching jelly beans with Charlotte and settling Trystan to sleep in the cradle next to our bed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Chocolate-Lover's Conscience

Approx Time: 45 minutes-1 hour. Serves 4 people maybe with leftovers, unless you're all big eaters.


  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into approx 1" chunks

  • 4 cups chicken broth (I make mine with Penzey's chicken soup base...feel free to use your favorite bouillon or canned version...just read the labels for MSG content--yuck!)

  • 2-4 whole carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4-1/2" thick discs (If you're in a hurry, cut them smaller so they cook faster. Not a fan of baby carrots for soup..they still need chopping anyway)

  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned and cut into 1/4-1/2" pieces. (Same comment about speed vs size)

  • 1 small-medium onion, chopped to about 1/2-1" pieces (I usually have yellow on hand, use what you like)

  • 1-2 bay leaves (2 if yours are small or brown or you don't remember when you bought them)

  • Marjoram

  • Basil

  • Rosemary

  • 1 cup dry pasta noodles--any shape, any type (no-yolk egg noodles are fine, whole-grain ones are fine...heck, broken up lasagne noodles are fine)

  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Heat 1-2 tbsp oil over medium to medium-high heat in the bottom of a large soup pot until shimmering--mine holds 6 quarts and has a wide bottom. Add chicken, and brown on all sides. Do not stir-fry or move the meat around a lot. Let each piece get a nice brown crust before turning it over. It tastes better that way, I swear.

If your pan has a wide enough bottom that you can still see under all your browned chicken, then leave the chicken in the pan for the next step. Otherwise, remove it to a plate or bowl and cover it for the moment. If your pan seems dry, add another tbsp of olive oil and heat to shimmering. Add about half of your cut-up veggies (some of all 3). Saute in oil until the veggies start to brown around the edges. In this case, move the food around a bit as it's cooking.

Ignore false cleanup promises of nonstick pans--you want the food to stick to the bottom of the pan here--it's called fond and it will boost your flavor (and will come right off when you add the liquid).

Add the chicken back to the pan, along with any juice from the bowl (that's good flavor). Toss in the rest of the cut veggies and cover with the chicken broth. Using a spoon or spatula, scrape all of the browned bits (the fond!) around the bottom of the pan. This is flavor, and makes cleanup later nice and quick. Add the bay leaves, a good sprinkle (maybe 1-3 tsp) of each of the other herbs. Cover and simmer until the veggies are tender--about 20-30 minutes or so. Reduce the heat if it starts to bubble over.

Add the dry pasta and re-cover. Cook until pasta is done (usually 8-12 minutes--check the box). If your soup looks a little too chunky before adding the pasta, add an extra cup or two of water, as it will suck up liquid as it cooks.

Taste and add salt and pepper if needed (this depends heavily on your broth choice!). Remove and discard bay leaves if you find them.

Leftovers keep well for a couple of days in the fridge, or longer in the freezer. I like to keep them in single-serve containers for easy lunches.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cake Week 2008

Welcome to our annual Cake Week. This is the week where you attempt to eat at least one slice of cake (a cupcake or ice cream cake counts) every day. Catholic participants may be excused from Cake Week duties on Good Friday, but are encouraged to make up for their lack by eating two servings on another day.

Sunday I started off well with two slices. The first one something huge and decadent from the Cheesecake Factory (cheesecake would count, but I don't like it....I went with chocolate...I didn't finish the whole thing, but it would probably feed 4 comfortably). The second from a store-bought birthday cake brought by my SIL (who hadn't anticipated my lunch choice). Monday I stuck with crumbs and nibbles of icing. Don't worry, my quota will not suffer. Today, I had the other half of that decadent chocolate cake for lunch (I did have a little soup too, for my conscience), and after dinner, ice cream cake from DQ (my choice, decided not to make my own this time). Tomorrow, perhaps the last leftover slice of the store-bought one. Tomorrow is also our office's monthly birthday celebration, so maybe the leftover cake would be best saved for Thursday. Thursday night we will be making cupcakes for an Easter party at daycare on Friday, so Friday, there will be cupcakes. But then, I'm exempt on Friday due to fasting. Saturday we'll have Trystan's birthday cake (the exact shape or shapes are not yet determined...I'm leaning toward cupcakes or an assortment of small animals, or the bunny rabbit pan I bought several years ago).

Next week: Chocolate and Jelly Bean Week. Or maybe Hard Boiled Egg Week. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's in a name?

As my husband well knows, every now and then I feel like just changing things around: the organization of the kitchen cabinets, the arrangement of the furniture,
my career aspirations. Wait, I take that back. I'd have to have specific career aspirations first. Sure, I say that I have career goals, but I'm good at telling people what they want to hear (well, when I want to be...I'm also good at annoying the crap out of people with my opinions once I've decided I'm tired of what they really want me to say). Oops, this wasn't intended to be a post about my career angst. It was about blog angst.

I've never been happy with the name of my blog. I had to pick something when I created it, so I did. There's nothing wrong with it. Just like there's nothing wrong with placing one couch so it faces the window wall but blocks the archway to the dining room. I just want to try something else for a while. Plus, there are other "Adventures in Motherhood" blogs out there, and I'd kind of like a more unique name. I'm not changing the url, though it's not any sort of real word and probably isn't the easiest to remember without a link (bonus points to anyone who can figure out how I derived the name "elitsirk"...unless I've already explained it to you). I've had that silly url long enough now, that I don't feel like breaking links that no one would bother to fix.

So, here's the question I'm posing to you, my loyal readers (yes, all 4 of you): any suggestions? Real or just plain entertaining (for you or me...I have a good sense of humor most of the time and a keen sense of sarcasm the rest of it....)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Top 10 Favorite Spring Break Vacations

10. '99 My older sister and I went to Cancun for a 5-day "weekend". We were both out of school, but it was in the spring. Plenty of tequila, beaches, snorkelling, sight seeing (Chichen Itza is amazing), and sister-bonding time.

9. '04 Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with my hubby and 3 other couples. No kids (except for Charlotte, still in-utero), but no alcohol either (at least for me). Sure it was late May and I'd been out of school for 8 years, but that's still spring, right?

8. circa '90. The whole family spent a week at Brown County State Park in southern Indiana. I remember a lot of hiking, assembling puzzles, and sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor (6 people in a hotel room with 2 queen beds...sis #5 was 10 years from being born or it would have been 7). The family joke of the "alligator" sprang from that week, where sister 4 of 5 misheard the word "navigator"...she was like 7. It was cute and funny at the time. Really.

7. '93 Spent a week in Kansas City, where my parents were contemplating a move. The whole family slept in the basement of the house where my father was renting a room. I don't think we did Worlds of Fun or anything, just drove around a lot with realtor looking at houses.

6. '98 Senior year of college. I probably worked, did homework. I think this was the week my now-husband wrapped me up in duct tape to make a dressmaker's dummy (if you thing this was kinky, think again...I felt suffocated halfway through and was so happy when it was time to cut the thing off of me for final assembly). I also at least started my formal dress for that semester--a purple stretch velvet halter dress that I still own (but haven't tried on in a long time...hmmm...). The dummy finally got the heave-ho about 2 months ago. Maybe I should swap this one with #7...

5. I'm sure I spent many spring breaks sitting home watching TV, or reading. I'm sure I've done a lot of reading

4. Probably worked several as well. I've been continuosly employed for like 16 years now (except for a couple of post-partum short breaks). I'm sure I worked most of my high school and college breaks.

3. Have I ever had a business trip in the spring? I'm remembering mostly fall and winter travel for some reason.

2. '97 Getting my wisdom teeth pulled and learning just how wacked out dreams can get while on pain meds.

1. '07. I slept in my own bed at night, but spent every day for 2+ weeks hanging out in the NICU at Childrens with Trystan. No alcohol, and I had to quit the pain meds after about 2 days so I would be coherent enough to drive myself. It counts. Really. It was spring, and I did not go to work!

Sour Grapes? Nah, just a good wine!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Life's colder lessons

I have learned a few important lessons during today's snowstorm. Well, some of these were more like refreshers rather than new lessons.

1. There are many, many kind people in this town. Thank you to the nice old lady whose driveway my car got stuck in front of, for the loan of her snow shovel as I attempted to get unstuck. My sincerest apologies for the small muddy hole I have probably left in your yard, but I did spare your mailbox that you just had installed! Thank you wholeheartedly to Patty from St. Peters who gave Trystan and I a lift for the half a mile to daycare after my car got stuck and I gave up on moving it myself. Thank you to the 3 guys in the blue volvo who, along with my husband, ended up pushing my car up to the top of the hill that I was stuck on (while Charlotte and Trystan were waiting back at the school). And mostly, thank you to my husband who shoveled our driveway, half of the nice lady's driveway, drove to come rescue me (shovelling half of the roads on the way so he wouldn't get stuck himself), and who did get my car unstuck and pushed it up the hill.

2. There are many, many foolish people in this town. Tops on my list tonight are Suzanne and Jim, who run our kids' daycare, and who decided at 12:30 in the worst of the white-out thundersnow to call all parents and demand that we come retrieve our children. It took me 4 hours from the time I left my house to the time I left daycare with the children buckled into the car. Had they not attempted to "close early", then I would probably have left at 4pm, and arrived by 5, taking only 1 hour on plowed roads with actual visibility, and I would not have been a nuissance to all the people I've already mentioned, and a danger to Trystan who was forced to ride along the entire harrowing journey. They'll be lucky if their poor decision making only costs their school's families time today, and not property or worse, lives.

3. The next time I decide that the roads are too bad for me to drive to work after taking Trystan to an AM dr appointment, I should go and get Charlotte right then. Again, it probably would have taken an hour for me to get home, but better than the 5+ than I ended up with.

4. I need new snow boots. Ones that fit. I have decided that my current pair are really a men's size 8 and not a women's, and they are terrible to hike up snowy hills in, especially while carrying a baby bundled in your coat.

5. Did I mention that my husband is Superman? Sort-of? Well, I'll say it again. I am exhausted and I didn't shovel 2 driveways, several roads, or push a car up a hill today. He is reading Charlotte bedtime stories as I type.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Booklist update

I think I've finished three books since I last posted:

Red Lily by Nora Roberts. This is one from a box that my mom was done with, and apparently part of a trilogy. It was #3, and I do have #'s 1 and 2 somewhere too that I haven't read yet. Oops. Oh well, typical Nora Roberts--good, lighthearted, fairly quick read. Romance plus a malevolent ghost.

The Enchanted Prince by Ellen Tanner Marsh. Historical Romance set in 1800's Scottish highlands, bought from the bargain table at the library for a quarter (maybe 50c?). Not bad. Not great. The title and the passage that it references seemed kind of stuck on as an afterthought (there were no actual princes, enchanted or otherwise, and the frog-kissing analogy didnt' flow as well as it could have).

Someting Blue by Emily Griffin. Follow up to Something Borrowed. In Something Borrowed, a gal ends up sleeping with her best friend's fiance. This one picks up with the other friend, who starts the book pregnant by one of the would-be groomsmen. The author did a good job of making the self-centered, spoiled heroine someone you could end up caring about.

What am I reading now? Still working on A Salty Bit of Land by Jimmy Buffett--it's kind of slow going as I have a hard time getting into the character of a cowboy who ran from the law (with his horse) and ended up (so far) as a fishing guide in the carribbean. It is somehow compelling though, maybe because I'm in desperate need of a vacation and really would love to be living on the beach right now. It won't fit in my pump bag at work, so I've got Royal Assasin by Robin Hobb ready to start today. In some ways it's annoying that there is no possible way for me to work and pump at the same time, but I do get a lot of reading done on my breaks, at least for these last weeks before Trystan gets to try cow's milk...