Monday, January 21, 2008

the art of deception

My latest endeavor around here (and I need a new endeavor like I need a hole in my head) is healthier kid-food cooking experiments. I'm not into food and/or cooking really. Basically, I cook and eat so as not to starve. Unlike me, I have two mom friends who will claim that they are NOT foodies despite the fact that they have each started a food blog in addition to their regular family blogs. In conversations with them they talk about recipes and which stores have the best what and they experiment with dishes all the time. They are the ones everyone is glad to see when we have a potluck or cookie exchange party. So in essence, yes, they are foodies. And they don't lie well.

I really am a non-foodie, but I'll play one just for today in order to write this entry. I asked for that Seinfeld cook book on sneaking veggies into your kids' food that has been getting a lot of media attention, and John got it for me. The basic idea is you make lots of different veggie purees (fruit purees too but my kids already eat tons of fruit, so no problem there) and hide it in dishes they are most likely to eat.

There is also a lot of (stupid) criticism on the internet about this technique that goes something like "sneaking broccoli into brownies doesn't actually teach your kids to like broccoli." Yeah, no kidding, geniuses. The point, as I've taken it, isn't to substitute introducing and serving your kids traditionally prepared veggies by sneaking them other places, but to supplement those efforts. My kids aren't bad veggie eaters. They all eat carrots, peas, and green beans without any trouble. Erin and Kate love salad, Allison, not so much. Allison and Kate will munch on raw broccoli, Erin not so much. So, overall, for their age, not too bad I think. But they could stand to eat more and in fact we all could.

Some of my purees, separated into 1/2 cup servings in each bag and frozen, since that's what most of the recipes call for. I have beet, squash, sweet potato, spinach, carrot, and banana pictured.

The first recipe I tried was the Sloppy Joes, made with ground turkey and served on whole wheat hot dog buns, containing very finely chopped celery and carrot and red onion, and sweet potato and butternut squash purees (and some tomato paste and beef broth and seasonings). The girls never had Sloppy Joes before and thus had no basis for comparison, which works to my advantage. The dish turned out really well! I thought it was very, very tasty and ate two of them. All the girls were suspicious early on but they all finished their sandwiches and the only vegetable they detected was some of the carrot, which they like anyway.

I also tried making grilled cheese sandwiches (with sweet potato puree and grated cheese) which became a pretty gross oozy mess when cooked, not at all like a regular grilled cheese, and it totally flopped. No one would eat them. I sneaked pureed squash into a regular boxed mac n cheese mix for lunch which is the something the author did one day and gave her the idea to write this book. The color matches perfectly, easy success there.

Then I tried some baking: peanut butter & banana muffins (with cauliflower puree) and peanut butter and jelly muffins (with carrot puree). I don't like cauliflower and all I could smell while they baked was that. But after they cooled I couldn't taste any cauliflower, and neither could the kids. They each had muffins for breakfast yesterday morning, and later in the day as a snack too.

Then this morning I tried the pink pancake recipe (pink because of beet puree), served with raspberries on the side. The kids love pancakes and they all love pink, so I thought they would have fun with this:

The batter looks really chunky (and it was) because it has fresh grated apple in it. The girls were more hesitant to try the pancakes than I thought they'd be but once they took a bite they were all happy and everyone finished their plate. John thought it was quite good too. I thought the beet taste (another veggie I don't care for) was noticeable despite the apple and vanilla and some cinnamon in it but John said he couldn't taste any beets. Allison was just scarfing it down but stopped to say "cheese" for me, which makes it look like she wasn't enjoying it, but I assure you, she was. Another one I'll make again.

And for dinner tonight, since I have a sick husband and we had a lot of leftover chicken from last night, I decided to try the chicken soup recipe (with sweet potato and carrot puree). It called for alphabet pasta but I couldn't find any so I used "flower noodles" and "wheel noodles" which the kids already like. I was actually supposed to add cauliflower with sweet potato, but I thought it would work better with something milder so I substituted with carrot, which made the soup orangey but because the girls hadn't eaten chicken soup before, I didn't think it mattered.

They were really very hesitant to try this but as soon as K&A took one bite they pretty quickly finished a whole bowl and Kate asked for more. Erin kind of whined and fought her way through the meal but she had been whiny and testy before dinner already. She did end up eating most of it and John thought it was very good.

Overall I think that these recipes/this book is pretty great so far. I surely never would have thought to do any of this on my own. The foods from the book have been new but still a little familiar to the kids (pancakes, just a different color; hot dog buns, just different filling, but a filling that looks sorta like hamburger; muffins, but a new kind; their favorite noodles, in a new way). And Erin, who is our pickiest eater and traditionally the toughest to get anything past, hasn't had a clue that there were vegetables in anything.

There are a number of dessert recipes in the book (cookies, brownies, cakes) with hidden vegetables which I may try at some point but really the girls don't eat that kind of stuff on a regular basis, much to their disappointment. I'm fine with keeping chocolate cake just chocolate cake because it seems more worthwhile to me to have vegetable-enhanced options for things they can eat every day.

rainy day things to do

Long weekend, made longer by it raining nearly all day today. While John planned to work I planned on taking all of the girls to the nearest elementary school so Erin could practice bike riding on the large playground and the twins could play on the structures. Erin is really timid on her bike. She still has training wheels and John took her out to ride on saturday and he said she just goes so slow that she is nowhere near ready to take the training wheels off. I took her out to ride yesterday and she did start out very slowly, as in my normal walking pace was much faster than her riding pace, but then she did pick it up a little:

And a little while later she was going considerably faster. I think the problem is we don't take her out riding enough and she can't just hop on her bike and ride out front anytime she wants because our street is too busy. I don't know quite when things got so structured. Going out and riding their bikes (without helmets!) used to be something that kids just did. But somehow the idea of Erin just going on front and playing on her own sounds like a completely irresponsible thing to let her do, even though I used to do it (at age 5) and so did all of the other neighbor kids, and so did John.

So if we can get our act together and make opportunities for Erin to ride consistently I suspect the training wheels can come off soon.

But then John woke up this morning with a fever and it was pouring, so everyone's plans got scrapped.

It's not easy keeping the girls away from John so I decided to find something indoors but outside our doors and Chuck E Cheese is just a few blocks away. I suspected that every other parent in town would be there with their cabin feverish kids on this school holiday, but I couldn't come up with any better ideas. And I thought that if the whole town did turn up there then I'd at least run into someone(s) we know either from the twins' daycare, or Erin's school, or our playgroup.

Well, we didn't recognize anyone and it dawned on me later that everyone that I know is far too intelligent to go to C.E.C. on a rainy day off from school. It was crowded, really crowded, and very loud. And we had to wait to play any game or do any ride. And the line to tally up tickets and redeem prizes was crazy.

At this point I don't feel the need to watch Erin's every move and she doesn't feel the need to watch me. This CEC is one level and pretty small compared to others, so I gave her a cup with only a few tokens and showed her our table and told her to come find me when she needs more. She'd leave for 10 or 15 mins at a time and then return and that system was working out fine. Good thing, as it was a really, really full-time and tough job keeping track of Kate and Allison. One would dash off to this or that and I'd loose sight of them, instantly, in the crowd, and I made my way in the direction they ran while dragging a protesting twin in the other hand, who inevitably, always, wanted to go in the opposite direction.

When we got home K&A needed a nap, and so did I.

Friday, January 18, 2008


So, I think I dress my kids fine enough. I have no desire to have my girls look ridiculous. I would hope no one would but there is evidence to the contrary. I make them change before taking them in public when they've assembled their own way too interesting "ensembles". But, it's a fact that in 25 years they are going to look back at their childhood photos and be way less than thrilled at their hair styles and their clothes because everyone always reacts that way and, who knows, they may even react the same way that I do when I look at these, which is to say, they may nearly spit diet coke all over their monitors, and end up almost choking on it instead. It's just inevitable, isn't it?

The 1970s were universally unkind. I wonder if the oughts will be viewed the same way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

the non-sleep over

This past weekend I took the girls a couple of hours away to my buddy Susan's house. Actually, we went to Susan's mom's house. Susan's house has, according to her, a severe and hopefully temporary heating problem and a not-so-temporary clutter problem. She may kill me for writing that.

We had been talking back and forth for weeks about having a sleepover with all the kids, which is an idea her girls came up with, I think. My girls just adore, ADORE Susan's girls because they are smart and cute and loads of fun but more importantly, they are older (9 and 11), and therefore they possess an irresistible combination of qualities--they can do critical and mysterious things like safely use sharp knives, operate the microwave, pour liquids without spilling them, and reach things on upper refrigerator shelves like adults can, but they won't tell my girls to eat their vegetables or clean up their room.

Then to add to the fun and chaos and reunionish aspect of the weekend, Trish decided to fly up to join us too. Growing up, Trish and Susan and I were inseparable, until high school graduation when we went to three different colleges in different areas of the state to study three different subjects and enter different careers. And, as a group, we are currently geographically challenged. But we're always in touch to some degree and even when many months go by without seeing each other, when we finally do meet up again and even before any drinks are served, we can pick up right where we left off. That's a great and rare thing.

Leigh Ann and Lauren conspired and planned and shopped and had a whole list of things ready to do to keep everyone entertained. So we all arrived just after lunch, (later than scheduled, as Trish and I were each delayed by a frustrating and unsuccessful cheese ball search. The closest thing to the original that I could find is here . Cheetos apparently discontinued its original product, the one that used to be a staple at our sleepovers 20 years ago, so did Planter's, and the three of us didn't get that memo.) That's ok. We found a new, slightly different sleepover staple--margaritas.

L&L, the little cruise director/girl scouts, took control of my girls and started the activities immediately. I can't remember what they did first. I think it was some stencil drawing, followed by fingernail painting, followed playing dress-up, followed by cookie making, interspersed with Kate and Allison getting on Rusty the Dog like white on rice. And that was all before dinner. Everything that L&L planned was a huge hit.

After dinner the energy level subsided somewhat. The girls watched a video for a while and then finally and altogether too late, crammed into the big girls' room and crashed, leaving us in the living room, still drinking, and yakking about old times and new plans and old news and new, ah...concerns. And we may have stayed up too late ourselves.

If ever there was a morning that I would have appreciated the girls sleeping in, this was it. And with all the activity of the day before I had my hopes up but I think being in a new environment was counter-productive to sleeping well, or late. "Late" being 7:30am. Nothing doing.

In the morning came the vital introduction and instruction on yardstick use. Trish actually brought a wood yardstick on the plane with her for this very important purpose. When we were kids and used to spend the night at Trish's house, her mom got out a yardstick and hit and chased us with it to get us up in the morning. This may or may not have been part of the reason why we usually chose to crash at Susan's house during those years.

Leigh Ann gave it a try on her mom as Trish coached her.
"Ok, that's good, but don't only swat her bottom, you have to poke her in the ribs, too, and be sure to yell 'Get up!' 'Geeeeeeeeeeet up!' at the same time!"

Trish was a fine instructor, though I must observe she lacked the intimidatingly frustrated voice of her mother that not only having six kids, but also having their annoying friends sleeping over creates.

Ah, the memories.

The morning was busy with more dog fun, more crafts, and some hair braiding.

The girls had a fantastic time, until nearly lunch time when I absolutely had to leave to make it back home for Poppy's birthday dinner that afternoon. It was sad to have to go as our time together went by so quickly. We weren't two minutes down the road before the girls started asking when they would see Leigh Ann and Lauren again, and, because like all successful sleepovers it was decidedly lacking in sleep, we were not ten minutes down the road before they all dozed off.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

saved by a blizzard

So, we had this ski trip planned. Erin was going to be out of school, holidays were over, just after new year's was the perfect time to go skiing for a few days. Trouble was, there hadn't been a whole of a lot of snow so far this winter and just as I considered cancelling our reservations, I learned that a large, multi-day snow storm would hit during the time we were going to be in the mountains.

Some people, other people, crazy people, wimpy california "I felt a raindrop! Are we stocked up on our emergency food supplies?" people, think it's a bad idea to go to the mountains during a storm. I don't get that. I like to ski, I prefer to ski on snow. Fresh snow is the best and the storms bring the snow. So.....what exactly is the problem? You might have to put chains on? With a SUV that's really unlikely anyway. I ALWAYS used to go to the mountains when I knew a storm was coming and I've had so, so many fantastic days skiing on uncrowded slopes in those conditions while most people stayed home. So we went.

The storm was predicted to start on wednesday night, the night we arrived, but that got pushed back to thursday morning and then thursday night. Here were the conditions right outside our condo on weds night: not a lot of snow to be had, but the kids were still happy to see it and enjoyed playing for a while before dinner.

Thursday the twins went to snow play daycare at the ski resort and Erin did a full day of ski school, and John and I got to hit the slopes together. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but there were some strong winds at the top of the mountain, closing a couple of lifts and therefore limiting the amount of the mountain that was open. And the thin snow cover made the skiing conditions, well, really less than stellar. At one point John went over a rock that took a huge chunk from the bottom of one ski and having to travel through some gravelly snow near the bottom took all the wax off of mine.

Still, some beautiful views up there, and Erin had a great day in school. She was all smiles and said she had a fantastic time and she was so proud of herself because her teacher reported that she would be moved up to the next skill level when she returned the next day.

Especially after experiencing the conditions on thursday (John and I dropped off our skis at the repair shop that night) I was really, really looking forward to this storm. Everyone on the mountain was talking about it and we saw the dark clouds roll in from the west later in the afternoon. I was looking forward to hitting the slopes early and enjoying all of that fresh wonderful powder on friday morning.

When we got up and looked outside instead of tons of fresh snow on the ground, it was raining. I called the ski resort (a critical 2-3 miles uphill from the condo) and they reported that it was snowing there and they would be open for business. So we got everyone fed and dressed and got there bright and early and witnessed the snow just dumping down. It was fantastic! But when we got inside we learned that the whole resort was closed for the entire day due to the weather--the winds made using the lifts too dangerous. Never, ever, ever, ever in 30 years of skiing have I seen a whole ski resort close during a storm. It was no longer a "storm" by the way, it was officially a blizzard with winds gusting at 90 - 100 miles an hour over the mountain ridges, and all the resorts in the area closed.

So we went back to the condo to find it still raining there. And there we were...couldn't ski, couldn't even go out and play in the snow since there wasn't any near us, and the kids were getting a horrible case of cabin fever. Periodically the rain turned to snow but it didn't stick and it usually quickly went back to raining again. Ok, coming up here was a really bad call on my part. Maybe we should have stayed home. After all, no one knew if the ski resorts were going to be open the following day either.

Then at about 4pm, just as it was getting dark, it began snowing, HARD. We went out to dinner at about 6 and by that time there was a good 4-5 inches on the ground. The kids loved it.

Kate spent a lot of time just watching where her totally submerged in powder feet should be, as she trudged along. Allison loved knocking all the snow off a bench or ledge. Everyone loved throwing it up in the air, and tasting it.

Saturday morning it was still snowing but the winds had died down and the ski resort was open again with FOUR FEET of new snow! We took the twins back to daycare and Erin opted to ski the day with us and though it was snowing, hard, all day, she was well bundled up and had a great time, spending the whole day out with us and gaining confidence. She can turn, she can stop, she can get up by herself when she falls. She did great and we were really, really proud of her.

The snow was FANTASTIC--I can't emphasize that enough. When John and Erin headed in for lunch I took a couple of runs down one of my favorites, the double black diamond mountain face. This cracks me up--the sign at the top of that run and the cluster of skiers that collected there contemplating their fate as they looked down the slope:

I want a job making smart-assed signs at a ski resort, I've just decided.

On my first run down the face I saw a ski patrol woman, pulling one of those sleds used for taking injured skiers down the hill. Her partner was a good 100 yards down below her and as she was making her way down and turned one way her sled slid down to the side of her which caused her to loose her balance, her skis dug into the powder and the sled swung around and now rested over the snow which was over her skis. I stopped and thought "Damn. If that was me, I don't know how I'd get out of that." And she reached for her radio to call her partner. She didn't know I was there and no one else was on the slope with us.

"Need some help?" I called out. "Oh, thank god, YES!" she said. "Get below me, dig in hard and catch this thing!" Below her I laid against the mountain and held the bottom of her sled as she disconnected from it. Then I had to slowly slide down the hill about four feet, while holding this thing that felt like it was made from concrete, to allow her to get her skis out. And somehow I did and she did. All connected again, she was thankful and told me she was training to ski with a sled and still needed some practice.

Later in the day my final run was down this same hill and the visibility became horrible. I couldn't see 5 feet in front of me but could see to my right for quite a distance. But there were trees to the right and skiing alone, in deep powder, in the trees can be dangerous. I could get trapped in a tree well and John would be left alone to potty train the twins. He'd be pretty upset. So I quickly traversed through the trees and onto another slope.

A shot of Erin jamming down the hill, and Kate after we picked up the twins at the end of the day.

This is my car in the center of the photo. We hadn't moved it at all since arriving because the condos had a shuttle to run us back and forth to skiing and out to dinner. Poor John dug it out sunday morning. He tried to bribe a guy with a snow blower to come do it, but his snow blower "broke" and he'd "be right back". Uh huh.

On the way back home we stopped at a clearing to let the kids play in the snow one last time. We were at about 3700 feet here. Our condo was at 7000+ feet. Did I mention there was a TON of snow?

Notice Erin tearing down someone else's snowman in the video background. Allison was VERY serious about snowman-making and stuck with that project for most of our stop. Kate really loved trudging around and making new footprints.

And so, instead of this huge! monster! collossal! blizzard ruining our trip, it actually made our trip totally worthwhile. And I maintain that stormy days are the best days for ski trips.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

psssst, don't tell PETA

In this family, December carnivorous feeding frenzies at Grandma's house, I mean, family bonding opportunities while dining, don't stop with Christmas. Sydney's 18th birthday was the 26th so we all gathered for some of Syd's favorites: Grandma's famous breaded/baked chicken and mashed potatoes with loads of homemade gravy, followed by angel food cake.

Kate was enjoying her cake and ice cream and didn't really appreciate being interrupted to get her picture taken.

Then the next day we returned to Grandma's for John's birthday dinner, consisting of his favorites: surf and turf and double chocolate cake. Such a mound of giant, steamed, sliced crustaceans I've never seen before. Except for the last lobster-fest at Grandma's.

Evvvvvvvvvvvveryone loves chocolate cake.

Following the week of excess we really should have spent most of the weekend at the gym but I think John and I were just happy to have nowhere to be and nothing to do for a couple of days and we spent as much of the weekend as possible exercising inertia instead.

A couple of random cute photos: Kate and Allison walking Kate and Allison, and Max with Kate.

On sunday evening our distinct lack of purpose was interrupted by the girls playing in their new Dora playhouse in the twins' room and Erin's face somehow managing to meet Kate's bed frame with a great amount of force. After cleaning up an impressive amount of blood from her face I decided that Erin was going to need her first (three, as it turns out) stitches in her lower lip, so off to the minor injury clinic in the ER we went.

This was taken the next day, the swelling has gone down quite a bit. She's doing fine.

We leave tomorrow for several days of skiing. Be back with some great photos (hopefully) next week.