Sunday, January 31, 2010

Don't Forget: Seed Giveaway!

If you haven't already, don't forget to enter the seed giveaway by 9pm EST tonight. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. The five-year-old will be enlisted to pick numbers out of a hat Monday morning. These are adorable seed collections for gardening with kids -- don't miss out.

Deer, startled

Meanwhile, I leave you with this thought for your Sunday:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. -- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Lesson Learned, and a Goodbye


In high school, I had to take a religion class. Most people don't have to take religion classes, but this is one of the benefits of private school. Of course I didn't see it as a benefit at the time. Ugh, religion, waste of my time, was probably about where my thoughts were. But the subject grew on me. It wasn't a class prostheletizing any particular belief or anything. Mostly, it was about what faith means. What role religion plays in people's lives, and why.

At the time, I would have considered myself an agnostic. I was too literal, too skeptical, too scientific to take the Bible or any other religious document at face value. I would have said that whole-hearted belief was for the naive, or for those who had never bothered to really examine the issue and just swallowed whatever faith they were fed. But at the same time, I felt that there was something... that something happened to me when I was sitting in the cathedral and hearing the choir's voices ringing through the nave. That some beauty beyond that of man was shining through those stained glass windows. But organized religion was akin to superstition to me.

Mrs. Eliot's class changed all that.

We had to read Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith. (To this day, I am in awe of the faculty and administration who thought us capable of such a book, at age sixteen. If it was folly, I am grateful for it.) At first, it was like reading a foreign language. It was the kind of reading you come up against as a teenager, after you've read enough "grown-up books" to get a little arrogant, that takes the wind right out of your sails and makes you feel hopelessly small and dumb.

But then Mrs. Eliot brought it within reach. She explained, she revealed, and the book and all its wisdom opened up for me. Left to my own devices, I would have struggled with this book and ended up throwing it against the wall and going back to my happy ignorance. But she wouldn't let that happen. She gently removed the veil of my small-mindedness, and helped me to see the world around me in a new light. Faith isn't about believing the truth as laid out in some ancient documents. Faith isn't about belief at all. Faith is an action. Faith is a state of being.

Faith is the leap between what is known and what is unknown. It is the very space between. There is no scientific formula that can tell me that my husband loves me and will not forsake me. There is a point where I must leave behind what I know for certain to be true, and fall into empty space... and trust that I will be caught. It is not the belief that I will be caught that matters, it is the act of falling. The willingness to take that leap, without scientific certainty, without a safety net... that willingness changes you. This is the root of faith. Not the ancient myths, but the willingness to leave certainty behind and fall into empty space... and trust that it is not empty.

Thank you, Mrs. Eliot. Thank you for the gift of your wisdom and patience. Rest in peace.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Fun Giveaway for Gardening with Children

Gardening with my children is one of the things I am most looking forward to as the weather warms. Truly, there is nothing like getting down and dirty with seeds and plants and learning how things grow and where food comes from... I really don't think there is any activity we do that is more educational or prepares them more to live a happy and worthwhile life.

Children's seed collections

So I am truly thrilled to be able to host my first giveaway for something so near and dear to my heart. My friends at Nature's Crossroads have put together these adorable children's seed collections. They come in a reusable tin case, and come with seeds and instructions for different child-centered gardening projects. One is a Sunflower Fort Collection, and the other is a Magic Fairy Garden. Don't you just love it? You can see their entire children's gardening line here.

Seed collection boxes

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment -- and answer the following question:

What do you think children learn most in the garden?

I'll close the comments at 9pm EST Sunday night. Good luck!


And the winners are...

For the Sunflower Fort seed collection... Myrannda!

And for the Magic Fairy Garden seed collection... Adrienne!

Congratulations, ladies, and have fun growing things with your little ones.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Cure for Nothing-to-Do Syndrome

Bag of ideas

It's all too easy, especially when the grown-ups are otherwise occupied, for innocent children to fall victim to Nothing-to-Do Syndrome.

You know what I mean. When they flop down in the middle of a sea of toys, and sigh like the weight of the world is upon their shoulders... "But there's nothing to do."

It's easy for us grown-ups to be exasperated with the child in question, and sigh right back at them. And it's true, there are a million different things they could play with/do/read/etc., but sometimes the issue is that they just can't think of anything. You remember that feeling, don't you?

Don't get me wrong, I think boredom can be a good thing. It challenges kids' creativity. It's important for kids to learn the skill of self-amusement, and not believe that they are somehow just consumers of the world's 24/7 entertainment. But sometimes, a kid just needs a little nudge, a little reminder, an idea.

So, for my five-year-old, I made this little bag of ideas. These are specifically geared towards things she can do without my assistance or intervention, for those times when I'm busy and -- let's face it -- I need her out of my hair. I intend to keep adding to this little bag of tricks as I come up with new ideas. Already it's served as a great reminder of things she enjoys but rarely thinks of to do (pillow fort!).

Pillow fort!!

I printed the little circles out onto regular paper and glued them to the cardboard from a gift box I found in the recycling bin. And the little bag once held jewelry. So virtually free to make, and all told about 30 minutes of my time. But oh, the time it's given me... priceless.

A cure for Nothing-to-Do Syndrome

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Leaf in focus

In photography, one of the most important skills is figuring out what should be in focus, and what should be background. In a good photograph, that which is not in focus acts as a complement to the subject of the photo. It is important not only to select what to focus on, but also what not to.

So too in parenting, and in life. It took me a long time to realize that I cannot possibly focus on everything at once. In essence, what this leaves me with is nothing in focus. By choosing something to be the immediate recipient of my attention, this necessarily means that other things are not getting my attention. And this is not a bad thing.

In fact, it's quite liberating to say to something that frankly just isn't that important: I cannot focus on you. You are not deserving of the gift of my brain's energy. Your mind is a limited resource. Be stingy.

Today I am traveling with my children. Although there is a mighty to-do list piling up at home, it does me no good to think about that now -- there's nothing I can do about it today. Today I will focus on where we are right now, on the three children with me, on what we need right here, today. How very freeing.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, courtesy of SteadyMom.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fun with Veggies and Pasta

Pasta with Veggies

This week, for the Monday Meal challenge, I am sharing a recipe that I've developed over time, but which is different every time I make it (and thus, I am cooking something new, per the challenge!). In its various forms, it has graced our table many times, and has become the teenager's Favorite Meal. (She's a sucker for pasta and veggies, what can I say?)

I'll share here the basic recipe, but this can take almost infinite variations. This is a great dish for using up fresh vegetables (rather than leaving them malingering in the crisper drawer, to be discovered two weeks later as inedible mush -- which sadly used to happen way too often before I knew how to cook with veggies consistently). I'll give some guidelines below the recipe on how to incorporate various kinds of vegetables.

The Basic Recipe
1 box penne pasta (or anything of similar size and shape)
4-6 ounces basil pesto (start with 4 and add more if you want a thicker coating of sauce)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
veggies* (our house standard is baby spinach and asparagus)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Set a big pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook just until al dente -- mushy pasta won't do in this dish! Meanwhile, put a large skillet on medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté your vegetables in the olive oil until just tender. Lower the heat and add the pesto; sauté just long enough to heat the pesto through. Drain the pasta and add to the veggies and pesto. Toss to combine, then pour the whole kit and caboodle into a large bowl. Immediately add the cheeses and toss.

* Here are the vegetables I've used in this dish, along with about how long they usually take to cook. Obviously, add the longer-cooking veggies first, so that all the veggies can cook in the same skillet and be done at the same time. This isn't an exact science and nothing's going to get ruined if you fudge it a bit. In general, try to use at least one firmer vegetable (green beans, asparagus) and one leafy (spinach is my fave).

Spinach (either chopped regular spinach, or baby spinach as is) - 5 minutes
Asparagus (cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths) - 8 to 10 minutes
Roasted red peppers (chopped) - 2 to 3 minutes (to just heat through)
Sun-dried tomatoes (chopped) - 4 to 5 minutes (to heat through and soften a bit)
Swiss chard (stems chopped fine, leaves chopped) - 5 minutes
Green beans (raw, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths) - 10 to 12 minutes
Green beans (pre-cooked until almost tender) - 5 minutes
Zucchini (sliced into half-moons) - 8 to 10 minutes
Roasted tomatoes (already roasted) - 2 to 3 minutes

This recipe allows for a lot of creativity, but it can also be very simple. This time of year, I use store-bought pesto (in the fresh pasta section -- not the shelf-stable jarred stuff, yuck), and whatever veggies happen to be hiding in my fridge. Yum!

But watch out -- do not leave this dinner unattended. Little ones just might help themselves...

Toddler makes his move

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Grandmother's Bag

Beaded bag on table

About seven years ago, I wanted to give my grandmother a birthday present that actually meant something. Not some tchotchke from Tiffany's, not some scented lotion she'd never use. I wanted to give her something that was truly from me.

So I found a pattern for a beaded knitted purse. It was way over my head -- it involved intarsia, which I'd never done before, and tiny beads that were pre-strung on particular sections of yarn... oh my. I wish I had pictures of what it looked like during the construction. It had all these little balls of yarn hanging off of it, some with beads... insanity.

Detail of beading

But oh, when it was finished, she loved it. She truly, truly loved it. And later that year, she carried it to my wedding. Even though it didn't match her dress at all -- and if you had known my grandmother, you would know what a sacrifice that was. She was radiant that night, she was beaming, she was regal. And she was carrying that funny little bag. I will never forget that.

Tag inside bag

We lost my grandmother two and a half years ago. My mother thought it fitting that the bag be returned to me. I cannot imagine ever using it -- in fact, it still has the menu from my wedding tucked inside. But it gives me great pleasure to look at it, to feel the beads with my fingers, and remember back to when it was on the needles, a time when I was planning my wedding, and my grandmother was healthy and strong.

Beaded bag

There's something so very special about these handmade things in our lives. Their history is so bound up with our own. I don't have my grandmother anymore, but I have her little bag. It isn't enough, but it helps.

The Kids Aren't The Only Ones

Max asleep with beanbags

The kids aren't the only ones who love the alphabet bean bags.

One of our furry friends keeps appropriating them for himself.

The letter I makes a good pillow

Apparently they are good pillows.

Just try and take them away. Good luck.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Impromptu Nature Walk

Nature walk

This is one of my favorite activities with little kids, and has been since my teenager was a toddler. It is ridiculously simple and requires no money and almost no effort. It's just a walk, really. But you see, when you call it a Nature Walk, and when little ones are tasked with collecting and observing... well, it becomes an adventure. They become their true Scientist selves, noticing everything.

Bare trees

In the past, I've mostly done Nature Walks in the spring and fall, when the weather is pleasant and there's a lot of really showy, obvious stuff going on (flowers blooming! leaves changing!). In January, you might have to look a little harder, and you might collect mostly brown stuff.


But it got us outside, and it got us paying attention. Not to mention, the trains really needed a walk.

Taking the trains for a walk

Friday, January 22, 2010

Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds

Empress Bean

Ahhh, I can't get enough! The seed catalogs have been arriving, tempting me with their glossy photographs of plump, luscious fruits and vegetables. My friend Rebecca referred to these catalogs as "gardening porn," and the moniker is apt: we fantasize about what we could have, about who we could be...

OK, maybe I need to get out more.

But this week I've been sitting down with all those catalogs and making the tough choices. Seriously, people, I have a suburban garden here, not a farm! I can't grow everything! Usually this time of year, I go a little nuts. I order more seeds than I have room for. (This is how we ended up with vegetables growing by the front door, by the way.) But this year, I have mapped it out -- I have actually sat down and calculated how far apart the rows need to be for each variety, and how much of each thing I'll be left with after thinning, and how much space that's all going to take up. I have used math. No gardening-by-the-seat-of-my-pants this year, folks!

You know this is all going to go to pot by about mid-May, don't you? But for now we'll pretend that I am very scientific and all that.

Front Yard Bed
This is the bed alongside the walk up to our front door. I planted tomatoes there last year. And melons! Bad, bad ideas. People like to be able to approach a front door without being assaulted by vegetables. This year: peppers. Bell peppers and jalapeños. Hopefully they will be well-behaved and not scare the visitors. Also: less tempting to the bunnies, which reside in the front yard under the hydrangea -- and who are, let's face it, not going anywhere.

Back Deck Containers
As in previous years, the many pots and containers on the sunny back deck will be growing mostly herbs. Basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, and chives have all had good success in the past. I might add a few new ones this year, but want to focus on the things I really use for cooking the most. Hmm, maybe mint for mojitos....

Future fairy bower

Original Veggie Garden
This is where it all started, the little 5' x 10' bed (once a sandbox) where I planted our first veggies four summers ago. This is where the fairy bower is being built this year. More on this later, but basically it's a teepee of willow branches, with cucumber and green bean vines planted all around it to make a living, green hideaway house. (One section will be left open for the little ones to climb in and out.) This is an experiment and may not work out exactly as planned (ya think??), but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.

Where the raised beds will be

The Raised Beds
This is the new addition this year, the theoretical raised beds that I am theoretically hard at work on. This very moment! Building them! Yes! There will be three of them (yes!), 6' x 12', 6' x 12', and 6' x 16'. An astonishing amount of square footage to work with. So here's the plan for these babies:

Oh yes, I have it all mapped out. I am ordering the seeds, today! Except... um... I just realized that maybe it's not the best idea to have garden beds that are six feet wide.

Did I mention that I'm 5'2"? Hmm. Maybe it's a good thing I haven't bought the lumber for the beds yet.

But I'm still ordering the seeds! Nothing can stop me! Except I keep getting distracted by these dang catalogs and their whispered promises of lush, juicy tomatoes......

Moonglow Tomato

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What We're Listening To

One of the most frequent questions I get from friends with babies or toddlers is, "How do I find music for my child that I will actually enjoy listening to?" Because, let's face it, there's a lot of bad music for kids out there. Especially for very young children. I'm sorry, but it's true! We've all heard that saccharine-sweet, drippy singing, with the Musak-style background... it's not good, people. If it sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you, why subject your poor unsuspecting children to it? (This is the same principle I use for food -- if it doesn't seem appetizing to me, why would I feed it to my baby??)

Not to mention, unless you're strapping headphones on your toddler, you're probably listening to it too. Good music can be the difference between a smoothly-running day filled with fun, and a whiney mess when everyone -- including Mommy -- ends up crying on the floor. (Oh, don't pretend you haven't been there.) They say that music soothes the savage beast, and that's doubly true for savage toddlers. So here is a sampling of some of what we're listening to, together, right now. And please share in the comments your favorites -- we are always looking for new tunes!

They Might Be Giants, No!
This is their first kids' album, No!, and still our family favorite. We listen to this daily, in part because the toddler's current Favorite Song in the Universe is "Four of Two," which he refers to as "the clock song." (As in, "Clock song! Again, again! Clock song again!") When you have to listen to the same song roughly 30 times a day, you thank your lucky stars that it's as musically interesting as TMBG.

Trout Fishing in America, Big Round World
Big Round World is the five-year-old's current favorite. They have a bunch of truly silly songs, and some more thoughtful, but they're all quite listenable, with a kind of folksy Grateful Dead sort of feel.

Dan Zanes and Friends, 76 Trombones
76 Trombones is not the first Broadway compilation album for kids we've owned, but it's the first one I've actually wanted to listen to. Each of the songs has Dan Zanes's laid-back style without losing the feel of the original. As the title of the album implies, there are several songs from The Music Man, which is particularly fun for us since we just saw it onstage this past weekend. (Lots of people walking around this house singing "Gary, Indiana," I must say. Egads!)

What are you listening to? What songs or albums do your kids have to listen to over and over until you're reaching for the earplugs? Do tell... I'd love to find a new alternative to the "clock song!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pattern for a Knitted Headband

Knitted headband

Now that I've had a few guinea pigs try this one out, I'm ready to share my knitted headband pattern. I made this in a single afternoon, and it really is easy.

Skills required: Garter stitch (just knit, no purl!), increasing and decreasing, and I-cord.

Materials required: Any yarn of your choice (but think soft -- this is going to be against your skin), and two double-pointed needles in an appropriate size for your yarn. The photographed headband was made with worsted-weight yarn on size 6 needles.

To begin, cast on 3 stitches, using any cast-on method. Then make an I-cord approximately 6 to 7 inches long.

Now start to knit these stitches back-and-forth in regular garter stitch (as if you were using regular needles). Knit across all three stitches once, then turn the work. With each succeeding row, increase one stitch at the beginning of each row. You can use any increase you like (except a yarn-over); I knitted into the front and back of the stitch. So with each row, you will be gaining one stitch at the beginning. This will begin to form a triangle coming out from your I-cord.

Whenever your piece has reached the desired width of your headband, stop increasing and continue just knitting back and forth in garter stitch (knit each row). (My headband is 12 stitches across and 2 inches wide, but obviously this will vary with your gauge.)

You will want this main section of the headband to be long enough to reach from behind one ear to behind the other, so the easiest thing is to hold the work up to your own head. (But for reference, my headband is 15 inches long, not including the I-cord or triangular-increase sections.)

When you've reached the desired length for the main section of headband (the part that will show), begin to decrease the same way you increased on the other side. Thus, decrease by one stitch at the beginning of each row. I just knit two together on the first stitch each time, and it looks fine. Keep decreasing by one stitch each row until just three stitches remain.

Now once again knit these three stitches in an I-cord, the same length as the I-cord on the other side. When you've reached the desired length, bind off all stitches.

Detail of headband

The nice thing about this headband is that it's stretchy, and because you tie it in the back at exactly the tension you want, it is super comfy.

This is a great project for an advanced beginner, because you can try out a few new skills on a small-scale project that doesn't take too long to complete. It's also a great way to show off some self-striping yarn, as in the photo. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Piano


I can't play the piano. I played the cello for several years, but let's face it, I've pretty much forgotten how to play that too. But just about every day, our house is infused with piano music, thanks to my eldest daughter. She took lessons for six years, and during that time we had the usual struggle -- me reminding her to practice, her resisting. She grumbled and complained and came close to quitting several times, but somehow she stuck with it. When we moved about three-and-a-half years ago, we couldn't find a new piano teacher right away, and we made a remarkable discovery.

She was playing the piano every day, without reminders or sticker charts or anything. She was playing for her own pleasure. She started messing around with Broadway music, struggling with the sight-reading, tapping out melodies with her right hand, working away for an hour at a time. But this was a different kind of struggle. This struggle was pure joy.

I stopped trying to find a piano teacher. I let her be her own piano teacher. She has excelled.

When she has a bad day at school, or she's stressed about a paper or test, she goes straight for the piano. She plays, sometimes she sings along, and you can hear the stress leaking out of her fingertips. What a gift. What a precious, precious gift.

The other day I was trying to make dinner after a long day with the little ones, and it was one of those pre-dinner witching hours when every single one of us was grumpy and ready to snap. The teenager surveyed the scene, and went straight to the piano. With the first notes, I grumbled in my mind, just what I need, more noise! But after only a few moments, I noticed that the little ones had quieted, pulled by some gravitational force towards the living room, listening. And I noticed my tension start to slip away, lulled by the sweet music, reminded once again just how very blessed I am.

What a precious, precious gift.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, courtesy of SteadyMom.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Knock-off Asparagus Fries

If you've ever been to Isabella's in Frederick, Maryland, you will know why I am obsessed with recreating their incredible, amazing, otherworldly asparagus fries. The last time I was there, I pumped the waiter for information, and was able to glean a few of the ingredients that are used, and attempted to use my taste-buds to identify the rest. So this week, as my contribution to the Monday Meal Challenge, I give you my not-quite-the-same-but-still-delicious asparagus fries.

Because I am an overachiever, I decided that the roasted tomato aioli sauce just had to made with fresh, homemade mayonnaise. So, the first step for me was to make mayonnaise from scratch for the first time. I used Julia's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it turned out quite well.

Mayonnaise ingredients
Ingredients for Homemade Mayonnaise

Making mayonnaise
Mayonnaise in the Food Processor

Meanwhile, I was roasting the tomatoes for the aioli. I used four medium-sized tomatoes, cored and cut up into hunks, tossed in a small bowl with olive oil, minced garlic, and some dried basil. Then I laid them on a silicone-mat-lined baking sheet, and baked at 375 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.

Tomatoes for roasting
Tomatoes ready for roasting

Roasted tomatoes
Roasted tomatoes, mmmm

Now, this sauce is definitely not yet up to par with Isabella's, but it was pretty dang good in its own right, so here's the recipe I came up with:

Roasted Tomato Aioli
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup roasted tomatoes
dash paprika
dash salt
1-2 Tbsp whole milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. If too thick, add a dash of olive oil.

Then there were the asparagus fries themselves. I managed to get out of the waiter that they were breaded in panko. So, I snapped the woody ends off my asparagus, dredged in flour, then egg, and then in panko breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried them in canola oil. I do not have a working thermometer, so I have no idea what temperature the oil was at -- all I know is, it was initially too hot and I had to let it cool a bit before it worked right. Ideally these things should only be in the oil 10-15 seconds. Take them out when the breading is browned (but not blackened)!



Serve the fried asparagus with the aioli. Isabella's serves them in champagne flutes, so I attempted to put mine in a wine glass, but they just flopped over. Oh well. My asparagus was definitely floppier than theirs, but taste-wise, it was still delicious. Maybe I'll try thicker stalks next time?

Asparagus fries!

Anyway, I urge you, if you have a favorite dish at a restaurant, try to figure out what's in it and make it at home! It may never even come close to your favorite restaurant dish, but the experimentation and culinary detective work that comes from trying to figure out is a lot of fun... not to mention, delicious!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Adorable Alphabet Beanbags

More beans bags

My five-year-old has known her alphabet for years now, is doing a fabulous job of sounding out short words, and generally is well on her way to true literacy... except, she doesn't know the order of the alphabet! Whoops. How did we fail to teach this concept? Clearly, not nearly enough singing of the ABC song, for one thing. But when I realized about two weeks ago that she can't put letters in alphabetical order (or sing the alphabet song for her brother without confusing him mightily), I was madly brainstorming ways to help her get her mind around this concept.

Serendipity! That very day, I was reading Craft: Magazine's blog (required reading if you are any kind of crafter, or even if you just admire them), and they were highlighting a project from Holly of Chez Beeper Bebe for counting bean bags with appliqued numbers on them. Oh my! Here is the complete tutorial with downloadable instructions and everything (wow, thanks, Holly!). I never cease to be amazed by the generosity and creativity of folks out here in ones-and-zeros-land.

Bean bags

So, obviously I changed them up a bit, because our goal is letters and not numbers. So instead of ten, I have twenty-six. And I decided that drawing the letters free-hand would make them a little cozier (the teenager says "more human-looking"). I had a blast using up a bunch of fabric scraps left over from the quilt I made for my mom, and adding in a few others we had lying around. (The red-on-white print with little doggies is leftover from a pair of overalls my mom made for my brother circa 1971. Love it!) What a clever way to use scraps that are too small for most projects! I decided to make the letter backgrounds out of leftover linen (I knew I saved those oddly-shaped scraps for a good cause!), and used black-eyed peas for the "stuffing," since they were on sale.

Black-eyed peas!

Since I had the fabric lying around, my only costs were the fusible webbing (of which I have lots leftover and will definitely use again), and the beans. So, like $6. Not bad. They feel absolutely wonderful in the hands... between the natural texture of the linen and the delicious scrunch of the beans, they really are a delight.

Oh yeah, and the kids love them. I mean, love them. There is something so remarkable about acquiring a new plaything that has been made by hand. They have been anticipated while the making was going on (all week long I've been getting inquiries, "when do you think they'll be done? If you had to guess?"), and somehow, the child just seems to know how much love went into their making.

Many thanks again to Holly for the inspiration. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a bean bag boom in our house -- already I'm getting requests for numbers, more letters ("so we can make words!"), and animals. And colors. Oh my. I'd better get busy.

Pile o' bean bags

Salmon for the Squeamish

Best Salmon Ever

I went many, many years without eating any fish besides tuna salad and fish sticks. I had issues both with texture and... well, fishiness. I'm still not a huge seafood fan, but I have finally embraced salmon -- and I don't just tolerate it, I adore it. But only the way I cook it. This recipe helped me turn the corner and become a salmon-lover, and is a result of much experimentation and combining of recipes.

Best Salmon Ever

3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 inches of ginger root, finely grated
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp honey
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1 filet of salmon, preferably wild-caught

Combine the first five ingredients in a shallow dish large enough to fit the salmon. Add the salmon and marinate in the refrigerator about one hour or so.

If it's not January and you have access to a grill, then by all means, grill it! I use aluminum foil as a tray for the salmon, and grill over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, or until the salmon is flaky. The goal is to get the honey to caramelize, so there is a gorgeous brown crust.

If grilling isn't an option, then use the broiler. Preheat broiler and place the salmon filet on a broiler tray that's been lightly brushed with olive oil. Spoon all of the marinade over the salmon -- don't waste a drop! Broil for 5 to 10 minutes or until the marinade forms a nice brown crust on the top and the fish is flaky.

Salmon meal

Last night I served it with wild rice pilaf, fresh homemade bread, and my favorite spinach salad with pomegranate seeds and bleu cheese. Yum! And surprisingly popular among the preschooler set.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Custom Cereal Boxes


My kids eat a wide variety of things for breakfast, but I confess, cold cereal is one of the things on the table most mornings. Now, most breakfast cereal boxes fall into one of two categories: either they're emblazoned with commercial character marketing, or they're organic/healthy cereal for adults and hopelessly, mind-numbingly boring. Considering our household's avoidance of high fructose corn syrup and emphasis on whole grains, we automatically avoid the colorful-advertising-disguised-as-entertainment. But we've got a wide variety of intensely boring granola boxes.

Kellogg's, General Mills, and Post are well-aware of what slack-jawed sponges our children are in the mornings. That's why those boxes are such effective vehicles for marketing messages. But I say, to heck with that! Yes, my children are slack-jawed sponges in the morning! Thus, I put in front of them my own custom-designed propaganda.

After, back

In the elementary school years, I can totally see the week's spelling words making an appearance on these boxes. If my high schooler would actually sit down and eat breakfast in the morning, I'd have her Spanish vocab words on her box. But since the sixteen-year-old is out the door at 6:45 (ouch! did I mention I'm not a morning person??), my captive audience consists of a five-year-old and a nearly-two-year-old. Therefore, our current boxes are adorned with animals, planets, and letters. Another fun addition to the morning routine (along with starting with art, of course).

After, front

The easiest way to do this, of course, would be to open up a word processing document and just drag a whole bunch of fun images into it, grab a few poems or science facts or spelling words or what-have-you, print it out, and glue or tape it on. Five minutes, max. However, my printer is on the fritz, so I had to spend some quality time with the scissors and that stack of magazines I keep around for moments like these. And if you really like the box you've created, no need to send it out with the recycling when the cereal's gone -- just swap out the inner bag for a new one. (This could also be a way to sneak generic cereal into the house without some brand-concious kid calling you out on it.)

Now, you think tomorrow morning I'll actually get a chance to drink my coffee?