Friday, April 30, 2010

Oh Food Network, how I love you!

I just made this recipe and both Randy and I loved it. It wasn't too hard and I am going to tweek it to make chicken sandwiches with grilled chicken this summer. It is easy, not too hot, but hot enough.


Sweet and Hot Pepper Chicken, Asian-Style

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2006

from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/sweet-and-hot-pepper-chicken-asian-style-recipe/index.html

Prep Time:
20 min
Inactive Prep Time:
15 min
Cook Time:
10 min
Level:
Easy
Serves:
6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced green onion bottoms
  • 10 dried red chiles
  • 1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sliced yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, dark soy and cornstarch. Whisk to blend well, and add the chicken to the sauce. Toss to evenly coat the chicken and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, stock, chili garlic sauce and sugar. Stir to combine and set aside until ready to use. Place a wok over high heat and add the vegetable oil to the pan. Swirl the wok to be sure to coat well with the oil. Add the ginger, garlic, green onions, dried chilies and jalapenos to the wok. Cook, stirring often until the garlic is fragrant and the chilies begin to brown, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the chicken, bell peppers and onions to the pan and stir-fry until the chicken is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil, being sure to toss well in order to coat all the chicken and vegetables evenly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, sesame oil and cilantro into the pan and toss to combine. Remove from the heat and serve on a platter with steamed white rice.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

100 Years of Solitude

I'm currently teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude in my AP Literature and Composition class. This is the third time I have read it, and I love it even more. It has been on my top fifteen list of books, but can see it moving up with each page turn.

It follows the Buendia family through the progression of time. It hits all the hot spots of fear, anguish, relationship, war, famine, and family. It addresses the beauty and passion of knowledge and the dire consequences of misusing that knowledge, or worst, not using it at all.

Jack Murnighan, Author of Beowulf on the Beach, says of 100 years, "When I read I hope the book will reach me in at least one of three places: where I zip, where I button a shirt, and where I put on a hat. Into these, all three, One Hundred Years of Solitude makes its mark; all the way down, to the bone, to the blood, etched in the tubes that hold the marrow and the channels that pump the platelets; there is nowhere in you it won't plumb and no nerve it won't twang" (337). It is a read that is a beautiful experience, and one to be treated as such. It is a piece of literature like no other and yet relates to most others. It is a read worth reading.

It can be a struggle with it's many characters and flowing timeline, but if it isn't fought then passages like these reveal themselves:

The ground became soft and damp, like volcanic ask, and the vegetation was thicker and thicker, and the cries of the birds and the uproar of the monkeys became more and more remote, and the world became eternally sad. The men on the expedition felt over-whelmed by their most ancient memories in that paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin, as their boots sank into pools of steaming oil and their machetes destroyed bloody lilies and golden salamanders. For a week, almost without speaking , they went ahead like sleepwalkers through a universe of grief, lighted only by the tenuous reflection of luminous insects, and their lungs were overwhelmed by a suffocating smell of blood. (11)

It is worth the experience. It is a family and a story that will stay with you. Each passage, each moment is a slice of humanity at its best and worst - and sometimes that is in the same moment. It is heart wrenching, funny, lovely, and challenging. I hope you take it on, it won't disappoint.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dog Haiku








































He swims, hard and fast
constantly after the ball
resting for next time

Managing boys


Oh, Boys. Boys.

Boys.

I am so grateful to be a boy mama. They are maniacs, funny, turbulent, adorable, annoying, silly, and sweet. They are smart and yet do some of the dumbest things - like getting arms stuck in chairs or putting a variety of objects in noses and ears. They are explorers.

I teach High School, and this year I have a particular group of boys that remind me of mine. They are silly, annoying, and excessively sweet. They drive me crazy as they throw objects across the room at each other during my lunch. Yet, they respect me, my space, and my opinion. They hang out in my room because they are in need of another adult role model. They are in need of boundaries and acceptance. They are in need of a place to be and belong.

I'm honored my room is that place.

I was told by a good friend of mine that to be the place, "the place", that our children and their friends want to hang out at there are a few steps to do to ensure this.
1. stock the fridge on Fridays before school is out
2. make Fridays family night, but inclusive of friends
3. Always be in the kitchen baking or doing something right after school (while they eat)
4. don't say much and listen always
5. consistency - don't miss a Friday, even if there is a game or a dance - go to the game together and part ways for the dance.

I hope to keep these in the forefront of my mind as we continue toward adolescence at a staggering pace. In the meantime, when my silly boys need a hug, I hug them. When they ask to sit on my lap, I welcome them. When they ask for a good cry, a good prayer, a good meal, or a good laugh I make sure I am present to give it.


Oh goodness, time

How you fly past me. I have to apologize dear MWP readers, I have dropped the proverbial ball this week. I have been in one of those existential places in which the actual place in reality is skewed. Confused? Let me explain.

This is the time of year in Education where we are closing up the current year and starting to plan for the next year. This is the time of year where colleagues receive pink slips, students start to shut down, department chairs start looking for requests for next year's curriculum, and it is the time of year that drives me bonkers. On top of teaching High School English, my 1st grader is involved in field trips on which he would like my attendance, my daycare mom (bless her) is on medical leave for her son's surgery, and it is busy for Randy, my meteorological husband.

Spring has sprung...and I am in too many places in my brain and am missing places in my reality.

So I'm sorry, and I hope you will be able to forgive.

Do you have times that are like this for you? The annual school transition is one in which I cannot seem to just breathe through. I can breathe through the holiday madness. I can breathe through the beginning and end of school, but this transition is....muddy.

Like Spring.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Food and Photography


I knew when I picked my weekly theme of photography that I would be royally screwed when Friday came. Food? And photography? The ideas that came to my mind were sketchy at best:
  • Edible photos like those ones they do on cakes at the supermarket? Sounds like a cake wreck to me.
  • Photographs OF food, like those people who work for advertisers and magazines? Interesting idea, but I don't know anything about it and I wouldn't be able to say much.
  • Photographs of people eating food. Hm. HM. HMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm........ No.
  • Photographs of me making food. Don't we do this every week anyway?
So, how about I just show you a photograph of the leftovers from the garden party I threw yesterday?


Oriental chicken salad, sushi, key lime pie, potato salad, grapes, cheese, artichoke & spinach dip, sliced peppers & carrots with dip. On the counter and in the pantry, there's also homemade baklava cookies, corn chips, homemade oregano & parmesan bread, and chocolates.






Excuse me, I need to go take a nap now. I was up all day and night yesterday cooking and cleaning and I have a baby that has decided to stop sleeping through the night. You are all invited over later on for pie and coffee. Or sushi. You pick. But I have to go sleep now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Write What You See by Hank Kellner

Write What You See by Hank Kellner

As bloggers, we all need inspiration for our writing. We run out of ideas, we hit walls, we give up. I know my personal blog has fallen off the wagon lately. But most of us, when our ink well is drying up, so to speak, we are wishing for the surge of creative and the enjoyment we have when writing with passion.

I checked out a book this week that I thought might help. Write What You See by Hank Kellner. A collection of black and white photographs accompanied with writing prompts. The book is intended to be used as a classroom instructional resource for teachers, maybe in creative writing, composition, or exposition. Sharp tweens would enjoy it, all high schoolers should try it and get something out of it.

But me?

I enjoyed the way it provoked my thoughts. It made me think beyond my own world and be innovative. It made me think about things I hadn't considered in a long while.

Maybe I could write about being scared, like in a terror movie kind of way.


Or about adventure and danger.


About what it will feel like, I mean what it will really feel like, to be old some day.


We all know that our visual world sparks our creativity and gets the gears of our mind turning. This book was a surprising find, one that was just the catalyst I needed about now.

Now if I could only figure out a faster way to clean diapers so that I had more time to write...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The slippery slope of the digital age

My daughter started her facebook account almost two years ago, right after she graduated from middle school. She had already had her share of myspace and bebo accounts. And we had had our share of discussions and close-calls regarding what kind of information you share online. Like, don't put pictures of yourself up on the web that make you look like a skank.

I thought I had covered all my bases regarding parenting in the digital age. But there was one (really) big point I hadn't thought of: copyright infringement.

It seems innocent enough, right? A teenager really likes a picture of themselves, one that was taken at a studio. So they take a picture of it with their digital camera or cell phone and then post it to the web. If they're really sophisticated, they'll scan the picture. But...this is theft.

We had breached the topic during my daughter's 8th grade year. Her middle school was putting on The Sound of Music. The parent producer took orders ahead-of-time for video copies of the performance. It was well known that the profits from such sales went towards funding the next year's production. But there was a snag. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Library explicitly prohibits such recordings, audio or video, from being made for any reason. I'm not sure how the parent producer didn't know this, but I sure wasn't going to participate in something that I knew was copyright infringement. My daughter was confused and sure there must be a mistake. Afterall, parents don't do things that they know are wrong, right?

It's the slippery slope that we start down once we start bending the rules. I mean, what difference does it make whether I share this photo with my friends on facebook? Or reprint it on my printer at home to send to family? Or borrow my friends CD recordings to make copies for myself?

It took a bit of thinking on my part to figure out what our household should do. Should we live by the letter of the law or should we allow ourselves to fudge things once in awhile?

I chose to live by the letter of the law. I did so because I wanted to make sure my kids knew that lying and/or stealing is not ok, no matter what.

It's easy when our kids are young:

PARENT
Did you hit your sister?

CHILD
No.

PARENT
I saw you hit your sister. Lying is wrong.

It gets a little trickier when they get older. You're at Sears or JCPenney getting portraits taken and they have a price tag for having the digital images prepared for you and giving you the copyright. But you know that you can order only a few and then scan the images and make as many prints as you want at home. And you can put them up on facebook. And no one will know because you have your privacy settings done correctly. So your teen asks you if she can put her pictures up as her profile picture.

To justify it, say this. We live in Michigan and we're in a massive recession. Times are hard and no one can afford that copyright price. And no one really pays it. It's only there so that the store can make up their losses on people like me who are more tech-savvy.

[insert sound of screeching brakes here]

STOP.

With that, I taught my daughter that it's ok to steal and lie and cheat just as long as you don't get caught. In my opinion, it's the worst thing I want to teach my children.

It was there that I realized the little things do matter.
  • It does matter that Sears portrait studio owns the digital image to the cute picture you want to share with your friends on facebook.
  • It does matter that you're not supposed to copy music recordings even though you can pull it off technologically.
  • It does matter that MySpace and Facebook doesn't allow individuals younger than 14 years old to have an account.
  • It does matter that movie ratings should reflect the age of the viewer, regardless of whether that nascent viewer has seen worse content.
  • It does matter that the legal age to light a cigarette is 18.
  • It does matter that the legal drinking age is 21.
See how the slippery slope can lead you down the wrong path? How can I tell my children that honesty and integrity matter in one context but not in another? That theft is ok as long as you're not stealing something that you can touch?

Most people don't worry about too much. It's like buying knock-off Gucci bags in New York City. You do it fast and quick and easy and no one gets hurt. But I realized that someone DOES get hurt. My child's ability to form sound ethics is hurt, and that is a huge problem.

So we don't post pictures to facebook, or share them on email, or print them and hang them in our home, unless we have paid for the print or the right to reproduce the image. I would wholeheartedly encourage every parent to adopt the same policy for their house rules.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Photographs from the past

I've made a habit in my homes of hanging photographs of family and friends in arrangements on the walls. I've had many different homes in my adulthood, since my daughter was born. Nine, to be exact. So I've had plenty of experience pulling the pictures out and rearranging them in a new space. And my family has changed dramatically over those years. I've been married and divorced and remarried. I've had to subtly change the composition of portraits to reflect this. Like every adult, I've also had to accommodate new nieces and nephews and, in the last year, a new baby in our nuclear family. Suffice it to say, I've pulled out the photographs and the frames and mattes more times than I choose to share, tried to thoughtfully and tastefully put together a collection, and selected locations in the house to hang them together.

The truth is, the last few years have been rough waters for establishing a household. When we got married almost five years ago, my husband and I lived in two different homes in two different states. In the midst of this arrangement, when we finally got it together to have most of our stuff together in his apartment and call that our permanent address, I was commuting over 500 miles to work for a year. During this time, a few, carefully selected photographs, ones of us and my daughter, got put on the wall for a couple years. But the rest of our family pictures got stored in boxes in the basement of his apartment. We moved into our current home 18 months ago, but within a month of moving, we discovered I was pregnant. High risk pregnancy, me working fulltime, finally taking medical leave, and a teenager in her first year of high school...it all led to a stalling of the settling into our new home.

At the end of July, we lost my father-in-law. Three weeks later, our daughter was born. All the while, we were taking photographs of family.

Recently, photographs have come back into my life. I don't mean digital images that I scroll through on my computer screen. I mean real, honest-to-goodness photographs. The kind you hold in your hands. The kind you find in your desk drawer years after you forgot it was even taken. The kind you write on the back of, so you make sure that years after you forgot it was even taken, you remember the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys. The kind you carefully frame and place in a coveted spot, so you feel good every time you see it. You get the idea. It clearly had been a void in my life of late and I was craving a physical connection with our loved ones near and far.

It started by getting ready for my daughter's 16th birthday. Her birthday was two months ago, in February. So in December, I decided I would put together a slideshow for her and show it at the party. Since I didn't own a digital camera until she was nine, I found myself on the bedroom floor with photo boxes and albums and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of photographs lying in piles all around. I sorted and organized, and pared down my selections. Finally, after a couple days, I set to scanning all the photographs. 500 in all. When the whole project was done and we showed the collection at her party, I cried through the whole show.

Of course, sorting through the old photos looking for good ones of my oldest daughter didn't stop there. I found photographs from high school and family vacations (both from childhood and from adulthood), snapshots taken while on school field trips and over camping trips with the church youth group, bachelorette parties and wedding parties and tea parties and on and on and on. A photograph of my grandfather's orange trees that he sent to me while I was in middle school. A few of my best friend who moved away, the ones she mailed to me to show me her new hair cut. One a boyfriend took of me on a hiking trip; the expression on my face says it all.

I'll admit, it's a bit overwhelming. That saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words," I've come to have a new appreciation for that. Being confronted with a visual record of the past bombards my memories with the reality of those moments. Our memories can be flawed and sentimental. Photographs tend to shed light on those flaws and bring back to life the actual moments you'd rather forget. In the midst of this, I added the following phrase to my facebook page: "Walking down memory lane and getting in touch with your past is really not all that rewarding as people may think. Live for today, I say." It was a way to remind myself that these memories, this past, it makes me who I am today. It makes our family something unique. Really, the only thing I can take away from the past is a reminder to live every moment in the here and now, because that's all that matters.

So this week I'm off to the craft store to find frames for the last remaining photographs of our family. I'll frame them and place them on the wall in another arrangement, just in time to share with friends when they visit for an afternoon party this Thursday. I'm sure my husband and I will spend some time talking during the party, explaining, "this is my sister-in-law Ana" and "this is a childhood picture of my grandfather" and "this was taken the day my husband moved to the United States." Through it all, I have to keep in mind that this moment, the one in which I am breathing air circling around me, this is the one that matters most.

Friday, April 16, 2010

AP Cake

First of all, I have absolutely no idea why this is called "AP Cake."  When I first heard my mother-in-law pronounce it, I thought she said, "Abbey Cake," which is how I recorded it in my recipe book.  When I mentioned it to my husband's aunt, though, she corrected me.  She didn't know why on earth it has this name either.  So, if you know, please let us know!  Either way, it's a great sort of coffee cake type of thing.

This recipe is from my husband's Italian grandmother.  I assume it was passed down from her mother, and apologize that I can't credit exactly where it came from.   I like to make it in the spring, often for Easter, but think it would be great anytime.

AP Cake

4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup sour milk
mixture of cinnamon & sugar, to taste, for topping

Preheat oven to 350°

Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder together.  Add brown sugar and cut in butter.  After mixture is crumbly, add sour milk.  Form the dough into a ball and flatten to 1' thick.  Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes on cookie sheet until toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Anything by Michael Pollan

When I was pregnant I was incredible careful about what kind of food I put into my mouth. For whatever reason (as if taking care of myself wasn't enough), knowing that what I ate would nourish my baby (or not nourish, depending on my choices) had a huge impact on me.

A self-avowed carnivore, I began eating a lot more vegetables, taking ideas from my former vegan roommate and eating lots of legumes and greens. Lunchmeat had always been an easy midday meal for me, but the nitrates...not something I wanted to contribute to the growing babe. Finding new meals was difficult for me for two primary reasons: time and money. (And, also, I'm picky. Fine, I admit it.)

"Food" that isn't really food is cheap and tasty and already prepared. Think Pringles and fast food.

A couple of years ago, I discovered Michael Pollen's In Defense of Food and it immediately rang true. I love his tag line: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." That sums it up perfectly!

Now I'm working my way through his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is equally convincing. Both books, however, are a bit academic. He doesn't shy away from the science which means they're not always a quick and easy read. They're provocative, though, and as parents I think we owe it to ourselves and our kids to at least consider what he has to say.

For a quick peek into his ideas, read Food Rules, a cheat-sheet of sorts to the other two books.

Happy reading and bon app├ętit!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Memorize the Good Stuff

It's so easy to project the image of the happy little family.  We edit our words, written and oral, as we tell our families' stories to the world.  But let's not kid ourselves.  We all have issues.  Some are run-of-the-mill problems, the kind that nearly every parent recognizes when we're honest enough to share the stories.  Bedtime dilemmas.  Potty-training horrors.  Hitting or biting or simply not sharing at all.  Some problems are bigger, harder to deal with, harder to share.

And our kids grow, their issues do, too.  Peer influence.  Poor choices.  Driving and drinking and all those other things we worry about.

So I don't make this suggestion in any way shape or form to sound like we have it all goin' on over here at our house.  Like all of you, we are trying our best and dealing with the problems and issues as they come.

But as we work through this thing called parenting, one of the practices we've found most helpful is to have the kids memorize bible verses.  We print one out for the week (or two, or three if it's really long) and put it on the fridge.  Part of the dinner conversation is taking turns practicing the verse.  When everyone has it, we move on to the next one.  We also see who can remember the previous verses.  The kids enjoy the challenge, and we find it extremely useful to refer to the verses they know--to talk about them, and what they mean, and how to apply them--when the tougher times come around.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Peace of Nature

Even before I had kids, I loved to visit botanical gardens.  There's something about the flowers and trees and pure feeling of nature that puts me at ease.  Although my kids love to visit them now, too, sometimes I still go alone, on days that I need the peace sitting among the palms and blossoms brings me.

photo credit:  mbaylor
When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee.  As a recent transplant to the bitter cold of Green Bay, WI, a visit to the domes took me worlds away and help ease the "I'm pregnant and living in an icebox" feeling that consumed me.

After we moved, we continued to visit Botanical gardens in different places.  Some, naturally, are spectacular and others are smaller and more, ummm, cozy.  But even the little guys exude the peace of nature; I think all of us can use that from time to time, don't you?

Here's a link  (and another) to some gardens in the Midwest.  I've found that many have reciprocal privileges for members--either allowing free entrance or a discount at their location, which makes membership really worth the price.

Do you have a favorite that we could visit when we're passing through?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dilly Chicken Salad

One of the small local grocery stores/butcher shops in town here makes delicious chicken salad that I have had dreams about at night. Seriously. It’s kind of sad. A couple of months ago I decided to try to make some salad myself that was just as good if not better. I think I succeeded. The recipe is simple so I feel a little silly that I didn’t try it sooner…but it is delicious so I thought I’d share it with you.

You will need:
1 lb. cooked cubed chicken (I’ve been getting frozen chicken that is already cooked…either in strips or grilled chicken breasts…or grill your own. It is better if it’s grilled chicken.)
4 stalks of celery, finely diced
4-5 green onions, finely diced
1 heaping tablespoon dill weed
½ cup of light mayo

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

That’s it! It’s so delicious even our 22-month-old loves it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

10 Suggested Read-Aloud Chapter Books for Young Children

I was tempted to post something goofy for April Fool's Day but it turns out I'm not that creative lately. (Whoever stole my mojo...please return it. kthanxbai)

10 Classic Suggested Read-Aloud Chapter Books for Young Children

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dowld
  2. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  3. Socks by Beverly Cleary
  4. Betsy-Tacy by Maude Hart Lovelace
  5. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. Stuart Little by E.B. White
  7. How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
  8. The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix
  9. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  10. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

What books would you add to the list?