Soda

I was born in Northern Illinois. By the fifth grade, I would also live in Green Bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Cincinnati and northwestern Wisconsin. (Yes, that’s a lot of moving. I swear I will blog about that one of these days like I keep promising.)

We moved to Cincinnati during my second grade year. One of my first assignments at my new school was to make a collage of magazine photos, newspaper clippings, what have you, for the letter “P”. I found a gigantic picture of a can of Coke, and slapped it on there. “P” for “pop”.

I proudly presented the assignment to my father, who told me sheepishly, and with a little sorrow in his voice, “They call it ‘soda’ here sweetie.”

I was dumbstruck. Different words for the same thing? This is madness.

After 3 years in Cincinnati, we moved back to the “pop” saying folk in Wisconsin. I had a southern accent to kick by then, but I got right back in the habit of saying “pop.”

Fast forward 15 years, and I move to California. It is SODA here, no acceptions. I let “pop” slip once, and the gal had zero idea what I was talking about. “I don’t think we serve that here.”

Now, when I am back in the Midwest and someone says “pop”, at first I don’t know what that is. And I laugh. I laugh, because my 2nd grade self wanted to cry. So funny how different we all are in these big, wide United States. Even with our words.

Pop. I mean soda. I mean...whatever.

Nemesis

I love fresh basil. I cook with it a minimum of once a week. But, as much as I adore it, I also abhor it. Basil is my archnemesis.

Let’s start with the simple act of purchasing it at the grocery store. You buy the only big, green, fragrant lovely bunch that has no signs of mold in the entire store. You take it home. If you don’t use it up within 48 hours, you’re left with gooey puddle of black mush. And I’ve tried storing it in baggies, not in baggies, in the fridge, out of the fridge, in water, not in water, you name it. The best method seems to be: countertop, in water. But even then, you get 4 days, tops.

This leads me to the other issue. All this throwing-out-of-black-mush led me to the conclusion that it might be more cost-effective and less wasteful to grow my own basil.

I’ve been attempting that one for 6 years now.

Basil likes sun. But, not too much sun. And it likes heat. But not too much heat. It also needs a lot of water. But, whoa there, not too much water. And you too can grow basil from seed! Provided it gets *just the right touch* of heat, sun and water.

This last time, I thought I had it nailed. My little basil seedlings (purchased at the garden center, already grown, because SCREW that from-seed idea) were sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen, minding their own business. Lots of sun, not too much heat, right there for me to monitor the moisture of the soil and water accordingly. And then, the leaves start disappearing. I don’t mean falling apart, I mean disappearing. And there’s this suspicious black dust all over the windowsill, and in the sink below.

This morning it had gotten to the point that I needed to investigate. I brushed off some of the black dust, and then shook the plant a little.

PLOP PLOP.

Two big, fat caterpillars fall into the sink. I mean BIG. I mean FAT. At least an inch long, diameter of a pencil eraser. I’m having a hard time figuring out how they got into my kitchen, and at this point sort of think they came home with me from the garden center. And the black dust? I’m surmising that it’s caterpillar poop.

Little shits have eaten at least a dozen leaves between the two of them over the past week. The same caterpillars we find in the yard eating dandelions. These ones are FEASTING on my fresh basil. So, even when all systems are a-go, something happens to rob me of my basil.

I’m going to attempt to bring this plant back to life. This LEAFLESS plant. But, if I can’t, I’m at a loss. What is the lesser of two evils: throwing away half the basil you purchase at the grocery store, or getting to use about the same amount from your own herb garden, only to have to start over with a new plant every month?

Genius Mom Moment #492

Bowie has been somewhat picky since about 18 months of age. But lately, he’s taken it to a whole new level. He’s like, competitively picky, as if he were on a reality show: America’s Pickiest Eater. I mean, the list of the things he will deign to eat, is less than I have fingers. Which royally sucks when you’re trying to get just an ever so slightly tiny minuscule amount of nutrition into him.

One of the foods he will gladly eat, and not just eat but clean his plate of, is cheese pizza. Loves the stuff, gobbles it up. Which he comes by naturally, I could eat pizza in some form for every single meal for the rest of my life and be perfectly content. Ahem.

Anyway, I was standing in front of a fridge case at Trader Joe’s, waiting in line for my time to browse (why the heck are those stores packed morning, noon and night? Oh yeah, because they are the BOMB.) and I thought about making a pizza for one of our dinners that week. Then, I thought to myself, Self, instead of having Bowie mooch off of the pizza you make for yourself, you could pull off a little ball of dough, and make him his own tiny pizza.

And at that moment, I swear to you, the heavens opened up, and a voice came down and said, Thou shalt pull the whole package of dough into little dough balls, and thou shalt freeze said dough balls, and thou shalt be able to make a mini pizza for him whenever thou pleaseth.

I mean, this is GENIUS. I have thus far made about 10 of these mini pizzas for him since that lightbulb went off, and I am STILL amazed at how simple it is.

And the best part about pizza is you can hide pretty much anything you want to in that sauce. (If you go that route, I’m not looking to start a debate here, just letting you know what worked for this mom.) I’m a fan of spinach, kale, carrot or sweet potato puree. And even if I don’t have any of that at the ready, I will sprinkle on a little flax meal. And a little corn meal on the crust. And, use whole wheat dough. I’m telling you, the added-nutrition options are endless.

So, there you have it. This picky eating breakthrough was way too good to not share with my bloggy friends. 1 lb. bag of store-bought pizza dough, some ziploc baggies, a bag of shredded mozzarella and a jar of pizza sauce = like 10 meals!

I made a little pizza tonight, and I wanted to take a picture for the blog, but I forgot until I had already given it to him. I went into the kitchen to retrieve the camera, and this is what was left:

Into the Mouths of Babes

All of my blog drafts lately have been long, ranting messes. Thus, their lack of “Published” status. I don’t enjoy reading angry run-on blog posts, and I reckon most other people don’t either.

That said, I haven’t published a post in a while. So, I’m just going to talk about something sucky that happened at the zoo today, and if it gets a little ranty, well, sorry. Mostly, I just want to see what other moms think of this.

Bowie and I went to one of the handful of food stands they have at the zoo. I had brought food for him, but not for myself. So, I ordered the chicken strip basket, comes with fries. Got the kid a juice. We sit down at our table, he’s drinking juice, I’m eating food. He’s eating some of the cheddar bunnies, applesauce, cheese stick and raisins I brought. But, he is picking up a French fry every now and then.

A mom comes over with her brood of 4, and from what I could surmise, her mother-in-law. She denies her son a snack from the food stand, they’ve just come to sit at the tables and eat the lunch they brought. Totally fine. But, then she goes on a long tirade on the food at the zoo, deeming it “some of the worst stuff you could put in your body” and “probably even dangerous, this place CAN’T be clean.” And she gives them each a big thing of Yoplait.

Eventually she notices us, we’re only a few tables away. I get a long, purposeful stare from her, and a look at our tray followed by a dramatic and audible “TSSSSK.” But that wasn’t it! She KEPT giving us the stinkeye, probably a half dozen times. And, she started saying things to her kids like, “Doesn’t it feel so good to eat healthy foods? We’re helping our bodies with this healthy food!”

I mean, let’s just push aside the fact that the healthy food she was having them eat is riddled with sugar. And let’s also bypass the totally useless passive-aggressive method of delivering her “message”. And, let’s instead focus on the fact that, from her vantage point, she couldn’t see the food I’d brought for Bowie and put on the tray for him to eat. She also got there long after I was finished eating, and there was a fair amount of food leftover. So, from first glance, it looked like I had intended for my 3 year old son to eat all of that fried, greasy food. But, the whole time she was there, not once did he put a fry into his mouth.

If she was truly that concerned about the food that a complete stranger’s toddler eats, then she could have tried a little harder to assess the full situation. That’s the whole thing about judging other people: most of the time you have no idea what their situation is, you have no back story, you have NO IDEA. And it’s best to just leave well enough alone.

What’s more, we are at the ZOO. If I want to let my son have some junk food during our fun day out at the zoo, then what the hell business is it of hers?! We certainly don’t eat like that all the time. When I go somewhere like the zoo, or an amusement park, or the movies, somewhere fun like that where going is kind of an event, I like to indulge a little. If my kid eats a handful of French fries at the zoo, he’s not doomed to poor health for the rest of his life. I know it’s not great for him, I know it’s not the most nutritious lunch, but I’ll make up for it at dinner.

That woman acted as if she saw us every day, for every meal, and saw the same lack of nutrition in front of us each time. What she should have reminded herself of is the fact that she’s never seen us before a day in her life.

Have you ever encountered something like this? Not just with food, but with any of your parenting? I hear a lot online about moms getting judged, but this is the first time it really happened to me. And such a seemingly innocuous situation. Would you feel the same way if you saw us sitting at the zoo today?

Ultimate Party Salad

There is a salad that I make for almost every single party, potluck, barbecue, whatever it is that I attend. It’s a sure-fire win for every occasion, it keeps well in the heat (i.e. summer barbecue) and it meets all three of my recipe criteria: easy, healthy, delicious.

So many people have asked me for this recipe over the years (some people more than once, you know who you are), and I thought I’d put it on the blog so I could just point them there from now on. And get in a little shameless self promotion in the process. Ahem.

Finding the recipe was kismet, truthfully. I had just purchased a basil plant from Trader Joe’s for my patio garden, and Real Simple magazine (go subscribe right now, it is amazing) did a spread on cooking with fresh basil. So, I tried it out, and both Huz and I were like THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER EATEN. I make it for a party and everyone is all, “WHO MADE THIS? RECIPE. NOW.”

Here is the recipe, as taken from Real Simple:

Chicken Salad with Apple and Basil

  • 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, diced (peeled if desired)
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Pound it to an even thinness.
  2. Place the chicken in a large saucepan and add water to cover by ½ inch. Add 3 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Cook until no trace of pink remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the scallions and apples and toss.
  5. Drain, pat dry, and dice the chicken. Add it to the apple mixture with the peanuts, mint, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Toss and divide among individual plates.

Some notes:

This recipe calls for poached chicken breasts. To that I say: NOT IN MY KITCHEN. I mean, if that’s what you have on hand, then by all means. But, I have found that a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store deli or the slow cooker chicken recipe outlined below (cooked in the AM, dismantled in the PM) are far superior. Just shred the meat by hand and add when you would have added the chicken breasts.

Follow directions exactly re: onions and apples. The vinegar and lime juice will help keep the chopped apple from getting brown.

I make this salad (for the adults) when I have snack duty at preschool, and there is a little gal there with a peanut allergy, so I omit the peanuts on those occasions. It still tastes awesome (but the peanuts add a wonderful flavor, so add them if you can!).

I have used both kinds of vinegar, both are great.

I’m sure other apples could stand in here, if that’s what you have on hand. But, the Granny Smiths are absolutely the bomb. The tartness of the apple is a major component, so just make sure it’s a really tart apple.

The salad tastes even better when it sits for a while, so make it ahead of time if you can, and let it sit in the fridge for 8 hours or so.

Just promise me that if we are attending the same party, you won’t bring this salad. Because chances are I’m bringing it too.

The fan-freaking-tastic slow cooker chicken recipe (from this cookbook):

Mexican-Style Lime and Cilantro Whole Chicken

One 3 to 4 pound broiler/fryer chicken

3/4 to 1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lime

1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs

2 cloves garlic

1. Wash and dry the chicken thoroughly. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker, breast side up. Squeeze the lime juice over the chicken, and put the rinds, cilantro and garlic into the cavity. Cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours.

2. Transfer the chicken to a platter. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and remove/shred the meat. If not using the meat immediately, refrigerate.

Note: I’m petrified of handling raw chicken and eggs, ever since the salmonella. If you’re like me, it helps to have all the other ingredients prepped and at your fingertips so you don’t have to get your germy hands all over the kitchen. Hint: I put the salt and pepper in a little dish.

Happy eating!

The No-Nuke Family

Some of you probably remember when my husband convinced me that we didn’t need a microwave. I very reluctantly agreed to give the microwave-less life a chance. It’s not as tough as you might think. I did miss it at first, but I was forced to improvise. I asked on Twitter what people used their microwaves for the most, and here are my non-nuking strategies:

1. Heating/Reheating This is easily the number one thing people use their microwaves for. Reheating leftovers. And this was a really, really big one for me too. But, I have found there isn’t a single thing you can’t reheat in the oven, in a skillet or in a sauce pan. To avoid dry-out: on the stove top, add just a smidge of water or milk and in the oven, cover with foil. Also paramount to this method is keeping an eye on the food. Don’t get distracted with other chores, it’s way to easy for things to start sticking to the pan or burning. For just heating up foods, say, from a can, I just plop it into a sauce pan. We eat a lot of canned food, too. I mean, we don’t have a microwave, but we’re not crazy.

2. Thawing It’s so much easier to plan a dinner at the last minute when you have the option to quick-thaw meat, soup, bread, veggies, whatever it is. Thawing is really pretty simple though, even quick-thawing. For meat, I place it in a bath of cold to lukewarm water (hot will encourage bacteria to grow), then swap out the water a few times as it cools. Meat will thaw in less than 2 hours this way. I know the safest way to do this is to thaw overnight in the fridge. This is for really desperate times, and good quality meat. Typically I get it pretty well thawed, then throw it back in the fridge until cooking time. The water bath method will work for soups, stews, broths, etc. For bread, I wrap it in foil and put it in the oven on a low temp for 10 minutes or so. For veggies, I either steam them, or use a skillet/sauce pan. This usually takes less than 5 minutes. Sure, not as quick as a microwave, but quicker than the leave-it-out method. I used to thaw Bowie’s baby food in the microwave, and I’m still using veggie purees sometimes. I just use a double boiler method, and it works perfectly. Just put boiling water in a large container, put your frozen puree in a smaller container, and dip it in the boiling water for a few minutes. BAM. Works perfectly for melting butter too.

3. Heating/Reheating Coffee and Tea I’m not a coffee drinker, so I don’t have any GREAT solutions for you. But, I know some people will add a little bit of boiling water to a cup of coffee to heat it up. A little watered down, but it’s warm at least. I do the same for tea. And I used to love making my tea in the microwave, because I had it down to a science and it came out ready-to-drink. With the boiling water method, you just have to be patient.

4. Microwave Bacon I am a big fan of microwave bacon. Less greasy, more crispy, OH YEAH. But, we’ve made some pretty amazing bacon in the oven. This is another one where you kind of have to keep an eye on it, but it’s totally worth it. And if you sprinkle some brown sugar on top before cooking it? HEAVENLY.

5. Drying a Cell Phone Not one of the answers I had expected to get, but a legitimate response, certainly. We too have been in the wet cell phone situation. But, what worked for us? A bowl of rice. Seriously. Take out the battery as soon as you can after the spill, bury the phone and the battery in a bowl of rice for 24 hours or so, and it should come out working fine. (Notice I said should. SHOULD. I’m not a cell phone technician.)

What else do you use your microwave for? Do you have any other recommendations for families that don’t have one?

10 Randoms

Because I’m too scatterbrained at the moment to pull together one complete post. And these also happen to be put together in a free association kind of way, no logical order. Enjoy.

1. Don’t forget, if you make and sell goods, then you can be featured on the SocialMoms Facebook page. Just email me a link for your store or product, and I’ll check it out! You get a full week with your product featured on the Shop tab. It’s great exposure! (Pssst…I am the moderator for the Shop page, so it’s kind of a done deal if you contact me, FYI.)

2. I need to hear from people who had a three year old that wasn’t potty trained yet. Just for my sanity. Because there’s only a tiny shred left. If I have to mop up one more pee puddle…  So, THIS is why God invented wine.

3. I kind of feel like I could be having PMS. Which would mean, period imminent. Which is great news, since I’m probably the most anxious-to-be-pregnant-again woman in the history of time. Wish us luck as we embark on this scary, exciting roller coaster ride.

4. I am over the moon that Jane Pratt is back in the saddle. Were you a fan of the magazine? Then check out her new site: http://www.xojane.com/.

5. Summer in San Francisco is cloudy, foggy and grey. It’s already mid-May, and we’re still having rainy days. I think our winter and our summer are going to blend together into one depressing, sunless season, completely bypassing spring. Though, at least we aren’t getting snow. Or floating away down the Mississippi river.

6. The preschool, God love ’em, is having literally their third bake sale SO FAR THIS MONTH this coming Saturday. I’m baked out, people! I didn’t even like it that much anyway, now I loathe it. At least I’m getting better at it, I suppose. And the school year is over in T-minus 17 days.

7. Speaking of baking, I had some zucchini sitting in my fridge, a recent impulse buy from our delivery service, and it was starting to turn. I have never successfully made a loaf of good zucchini bread, so CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. I made this recipe from the always lovely Smitten Kitchen, and it was pretty good. That one, I kept for us. The school got my mediocre carrot muffins.

8. Bowie is obsessed with Cars. And when I say obsessed, I mean OBSESSED. But, the resourceful little ball of adorableness doesn’t have an actual Lighting McQueen to play with, so he carries around any red Matchbox race car he can. And, he has dubbed some of his other Matchbox cars to be other characters in the movie. It’s amazing, his ingenuity. If only we could keep that kind of simplistic satisfaction as adults.

9. Can we take a minute to talk about the latest news with Arnie? It’s funny, I think when the news of his “secret baby” broke, everyone in California went, “Oh yeah, well that’s Arnie.” The rest of the world is shocked. His disappointed constituents? Well, we feel like we should have known it all along.

10. I’d love to tell you the miscarriage was a distant memory, but it’s not. I know I just wrote about how awesome I was feeling, but right after I published that post, I had a string of terrible days. I float back and forth between hope and despair, sometimes within a range of five minutes. People keep telling me that one of these days, the bad days will be fewer and farther between. We’ll get there.

Appetite

Right now, food and I are total frenemies.

I alternate between being completely famished and omg I will toss my cookies if I go near any food substance, and not much else in between.

When I’m hungry, I eat up all the good stuff I have stashed in the cupboards. When the hormones have me wretching, I can’t bear going to the store to get more food. Then I’m starving again, and I have to figure out what the heck to eat. Lather, rinse, repeat, for the past 2 weeks.

My morning sickness with Bowie was, though I didn’t know it back then, a COMPLETE WALK IN THE PARK. I felt queasy when I woke up, so I kept saltines next to the bed. I ate 2 or three of them, waited a few minutes, and went about my day. I was a little queasy until lunch time, but the mere thought of lunch didn’t make me want to throw up my saltines.

This time around, I am queasy when I wake up. Then my stomach decides that a small, bland breakfast would be ok. Then I’m queasy through lunch. In the afternoon, I’m so hungry I fear my stomach will eat itself. Then I’m queasy through dinner, but starving just in time to make the attempt to fall asleep. And “queasy” this time around is a lot more than my “queasy” of days past.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that means I’m having a girl. I guess the tale is that morning sickness isn’t that bad with boys, but with girls, you better hold on tight to that toilet, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, we’ll see if that is true. In the meantime, I sure hope this goes away during the second trimester like all the books promise.

One thing that is still like last time, when I am actually really, really hungry, this is ALL I WANT, NOM NOM.

5 Shorts

1. Yesterday I went to Target and thought while I was there I would try to find a new swim suit for Hawaii. My old one is weathered and…too small. So, it was in order anyway. The scant selection was terrifying, but I managed to find a plain black suit in a nice (flattering? maybe.) cut. That’s probably the first time in my life I thought I looked halfway ok in a swim suit, even counting my stick-skinny years.

2. On that same thought, my absolutely favorite pair of fit-me-perfectly-every-time jeans have a hole in the knee. Le sigh. Le sob. They are now hereby downgraded to my worn-in, comfy, patched-up weekend jeans. And it will probably be like, a year before I find a good pair again.

3. This was where I was going to talk about the great weather we’ve been having, but most of the country (including pretty much all of my family members) have not been so fortunate lately, with the snow and the cold and whatnot, so I will just keep my trap shut.

4. But seriously, it’s been awesome here.

5. On my never-ending quest to “sneak” good food into my son, I’m making this recipe for kale chips. He likes nori (sheets of dried, sometimes roasted, seaweed), and I figure this can’t be that much different. Here’s the recipe I will be using (I have not yet tried this out, so please don’t blame me if you try it and it sucks):

Kale Chips from an article in Real Simple magazine

Tear kale leaves into pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300 F until crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes.

The Aformentioned Lime Vinaigrette

By popular demand. (Ok, so just my mom asked, haha). An SF Wankel household classic.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)

2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar

a few grinds salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over salad/pasta/pretty much whatever you want.

I adapted this recipe from making this salad so many times (which is UNBELIEVABLE, make it NOW). But, I have also put it on green salad, quinoa salad, a whole bunch of stuff, it’s very versatile. I tried making it with lemons once, and I didn’t care for it, but some might.