Busy

It’s a word that gets thrown around often.  Not just with me; we all use it.  Busy.  We’re ALL busy.  Caps, bold, italics.

“Sorry I never got back to you; I’ve been so busy!”

“How’s your summer?” “Busy!”

Me, personally?  It’s never occurred to me to keep track of how many times a day I say it, hear it, think it.

Any time I take my boys (three of them, all under age five) out in public?  At least one casual observer will offer a grin and a sympathetic “I bet you’re busy!”

When my husband reluctantly asks me to do a favor or take care of something household related because he works pretty crazy hours anymore?  “Babe, I know you’re busy enough already, but if you get a minute during naptime or whatever, could you…?”

When I look at the stack of library books on my nightstand or on the end table in the living room? “Ugh, if I wasn’t so busy, I’d be through those already!”

024

A lot of my busy-ness is of my own making.  Apparently I took Aesop’s Fables a bit too literally as a child, because every time I ignore work to do something pleasurable, I’m reminded of the Grasshopper and the Ant.  Remember that story?  The ant worked and worked, never taking time off, while the grasshopper, all “Carpe Diem!” played and forgot to prepare for winter.  So when wintertime rolled around, the ant was warm and full, while the grasshopper died a cold, hungry death.

That must be it.  I hate being cold.  And hungry.

So I stay busy.  Not always particularly productive, but definitely busy.  And when I say busy, I pretty much mean in the sense that I start 349587348962 projects and approximately 2 get done.

Take, for instance, this spring.  I found an ant infestation in my spider plant (here we go with the ant theme again). So I carried the plant to our back deck, where I drowned those suckers out, then gave them a nice, healthy dose of old coffee grounds to show them I meant business.  Apparently, ants hate coffee.  So maybe I’m not as much like an ant as I thought.  Anyway… my spider plant.  I didn’t want to bring the ants back inside, so I let my plant sit on the deck for a couple of days.  It was still spring, and we weren’t finished having frost then, so a few leaves on my plant were sacrificed in the effort.  When I pulled them to make room for new growth, I put the dead leaves on top of last summer’s hanging basked from the deck, my Mother’s Day petunia from Ryan and the boys, which I never emptied last fall.

Fast forward to late July.  This past Saturday morning, Ryan took the boys with him to run an errand while I stayed home.  After they left, I wandered back to the deck to pick up yesterday’s swim suits and towels, and decided maybe it’s time to finally clean out that hanging basket.  What I found when I moved those dead spider plant leaves took me by surprise.

001.jpg

 

My point is, yes, I’m busy.  We’re ALL busy.  Caps, bold, italics.  It’s not exclusively a parent thing, or a student thing, or a career thing or a sports thing or a…well, you get it.  Life is hectic, and messy, and crazy, and unpredictable.  And sometimes, under all that busy-ness, there are surprises budding that we aren’t expecting.

And aren’t those the best?

 

xoxox,

~d

 

Pumpkin Spice. Nuff Said

I have a problem.

Actually, I got 99 problems but…

Right.  Family show.  Moving on.

So,let’s focus on my two biggest problems of the moment:

  1. I cannot for the life of me back down from a challenge, even when (especially when) it comes from my four-year-old.
  2. I have zero capacity for resisting anything that comes labeled as “pumpkin spice.”

There’s a humorous back story here, and a semi-related and wholly hilarious YouTube video parody to go along with it.  The back story is this:

Our oldest son goes to preschool three days a week, for two and a half hours each day.  He takes a snack every day, and he really loves to pick what he’s going to take- though, some days he prefers to be surprised; it really is a mood thing.  Among his favorite snacks to take are yogurt, these seasoned pretzels, fruit, graham crackers, goldfish crackers, and granola bars.  I started making my own granola bars about two years ago because they go REALLY fast in our house.  Ryan loves them at breakfast time.  And after dinner. They’re perfect for the boys’ “after nap snack,” as our oldest says.  And I love them too.  So those little boxes of eight that you pay $2 for?  Doesn’t even get us through a day- I can’t justify it when it takes just a few basic ingredients and little more skill than one needs when making Rice Krispy Treats.  So last week, the little guy asked me if we had any granola bars for me to send for his snack this week.  I didn’t, at the time, but I’d purchased what I needed with the intention of making some.  Then, he said these magic words: “Mom, could you make pumpkin spice granola bars?”

The words were music to my ears.  I immediately began searching for recipes.  Google, Pinterest, and all of my cookbooks.  But…I kept coming up empty.  I had a few results, but nothing that really sang to me (or the ingredients I had on hand.)  Sadly, I couldn’t let it go.  I had to find something that would work.  Because, not only had my baby boy asked me for something and I wanted to deliver, but also because it’s October and I’ll put pumpkin in ANYTHING this time of year!  So, I resorted to experimentation.  I went to my go-to granola bars recipe, then found one recipe on Pinterest I could tweak to my needs, and attempted to mash the two together. (By the way, if you’re following the links to check out the recipes, note that the first one is for a 13×9 pan-sized batch; the second is for an 8×8).

And so…the first attempt turned out to be pretty decent.  I would say they could still use a little something (chocolate chips are at the top of that list.  I’d also say mixing in a half a cup or so of finely chopped pecans might take this right up to where it needs to be).  But, for my first attempt and also for a completely fabricated recipe, on the first try, I’m a little proud of myself.  And my boy was happy, so, yay me!

Wanna try them?  Here’s how I did it:

dsc_07592

3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
Heat over medium-low heat until just boiling.
Add:
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

dsc_07561

Pour immediately over:
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup wheat germ (or flax-seed)

dsc_07601

Stir to combine, then pour into a 13×9 pan
lined with aluminum foil (this makes it easier to
pull the bars out to cut them, and also helps with
cleanup)

dsc_07621

If you’re going to add chocolate (and, by all means, DO!), make sure you don’t mix them into the pumpkin mixture; they’ll become a melty mess.  Instead, once you’ve pressed the bars into the pan (I use a sheet of waxed paper.  Press HARD), sprinkle 1/3 cup or so over the top, then press gently once more.  And if you’re thinking of adding nuts (I totally will next time; this version is missing a bit of crunch), add them to the oats, cereal, and wheat germ or flax-seed.  Probably 1/4 to 1/3 cup is a good starting point.  And when you fall in love with these…

you can thank my son. Because I’m off to Starbucks for a PSL.

Cheers!
xoxo

~d

 

 

 

Could Not Be Fuller

Holy crap, guys.

It’s been way longer than I thought since I last posted here.  I haven’t posted anything in nearly a year and a half.  Do y’all even remember me?  Do you know what’s happened in a year and a half?  Obviously not much, if I haven’t been around to tell you about it, right?  Except…

The last time I was here, I was the mother of one amazing, beautiful, perfect little boy.

Today?  Today, I’m the mother of three amazing, beautiful, perfect little boys.

Yep, you read that right.  Three.  For the next two weeks, three under the age of three.  Boys.  Three. Boys.

My heart could not be fuller.

I always said I wanted three kids.  I come from a large family (I’m the oldest of five), Ryan comes from a small family (he’s the oldest of two); three seemed like a good compromise.  You should’ve seen our faces when, at a six week ultrasound for my second pregnancy, the tech announced, “There’s one.  And there’s two.” (Actually, I would’ve liked to have seen our faces.) Obviously, she was telling us we were getting twins, but we were a bit slow on the uptake.  It took us both a moment to catch up.  Um, ok, it took us quite awhile to catch up.  In fact, we spent the next few hours in almost total, shocked silence.  Until one of us would say, “Holy crap, twins.”  Or, “Wow.  There are TWO of them,”  Then we got in the car and drove two hours to tell our families in person.  Some days I think we’re still a little shocked.

Granted, this was not a total surprise.  My dad is a fraternal twin.  My maternal grandfather had fraternal twin siblings.  But because I always joked about how cool it would be to have twins, I think I had talked myself out of the possibility.  Mentally.  I think I had a gut instinct though that they were twins.  Because this is what happens to someone who has the perfect singleton pregnancy first time around, breezes through the whole nine months and labor, then wonders why people get so stressed out about infants.  Life hands those people two more at the same time, in conjunction with the terrible twos/ threenage years.

We’re managing.  In fact, we’re more than managing; I think we’re doing really well.  Our days are not nearly as stressful or as chaotic as I had envisioned.  I can still get all three of them out the door before 10AM without help.  Everyone is fed, bathed (at least every other night), wearing clean clothes, and getting individual cuddle time.  I can still get a hot, cooked meal on the table at least three nights a week, and Friday is still always pizza- homemade, more often than not.  This week I baked two batches of cookies, homemade pretzels, and a batch of zucchini bread between naptimes and diaper changes.

Of course. it can get stressful.  One can be stressful, three (without ever experiencing two) has, admittedly, brought me to my knees a time or two.  But it’s the best kind of stressful, and there’s nearly always humor to be found in the midst of it all.  “Twin B” has a tendency to wait until his diaper off to show off his ability to impersonate a fire hose.  This has earned him the nickname “Squirt” (he was also a full pound smaller at birth; he was such a little squirt!)  “Twin A” is often on his third outfit of the day before 9AM.

I used to judge stay-at-home moms.  I never understood how a person could sacrifice a career that they’d worked their tail off for, to stay at home.  To trade analyzing data for analyzing the color of the substances within a diaper; to trade dressing up for yoga pants and a ponytail; to trade business lunches for being on the receiving end of launched pureed peas.  I didn’t get how giving up a paycheck made sense.  Now I get it.

This isn’t about me.  It’s not about my climb up a corporate ladder, or breaking any glass ceilings.  It’s not about whether my boys are wearing Burberry onesies and riding in a $4,000 stroller.

New classic check Check Cotton Twill Shirt - Image 1

(Image from Burberry.com)

It’s about them having me at home because we can have it this way, spending time and making memories and learning from one another as we navigate this road as a family.  I used to be embarrassed, when asked about my career, to admit that right now, I don’t have one.  I’m still working on my education- and I’m damn proud of it.

I’ll have lots of years to go back to work, to build my career as long as it works for our family.  For now, I’m trying to savor every second I can with these precious gifts, stockpiling the love and the snuggles they give so freely for a day when they’ll be “too big,” or “too old” to show Mom affection.  For now, my job- my career- is Mom.

And I couldn’t be prouder.  My heart could not be fuller.

xoxo,

~d

The Field Report

This weekend was a rough one for some of my favorite football teams.  Penn State, fortunately, managed a win- the 409th in Joe Paterno’s career, by the way.  But my fantasy team took a hard hit, leaving me with a sorrowfully losing record for the season and newfound motivation to do some hard-core trading in the coming week.  In addition, my favorite pro team suffered a hard loss last night after trading off one of my favorite running backs, which in turn negatively impacted my fantasy team.  Rough week, like I said.

However, my very favorite football player had an amazing week, with one win on his high school JV team, and one loss with some notable plays on his varsity team.  Oh, and this amazing player?  He just happens to be my youngest brother, a sophomore in high school.  Proud big sister?  Yeah.  That’s totally me.

Cory went out for football early in his middle school career, but I had named him our family football player almost from the day he was born.  It’s in his bones.  It’s who he is.  And that first year, his quick movements earned him the name “Crazy Legs” from his teammates.  He moves quickly on the field, his determination obvious in the way he carries himself and the football.

Now in his sophomore year of high school, Cory has spent this season playing on both the JV and Varsity squads.  Though his teams have both had a rough season, my brother still pours his heart and soul into every game.  To watch him dressed at a game, watching from the sidelines, one can see how ingrained the sport is in his very being.  He becomes so engrossed in what his teammates on the field are doing.  He sways his body in the direction he would be running.  He shakes his head in agreement or disagreement with the refs’ calls. He shifts his weight anxiously from one leg to the other, itching to get out there and do what he was born to do.   And when he makes it to the field, the focus in his stances make it evident that his only thoughts are what his coaches taught him in practice.

This past week, the whole season’s worth of hard work reached its climax when, during the last JV game of the season, Cory scored three touchdowns and racked up over a hundred yards’ worth of runs.  The final score of the game was 20-0, all 20 points belonging to Cory.  The following day, our hometown newspaper printed Cory’s team picture, with a caption listing his accomplishments from the night before.  But my brother is so modest that getting him to talk about earning those points was sort of like pulling teeth.  Here’s a rundown of the text conversation we had following the game:

me: I haven’t heard from anyone; how’d the game go?

Cory: Good.  I put 20 on the board.

me: Sweet!  Way to go kid!  So you won?

Cory: Yeah 20-0.  It should have been more but there was a penalty.

By the end of that conversation, my jaw was scraping the floor and I was literally jumping up and down, unable to contain my pride and excitement.

Friday night, Cory’s varsity coach gave him the opportunity to get in on one of the biggest rivalry games of the season.  My brother didn’t disappoint, as the next day’s newspaper reported: “Sophomore Cory Brooks was the star of the drive for Punxsy, receiving the kickoff as the up-man and returning it to the Chucks’ 41 and finishing the drive with runs of 11 and two yards, with the two-yarder putting Punxsy back within 13 at 27-14.” (PunxsutawneySpirit.com).

Saturday’s local newspaper printed my brother as the “Player of the Week,” recognized and saluted by the town as one of the strongest student athletes for the week.  He has one varsity game left, this Friday night.  He’ll be going in with 3 rushing touchdowns and 1 interception for a touchdown on the season.  He estimates that he’s run for between 200 and 300 yards

My brother lives for two different kinds of fields: the football field and wide open fields where animals roam to serve his hunting hobby.  After a hard week of work on the football field, Cory spent his free time over the weekend hunting- something he doesn’t have time for during the week, as he leaves the house for school before it’s light out, and comes home from practice long after dark.  Saturday night I received a text message from Cory saying that he was bringing home a five-point buck he shot.

Not bad for a week’s work, huh?

Keep up the good work, Cory; we’re proud of you.

xoxo,

~d

 

Pumpkin Farm- Part I

One of my favorite memories from childhood was our annual trips to the pumpkin farm.  There was a place about 40 minutes from where we lived that Mom would take us to pick our would-be jack-‘o’-lanterns.  Derek and I would ponder for what seemed like forever- usually making it a competition to see who got the bigger one.  There was also a little shop at the farm where Mom always shopped for crafts and gourds and Indian corn; it was her reward to herself after enduring any length of time with my brother and me and our constant bickering.  That’s all she wanted: some cute little craft, a couple of gourds, and a bunch or two of Indian corn.

“Punkin pickin'” is still part of our fall tradition here in the Merrow household.  Every year when the leaves start to change and the weather starts to cool, Ryan starts asking when I’ll be ready to go.  He likes to plan the outing.  And picking a pumpkin is, for both of us, very serious business.  In the six years since we’ve lived here, I think there have only been one or two that we haven’t had pumpkins.  Sometimes they come from WalMart.  Last year they came from the buffalo farm up the road.  I think once we even dragged a few from Punxsy- from my sister’s pumpkin patch that she plants and lovingly tends every single year.  We just haven’t found that special place yet to make our new tradition.

This past weekend was miserable: cold, windy, and rainy.  It was the perfect weekend to stay inside and eat chili and drink cider.  But by yesterday, I needed to get out and DO something.  Anything.  So when he asked the question, “when did you want to go get pumpkins?  I found this new place we should check out,” I had made the decision and jumped in the shower before he finished asking.  We were going, rain or not.

It was cold.  It was raining.  The wind was blowing and the place was deserted despite the rows of cars in the parking lot.  We approached the admission window for some information, while I said a little “thank you” to my aunties for the Uggs they bought me last Christmas; the rest of me may have been freezing, but my feet were toasty, and for that I was thankful.

When the one lonely lady manning the booth slid the window aside to let us in, she began to run down the list of attractions the farm offers: “Oh, we do hay rides and the haunted corn maze…but they don’t recommend that for kids under ten.  And there are slides over there…you know, for the kids…and there’s a petting zoo…for the kids…and… Oh!  The white barn over there has a cafe and craft shop.  There’s a corn box…for the kids… and over here, you can pick your pumpkins.  So…will you be trying any of the attractions today?”

This was sort of a strange question, and I, at least, was a bit thrown off.  After all, we were alone.  No kids in tow, no stroller, no car seat.  We were alone.  Just the two of us.  Finally, after exchanging a look with Ryan, I responded by saying, “It’s so miserable out today, I think we’ll just check out the craft store and buy some pumpkins.”  This statement saved us the admission fee that’s charged for the other attractions.  Armed with wrist bands, we entered the farm and headed for the barn.

The atmosphere there was a fun one; as we entered, Ryan said it reminded him of what he would expect to find at Roloff Farms of Little People, Big World fame.  There was a small cafe in one corner, with picnic tables lining the walls, and a game of corn hole set up in the center aisle.  In the back corner was nestled a small, cozy primitives shop.  We walked through, staying long enough to see everything, and headed back out to tackle the task of tracking down some pumpkins to take home with us.

There were so many pumpkins to choose from, I got confused.  I would point out one that had a good shape, vibrant color, substantial size, and was consistently round, and then promptly lose it.  Ryan would find one that looked perfect from the front, but was completely planar on the opposite side.  If we pondered and walked around for five minutes, we were there for forty-five.  Finally, we settled on two that were similar in size, shape, and color, and headed for the check-out booth.  Ryan carried them while my eyes wandered to the potted Mums and the boxes of gourds and cooking squashes.  We noticed some wagons, provided to help patrons “cart” their finds out of the patch, and I snagged one in order to continue shopping.  Once Ryan had dropped the two large pumpkins onto the wagon, he immediately suggested we pick out a pumpkin for Clohe.  He found her a smaller one that was perfectly round and perfectly orange, and urged me to pick some gourds to take home.  While I pondered over those, he checked out the pie pumpkins.  “Babe,” he called to me, “do you use these?”  I turned to look, and admitted that I never had, but I knew that they were used for all the wonderful recipes canned pumpkin is used for.  “I could bake a pumpkin pie from scratch,” I said, wheels turning.  He picked out three for me to bring home.

With a new project to focus my energies on, I couldn’t sit still when we got home.  I hauled my gourds and pie pumpkins into the kitchen to wash, while Ryan balanced our future jack-‘o’-lanterns to carry to the front porch.  And I set to work…

 

More to come!

xoxo,

~d

Before it Was 9/11

Before this day in 2001, it was a happy day in my family.  On this day in 1982 (after my mother arrived late to her own wedding…nobody has ever accused my mom of being punctual!), my parents said “I Do,” and promised to love one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, through one child or five.  While the part about the kids may not have been in their vows (or their plans), regardless…it was on this day that they promised to spend the rest of their lives together.

On my parents’ thirteenth wedding anniversary, my youngest brother Cory entered the world shortly after 8AM.  I was in fifth grade that year, and I remember it as if it was yesterday.  I remember taking my Collie puppy Brandy outside to do her morning business and coming back inside to find my mom on the phone with my dad’s boss, trying to track Daddy down.  While trying not to alarm me, Mom was already showered and dressed, working on her hair and makeup.  She put off telling me what was going on for as long as she could, but I think the effort may have been a little much for her.  Derek and I left for school as per our normal schedule, and a family member came to stay with Brandon while Mom’s aunt drove her to the hospital.  We would later learn that Cory was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital, but since my mother seems to possess superhuman self-control, she managed to make it all the way.  None too soon, mind you.  But then, nobody ever accused my mother of being punctual.

Anyway, during our morning recess at school, we received a message that Cory was here.  And that he was a boy.  My parents never told us kids the sex of the babies they were expecting, hoping to maintain peace in the family for as long as they could.  That family peace was out the window as soon as I got the message that I had yet another brother.  A girl just couldn’t catch a break!  I was angry.  I was disappointed.  I was resentful.  I was sad.  I was bitter.  And soon, I was..in love.

Before long, I had changed my attitude about the invasion of yet another brother.  It didn’t take too long for his big brown eyes to melt me.  It didn’t take too long before his little coo’s could catch my attention from just about anywhere else in our house, and make me come running, just to watch him be content and aware.  I didn’t even mind changing diapers or walking laps around the house to calm him when he was fussy.  I absorbed every second as I watched Cory grow.  Mom worked night shifts at a local bakery the summer before Cory turned a year old.  When she would leave for work at night, we would pull the cushion from our Papasan chair and lay it on the floor in the living room, because Daddy has always worked very long days, usually starting around the time Mom would get home.  I would fall asleep next to his warm little body, and when he would wake up crying in the night, I would get his bottle, change his diaper, and sing him back to sleep.  I helped with bath times and story times and dinner time…any time Mom needed a little extra help.  She would always tell me she would take my help while she could get it, because, “it won’t be long before you fight with him like you fight with the other two.”  To the best of my knowledge, that day has not yet arrived.  Perhaps it’s the ten-year age difference, or perhaps it’s because Cory and I are so much alike in spite of how different we are. Or maybe it’s just because Cory is so mellow and easygoing.  Either way, I can’t recall the two of us ever even disagreeing, let alone having an actual fight or argument.

Cory, me, and Peanut, circa 2004

Ten years ago, it was Cory’s sixth birthday, and Mom and Daddy’s nineteenth wedding anniversary.  I was at my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Don’s house, enjoying a late vacation since our school district was on strike that year…inconsequential as it may be, we all remember where we were that day.  But as I finished my week watching the footage from New York City; Washington, D.C.; and a little field in Shanksville, PA- less than two hours from my hometown- I remember thinking how Mom and Daddy’s anniversary and Cory’s birthday would never be the same celebration again.  It almost feels wrong to celebrate on a day that hold such pain for so many, and yet it’s the celebrations that keep life moving on.  Carrying the memories of what happened, remembering the humility and love and one-ness our country shared during that time, and passing it along.  Remembering the patriotism of that period of time, a decade ago; when we weren’t all so wrapped up in our own lives, and spared a moment to reach out and help our fellow man.  When our TV is flooded with memorials and images of destruction and helplessness,  it’s sobering to see how much has changed while so little has changed.  Yet, it’s still there.  And the reminder is good.  The reminder to just be thankful we’re here.  To celebrate anniversaries and birthdays and every day.  Because we’re here.  Because we are stronger for being here.

Happy 29 years, Momma and Daddy.  May you spend the next 80 years as happy as you are now.  And thank you for showing me how important true love is.  How strong, how enduring, and how necessary it is to find a love like yours…while also being so rare.  I have been blessed.

And Cory, Happy Sixteenth Birthday to you.  You make me proud to be your sister, and proud to have watched you grow.  Let’s Go Chucks!

xoxo,

~d

Getting Brave

We spent the Labor Day weekend with Ryan’s family.  Since Ryan’s birthday fell on Monday, his parents and his brother and sister-in-law drove up for the weekend.  I love when people come to visit, because it gives me an excuse to try new recipes.  And try new recipes I did!  In fact, this week I’ve gotten pretty brave with inventing some of my own new meals.  For a by-the-rules girl like me, this inventing my own recipes thing is scary.  Really, really scary.  But, baby steps, friends.  Baby steps.

Sunday evening for dinner, I made my first attempt at cooking my all-time favorite dinner: linguine with clam sauce.  That sounds really funny, but in reality, it’s not so much.  See, just because it’s my favorite meal, doesn’t mean it’s my husband’s favorite.  His family, however, is always more than willing to try just about anything I put in front of them.  In fact, I’ve made a sort of game out of never serving them the same recipe twice.  (Sometimes this even includes dessert.)  So when I mentioned to them that my all-time favorite meal is linguine with clam sauce, everyone but Ryan agreed that it sounded like a good idea to try it.  However!  Spoiled brat that I am, I had never actually cooked my own favorite meal before.  Hey, I have a mom and two aunts who have always been eager to prepare it for me; there was no reason to learn to make it for myself, especially since I’m the only person in this house who eats it…right?  Right.  So anyway, with some help from my Sous chef/sister-in-law and Ryan’s mom, we whipped up a batch of pasta with a light sauce, a big salad, and a loaf of garlic bread.  Here’s the recipe (also from my Country Cooking cookbook):

Linguine with Clam Sauce
(*Ed. note: the real step one, omitted by the cookbook but not by the cook- Pour yourself a glass of red wine!  Enjoy while cooking!)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 can (6- 1/2 ounces) minced clams
4 ounces linguine or spaghetti
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
 
In a skillet, saute garlic in oil over medium heat for one minute.  Stir in parsley; saute 2 minutes.  Drain clams, reserving juice; set clams aside.  Add juice to skillet.  Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until liquid is reduced by half.  (*Ed. note: Remember my favorite saying?  “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food”?  Here, I added 1/4 cup white sherry cooking wine, and let it reduce as well, until the alcohol cooked out).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.  Add clams, salt, and pepper to skillet; heat through.  

The recipe also says to toss the sauce with the pasta; I’m a rebel, and skipped that step as well, opting instead to just serve the sauce over the top.  And I doubled the whole recipe (including the wine) to serve five people, rather than the two these proportions yield.  Oh, and don’t worry: Hubby didn’t go hungry.  I made him some regular, boring ol’ spaghetti sauce to go over his pasta.  He was happy, we were happy, and it worked out all-around.

Since it was Ryan’s (ahem)-tieth birthday, I made sure to cook what he liked on Monday (not what he requested, since he didn’t make his request until the day of his birthday, three days after I had done the grocery shopping for the event).  He likes chicken, so I figured we couldn’t go wrong with the beer-in-the-rear chicken that goes on the grill as a regular ol’ chicken, and comes off a crispy and golden on the outside, moist and fall-off-the-bone on the inside, absolute masterpiece.   Here’s where I began to deviate from my normal recipe rules.

We had visited a local microbrewery on Saturday where Ryan found a pumpkin dark beer that he really loved.  He asked if we could use the new beer as opposed to the lighter cans we had in the fridge at home.  Team player I am, I drained a can of Miller Light into my pilsner glass and therefore down my throat, and poured the pumpkin beer back into the can.  Running with the pumpkin theme, I mixed a dry rub of nutmeg, thyme, seasoned salt, cinnamon, and a dash of sage.  After rubbing olive oil all over the bird, I followed with the dry rub and took it to the grill.  A 4- 1/2 pound bird took about two hours, and I also grilled some savory grilled potatoes for about the last hour.  With some fresh corn on the cob, and some fresh green beans from Momma’s garden, we had a pretty tasty birthday dinner.  Topped off with some homemade-from-scratch vanilla birthday cupcakes (thanks for the 500 Cupcakes cookbook, Tas!) and some trick candles (bwahahaha!), I think this ahem-tieth birthday party was a pretty successful one.

Apparently, my kitchen experimenting over the weekend didn’t scare my husband off completely.  He still trusts me enough in the kitchen that he made a request this morning before he left to have chili for dinner tonight.  Since it’s downright “chilly” here this week, chili sounded like a really good option for dinner.  Of course, since he requested traditional red chili with beef and kidney beans, I couldn’t very well change the game on him without his knowledge.  But here’s the thing: I’ve been wanting to try white bean chicken chili for several years now.  Since I had leftover chicken in the fridge from Monday, I decided to go for it.  Without a recipe, per se.  I Googled a couple of recipes for a basic idea, and ran with that.

To the best of my knowledge, I used about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and put it in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When it got hot, I added 1/2 an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and let them get tender but not caramelized.  Once they got soft, I added two cups of water and a tablespoon of chicken base (you could also use two cups of lower-sodium chicken stock to cut back on the salt) and let it get hot.  Then I added a can of white kidney beans and about a cup and a half of cubed cooked chicken.  To season, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some freshly cracked black pepper, about a teaspoon of cumin, and some oregano.  I think it could have used some fresh cilantro too, but I was out and forgot to pick it up at the store.  It cooked over medium heat for about 45 minutes (though I don’t think it really needed to go quite that long) and I spooned it into my soup mug and topped it with a handful of Mexican-blend cheese, a dallop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of parsley for some color.  I think you could probably serve two people from this recipe, so to make it for more people, just double the proportions.

Enjoy!

xoxo,

~d

 

 

Happy Birthday! to…Everyone

Ah, September already?  (I say that every month, don’t I?  Seriously, this time I mean it.)  Give me a second while I try to figure out how it’s already Labor Day.  Summer got away from me again.  Where the hell did it get to?

September is a pretty busy month in these parts.  In fact, the first two weeks of September are kind of flat-out ridiculous for us.  And it sort of just keeps going through the end of the month.  My family has celebrated four birthdays in the last three days: my Momma’s was Saturday; Daddy’s was yesterday, and Ryan and my Aunt Sharon share a birthday today.  Wednesday (technically not an event, but I still kinda look at it as one) will be the eight-year mark for Ryan and me being together; Aunt Sharon and Uncle Don will celebrate their wedding anniversary on Friday, while my friend Sarah will tie the knot with her longtime love on the same day and our friends Dave and Andrea’s firstborn has a birthday party that day as well.  Sunday is Mom and Daddy’s anniversary as well as my brother Cory’s birthday, and Uncle Tom has a birthday on Tuesday.  That’s just the next eight days, friends.  I’m exhausted already, just thinking of it.

With all of these birthdays and anniversaries this month, I practically live in the card section at the store, first of all because there are so many to think of buying, and secondly because I can’t ever find one card that says what I really want to say.  This year, I think I’ve finally made a breakthrough.  A real genius move, on my part.  And, well, it’s not really an original idea, so I can’t take credit for it.  I’m just proud that I’ve finally caught on.

See, I think the greeting card industry has gotten sort of ridiculous.  First of all, a simple birthday card, wedding card, or thank you card is unbelievably expensive these days.  I mean, to find a decent one that doesn’t scream, “I CAME FROM THE DOLLAR STORE!” is borderline $4.  For something most people throw away the week after the event anyway!  (Not me; I have boxes of old greeting cards-birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, graduation, whatever.  I’m sentimental like that.)  Anyway, I love the idea of cards and as much as I love technology, nothing says “I care about you” like sending a real card in the real mail.  In fact, several years ago, my good friend Bekah sent me a letter.  On paper.  Sealed in an envelope and shipped via the good ol’ USPS.  We both have email, we communicate regularly via Facebook and text message.  But receiving that letter from her was such a cool event.  Of course we receive thank-you cards and birthday cards and whatnot in the mail, but this was just a letter.  Just because.  And it was awesome.

Um, ok, so back to my point: I am transitioning to buying only blank-inside cards.  Because as far as I’m concerned, the people who write the greetings inside greeting cards have gotten lazy.  I used to think being a greeting-card-phrase writer would be a fun job.  I thought I could be good at it.  Anymore, though, I don’t think I have enough cheese in me to keep up with it.  So there’s my plan, friends.  Buying blank-inside cards and creating my own greetings.  It’s sort of a step up from construction paper and crayons (which, I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted to do on more than one occasion) but still allows me to say what I want to say, not what some sap in a cubicle thinks I should say.  Heck, if I can blog (over 500 words at a time, typically), I should be able to come up with enough to fill the inside of a greeting card,  right?

What do you say, friends?  Do you panic over how eloquently the greeting cards you send are worded?  Or do you just pick one that addresses the proper person (Mom, Grandma, Husband, brother)?  You won’t hurt my feelings by telling me that I’m a total freak about this whole deal.

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

Newlyweds: Week One

One week ago today, Ryan’s brother and his new bride pledged their lives and their love to one another in front of an intimate group of family and close friends on the beach.  Tears were shed, laughs ensued, and it was all followed by one heck of a party afterward at the beach house we rented:

While the ladies took the morning off to visit the spa, the men were left to enjoy a morning on the beach before the festivities of the evening began.  Peanut enjoyed her first ever manicure.  I think she’s hooked, and my mom might just never forgive me for that.  (Sorry, Mom.)

The porches were decorated with hundreds of clear lights and beautifully decorated tables, adorned with the bride and groom’s engagement photos and a scrumptious spread of tropical food and drink.  The catered dinner consisted of coconut shrimp, barbecued chicken kebabs, and crab cakes.  Ryan’s cousin Shanna provided pitchers of “TropiShannas,” a sangria recipe I hear she spent weeks perfecting.  Alas, I did not get to sample… but perhaps she’ll make them again!  In addition, the cookie table was extensive and varied, with zucchini chocolate chip cookies, ladyfingers, pecan tassies, truffles, and coconut macaroons.  There was also a chocolate fountain with fruit to dip, which was all but devoured (in fact, a story has been making rounds that my own sister was found with a chocolate beard.  Fortunately, “RyRy” found her first and got her cleaned up before I discovered the mess.  She enjoyed it, though, and I’m certain she wasn’t the only one- kid or grownup alike- who had chocolate all over her face.)

My contribution was a couple of appetizers: a watermelon salsa served with tortilla chips (which I think was a pretty big hit!) in a watermelon bowl; a spinach dip and a crab dip, both served in bread bowls; and a 3-in-1 cheese ball, the crab dip and cheese balls from a Country Cooking: Bridal Edition cookbook I received as a gift for our wedding a few years ago.  Everything but the watermelon salsa I was able to make ahead and freeze so that on the actual wedding day, the spinach dip and the crab dip just had to go into the oven for a short time before going to the table.  Here are the recipes I used for the crab dip and cheese balls:

Three-in-One Cheese Ball
1 package cream cheese, softened
4 cups (16 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
 
Coarsely cracked black pepper
     1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese (I substituted Feta)
Minced fresh parsley
     1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Finely chopped pecans
Assorted crackers
 
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, cheddar cheese, onion, and Worcestershire sauce until fluffy.  If a smoother spread is desired, process in a food processor until creamy.  Divide into thirds (about one cup each).  Shape first portion into a ball; roll in cracked pepper.  Add the bleu cheese to the second portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in parsley.  Add garlic powder to the remaining portion; mix well.  Shape into a ball; roll in nuts.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove from refrigerator and let stand 15 minutes before serving.  
 
Hot Crab Dip
2 cans (6 ounces each) crabmeat, drained and cartilage removed
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup slivered almonds
Assorted crackers
 
In a mixing bowl, combine the first seven ingredients.  Spread in a 1-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with almonds.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until mixture bubbles.   
 
Lindsay and Kevin rounded out their wedding day by spending their wedding night in a quaint little B&B nearby, but like the rest of us cut their vacation short with the threat of Irene.  However, we were blessed that their day went off as perfectly as we could have hoped for.  
 
 
To my “big brother” and new sister-in-law, I send warm wishes for a long, loving, happy marriage.  One week in, ten million more to go (that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of like 192,307 years, if I did my math right)!  I am so proud to have been part of your day- to have been a witness to such a deeply touching and beautiful ceremony.  In his best man speech, Ryan offered the following advice: “Kevin, memorize the following two words- ‘yes, dear.’  And Lindsay, remember to let Kevin think he’s the boss.”  Have fun together.  If you can’t laugh with one another, what do you have?  And to that I would add, remember to always put one another first.  When it comes down to it, having each other is what really matters.  Make it count.  Each and every day. 

Much love-

xoxo,

~d

Good Night, Irene

Dear Irene,

You do know you ruined my vacation, right?  You know that your impending presence on the island where we had stationed for a week of wedding, sand, sun, and fun came to an abrupt halt as you reared your ugly head, don’t you?  Then again, that was always your plan, wasn’t it?

See this image, Irene?  The one of my sister and my husband walking hand-in-hand toward the beach?  The very image that brought tears to my eyes as I captured it?  This, Irene, is what you disrupted.  You stole from us one final day of beach play and boogie-boarding, dipping our toes in the water and chairs in the sand.  You left us with no choice but to pack the cars hastily and get the hell outta Dodge before you could harm this child who means so very much to me.  You hit before we could get Peanut out on the pier, before we could play mini-golf and get ice cream for dessert.

But what you didn’t interrupt were the five days of warm, sunny weather that we had to enjoy at the beach.  Five days of sun, sand, and plain good company as I watched my little sister enjoy her first ever experience at the ocean while chatting away with my new sister-in-law.  I watched my sister learn to boogie-board; I watched her find her first sand dollar and little-bitty conch shell.  I helped to officially welcome Lindsay into our family.  Those memories, Irene, are ones your winds can’t blow away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you didn’t disrupt, was the most perfect beach wedding ever, with the most beautiful bride any of us had ever seen and the most enamored groom in the history of the world.  That small, intimate ceremony was far beyond your reach, and we are so grateful that you couldn’t get your winds and rain to us on that day.  I wish I had a photo to share, to prove that you didn’t destroy what my sister described as the best part of her beach vacation, but I didn’t take any at the wedding.  And if I had, it wouldn’t have done justice to what we were witness to that evening.

Good night, Irene.  You may have blown away the last day of our vacation, but our island emerged intact and our memories escaped unscathed.  Sucker.

xoxo,

~d