Monday, July 30, 2007

The Family Road Trip

This week, as we prepare for a family trip, I am reflecting on the Family Road Trip of my day. In one generation, this phenomenon has changed dramatically. Let's revisit the road trips of yore for a few minutes. OK, we'll be reflecting on the road trips of my family of origin, which may have looked completely different from your family road trips. But as I explained to my husband when we were newlyweds, my family is the epitome of normal, healthy, and mainstream--any deviance from our way must be condemned as false, dysfunctional, and truly bizarre!
Every summer in my childhood, we would load up the family car for a trip that would end in Idaho. Most of my friends' families would never have taken a trip that far in the car, but most of my friends had two siblings, tops. My parents never would have considered flying all eight of us to Idaho or anywhere else!
In my younger years, our vehicle was a Volkswagen Vanagon; years later, we traded that in for a Dodge Ram Van. These road trips took place in the days before seatbelt laws, dependable air conditioning, and DVD players. Often, we would leave while it was still dark in order to beat the heat of the desert and so as to avoid overheating the car as we climbed Cajon pass. We would spread out all over the back of the van (wherever there was a space not filled with luggage.) We would argue over who could stretch out on the floor and go to sleep. Generally, we traveled with a portacrib in the cargo area of the van with the luggage underneath and on the sides, so that the baby could travel in the crib! It seems so ridiculous now, but my mother was quite proud of that idea and we used it many times. We would listen to my parents' music mostly, which is why we know all the words to James Taylor, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, and Steeley Dan. We also enjoyed the Police, show tunes (Les Miserables when I was a teenager), and our family favorite, Wierd Al Yankovic. We'd memorize scriptures together (my dad's idea), make up stories, and on our mega road trip one year (across the country and back), we even wrote a song and produced a music video. We never stopped at a fast food place for lunch--we were all about the cooler that Mom had packed that was wedged between the two front seats and doubled as a jump seat for a child who was causing trouble in the back. We'd play card games in the back seat and I generally read at least two novels while we were on the road.
Our trip would start in Southern California and go along I-15, through Baker (home of the world's largest thermometer, Las Vegas (which my dad liked to call Nineveh, and which we usually drove right past,) St. George, (where my dad had a former mission buddy. We would often crash on their floor or in sleeping bags in their backyard. Most years, they had about 2 hours notice that we were coming to town because my dad's one responsibility in getting ready for the trip was to call them.) Our next stop after St. George was Provo, Utah, home of my future alma mater (also my parents' alma mater.) Aunt Kim lived there and we would usually spend a few days at her house, going up to the BYU campus, eating at Heaps of Pizza (which everyone else called Brick Oven--since Heaps was the late 60's and early 70's name of the place), going to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, (that's me with Baby Tyler) and visiting various other Utah landmarks. After a few days, we would get back in the car and head to Idaho Falls, where my grandma, aunt & uncle, and cousins lived. We'd spend a night or two there, then pack up and go to Grandma's cabin on Palisades Reservoir. (My sister, Alli. Isn't she cute?) This is where I have the best summer vacation memories. I'll have to post about that tomorrow--it deserves it's own.
Once we left Idaho, we'd retrace our steps, although often we'd get a hotel room in Utah so that 1) we wouldn't wear out our welcome with relatives and 2) we could swim in the hotel pool. We'd arrive home so grateful to be there; we were tired, y, and with enough laundry to bury a few small children (I only know that now, Mom!)
We took other road trips, too, including to Sequoia National Forest, Washington, DC, upstate New York, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and many other destinations. Now that I look back on it, I am in awe of my parents. They were determined for us to see the country and made sure that we did, in spite of the inconvenience of traveling with six squabbling kids. And to think that I barely survived my 400ish mile drive home from Whittier this month because the DVD player was malfunctioning!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rules to live by

Here are a few rules that may make your life simpler and happier if you don't have to learn them the hard way:
  1. Never make a batch of chocolate chip cookies thinking that you'll be able to resist munching the dough until it's gone.
  2. Never assume that a recently potty-trained 2 year old who just went to the bathroom is "safe" playing quietly alone in your bedroom. He could explode at any moment (and probably will, all over your just cleaned carpet that is exactly 27 years old and needs all the help it can get to look decent until you finally put in the hardwood floor of your dreams.)
  3. Never tell your child that he'll have to sit in front of his breakfast until it's finished unless you want to spend the rest of the day stuck at home while he takes one bite every hour. Why oh why do I engage in battles of will with my children when I know them to be stubborn little punks? (this photo was taken at 12:30 pm. He finally finished his breakfast at 2:37 pm, after which he proceeded to get dressed, make his bed, and do his chores as if it were 8:30 am. So, I guess I won the power struggle, but I lost most of the day.)
  4. Never get involved in a land war in Asia
  5. Only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when is on the line! (for those of you who are confused, time to revisit your copy of The Princess Bride and then take this quiz.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm a weakling

I have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that I think is one of the best out there. I'm not bragging, because it's not like it is my original recipe. But ever since I discovered it (thank you, Alli) I have never gone back to my old recipe. Not only that, but being a food snob, now that I have found such a scrumptious recipe, I find it easy to pass up many sub standard cookies out there!:) This occasional refusal of a cookie has given me a false sense of confidence in my ability to withstand chocolate chip cookies in general, which this morning has been exposed as an illusion.

When we moved to the area four plus years ago, Christine befriended poor little friendless me. At the time, she had a toddler and a newborn baby and this little baby captured my heart. As she got a little older, she had a cute little voice and would always praise my cookies. (Cookie loving must run in the family. Her aunt's blog pays homage to cookies 3/21.) One day Christine told me that whenever Sidney came over to visit, she'd ask her mom of Michal was going to make her yummy cookies again. Well that did it--I am completely charmed by anyone who gushes about my food (now that you know this, please don't use it against me--I know it's pathetically weak-minded of me!) From then on, anytime those kids were coming to play at my house, I seriously considered a batch of cookies. Some times I resisted making them, but it's always hard to not when I know how much they will enjoy them.

Yesterday I called Christine to invite her kidlets over to play for a while--they have a brand new baby brother and heavens knows that the least I can do is get them out of the house for a couple of hours. During the course of the conversation I was trying to offer (force) some food that I could make and send home with the kids, and somehow these chocolate chip cookies came up. "You know, the ones with the milk chocolate chips," Christine said. So naturally I insisted on making a batch this morning to send home with the little ones after play time.

You know how I've been trying to eat in such a way that Dr. Oz and the Duchess of York would be proud of me. (Never mind a few run-ins in Whittier with pizza rolls and ice cream heaven.) But I told myself, "Don't worry. You can definitely make those cookies and not eat any. You pass up chocolate chip cookies all the time!" (Which is an exaggeration, to be sure.)
I started in right after breakfast. By the time I got ready to add the chocolate chips, I had to go brush my teeth because somehow I just kept nibbling at the dough. That helped for about ten minutes before I thought, "How bad can cookie dough taste after brushing your teeth?" and decided to do a little scientific research and find out! After several tastes (it's not as bad as you would think, at least if you've used peppermint toothpaste,) I decided that I needed to chew a piece of gum, and that's where I am right now. But facing my spineless ways head on, I realize that my plan to freeze part of the dough and make cookies Sunday afternoon to give away is not very realistic. I happen to love this cookie dough frozen. (The Pioneer Woman loves frozen cake--check out this hysterical post.) So, do you think I can chew gum for the rest of the week?

I'll share the recipe here, but don't make it if you don't want to eat it. And if you're going to substitute margerine or imitation vanilla or Nestle chocolate chips, then don't bother--just use the Tollhouse recipe.
Irresistible Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 1 lb. BUTTER
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 c. flour
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 1/2-2 bags best quality MILK chocolate chips with real vanilla (I only use Guittard, which you can find cheap at WinCo around here in the bulk section)
  • 2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts
Cream butter and sugars until fluffy and well combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. You can combine the dry ingredients if you want, but I just put in a couple cups of the flour, then the salt and baking soda and mix it in, then add the rest of the flour and mix until your mixer complains that it's too much cookie dough for one batch. Now take out a good thick wooden spoon and mix in the chocolate chips and the nuts. I like to make these on the big side most of the time--about 2-3 tablespoons of dough per cookie. Bake in a 350 oven for about 12 minutes. Give away lots of these or you'll be sorry. If you half the recipe, then you should use 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Caught up in the World of Wizardry

It's Harry Potter season. Between the movie coming out two weeks ago and the new book out last weekend, everything's coming up Harry. I ordered my copy of Deathly Hallows to come via Amazon on the day of the release, but I relinquished it to hubby. You see, I generally re-read the entire series with each new release. This time, since I have a pile of books stacking up in my must-read-as-soon-as-possible pile (which is next to my bed and becoming too cumbersome), I have opted to read only book 5 and 6 before savoring the final book to the last crumb. I started listening to book 5 on tape on the way home from Whittier and am now deep into the school year, incensed by Dolores Umbridge and wishing I could tuck in with the students at their feasts. Just once I'd love to be there with the ceiling of stars and the tables drooping with feast food!
So, I'm not going to spend much time on this blog--I want to get back to my book, and a girl only has so much time to read when she has four children, including one who is teething and one who "thinks he needs to go potty" every 15 minutes--have I created a monster?
Here's a site for fun HP games, quizzes, etc.
Now, back to my book!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A day at the Beach


Friday morning we packed up the kids, lots of food, about a quart of sunscreen, and all the other necessities, and headed off to Huntington Beach. The boys had been eagerly awaiting this outing--most of the week had been spent on projects while they played at Nana's. (We almost finished her tax return, got more than halfway through clearing out her storeroom, boxed up 4 or 5 kitchen cupboards for Allison's upcoming move, and all the meantime shopped for and prepared yummy food. Did you notice that except for the food part, we started three projects and finished none? Oh, well.) So Friday was a reward day for us, plus it was the only day that Tyler and Erika could join us because they actually have jobs in the summer (teaching summer school--Evan works so much that we were thrilled to see him around 8pm most evenings.)
It was a beautiful day to be at the beach (as most days are in the southern part of the state). Apparently a lot of other people had noticed this fact as well, because there were a lot of people on the beach. We decided not to be beach snobs (which would entail continuing on down the coast indefinitely in search of a less crowded shoreline) and stick to the Huntington plan. We had a great time playing in the sand and surf. Mom and I expended all sorts of calories wrestling the ridiculous beach umbrellas that we had rented for the occasion. It was quite windy and these particular umbrellas kept blowing upwards or knocking over. When we finally returned the umbrellas, we realized what a relief it was to not have to be constantly securing them. But we did come away with our creamy white skin intact (the women and baby, I mean.)
Tyler had brought a kite and he and the boys had a great time flying it (see photo). Kimball put on his ginormous snorkling mask to go in the water. It looked ridiculous but seemed to take away all his fear and he was diving into the waves with Allison. Since his favorite thing to do when he gets out of the water is flop face-down in the sand, he came up with this debonair sand mustache!
Kimball and Henry spent the last hour there happily digging a big hole (how many of you have never done this? I think every kid has) and waiting for the tide to fill it up. So cute.
Because my family doesn't know how to do anything without a menu planned, I'll itemize our beach food. Many of these items are mandatory for a day at the beach, since we have been bringing them in some form since we were children ourselves.
Beach Menu:
  • Grapes (not frozen, since previously frozen grapes taste awful and how would they stay frozen?)
  • Red licorice (must be Red Vines--Twizzlers are disgusting!)
  • Chocolate and Vanilla Jo-Jos (Trader Joe's. These can be interchanged with Oreos or Mother's Taffy Cookies and still meet family requirements.)
  • Carrots, apples, and celery sticks (with a little tub of peanut butter) -- these are not a part of the mandatory list, but we brought them and loved them.
  • Pizza Rolls (I'll put the recipe at the end of this post)
  • Plain dinner rolls (we got some from Polly's Pies this time, but the traditional beach roll was from La Prima, an Italian Delicatessen in Whittier that made the best Italian bread and rolls ever. They have since been bought out and the bread is not nearly as good anymore. Don't you hate when you can't duplicate the nostalgic food loves of your past?)
  • Frozen water bottles, Chocolate Silk, and Capri Sun 100% juice, which turned to slush after a few minutes out of the cooler--perfect.
What's on your must have list for a day at the beach? Leave me a comment!

Pizza Rolls
Although we sometimes get creative and use other pizza ingredients, these are perfectly yummy with pepperoni and then you don't have to mess around with marking them creatively on the outside to keep track of flavors!
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. yeast
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 8-9 c. flour
  • Mozzarella cheese (at least a pound, maybe more)
  • Pepperoni (a lot)--this isn't a precise recipe!
Combine water, sugar, and yeast and let rise for about 10 minutes. Add oil, salt, egg, and 3 c. flour. Blend until sticky (you need to use a dough hook for this recipe). Slowly add 5-6 c. flour. Knead until soft but not stiff. Let rise until double, about an hour. Divide into 12 balls (do 16 if you want smaller rolls) Roll out flat and layer with 8ish pieces of pepperoni and about 1/3 c. shredded mozzarella. Roll up and seat the edges well. Place on greased baking sheets, spacing them apart, and let rise again for at least 30 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until brown. Eat warm or cold.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dinner with Elder Neves

Back in the fall of 1991, my parents dropped me off at Fugal Hall at BYU. I had really planned my entire life on going to BYU, but now that I was there I was filled with apprehension. What had I done? Here I was on a campus of 30,000 people, 650 miles away from home, and I was pretty sure that my cousin Jan was the only person I knew there. I put my things in my new bedroom and wandered down the hall to the kitchen/living area of our small apartment. There sat a striking red head who reminded me of Nicole Kidman: tall and slender with creamy skin. She turned out to be one of my best friends through all my years at BYU and beyond. Neves (there were so many people in our dorm with the same first name as her that we fixed on her last name) introduced me to the BYU Mens' Chorus (the Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns and Celebration of Christmas albums are from my days there and are must haves) and the two of us were groupies, sitting in on rehearsals most days. We were in awe of the conductor, Mack Wilberg (who has since become the assistant conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and his ability to arrange familiar songs into amazing feasts for the ears. Neves and I took Italian together for four semesters and irritated our other roommates by speaking it on an off all day. She was so impressive to me because she thoroughly researched anything that interested her and seemed to know about everything under the sun. She introduced our apartment full of mates to various festivals held in the Salt Lake region (the Scottish and Greek festivals were our favorites,) to the Pie, a U of U hangout, and to chicken jambalya. Neves wrote to me the most faithfully of anyone while I was a missionary in Russia--more frequently than my mother--and I loved her letters which were stimulating, hilarious, intelligent, and random in their subject matter. Neves continues to awe me with her amazing wit, her impressive knowledge, and her world travel is something I try not to covet. I am so glad to call her my friend.
Anyhow, this homage to Neves came about today because her baby brother, Elder Neves, came to dinner last night at my mom's house. Not long ago, Neves had emailed me that he was in Whittier, so while I was here we decided to invite him and his companion (missionaries are never, ever alone except for in the bathroom!) to come over. It was a delight to see again the six year old boy that I met that fall, whom I have enjoyed immensely every time I've seen him since. He looked very well and was fun to have at our table.
Here's what we had for dinner:
Beef Carnitas from Cooking Light (I HIGHLY recommend this recipe. I've made it twice in the past few weeks)
Pinto Beans
Fruit Salad with Watermelon, Pineapple, Mango, and Banana with lime juice
Warm tortillas
Guacamole, Salsa, and Sour Cream
Brownies with Dryers Ice Cream

And speaking of Dryers Ice Cream (Edy's on the east coast), one of the flavors that we enjoyed last night was another walk down memory lane. In my high school days, one of my haunts was the Brown household. They always had lots of ice cream (we only had ice cream on birthdays at my house) and coconut popcorn--and my favorite flavor there was a chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups in it. Why has my quest to find such and ice cream been so unfruitful up until now? Other chocolate PB ice creams have a vanilla--or even worse, a peanut butter base. But this is the real thing, with rich chocolate ice cream. You've got to try some. Not only will you love it, but if enough people buy the special flavor, they won't take it off the shelves. Here is the Dryers website--check out this flavor finder, where you can type in your favorite flavor and your zip code and they'll tell you where to find it. Such a cool tool.
OK, I must run. We are off to the beach today. I'll take lots of pictures and share our picnic food later.
As Neves would say, Cheerio!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Food, Glorious Food!

Just thought I'd post a few recipes that we've enjoyed in the past week. The food has been yummy. It would be so much easier to be thin if I didn't like food! Sorry, no great food pics this time. I'm on vacation and I was too busy to stop and take a picture after making some of these!
Here's a pesto sauce from Weight Watchers that has lots of flavor but is lower points than most pestos. I like to freeze it in 1 tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray and then use it as a sandwich spread or add it to a marinara or something else for a little kick. The 1 T. portions are 1 point each.
Pesto Sauce
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 2 T. toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
Put basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and chicken broth in food processor and process until pureed completely. Add salt and parmesan cheese and process again, for about 30 seconds. Yields 8 Tablespoons at 1 point each.
I made some cheese tortellini and tossed it in 1/4 c. pesto, then added a chopped tomato and served with Caesar Salad, crusty bread, and this eggplant:

Almost Breaded Eggplant
Slice one medium eggplant in 1/4 inch thick disks. Place disks side by side on baking sheet and spray liberally with olive oil spray. Sprinkle each with kosher salt, fresh ed pepper, about 1 T. Italian seasoned bread crumbs, and 1/2 T. shredded Parmesan Cheese. Bake in 400 degree oven until tops are crispy. I count three disks as one point. It 's a yummy way to have eggplant!
This next dish is great because it is easy to throw together and make a few. I made three pans last week to share with friends and it hardly took longer than making one. Serve with pinto beans (or S&W Pinquitos, my favorite canned beans), fruit salad, and the cilanto lime rice recipe later in this post.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas (Casserole Style)
  • 10-12 corn tortillas, each sliced in 6 pie shaped pieces
  • 3 large chicken , grilled or baked (seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper, and onion powder) (or the meat from a large rotisserie chicken, shredded)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 2 1/2 c. shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce
Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350.
In small saute pan, saute diced onion in 1 tsp. olive oil until soft. Set aside
Layer ingredients like a lasagne in the pan. Put tortilla wedges down first, to nearly cover the bottom of the pan. Next, add 1/2 the chicken, onion, and chiles, spreading them out over the tortillas. Sprinkle 1 cup of the jack cheese over entire pan. Repeat the layers. Finish with a top layer of tortilla wedges. Pour enchilada sauce over entire pan, pressing tortillas down with a wooden spoon if necessary to soak in. Nothing should be dry. Top casserole with remaining 1/2 cup of jack cheese and 1/2 c. cheddar cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and cheese begins to brown. Remove from oven and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving. Garnish with some sour cream.

Cilantro Lime Rice
I originally had this at Erin's (see my July 10th post) and have since made it a family staple. We even served it at my brother Tyler's wedding Open House a few years ago (what a great party that was.) Anyway, Erin may have morphed her recipe over the years but this was it back then.
  • 2 c. long grain rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 c. onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 c. salsa verde (I like Herdez)
  • 1 can chopped green chiles (I omit these in deference to my hubby)
  • juice of 2 limes, plus some zest
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Fresh cilantro
Melt butter in large saucepan pan. Add onion and garlic and saute 5 minutes. Add rice and continue to saute, stirring constantly, until rice begins to brown. Add chicken broth, 1 c. salsa verde, and the green chiles. Stir to combine. Add salt and a few sprigs of cilantro (you don't need to chop them--you'll pull them out later.) Put lid on pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 30 minutes.
When rice is done, remove lid and add the juice of two limes, zest to taste, and about 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro. Fluff with a fork and serve. Yummy.
By the way, Ian is not exactly my favorite, but he is currently our most photogenic. Don't tell the others!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Are We There Yet?

This morning, my mom and I (what would I do without her?) loaded the kids up in the van, put one last load of laundry in the wash so that everything in the house could be clean, stopped for gas, picked up a prescription, and dropped off some leftovers out of our fridge at Christine's before finally getting on the road to L.A. Back in the days before I had four children, I regularly made the jaunt to L.A. to visit my mom without my husband. (His schedule is far too restrictive for me--it really cramps my style:) I had it down to a science: leave at 9 am, stop once at a rest stop for 15 minutes for potty breaks, etc, then get back on the road and get into Whittier by 3:00, beating the rush hour traffic that hits at 4:00. Most of the time I could pull it off just like that.
Well, now we've had a baby and everything's changed. Just getting out the door on time was unrealistic--at 9:00 I realized that I was going to need to wake up Bronwen and feed her before we left (the dear thing sleeps until 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning--12 hours straight without waking up once!) We had to make much more frequent stops (4 total) because Ian is only on his 5th day in underwear. And of course, Bronwen couldn't go all day without eating and only took cat naps instead of her usual four hour mid day nap. And twice we (meaning Mom) managed to make a wrong turn or miss our exit and it cost us some major time. Naturally, we hit the city of Angels at prime time, so it took much longer to get through the city than we were hoping it would. All in all, we arrived 8 hours and 12 minutes after we got on the freeway this morning. A much longer trip than we had planned.
Every time we got off the freeway, someone would ask if we were at Nana's yet. And everyone was so thrilled when we finally pulled up. Bronwen was so happy to be out of her car seat that she just rolled around on the floor cooing for at least half an hour after we got here. Ian was so happy to be here that he promptly messed his pants after being accident free all day! And Kimball and Henry raced past Allison in the kitchen to get out to Nana's backyard and start exploring. So, it was obviously worth the trip.
The bad news is, I'm going home on Saturday--without my mom as shotgun/backup driver. Which means there is potential for it to take even longer. Do you think that if I think positively the universe will send me a sidekick for the ride? Maybe there's an angel who needs to head north for the weekend! I'll need all the help I can get!

(These pictures were taken last summer on our visit to Nana's.)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Potty Training--Day 3

So, I'm on day three of a three day plan to get Ian potty trained. My mom has always insisted that it only takes three days if you do it right. So, on Thursday, I packed away all the diapers (I am too cheap to throw them away when I'll have another kid there soon enough) and showed Ian that their usual spot was empty. We put on some underwear, and I told him that big boys keep their underwear dry. Then every few minutes I ask him to check it and see if it is still dry. About every 30 minutes we take him in and have him sit for a few minutes. For sitting on the potty, he gets one fruit snack (a rare treat at my house) and if he goes, he gets the entire bag. We had a few s the first day, although he made it through his nap dry and woke up dry the next morning (we did take him once in the middle of the night.) We had fewer s yesterday--one wet and one of the other kind (blech! this potty training is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach). Today it really seems to be clicking--his only was #2 and he actually came and told me that he had to go once, which was wonderful.
We even went to the farmer's market today and then to Costco, where he went on demand. Yeah! Those of you without kids have no idea how monumental this is (and I apologize for the scatalogical subject matter.)
Nana brought him this cowboy underwear which he is showing so proudly in the picture and which he is working very hard to keep dry. He also got some new cowboy sheets from Target which he has kept dry at naps and bedtime. I am so proud of him. Hopefully we'll have him totally ready by Monday, when we pack him in the car for a six hour road trip (the ultimate bladder control contest.) I suppose we'll need to stop a couple of times to let him go.
Anyway, if you are trying to potty train your toddler, the best thing you can do is to get rid of those diapers and pull ups so that you don't have a crutch. Just prepare to clean up a few messes in the process. And have your carpets cleaned when you're finished!:)

By the way, I loved the The Order of the Phoenix movie, although it made me want to reread the book because they had to leave out so much. It was fun to see Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange. She's in one of my favorite movies, "A Room with a View." Anyway, go see it (but not until you've read the book at least once.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Busy Friday

I am running around like crazy today, trying to help my mom do her taxes, make dinner for a couple of friends, get ready for our upcoming trip to Whittier (next week) and for our outing to see the new Harry Potter movie tonight (which means babysitter here.)And did I mention potty training and swimming lessons?
But I noticed that we could add a poll to our blog and I've been dying to know the answer to this question: Is my family the only one that froze our grapes in the summer time and enjoyed them like mini popsicles? Until recently, I thought that frozen grapes were a part of everyone's childhood experience, but Jared's family had never heard of such a thing. So weigh in on my first poll and let me know who has the stranger family culture!:) I already know it must be THEM!;)
Here are a couple of photos taken at swimming lessons. I love the 1950s public pool, and Ian loves that it's right by the train yard. On Fridays, the kids get to go down the water slide, which is always a highlight. Ian also enjoys the play area near the pool (thank goodness they have it, because Ian is a few months too young to make the cut off for swim lessons this year, much to his chagrin.) Since it is ancient, it is made of metal and is often too hot to enjoy, but not today!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Things That Make Me Smile

I've been spending way too much time lately on my blog, so I'm going to just throw out a couple of photos of happy things and a recipe today and move on to something else! Hope you're enjoying the cooler weather if you live in my neck of the woods.

This watermelon is so sweet and juicy--I can't stop eating it!

I found this fabulous Indian tablecloth on clearance at Pottery Barn over the weekend and was so excited. It pulls in all the colors that I have going on in that room and the kitchen, plus adds some much needed pattern to the area. Yeah!

I cut my hair on Monday. Here's a shot of it from the side. Doesn't Rachel do fabulous work? It feels so good to have the length gone. No regrets.
While I was making dinner last night, Ian asked me to read to him and got the common answer, "Maybe when I'm finished with this." A few minutes later, I discovered that he was a"reading" it to Bronwen. So adorable.
Henry wakes up slowly. And with great hair!
Our little mermaid loves the water. And looks so cute in a bathing suit!

Finally, the recipe:
Zucchini Rice
From one of my favorites: Cooking Thin with Chef Kathleen (both hilarious and scrumptious)
  • 1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 1/2 cups 1/4 inch cubes zucchini
  • Coarse kosher salt & ed black pepper
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion (I use sweet onion like Vidalia)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 c. long grain rice, rinsed well
  • 2 3/4 c. chicken broth
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (if you don't live with my husband)
In skillet, heat 1/2 T. olive oil over medium high heat. Add zucchini to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until zucchini just begins to soften, about 3 minutes or so. Remove zucchini from the pan and set aside until rice is cooked.
Add the remaining oil to the pan with the onion and garlic. Reduce heat to medium low. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if it doesn't seem like you have enough liquid. Cover and let simmer about 12 minutes.
Chef Kathleen's recipe is for making this rice in the microwave. I like to throw it in my rice cooker at this point--the onion mixture, rice, and broth. If you don't have one, then put these three items in a microwave safe bowl with an 8 cup capacity (because the rice will expand). Do not cover it! Microwave on high for 10 minutes, then on medium-low for about 15 minutes, without stirring.
When rice is done, add zucchini and fluff with a fork.
I served this last night with grilled chicken & artichoke hearts, sliced watermelon, and a green salad and we gobbled it down.
What's on your gratitude list for the day? Send me a comment and share what makes you smile.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Nurturing Power of Food

I'm a foodie. Food snob. Lover of food. Call it what you will, I am a firm believer that good food is a part of enjoying our life. The way we define "good food" may vary from person to person--to some it's all about the taste, for others it's all about being nutritious. Environmentalists say that good food is organic, others claim that all raw food, unprocessed diets are the way to do. I try to strike a balance for myself and my family, preparing food as often as possible from unprocessed ingredients, using mostly whole grains, watching fat intake, buying organic when it's not outrageously priced (I do have a family of six, after all!), but taste does matter to me. If something doesn't taste good, it doesn't matter how good for me it is, I probably won't make it again.

In Weight Watchers we talk about how food often fills emotional needs and that we need to be mindful when we are eating. I wholeheartedly believe that is true. At the same time, food can be a effective way to express love, support, and to nurture those we love. It doesn't have to be bad-for-you food in order to do these things, but there is something powerful in fixing a meal for someone you love. Think of a time when you have been sick and wished that your mother was there, fixing some comfort food of your childhood for you.

When I had Bronwen a few months ago, several friends brought meals by in the first couple of weeks. I felt so loved and supported at a time when I really needed it. The same was true when my father passed away--there was little that people could do to help at first, but one thing they could do--and did--was feed our family. We felt their love and concern in every soup, pot roast, and lasagne that came our way.

That is one reason that I am so sad to see the disappearance of the homecooked family dinner in our society. We have all become busier, wealthier, and more independent from each other in the past 100 years, and family dinners are one of the casualties. But gathering together to eat a meal prepared with love does much more than merely feed our family members. It gives us a chance to connect with each other and talk about what is important to us. It teaches our children how to accept and tolerate different foods, even if they aren't their favorites (instead of ordering off a menu or choosing a frozen dinner). Often, members of the family cooperate together to prepare the meal as well, cooking, cleaning, and setting the table in anticipation. In addition, our families are generally eating healthier, more balanced meals if we are preparing them at home, especially if the chef keeps nutrition in mind. Here is a great article from an LDS magazine about nurturing through family meals.

We took our kids to see Ratatouille last month when it first came out. In the movie, the famous Chef Gustaeu inspires Remy the rat with his mantra, "Anyone can cook!" Now, I know that we all have different talents, and certainly some people will always be able to turn anything into amazing cuisine. However, anyone can cook! There's really not a big mystery to cooking; if you're not very comfortable in the kitchen, just challenge yourself to try a few meals and get more comfortable.

This family dinner doesn't have to be gourmet (but it's OK if it is). Choose a menu that is simple enough that it will not stress you out, that is healthy enough to meet your food values, whatever they may be, and pick a night to make it. Even if you don't enjoy cooking (which may be because you just aren't that good at it yet), think of this as a gift you are giving to your family. Then, either set a goal to make dinner one night a week for a month (if that's more than you are doing now) or a more aggressive one of four nights a week. Or just tell yourself that you are going to make dinner every night for a week and then assess from there. I promise that your family will love it and that the time and effort that you put into it will be worth it.

I remember that when I got married, my friend Erin shared her experience. She decided if she was going to cook for a family for the rest of her life, she was going to be good at it and learn to enjoy it. So she subscribed to Bon Appetit and started learning and trying recipes. I decided to do the same, and am so glad I did. I have since changed out my Bon Appetit subscription for Cooking Light because I just couldn't afford the calories of BA recipes on a daily basis and CL fits my food values better. I have really learned to enjoy the creative aspect of cooking, but mostly I enjoy loving people with good food. So take a chance to show the people that you love most that you value their health, their time with you, and the family dinner ritual.

Here's a summer favorite to get you started:
Grilled Vegetable Penne Salad
This is a great dish to take to a BBQ because it is good hot or cold. Or, pick up a Rotisserie chicken at Costco and serve it with this penne and some fresh fruit for a light summery meal!
  • 1 lb penne pasta (I don't like whole wheat for this recipe)
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut in bite sized pieces
  • 2 medium crook neck squash, cut in bite sized pieces
  • 1 pint of grape, cherry, or other small tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil, cut in ribbons
  • 1/2 lb. (or so) skim milk mozzerella cheese, cut in 1 in. cubes
  • 3 T. shaved Parmesan cheese
  • coarse kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Cook the pasta al dente--not more. While it is boiling, prepare the vegetables, tossed with garlic, to grill (or broil). Spray them liberally with olive oil spray and sprinkle with kosher salt, then grill on BBQ or roast under the broiler for about 10 minutes, until they begin to brown. Toss together the drained, cooked pasta, the hot grilled vegetables, olive oil, and the mozzerella. The cheese will melt and get gooey.

Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lemon in, add the basil and Parmesan, and toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Catching the Bug

You may not know it, but Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons) are big into genealogy. We believe that families are an eternal unit that can continue on after we die through temple ordinances. So, one of the many responsibilities we have is learn about our ancestors and make sure that their "temple work" is done. In all honesty, many of us are slackers when it comes to this. Everyone has one or two people in their extended family that are dutiful at doing their family history and the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief that someone else is doing it; we may feel a twinge of guilt now and then when a lesson is taught on Sunday about seeking out our kindred dead, but it doesn't get us very far. I am one of those people who figures I'll eventually get around do doing some family history, but since some of my family lines have been traced all the way back (once you can tap into a royal line, you've pretty much got a green light all the way to Adam and Eve) and I have an aunt on one side and an uncle the other side who are both vigilant, I figure that I have enough to do without jumping into family history.
I do know from experience that many genealogists are passionate about the work that they do. They get caught up in the lives and stories of the people they are studying. Ask someone who loves genealogy to give a class about it and they will ramble on and on about how exciting it is. Generally, it is hard for me to catch that vision.
But yesterday for some reason I started thinking about my ancestors. Pioneer Day is later this month, a day when we celebrate the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. We talk about their courage and their sacrifice and the legacy they left us. I have pioneer ancestors in both my maternal and paternal lines and have always known this. Yesterday I mused that maybe in honor of Pioneer Day I should learn more about them. So I went to and plugged in my grandfather's name and the year that he died to see what came up. There he was, so I clicked on pedigree and started reading some of the names and dates and birthplaces. Most of the names were familiar. Like any good Mormon girl, I've filled out a dozen four generation tables in my life (generally the way you get started with genealogy). But six generations back from me, a woman caught my eye. Tamma Durfee, born in 1813 in New York and buried in Springville, UT in 1885. Obviously, she crossed the plains. I clicked on her name and she began to be a real person to me. I saw that she had been married three times, widowed twice. I saw that she had 10 children with her first husband, two of whom died as babies. They lived in Kirtland and Nauvoo and her husband died before the crossed the plains. I saw that she had remarried a widower in Salt Lake City two years later and had six children by that husband, one of whom died as a baby. She then married her stepson (he was only seven years younger), who had three other wives (living, one of them was Tamma's oldest daughter), a marriage which I imagine was more for convenience and support than anything else, although she had one child by him.
I wanted to know more. I wanted to hear her voice and know what it was like to be her. So I googled her name and learned many other details about her life. I found this picture (the resolution isn't great); I also learned that she wrote her own personal history, so I emailed my aunt who is the keeper of all things family history related and asked her if we had it. It turns out we do! She's sending me a copy.
In the meantime, I keep thinking about Tamma Durfee. Having all those babies, moving from settlement to settlement as their homes were burned and trashed by mobs, losing children, husbands, crossing the plains alone with 8 children (I don't even take four kids to the grocery store alone voluntarily!). I want to know more. And I feel my heart fill up with love and gratitude for the sacrifices that she made so that her posterity could be a part of this marvelous church, the work of God. I can't wait for her history to come.
And somehow, I think I've caught the bug. I don't think that this will stop with Tamma Durfee. Because now that she has come alive to me, I see hundreds of other names that yesterday were only names--but today they are real people with stories to tell. I can't wait to learn about them. I guess that this generation needed to have an aunt who was into family history. Maybe that will be me!
Will you catch the bug?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Breaking in the Babysitter

We have a calendar in our house upon which everything in our schedules that matters is recorded. Several weeks ago, I wrote down a "girls' night out" for Friday, July 6th in honor of a friend who is great with child (child number four, who she insisted had plenty of adorable clothes and did not need a shower.) I don't take many nights like that away from my family--I prefer to spend my evenings with my husband (or these days with my beloved blog--tee hee) doing something together or reading in the same room if I'm not folding laundry. But everyone needs a night out once in a while with their friends and this seemed like the perfect excuse to organize one. I even planned to leave Bronwen home. Let it be known, I am not one of those moms who can never leave her kids with a sitter. I spend amounts of money every month on teenage babysitters so that Jared and I can go out on a date, so that I can get my hair cut, and even just to get some errands run in the summer time. But we don't generally leave a young baby with said teenage sitter for several months and that time seems to get longer the more kids we have (since the sitter has more kids at home to take care of.) I rarely leave Bronwen home even with her daddy because she is so easy to take with me and it seems fair to take her if I'm leaving the three hooligans with him! But I thought that this would be a great opportunity to do so.
Then, early in the week, Jared started talking about taking Kimball and Henry up to a friend's cabin over the weekend. Naturally, I wanted them to go, but what about my night out? We determined to get a sitter and after debating it for a while, I decided to leave both Bronwen and Ian at home. She's a good baby, I thought. Eats well, goes to bed well . . . . for Mommy, that is.
So tonight I pick up my favorite babysitter, Rachel. She is up for the challenge and thinks that she'll love having me leave the baby since I never have before. I tell her that tonight it is OK to break the rules-- she can let Ian watch Toy Story and eat popcorn and ice cream in the living room and to go ahead and be loosey-goosey on bedtime for him. Just do what works with the baby's schedule. Ian, who is disappointed that he is not going in Daddy's truck with the big boys (his fascination with that truck is for another day), is appeased with the novelty of eating in front of the television and so close to bedtime. I have just nursed Bronwen, who goes to Rachel all smiles. I tell Rachel that we are going to dinner in Sacramento and then plan to swim at a friend's house, but that I will check in after dinner to see how the baby is doing. We all hope that Bronwen will take a bottle for her, which would be another novelty of the evening. You see, with this fourth baby I have violated my policy and have not imposed a bottle regularly on her in order to avoid these problems. Nursing a baby is just so much easier and immediate and with three other kids to handle, preparing a bottle is never very convenient--so I never do.

5:15 pm I head off to the Cheesecake Factory (yummy) for dinner with 11 other s and we have a marvelous time. During dinner, the babysitter called twice. The calls went something like this:
Call #1 6:15pm
Rachel: Is it normal for her to be fussy right now? You said she wouldn't be hungry until 7:00.
Me: It is not unusual for her to be fussy right now--it is her fussy time of day, come to think of it. If you want to try the bottle on her, go ahead. Or lay her down for a few minutes and see if she takes a cat nap and/or sucks her thumb.
Rachel: OK, I'll try that.
Me: How is Ian?
Rachel: He's watching Toy Story. He's fine.

Call #2 7:30pm
Rachel: She won't take the bottle but she's not fussing anymore.
Me: OK, we are leaving the restaurant anyway. Just don't worry about feeding her and I'll run home, nurse her, and leave again. What's Ian up to?
Rachel: He's still watching Toy Story. He's fine.
Me: I'll be home in 20 minutes.

Naturally, it takes longer than that to get home. I pass at least 4 CHP officers who have pulled people over for speeding and I don't want to be their next victim. I'm 2 miles from our exit when she calls again:

Rachel: She kind of won't stop crying and she won't take the bottle. What should I do?
Me: I'm almost home. If she won't stop crying there is nothing you can do. Put her in the crib and walk away so that you don't get too frustrated. I'll be home soon. What's Ian up to?
Rachel: He's watching Toy Story for the second time. I think he must have started it over again when it ended.
Me: Why don't you put him to bed while she fusses in her crib. I'll be there soon.

When I arrive home, Bronwen is definitely fussing but not wailing. I pick her up and she smiles a big bright smile at me. Her eyes are red and blotchy, a curse that comes with her mother's otherwise good complexion. I play with her for a few minutes and determine that although she is hungry, she's not hysterical and all is well. Rachel looks a little worse for wear, but says she's fine. Ian is reading a good night book with her. The baby eats exuberantly, spits up everywhere (which is her trademark,) and smiles some more. So I sit her on my lap and say to her as if she is five years old,
"Bronwen, Mommy's going to leave now. I'm giving you back to Rachel and I want you to be nice to her. Smile and laugh and be nice or it will be your bedtime. Ok? If you are nice to her, you can stay up for a little bit longer."
She looks right at me as if she understands every word. I hand her to Rachel and she doesn't squall, which I figure is a good sign. I tell Rachel that she can go to bed anytime after 9:00 and to call me if she's inconsolable, then I go to swim. (Those of you who are thinking that I am cruel and unusual, please note that it was 102 today and nothing sounds better than a swim. And everyone is really doing fine. Plus, I to miss out on talk--or, truth be told, any party whatsoever.)
We go for a swim and at 10:00 I hear my phone ring again.
Rachel: She's not sleeping. She won't go to sleep.
Me: Is she crying?
Rachel:No, she's happy, but she's just not sleeping.

I'm thinking, "Then what's the problem?" until I realize that she has been with this sweet little high-maintenance for five hours now and maybe needs a break, even if she is happy. So I tell her I'll be right home and dry off.
As I pull up, I can see Rachel standing near the window, watching for me, the baby cuddled to her chest. She looks like a pro, but her position gives me the clue that she is ready for this to be over. As I walk into the house, she lays the exhausted, now sleeping baby down in her crib. Rachel looks tired. She looks beat. Rachel smiles and says, "She's asleep now," with great relief. Wouldn't you know it, I got home just in time!
There are plenty of times when we hire a babysitter and all she has to do is get the kids ready for bed, read a couple of stories to them, turn off the lights and then go watch TV for four hours while getting paid $6 an hour. Not bad most nights. But tonight, Rachel earned every penny. She might not be so anxious to watch Bronwen again--she's discovered that older kids are easier. But with all of her phone calls and my drop in at home, I discovered something that she might not know about herself: she does just fine with babies. She might have found it unsettling that the baby wouldn't do everything on the schedule I suggested, but she handled everything perfectly and called when she was unsure. She got both kids to bed (and asleep) and even managed to clean up the kitchen. And even though she may not be in a hurry to watch a baby again, I will not worry as much the next time I leave her. She's been broken in and survived. Now if I can just get Jared to train Bronwen to take a bottle . . .

Thursday, July 5, 2007

I might as well face it,

I'm addicted to blog! I confess, I am having so much fun with my new little project that I wake up wondering what I'm going to write about. There are so many options and heavens knows that I never run out of things to say! I just deleted a post that was much too long all about whether or not to cut my hair. I decided not to bore you with such a self-centered topic (but if you have an opinion on short vs. long hair, please send me a comment. I'm seriously considering mine off again at my next appointment on Monday. And by the way, I made it so that anyone can comment without registering. We'll try that out and see how it works.)
This photo (by Maggie Rassmussen) was taken on our family reunion trip to Newport Beach in May, which was positively fabulous. We stayed in an amazing beach house half a block from the beach that actually had enough rooms for all 22 of us to be comfortable and not make each other too crazy. I love that Maggie caught Ian's run, because I just love watching him move--and his run is hysterical. He s himself back like he's a superhero about to take off at light speed and then dashes away and we are left grinning. Too cute. It's hard to imagine right now that he'll ever have a gawky stage when he just is so adorable.
Today I made a lemon raspberry cheesecake for my friend, Laura, who wants to do cheesecake for her wedding cake instead of the standard. After shopping around and discovering the amounts that a professionally decorated wedding cheesecake can fetch, I offered to make the cheesecake portion and recommended someone who can do the fondant and piping portion. However, that was weeks ago and I still hadn't gotten around to making a test run cheesecake (we'd like to try it out with the fondant and then put it outside an a summer's evening and see what happens.) This morning I determined to do it. Jared questioned my sanity when he came home at 1:00pm and found me in the kitchen with the oven on--since it was 105 today in our town, you do have to wonder what I was thinking.
Anyhow, this recipe is one that I created a few years ago when I was trying to win the Philidelphia Cream Cheese Taste The Riches recipe contest. I spent that fall busily coming up with cheesecakes that I thought would wow the judges and planned my trip to NYC to have lunch with the editor of Gourmet magazine, not to mention how I would spend the $100k cash prize--and then they never contacted me to tell me that I had won!
So, I'm giving it to you. One day it may go in the cookbook that I want to publish, but for now it will go to my loyal readers!:) Try it out--it's fab. Sorry for the lack of picture--it's still chilling in the pan.

Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake
  • 5 8oz packages cream cheese at room temperature (the light will work if you're cutting calories and not making this for a wedding! DO NOT use the fat free. If you can't afford the calories from the light cream cheese, just have some carrots and move on!)
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. sour cream or light sour cream but not fat free
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice (yes, fresh does make a difference)
  • zest of two lemons
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries (or 1 1/2 c. frozen, not thawed)
  • 1 c. prepared lemon curd (Trader Joe's sells it if you don't want to make it, but it's better homemade and you'll have a little leftover to eat with a spoon!)
Preheat the oven to 350.
For the Crust: I prefer to make a shortbread crust for this, but a graham er one will work. You can make a batch of shortbread for the crust or you can buy some good shortbread cookies at Trader Joes, stick them in your food processor, and then bind them with a little melted butter and press into the bottom of your 9 or 10 inch springform pan. With either crust, I recommend baking it for about 20 minutes for it to set--if you make a shortbread recipe, cook it until the shortbread is almost done (about 45 minutes for most recipes.)

Once the crust is ready, let it cool and get started on the filling. Mix the cream cheese for about 2 minutes in your stand mixer until it's nice and creamy. Add the sugar and mix again until smooth. (If you didn't wait for the cream cheese to come to room temp you are now dealing with lumps, so just wait the extra hour for it to soften up.) Add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Mix until combined, then add the eggs and mix until combined, about 1 minute on medium speed.
Pour the cheese mixture into your springform pan with the crust that's been cooling. Scatter the raspberries across the top of the pan and gently submerge them into the batter.
Put foil around the bottom of the pan and up the sides, then place the springform on a jelly roll pan (that's a cookie sheet with sides, folks). Place it in the oven and put about 4 cups of hot water in the jellyroll pan to give this baby a water bath.
Bake for about 90 minutes, but check it regularly after an hour. When it's done, it will be a bit jiggly but a knife will come out clean (or your digital instant read thermometer will say 160 F.) Turn off the oven and let it sit for an hour in there. Remove from oven but leave it in the pan. Bring to room temperature, then cover and chill overnight.
When completely chilled, remove sides of pan. Spread lemon curd over the top of the cheesecake and chill for at least one more hour. Serve with a drizzle of raspberry sauce on the plate. You should get about 16 servings from this recipe.
(Since this one is going to have fondant over it, I put the layer of lemon curd in the middle, after putting in half of the cheese mixture, and then covered it with the remaining cheese and went from there.)
Hopefully this turns out to work great and some of you will get to sample it at Laura's wedding on August 18th. I'll post a picture later.
Now I'm off to kiss my sleeping children goodnight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

O Say, Can You See?

I love the Fourth of July. Who doesn't? Since we moved to the area four plus years ago from the paradise of Southern Cal, we have spent every morning of the 4th at Crestmont Park with the rest of the ward (our local congregation), celebrating with a breakfast, short program, and kids' parade. It is such a great way to start off the day--it has that old small town feeling. There is something about that 4th of July that inspires us to experience part of the community, rather than just holing up with our families. Maybe for you that means going to a ball game or a fireworks show or having a slew of people over to BBQ, but I get my fix at the ward breakfast every year.
The 4th of July is more meaningful to me after having spent a few of them living abroad. I will always remember the year I spent the 4th in Tel Aviv. I was spending the summer at the BYU Jerusalem Center (one of the best summers of my life) and we had the day off of classes. Many of us decided to go into Tel Aviv to explore, see the Lion King and eat at the Hard Rock Cafe (I guess we were craving an American experience to commemorate the day), and catch the fireworks at the American Embassy. I can vividly recall swimming in the warm Mediterranean that night, watching the fireworks shoot out over the water, and hearing the patriotic songs that reminded me of home.
I also spent a 4th in Russia while I was a missionary and have no memories of that--it was just another day there for us. But my experience in Russia, as much as I fell in love with that land and the people, also made me appreciate the freedoms that I have often taken for granted (not to mention the standard of living that we enjoy). The singularity of this freedom is again hitting home as I am currently enjoying "Reading L o lita in Tehran."I can't even imagine living in a place where a book or a study group might be illegal and covert, where people have to hide their satellite dishes or are afraid to speak their minds. Our country, with all its faults, is still a place that offers "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that everyone on the planet deserves to have. And I can't hear the Star Spangled Banner without choking up. Call me cheesy if you will!
Well, my break between swimming and fireworks is about over, so I'm going to get back to our celebration. God Bless America!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Summer Fun

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, a sign that we are deep into summer. Since I became a mom, I have discovered that my summer job is to keep my kids busy with worthwhile things. Summers in the Sacramento area are too hot to force the kids out into the backyard indefinitely (a favorite trick of mine in the spring and fall), especially if your backyard resembles a dirt pit with weeds, so we end up spending mornings at the park and swimming lessons, taking a break mid-day for naps, and then spending the afternoons trying to keep cool at the pool or the library. In spite of the SPF 50 I slather on them religiously, my boys are all turning a lovely shade of brown--something I have never been in my life! They love swimming and so we spend a great deal of time bumming around other people's pools. Luckily Jared's parents live nearby and have a pool, but somedays we visit other Friends With Pools (aka F.W.P.s) This picture is at Mom and Dad's with our friends Natalie, Ethan, and Sidney.
I absolutely adore all the produce available in the summer, especially in this area, and I don't think that a meal goes by without a big bowl of fruit on the table. The strawberry stand near our house is irresistible to me if I have any cash when I drive by, and the Farmer's Market makes my mouth water. Here are a few recipes that I've tried lately that take advantage of the abundance. And after all, how could we enjoy any season without great food?
Over the weekend I wanted to make an icey treat but am trying to be a godd ess (darn the filter on this computer--it is requiring that I intentionally typo to get around it! If only I could remember the password to turn it off!) of weight loss, so I hunted down a couple of great sorbet recipes. You don't have to have an ice cream mixer for these, even though that's easier. You can just try the method where you put them in the freezer and stir occasionally, which is what we had to do when the ice cream maker shorted out!

Watermelon Sorbet
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/3 c. corn syrup
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. pureed watermelon pulp (use the blender)
  • 1 T. lemon juice
Stir the water, corn syrup, and sugar together in a saucepan over medium high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and chill 30 minutes. Add syrup mixture to watermelon and lemon juice. Mix well and chill for two hours (the colder the mixture, the faster it will freeze). Freeze in an ice cream maker or put in a shallow pan in your freezer and stir it every half hour until it gets to the right consistency.

The next recipe is one that I morphed a little, mixing two recipes to achieve the end result. The original Cooking Light recipe called for (the alcohol keeps the sorbet from freezing too hard) but since we don't drink, I looked around for some other way to incorporate the strawberry/lime/orange flavors that I love.

Strawberry Margarita Sorbet
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 4 c. pureed strawberries
  • 1/3 c. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 c. fresh lime juice
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • zest of one orange and one lime
Use the same technique as the recipe above, making the simple syrup first with the water and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and chill until quite cold, at least 2 hours. Freeze in an ice cream freezer.

These recipes were a beautiful red color, tasted so yummy, and had much fewer calories than the homemade strawberry ice cream I was craving.

My father in law, Richard, loves lemon meringue pie. I have made a few for him in the past, but this year I was on the hunt for a better recipe that I would enjoy more (I love the lemon curd, but find meringue to be rather dull.) I found this recipe on and have now made it both for his birthday and again for Father's Day. It is by far the best lemon meringue I've ever had. The coconut sweetens the meringue so well. Be forewarned: if you cut this into 8 pieces, each piece has a Weight Watchers point value of 19. So you'd better scrimp on calories some other place this week if you're going to make this pie (if you want to be a real godd ess of weight loss, keep looking for another recipe!) Lemon and Toasted Coconut Meringue Pie.
If you have a garden, (or if you cheat like me and just shop at the Farmer's Market) you absolutely must try this Cooking Light Garden Minestro
ne that I discovered a couple of summers ago. Paired with a crusty artisan bread it really is a great way to end the day.
And if you're just in the mood for a good Chinese Chicken Salad without paying for it in a restaurant, try this recipe. It's especially great if you grilled chicken earlier in the week and did some extra teriyaki chicken with this meal in mind.

Chinese Chicken Salad
  • 1 head of lettuce (you pick the variety)
  • 2-3 cooked teriyaki chicken , cubed
  • 1/2 c. diced green onion
  • 1/2 c. toasted sliced almonds
  • 1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 package wonton skins
  • 1 can mandarin oranges
  • Dressing:
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
  • 3 T. canola oil
  • 1 t. sesame oil
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 1 t. kosher salt
Use your kitchen shears to cut the wonton skins into strips (you can probably do several at a time). Spray them liberally with cooking spray and bake in 350 oven until brown (watch them, they do this quickly.) Put lettuce, green onion, almonds, oranges, and chicken in large salad bowl. Mix dressing ingredients. Just before serving, shake up or blend dressing one last time. Pour over salad and toss. Add wonton crispies and sesame seeds and toss again. Serve immediately.
And one last recipe to share; my friend Sandy has been sharing zucchini out of her garden, which I adore grilled with kosher salt and olive oil--but you can only eat that at so many meals before you are ready for something else. So I scoured my Cooking Light cookbooks for a zucchini bread recipe that wasn't more like eating cake. This one is delish--it's only good for you if you don't eat the entire loaf, so watch out!
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 T. canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded zucchini (get your kids to do this part)
  • 1/2 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Place first three ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed until well blended. Stir in applesauce.
Combine flour and next four ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating just until moist. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips. Spoon batter into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 1 hour and apply the toothpick test-- it should be almost clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf. Cool completely. Enjoy!

Now go enjoy the day with your kids, whether you are cooking up some yummy foods, hanging out at the pool, or having a water balloon fight. Remember, "(wo)men are that they might have joy!" (2 Nephi 2:25)