Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Apple Raspberry Crisp

So remember how I was telling you about the apple crisp I made with my girls over the weekend? And how it was especially good, due to a secret ingredient?

Well, on Saturday morning I took Julia and Genevieve to our CSA farm to U-Pick cherry tomatoes and raspberries. And in the afternoon, when we made an apple crisp with some baking apples from a friend, I decided to add a layer of fresh raspberries to the pan. Which is how I ended up with my latest recipe, Apple Raspberry Crisp. We ate it for dinner two nights in a row. (We did squeeze some regular dinner food on our plates alongside it, but I'm pretty sure all three of us would have sucked down a dinner made up of only Apple Raspberry Crisp if given the opportunity.)

Note: if you aren't so lucky as to have fresh raspberries available, you can use frozen. (No need to thaw beforehand, but you may need to bake the crisp an extra five minutes). But be aware that upon first serving, the crisp will have a lot of juice at the bottom of the pan. No worries; it will still be fine and delicious. And if your crisp somehow manages to last into a second day, the juice will incorporate into the rest of the filling overnight in the refrigerator.

Apple Raspberry Crisp
6 generous servings

4 medium (or 6 small) peeled, sliced apples (tart ones are best)
2/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan. Put apple slices in the bottom of the pan. Layer raspberries over the apples.

In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add in softened butter and mix until crumbly.

Spoon the crumbly topping over the apples and berries, covering fruit completely. (Pan will be very full.)

Bake 30 minutes or until fruit is soft and topping is golden brown. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Last Week of Summer Vacation

Hey, everyone. Sorry I haven't written since last Wednesday. Last week was a WEE BIT CHALLENGING, what with the housepainting and Genevieve's injury at the city pool (she's going to be fine; still recovering, but she'll be fine) and Christopher's grandfather passing away, necessitating quick arrangements to get Christopher many hours' north for four days for the funeral. We only have one car, so when things like this happen we have to rent a car so I am not stranded alone with my (six- and four-year-old) babies and no transportation. We live in a small town but I can't walk with two kids to the grocery store or the pediatrician or what have you.

So anyway. A few notes.

The new paint looks fantastic! OK, yes, I realize that for the most part I (well, not me personally) painted new ivory paint over old ivory paint, but honestly---the difference is astonishing. This is because the old paint was original flat builder's grade, and nine years old to boot. Do you know what you get when you combine flat builder's grade paint with two small children over the course of several years? UGLY, is what. Also DIRTY. Also SCUFFED AND CHIPPED AND UNSCRUBBABLE, DAMNIT.

The new paint makes me feel like I'm in a brand new house. Oh, and lest you think I'm the most boring person around, I did have the fireplace outcropping in the living room painted dark cranberry, which looks utterly fabulous. The girls and I have been sitting around staring at the red wall and sighing with pleasure. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

I've been baking, now that my kitchen is once again accessible to me. Why I've been baking when it's 90 degrees outside, I don't know. But a friend gave me a bunch of early-season baking apples from her extended family, so yesterday the girls and I made an apple crisp. Only we added a special ingredient that made it even more scrumptious. Which I will share with you tomorrow, when I write up the recipe. So check back!

Lastly, WHY OH WHY is it the last week of summer vacation already? Seriously? Is it possible? Twelve weeks ago I embarked upon the Summer of Fun with my two little sidekicks, yet sometimes it seems like yesterday. And next week I send my oldest to first grade, which you all know is going to kill me at first. Plus Genevieve moves to the three-mornings-a-week nursery school schedule, and I anticipate more than a few tears from my little Queen of Separation Anxiety at preschool drop-off for the first few weeks, which does not make me excited to jump headlong into September.

Still, cooler weather will be nice (eventually). And maybe once life calms down and we settle into our new schedules, I can start truly running again. Plus, my writing awaits: the book project I've put aside for three months in order to do summer 100% with my daughters, a flexible freelance gig I've just begun to earn some spending money.

And the new paint looks SO GOOD.

Tune in tomorrow for a yummy dessert, and later this week for the Summer of Fun Recap, little-girl version.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life is Crazy but the Walls Look Nice

I've been living out of my car for the past two days. With two children under seven. And one of those children recently sustained an injury that necessitated a nighttime trip to the ER, and so is not feeling 100% and had to see the pediatrician for follow-up yesterday. (An aside: why do ER visits always happen at night?)

OK, so I haven't been fully living out of my car, but we have professional housepainters here this week, painting the interior of our house. You know: the entry, the kitchen, the living room, the dining area, the stairs, the playroom/office. Places where my children and I normally spend our days. So between 9 and 5, we've been basically trying to make ourselves scarce. Even though we all need naps and one of us is recovering from an injury. Hmmm.

My daytime handbag/tote is currently stuffed with: sippy cups, sunscreen, bug spray, extra kid clothes, hoodies, kid sunglasses, kid snacks, a stuffed rooster, money, my cell phone, and anything else I feel I might need as I traipse my kids from place to place all over town during the day so as not to be at home where the painters are painting. The front seat of my car is piled with coloring books, a travel box of crayons and markers, and containers for picking berries at our CSA farm, in case we decide to kill some time by visiting the farm and picking some berries. We have gone out to lunch once and for coffee (me)/treats (them) once. We carry our food with us.

Oh, and my husband's grandfather just died, so Christopher is currently attempting to make travel plans to drive to the end of the earth ooops I mean the Upper Peninsula for the funeral.

Did I mention the injury and the ER visit? (The details are too shudder-inducing to go into here. She will be fine. But it was NOT PRETTY and it requires RECOVERY TIME TO A VERY SENSITIVE AREA. And no, she was not on my watch when it happened. Enough said about that.)

But hey! The walls of my house look really, really good. Which they should, given the amount of money I am paying to have someone other than me paint the entire open floor plan of my house.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Caramelized Tomato Cobbler

OMG tomato cobbler OMG best thing ever.

Sorry. I couldn't control myself for a minute there. I discovered this recipe in a recent issue of Fitness, and it has quickly become my family's favorite dinner. (Truth be told, Genevieve eats the biscuit part and picks out the tomatoes. But she loves the biscuit part!) I am fortunate in that we are swimming in fresh locally-grown tomatoes from our CSA farm right now--pounds and pounds of giant Heirlooms and Red Slicers, and quarts of self-picked sweet-as-candy Sungold cherry tomatoes--and this is the perfect way to use them. But even if you don't belong to a CSA, I'll bet there are farmstands or farmers' markets where you live, overflowing with August tomatoes. And I highly, HIGHLY recommend you use them to make this.

I've tweaked the original recipe a bit, to simplify and adjust to my family's taste. Here's what I came up with. It's to die for.

Caramelized Tomato Cobbler
Serves 8

Cobbler Biscuit Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 T. sugar
1-1/2 T. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
5 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Tomato Filling Ingredients:
2 T. sugar
2 T. water
1/2 tsp. rice vinegar (or any other mild or sweet vinegar you have around: sherry, balsamic, white wine, etc.)
2 lbs. Heirloom or Red Slicer tomatoes, cored and cut into large chunks, or a similar amount of cherry tomatoes (left whole is fine), OR a combination of the types
1 T. chopped fresh thyme or basil (or 1 tsp. dried thyme or basil)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To prepare the biscuit dough, mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, pepper, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the small pieces of cold butter, and either cut in with a pastry blender or, with your fingers, rub and mix the butter into the flour mixture until the entire mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I do the latter.) Pour in the milk slowly, and stir until the dough just comes together. Add 1/4 cup cheddar cheese and stir to combine.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and form it into an 8-inch circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Set aside.

To prepare the tomatoes, combine the sugar and water in a large ovenproof skillet and cook over medium heat, swirling the pan gently but not stirring, until the sugar melts and the liquid turns amber (about 5 minutes). Add the vinegar and swirl again. Add the tomatoes, thyme or basil, salt, and pepper to the pan. Stir gently and then cook about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Doesn't this picture make it look kind of like cherry tomatoes with watermelon? It's not.

Place the 8 wedges of biscuit dough on the top of the tomatoes in the skillet.

Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheddar cheese.

Place entire skillet in oven and bake about 30 minutes, until biscuits are golden and tomatoes are bubbly.

Serve and enjoy all the compliments.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Zucchini Banana Oat Muffins

So I spent the weekend mainly dealing (happily, I should add) with fresh produce. No, really. On Saturday alone I spent 7 hours cooking, baking, rinsing, blanching, roasting, and freezing. This was after our family spent a couple of hours in the morning U-Picking at our CSA farm, bringing home a fantastic haul of many quarts of fresh raspberries and cherry tomatoes, plus a pound or so of edamame and fresh basil, thyme, and parsley. Plus there was the abundant share pick-up on Friday, the usual already-picked-and-washed fare we get every two weeks as split-share members.

I won't bore you with details of everything I "processed" over the weekend, but I will tell you this: amidst the roasting tomatoes and the freezing multiple quarts of berries, I concocted the perfect zucchini muffin. Healthy, moist, high-protein, low-fat, barely sweet, and perfectly hearty. And yet, very tasty.

Surely you have too much zucchini lying around at this time of year, yes? Here you go:

Yes, the recipe makes more than five. These were
what was left after I froze some and we ate some.

Zucchini Banana Oat Muffins
Makes 12 to 15, depending on muffin tin size

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup grated (unpeeled) zucchini
1 small to medium banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the egg, oil, yogurt, brown sugar, and oats. In a separate bowl, stir together both flours, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and cinnamon. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients. Fold in grated zucchini and mashed banana. Batter will be very thick.

Spoon batter into greased muffin cups (I like to use cupcake papers to line the cups), filling about 2/3 full. This should make 12 to 15 muffins, depending on the size of your muffin cups. I had to use 2 cups of a second muffin tin for mine.

Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Do NOT overbake!

Cool in tins on a cooling rack for 5 minutes and then remove muffins from pan. Great served warm or cooled, and they freeze very well for quick kid breakfasts or snacks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer of Barely Running

You may have been wondering how my Summer of Running has gone. Or not, probably? Where I live, summer's not over for two more weeks, but I am going to tell you anyway. Because you already know the Summer of Fun part has been a huge success. The city pool, scads of picnics, Popcorn Wednesdays, day trips, ice cream, playgrounds, the zoo, homemade Popsicles, visits to the farm, cooking, baking, movie night, bookstore storytime, the splash pool, the sprinkler, playdates, the county fair... More fun would have been nearly impossible.

But the Summer of Running? Might as well have been called the Summer of Struggling to Run in Dewpoints of 72 and Humidity Levels of 80% or Higher.

In June I vowed to not skip any runs until Labor Day unless it was over 90 degrees outside (including the heat index) or storming. And honestly? I think I may have skipped just one run under those conditions, and maybe not even that.

The problem was that there were many, many days with heat indices over 90 degrees. Also, on the days I did get out to run, it was suffocatingly humid most of the time. Seriously, I can recall three runs in low humidity--three times I bounded out my door easily and fast, and pounded out several hilly trail miles like I could conquer the world. THREE TIMES in the WHOLE SUMMER. Therefore, all the other times, I struggled and suffered and hobbled and panted, alternating running with I-can't-go-on walking intervals, coming home drenched. I have run five miles straight, without any walking breaks at all, twice this entire season. To give you some perspective, last summer--a largely cool year--I ran five or six miles (no walking!), three to four times a week, over and over and over again, with nary a thought.

So, the Summer of Running was not. I didn't get back up to my normal mileage, I didn't get in killer shape, I didn't enjoy most of my runs. It was pretty much a giant disappointment.

But you know what? It has been a real Summer of Fun, life lived to the fullest most every day. And that's more important. But I still hope for a break in the humidity in the next two weeks. I'd like to end the summer on a high note. And then go running with joy into fall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Problem Solved Thanks to a More Astute Person Than I

My friend Connie just pointed out the obvious fact I somehow overlooked, that since my daughters' schools are ACROSS THE STREET FROM ONE ANOTHER, I can drive both of them to school on Wednesdays.

Um, yeah, that would work just fine.

I don't think my brain has been 100% functional since my first baby was born in 2004.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Because There's Always Something.

Here is an example of why the world (read: my family) needs stay-at-home moms (or dads). And also an example of how, apparently, each school year there is going to be some crazy school-schedule aberration that creates complications in the drop-off, pick-up, bus stop, and/or childcare routine.

I just received an e-mail from Julia's elementary school principal reminding parents that this year, the school is switching to a new schedule wherein it begins one hour late every Wednesday, for teacher education. Unfortunately, this year Genevieve is in nursery school on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.

So, starting on Julia's SECOND DAY OF SCHOOL and Genevieve's PRESCHOOL ORIENTATION DAY (have I mentioned that Genevieve has separation anxiety and therefore her orientation day will be crucial?), I am supposed to be both waiting at the bus stop with Julia AND taking Genevieve into nursery school at the very same time. REPEAT EVERY WEDNESDAY FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.


Simple and Delicious Family Cooking: Rhubarb Crumble Pie

So maybe you want to make a juicy, summery pie, but you don't want to deal with all that intimidating ice-cold-water and don't-overhandle-the-dough and rolling-out business of a traditional homemade pie crust. Then you're like me, and you make this instead. And then you serve it warm to your family with dinner, topped with whipped cream, on a summer night when--oops!--you've already eaten leftover birthday cake and ice cream earlier in the day. But you had this rhubarb, you see, that you had to use up. So you made the pie.


Rhubarb Crumble Pie
Serves 8 to 12, depending on size of slices

Easy Pastry Crust Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 T. sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 T. 2% milk (or 1 T. skim milk + 1 T. half-and-half)

Filling Ingredients:
4 cups fresh unpeeled diced rhubarb
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 T. all-purpose flour
1 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces

Crumble Topping Ingredients:
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare the crust, mix the flour with salt and sugar. Pour in the oil and milk. Mix with a fork until well-combined. Transfer dough into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Press dough with your fingers to spread it over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

To prepare the filling, combine rhubarb, sugar, and flour. Pour over pie crust. Dot with small pieces of butter.

To prepare crumble topping, mix small pieces of butter, sugar, and flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the sugar and flour until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over top of pie.

Place pie pan on a baking sheet (to catch spills as the filling bubbles during baking) and put the whole thing in the oven. Bake 60 to 70 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crumble topping is browned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lucky Mom

As I mentioned, last Friday was not only Genevieve's family birthday party, but my husband's and my 15th wedding anniversary. I forgot to tell you about the most awesome presents he gave me. First, a runner's ID that my Internet friend and fellow Minnesotan, fitness blogger Mary, told me about:

Isn't it sweet? He even ordered it in pink! Perfect. I run several times a week, all year round, usually in the evenings and always either around the edges of our subdivision, which borders on countryside, or on country roads and wooded trails near my house, so....I really should be carrying ID at all times. This wrist ID makes it easy.

As if that wasn't enough of a gift, Christopher also gave me the t-shirt I've been wanting for literally two or three years:

Except mine is even cuter because it's a bright cranberry color (no longer available on the site, sorry). Do you see what it says? "Lucky mom" on top, "24/7" underneath. Love. You can order your own PeaceLoveMom tee here, and they're even having a sale this week. (I'm not being compensated by either of these companies, by the way; I just love my presents.)

It's always good to be reminded of how lucky you are.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turning Four

Genevieve Rose turns 4 today! She arrived four years ago 1-1/2 weeks before my scheduled C-section, you may recall, which in retrospect is very fitting since she does pretty much everything just the way she damn well feels like, whether it be sleeping in her crib until she's 3-1/2 or wearing the same olive-green shorts and bright-orange t-shirt nearly every day this summer. Or refusing to let me comb and do her lovely hair. (Above is a rare exception, and even that is just two simple clips; imagine how perfect that hair is for braids or pigtails! Both of which she will not consider.) Or crying when I drop her at preschool even though she's been there a hundred times and enjoys it. Or--hey!--reading on her own at age three. You get the idea.

As my friend Margaret says, who knew this little pistol was entering our lives, four years ago? Life will never be boring with her around, that's for sure. Which is one of the many reasons we love, love, love her.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Birthday Prep

Four years ago I looked like this:

I swear you couldn't even tell I was pregnant from the back.

And we were waiting for this:

It's not quite Genevieve's 4th birthday yet, but today is her family birthday party at her grandma and grandpa's house. She has grown nearly two inches this summer and is able to read chapter books labeled "reading level: age 8-9." Of course, she also does not yet reliably sleep through the night and sometimes still likes to ride in the stroller.

Tonight there will be a Clifford cake, ice cream, and the subsequent sugar high. It is also our 15th wedding anniversary, if you can believe that.

I feel rather old all of a sudden.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yes, I Am Aware That it is One in the Morning. GAH.

Oh, hey. I'm up north for a little bit. I was in a car today for six hours with two children under seven. The baby turns four in a few days, and don't worry, there will be a photo or two. But right now I'm gone, and I'm also tired (but not sleeping). So, um....leave your comments below about school lunch boxes. Or don't. Hey, I know: go and look at this. An Internet friend of mine sent me this link when she read my popover post. Are you totally drooling now? I am dying to make these.

I have to go now. I'm late for my next bout of insomnia. Also the baby is due to wake up and cry any second now. Oh, yeah, I forgot: the baby is turning four in a few days, so she's not a baby anymore. SO WHY DOES SHE STILL NOT SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT I'D LIKE TO KNOW?

Peace out, people. Talk to you in a few days, when I'll be eating a Clifford the Big Red Dog cake and homemade ice-cream sandwiches. Don't worry. I'll tell you all about it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I'm Pretty Sure This is What They Mean When They Say, "Little Kids, Little Problems...."

Late July-Early August:
Begin vaguely thinking about school lunch boxes, since this year you will be sending your first child off to all-day school. Glance briefly at the Land's End and Pottery Barn Kids back-to-school catalogs that come in the mail with their special backpacks-and-lunch-boxes features. Think, Good grief, backpacks and lunch boxes are expensive these days. Recycle catalogs. Figure you'll just go to Target when the times comes.

Early-ish August:
Start asking seasoned moms about lunch box recommendations. Friend of 2nd grader advises ordering a basic, non-character-themed, sturdy lunchbag from Land's End, since they have a lifetime guarantee and will last through the school years. More expensive at first but will pay off later because it's the only one your child will ever need. You agree this sounds very practical. You check out the Land's End website because, remember, you recycled the catalog.

Child begins begging for Target's Hello Kitty lunch box that next-door neighbor/best friend/bus-stop buddy/2nd grader carried all last year to 1st grade and which child saw every morning at the bus stop. Agree it is very cute. Weigh merits of buying more expensive, boring, sturdy one from Land's End versus cheaper, cute, licensed-character (ugh) one from Target which would make child glow with happiness. (Aware that the Target one will likely break or be grown out of and be ultimately replaced by a plain Land's End one sometime in the future anyway.) Grandma advises glow with happiness. Decide to let child get the Hello Kitty one, since her first year of all-day school is a big deal, she is super-excited about eating lunch at school, and this child never asks for anything. She deserves to pick out a cute lunch box this year. You are a nice mom.

Idly check out the Target website for Hello Kitty lunch boxes. Find the super-cute one neighbor girl had last year. Website says out of stock. Website says not available in stores. Target newspaper ad claims Hello Kitty lunch box is on sale this week. Decide to go to Target tomorrow to check.

Go to Target with daughters. Find school lunch box aisle. Spot Hello Kitty. It is not the same Hello Kitty as last year's model. Not as cute. Child rejects. Hem and haw. Wonder if you should try to talk her into accepting the newer model, since she had her heart set on Hello Kitty and may be disappointed later if she does not choose it. Child refuses. Not as cute. Decide to order plain one from Land's End.

Head over to another lunch box aisle to make sure there aren't any other Hello Kitty lunch boxes. There aren't, but child spots Disney Princesses lunch box. This matches the Disney Princesses backpack she chose last year when she started kindergarten. A choir of angels is singing in child's head. A matching lunch box to go with her backpack! Must have.

You are not sure about this. Is it sturdy enough? It's not as cute as Hello Kitty. Is it the right size? How do you know? You don't. She will never still like Disney Princesses by 2nd grade. You know this.

Child wants Princesses.

Above the lunch boxes are hanging an entire wall of water bottles, Thermos containers, sandwich boxes, special ice packs, and lidded snack bowls. You become distracted by these accessories. How can so many school lunch items even exist? Which do you need? Is there some sort of guide somewhere? Why are there tons of Hello Kitty lunch box containers, but no Princesses ones to match the Princesses lunchbox? You can't put a Hello Kitty water bottle into a Princesses lunch box. Or can you?????

There is a Princesses ice pack, however. Child wants the Princesses ice pack. You agree, because you probably need one of those anyway. Does her current water bottle at home fit into the new lunch bag, or do you need to buy one of these smaller ones, right here in the lunch box aisle? Probably the new smaller one. But how do you know? You don't, and you hate buying extraneous material possessions: so un-eco-friendly. Whatevs. The earth may have to fend for itself when it comes to your entrance into the world of parenting an elementary-schooler.

And how do you know these water bottles won't leak inside the lunch box? You just lay them down inside, and nothing leaks? Really?

What are these metal Thermos-brand short cylindrical food containers? For keeping things hot? And/or cold? Do you need this? You don't know. You suppose so, if you are ever going to send anything for lunch besides a sandwich, which you probably will. But will you, really? Wait a minute: if you have an ice pack to keep the water bottle cold, will that cancel out the Thermos hot-food container's capabilities? This is confusing. Does all of this fit in the Princesses lunch box?

Children are fussing and complaining of being at Target too long.

Call mom, who, since she is largely raising your nieces and nephew, probably knows something about packing school lunches. Mom has no idea what you are talking about. Says the children qualify for free/reduced-price school lunch, so get hot lunch every day and do not pack anything. Ah yes; you remember now.

Your own children are whining that they are hungry and want to go home. Wondering what is taking you so long. They are beginning to rebel.

You buy the Princesses lunch box, the special ice pack, a water bottle, and a hot-food container. You make a mental note to save all receipts.

On the way out, you remark out loud that you feel like you just took an exam.

OMG 1st grade is hard.

A Good Haul

The girls and I went flower-picking at our CSA farm on Friday afternoon:

Five vases' worth! No, I did not leave them all grouped together on one table like that.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Target.com Really Needs to Hire Me

So, now that I've had my typical early-August mild freakout regarding the beginning of school, I can move on and attempt to look at the imminent new school year in a more positive light. Here's one way:

Surely you remember my love affair last autumn with the mom-themed Target commercials using the Minnutes song "More to Luv" as their soundtrack? I mean, seriously, how cute was this?:

People, seriously: Target needs to hire me. What are they thinking? I would be the perfect person to write a mom-demographic blog for Target.com. They need one. After all, who do you think is the largest Target-shopper demographic? Moms. Who does most of the family shopping in this country? Moms. Who typically manages the budget, and is therefore constantly thinking about what's economical, a good value, cute, yet durable? Moms. Who has spent enough money at Target in the last six years to fund the infrastructure of a small nation? Me.

Target.com needs a regular, mom-targeted (no pun intended) blog covering kid and mom style trends, family shopping needs, and how Target lets moms stay on budget, in style, and on time as they live their busy work-and-family-focused lives. And how to keep the kids happy, with hip duds and cute lunch bags and just the right water bottle. I could do all this. If anyone has any connections with Target corporate, let me know. They need me. They just don't know it yet.

And as a final treat to get your (late-summer, almost-school) weekend off right, here's the cutest thing since baby bunnies. If this doesn't put a back-to-school smile on your face, nothing will. Enjoy:

Oh, and Target? E-mail me.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Homemade Popovers: Easy, Scrumptious, Kid-Approved

So, the other day on Facebook I was waxing rhapsodic about popovers--specifically, homemade popovers, which I had just made that day and whose deliciousness and simplicity of preparation had caused me to wonder, Now why in the world have I not made popovers since, like, 2002? They are unbelievable!--Little puffballs of warm eggy bready goodness, so fancy-seeming and yet so easy to make! What is our problem, all of us who are not making popovers, like, every day?--and my friend Lori in New York was all, "What's a popover?"

To which I responded with utter disbelief. What's a popover?! Doesn't everyone know what a popover is? (I guess not.) Which prompted me to wonder, are popovers regional?

I don't know, Internet. You all please write in and tell me: Do you know what popovers are? Are there popovers where you live? Is this a Midwest delectable?

Well. At any rate, I promised Lori that I would school her on the delights of the popover. Below is my recipe, and even two photos of the puffed-up result, fresh out of the oven. (They deflate a bit as time goes on, but they still taste great later, so if you have leftovers, don't despair. Microwave them a bit to warm them up, slather them with butter or jam, and enjoy.)

I don't know if other people's popovers look better than mine--more uniformly puffed, for example, without that little sinkhole in the middle, but I know there are many popover recipes out there, with slight variations from recipe to recipe. Some use a specialty pan called, appropriately enough, a popover pan, but my recipe calls for a good old standard muffin tin. The resulting roll is golden, crispy on top, and with the unique airy, eggy, custardy center that defines a popover. They're not sweet, and they're not fattening. But don't let that fool you. They are TOTALLY ADDICTIVE.

Pay close attention to the method. All the fiddling with the oven temperature is crucial to the rise of the popover and the contrast between the browned, crispy shell and the moist, custardy middle. Also, if your oven runs hot, you will need to keep an eye on your popovers during the final stage, and adjust the last baking period (at 350) as needed. And finally, if your popovers don't turn out, try, try again. As you can see from my photos below, sometimes they don't seem to rise up as high and puffy as usual, for no apparent reason. My personal theory is that it has something to do with the humidity on the day you are baking. (It is currently KILLER HUMID where I live, and these popovers did not puff as well as my last batch, on a less humid day.) They will taste delicious either way.

Shannon's Popovers
Makes 12

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1-1/4 cups milk
1 T. vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the cups of a 12-cup muffin tin.

Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and oil. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth and the consistency of heavy cream.

Pour batter into prepared cups, filling each about 1/2 to 2/3 full. Place in oven and immediately raise the temperature to 450 degrees and set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees again. Bake 15-20* minutes longer, or until tops and sides are well-browned.

*In my oven, the popovers are definitely fully browned in 15 minutes at this stage, sometimes less. But my oven is on the hot side.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Hey, you all. I just realized I subconsciously stole this post's title from my Internet friend Rita! Sort of. She said it better ("Motherhood is my cardio."). I read her just about every day, and I guess I find her so witty and charming that I unwittingly absorbed her blog's tagline into the murky recesses of my brain, where it hung out until I retrieved it, slightly revised, for my own blog. Oops! Sorry, Rita! *Awkward chuckle.*

It's OK; Rita's a mother to young children too; she understands that I haven't truly slept since 2004 and that therefore my mental faculties are chronically compromised.

So, it's August. I have a hard time with August, to tell you the truth. I hate the wind-up to school. School's not for five weeks, people! Stop showing me commercials for school supplies and new clothes! Gah. You're ruining my summer. Well, not YOU, dear readers. But you get what I'm saying.

I've decided that in my heart I'm a summer mom. It wasn't always this way, like when my babies were, uh, babies, and couldn't do much in the summer other than furtively try to eat rocks and sand. But it is this way now. I love summer with my girls, and the school year--with its alarm clocks and bus stop schedules and paperwork and teacher conferences and pick-up times and homework and school fundraisers and activities and AGENDAS--stresses me out.

And I know this is RIDICULOUS at my girls' ages; you don't have to tell me that if the school year for a preschooler and a first-grader seems stressful, I probably won't do too well for, um.....the next 13 years.

Which is maybe why I find this whole topic somewhat depressing.

Of course it's not completely this way. I really love my daughters' schools; they are small and sweet and full of nice families and surrounded by mature trees. There is a nice structure, in a way, to the bus stop and drop-off and pick-up schedules. Fall is my all-time favorite season, and the best time to be a runner mom. The few hours a week I am alone with both children in school, though no doubt filled to the brim with errands, chores, and to-do lists, are luxurious and still so new to me that I can scarcely believe they exist. Autumn in Minnesota is unbelievably gorgeous, an amazing blend of golden warm sunshine and then, suddenly, brisk wind and turned leaves.

But summer lets us all off the hook to some degree, from the schedules and the must-dos, and I like it this way. I like having my children to myself all day to plan fun adventures for, and go on those fun adventures with. I like hanging out at the toddler pool with them on Friday mornings.

And August means the end of summer.

I guess when you get right down to it, my problem with the end of summer and the approach of school boils down to wishing I could keep my children with me all day forever, sheltered from all the outside influences they are exposed to when they advance into school and become exposed to older children, children from families with different values than ours, maybe even children whose family homes aren't safe places for my children to play, ideas and words and topics they don't know yet because we don't want them to know them yet, but that other children will tell them all about anyway. My daughters don't know what video games are, let alone the plots of any mainstream movies or any vulgar words or the names of any tween superstars, and that's intentional.

It does not help that a week ago I saw a documentary about a woman who was sexually molested by an older child ON THE SCHOOL BUS WHEN SHE WAS FIVE YEARS OLD. Good Lord Almighty, being a parent is rough sometimes. Do I need to start driving Julia to and from elementary school every day this year? These are the things that keep me up at night, in August.

So, OK. It's August 3rd. There are five weeks left of summer vacation. Life is fine. There is a lot of fun still to be had. But motherhood is a workout, all right. It'll work your heart every which way.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Maybe She Was Talking About the Going to Dairy Queen Part?

Over the weekend we took the girls to Mankato, MN, to see the childhood home of Maud Hart Lovelace, the author of the Betsy-Tacy series of chapter books for young girls about Maud's ("Betsy's") girlhood adventures with her family and best friends in southern MN in the early 1900s. The Hart home is fictionalized as Betsy's family's home in the stories. Across the street is the home of Maud's real-life best girlhood friend, Frances ("Tacy" in the books). The houses are open for tours, and there are other landmarks in the neighborhood that correspond to places Betsy and Tacy visit on their adventures.

Julia has been an avid Betsy-Tacy fan in recent months, reading the first three books in the series over and over. (There are more, but she only owns books one through three, and beyond that they start to get a little too old for her yet.) Sweetly, book one begins when Betsy and Tacy meet at age five, just the age Julia was when she fell in love with the stories. So it was especially fun to visit these houses and see her in the rooms where Maud and Frances spent their time, at nearly Julia's same age and size, getting into all the mischief and having all the experiences that Maud wrote down as stories in her later years.

Both girls were thrilled to go on this day trip and they had a great time, but of course Genevieve's a little young. Julia was more awestruck and excited. In the bathroom of the Dairy Queen we stopped at on our drive home late in the afternoon, she sighed and said to me, "This was the very best day of my entire life!" Then she paused and amended, "Well, this was the very best day of my entire life that wasn't my birthday."


Why yes, I HAVE worn this dress an awful lot this summer.
It's my Summer of Fun go-to dress!