Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chemistry and Blood!

Please understand that I flunked high school chemistry.  Well, I would have flunked if not for it being an elective so I could drop the class with no fuss.  And I did drop Chemistry.  Because even with tutoring by a multitude of smart friends and working my butt off I had an F in the second week of the second six weeks. (That was a mouthful wasn't?)  Not a high, it might round up to a D with a miracle of a curve grade, but a kiss your freedom goodbye, you are grounded until death F.  Why does this matter?  Because now I like Chemistry.  Not the college level if you mix it wrong the science lab will burn kind, but the teaching kids about basic reactions type of Chemistry.  As an adult I now understand that everything in life involves Chemistry.  Cooking, laundry, cleaning are all a matter of Chemistry.  I point all this out to my children because I want them to be interested in the world around them and how it works.

Today as I drove to pick up Twin A and B from school the nurse called me.  Really?  Fifteen minutes until the end of the day and someone is in the nurse's office?  At least that is what I said on the inside as I answered the phone.  Twin B had  been in her office for over 20 minutes with a raging nose bleed.  The kind that takes forever to stop and grosses out all those witnessing the event.  You know, the kind that loves to mess up expensive school uniforms through no fault of the bleeding victim. Well by the time I got there he had stopped bleeding and all was well with the world.  Cool beans, no doctor visit and I get to chat with a friend. 

Once we were home I asked for the bloody clothes to be brought into the laundry room and then proceeded to show Twin Bloody a neat Chemistry moment.  Hydrogen Peroxide will attack the proteins in the blood and start working instantly on the stains.  Now to me that is cool.  The little bleeder took one look, gave me the stink eye and headed off to forage for a snack before tackling homework.  Kids.  They have no sense of wonder. 

I hope your week is full of awesome Chemistry and no blood.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Not One of Those Days

"One of those days."  We have all had them.  The car won't start, a child throws up on the way to school, the dog uses your new shoe as a chew toy.  It is easy to focus on the daily frustrations of life, the things that go wrong, the tragedies on the news, the ills of the world around us all.

 But there is more than pain and frustration in our lives and we need to actively seek the moments of peace and joy.  Sometimes we need to turn off the television and the breaking news of our computer and look for those examples of God in our ordinary moments.  The Bible is full of extraordinary miracles delivered with grand gestures.  The parting of the Red Sea, Manna from Heaven, the birth of Jesus and his resurrection.  One of my PRE students once said that God doesn't perform miracles like that anymore but I disagree.  Perhaps they are not as dramatic but I see little miracles all the time.

 I never planned on having children, did not like kids.  Now I have three and they have changed my life in ways I could have never imagined.  They make me laugh with their humor, they awe me with their growing knowledge about the world around them and they bless me with hugs and kindness when I am ill or sad.  For me this is a miracle.  That God would change my very nature is a miracle. 
My husband is from Honduras and I am from Louisiana by way of Germany and several North American states.  Yet we met in south Mississippi.  That is a miracle.  My eldest child has grown out of food allergies and Epilepsy.  Another miracle.  My twins were born five weeks early with dire warnings of death, mental retardation and long hospital stays as being very real outcomes.  They are healthy, bright boys who went home with me and needed no special care while in the hospital.  God's grace in action.

But sometimes we have to look at the more mundane aspects of our lives to see God's goodness or everyday miracles.  Hitting all the green lights on the way home, catching the scent of the first rose of the season, a great test grade in a challenging class or picking up the phone only to hear the voice of a friend you met over thirty years ago.  I believe these are all miracles, examples of the goodness of God who counts the very hairs on our head.  When we look for those in our daily lives we will see even more of them.  Ordinary miracles strengthen us, they nourish our souls and they give our life joy. 

I hope this week is spent seeing those ordinary miracles around you. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cooking through Cook's

I am  contemplating cooking my way through the” Cook’s Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking” book.  The primary issues are time and my innate inability to stick to a recipe unless it is baking and even then I fudge on spices.  If you have ever watched the Cook’s show you know they are a little snotty and do not approve of substitutions or deviations.  I understand their reasoning; they are trying to perfect each recipe.  I am not perfect.  My cooking is not perfect.  The only reason I am contemplating this is the desire to be a better cook.  After all, it is something I do every single day so I should be more knowledgeable than I currently am.   If do this I have to be honest and recognize my short comings, such as following verbatim the recipes.
 Case in point, tonight’s dinner of pot roast.  I will not print out their recipe due to copy write laws. (I like my house and don’t want to lose it anytime soon.)  I will tell you what I actually did when there are at least three changes in the recipe.  Cook’s does not like sirloin top steak.  It is tough and can be difficult to tenderize.  It can be used as a roast in a pinch though.  Of course my grocery store frequently puts it on sale, and with three growing boys, I love sales.  So tonight I had two slightly freezer burnt cuts of meat defrosted which totaled up at 2.32 lbs.  I decided to make (an approximation) of Classic Pot Roast.  Here is the recipe as I actually prepared the roast.

Two sirloin top steaks just over two lbs
Olive oil (to coat bottom of pan)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ red onion, chopped
3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tsp sugar
2 TBS Kitchen Bouquet
1 ½ c beef broth
1 cup water
7 small Yukon potatoes, chopped into ½ inch cubes
½ cup red wine 

This is not a walk- in-the house from work and get it on the table in 30 minutes meal.  Not even close.  Depending on the cut and size of your beef you need 3-4 hours cooking time, and that does not count prep.  Not time we have on most days but when you have it, this will produce rave reviews at your table.
I used my big Bertha Le Crueset Dutch oven for this meal so I could brown and cook everything in one pot.   Less cleanup time equals a happy me.  Lower your oven rack so the pot can sit in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  On the stovetop, heat your Dutch oven with just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom over medium high heat.  Pat the beef with paper towels and salt and pepper to taste before browning the beef on all sides.  Remove beef and set aside.  Add onion, carrots and celery, sautéing until just starting to brown or onion turns translucent.  Add minced garlic and sugar, sauté for about a minute.  The sugar is supposed to prevent the garlic from becoming bitter.  I have never tried that before but the meal was not bitter in anyway.  Add the beef broth and Kitchen Bouquet at this time, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  My mother introduced me to Kitchen Bouquet a few years ago and it adds a little extra to the flavor of beef.  Put beef back into the pot and add enough water to come up half way up the meat, for my dish that was about 1 cup of water. 
The next step was something I had never done before.  Cover the top of the pot with foil and then put the lid on tightly.  This ensures a complete seal creating steam in the pot to produce a tender roast at low temperatures.  Place in oven.  No, you can’t just walk away from this meal.  Now every 30 minutes you need to remove the pot from the oven and turn the meat over then reapply the foil and lid.  You are looking for the beef to become fork tender.  At two hours my sirloin was easily pierced by a fork so I took the pot out to add the cubed potatoes.  They are chopped fairly small, a trick I picked up from a delicious meal at a local restaurant a few years ago.  I flipped the beef one last time and put it in the oven for one more hour.  Are you done yet?  Of course not!   (Did I mention this is time consuming?)
Remove the pot from  the oven and transfer back to the stovetop.  Take the beef out and let it rest on the cutting board, be sure you have a way to trap the juices so they can go back in the pot.  While the beef rests bring the broth and potatoes up to a low boil.  Keep the mixture cooking for 6-8 minutes.  The purpose of this is to reduce the sauce thereby intensifying the flavor of the sauce.  Then add the red wine and cook down for about five more minutes.  Slice the beef across the grain which should be very easy to do at this point.  Place in a serving dish and then pour the potatoes and sauce over the roast.  Serve with a good bread to mop all those juices on the plate and a salad so you feel healthier.  I also made a side of mushrooms.  Yes it would have been much easier to just throw them in with everything else but somehow I gave birth to mushroom haters.  Bless their hearts!  So I make them on the side and then everyone can add (or not) as desired.  Here is that recipe.

One small package of baby portabellas de-stemmed and sliced. 
2 TBS reduced sodium soy sauce
2 TBS Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Place butter in a small skillet and melt over medium heat until butter begins to brown.  Add mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add sauces and cook for 3-5 minutes more.   Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy.  I can eat these all by themselves.  They would be great over a grilled steak or a baked potato.  

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  Now to peruse my cookbook for the next experiment.  Only 399 more recipes to go!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Smugness of Cooking

I love to cook.  Good food, sweet treats and fresh bread  The staples and comfort foods for my family give me pleasure.  Not everybody feels that way and I respect that lack of desire to cook, especially when it comes time for the cleanup after a particularly involved meal.

 Cooking is something that speaks of home.  No matter where you originated from, what religion you practice or don't practice, you probably learned to cook from a relative.  Our family teaches us their traditions beginning in the kitchen.  The holiday baking, the seasonal foods of passage, the splurges or economizing of the household.  They are our culture, our history and our pride.  My parents both cook and have shared their history with me through food as my husband and I do now with our children.  They taught me that cooking saves money, is healthier and if done with forethought, can save time. 

There is one thing they never told me.  Something your family probably withheld also.  Cooking creates smugness.  Think about it awhile.  Do you remember a glint in your grandmother's eye, a self-satisfied smirk on your father's lips, a sly smile as your mother accepted your effusive complements on your favorite dish made just for you?  Ahhh, you see it now, smugness!  Of course, being well brought up they would never admit to such a rude and base emotion.  But I experienced it again today.

It happened just ten minutes after I walked into the door.  In that short amount of time I had gotten the meat cooking for New Orleans Po Boys and the dough mixed and rising for my Baguettes.  Both of these are easy but time intensive dishes that come together for a hearty and satisfying meal that my family loves.  Twenty years ago it would have taken much longer to get to that stage in the process and there would have been flour over half the kitchen and on me.  Not anymore.  I am not a novice, scared cook.  I am a confident mom who knows where everything in my kitchen is and just how much I have of all my ingredients.  After the dough went into the bowl to rise on my dryer (thanks Annamarie) I caught myself smirking.  Smugness just oozed out of my pores knowing that this meal, although not done, will come together looking much more difficult than it was and with happy recipients.  In just ten minutes I had accomplished an everyday miracle.  Me, an ordinary stay-at-home mom, the miracle worker.  Smugness, yet another reason to cook. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

A New Beginning

How many times have we vowed to turn over a new leaf?  Sometimes we succeed and and all to often we slide back into the habit we are trying to rid ourselves of so desperately.  I am in the middle of such an effort.  My life has been an ode to procrastination.  Born two weeks late and consistently late ever since.  In college my roommates would diligently begin their papers soon after the topic was assigned.  I however, would begin the night before, or shall I say morning that it was due. A twelve page paper with bibliography and footnotes?  No problem.  Midnight was early enough for that 8 a.m. paper to begin.   A nasty habit to say the least.  Not one that I want my children to emulate. 

The change of my behavior began when the eldest was struggling in private school.  Because he had learning disabilities we could not wait until the last minute to complete assignments.  Things that should have taken 15 minutes could take hours depending on the day he was having.  Those habits were repeated with the twins.  As soon as something is assigned we begin the work.  My children are learning that breaking things down into daily steps makes for less stress the day before.  They already have better study habits than I did. 

With all those improvements you would think some of those good habits I instilled in my children would have worn off on me.  No. Such. Luck.  Procrastination was still my way of life.  But this school year is starting off differently.  It began with lesson plans for the first two weeks completed before the first day of school.  I am planning menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner a week in advance.  I have even put the menus, shopping lists and the family's calendar on a online program that everyone in the family can access.  Today the eldest and I finished school early because he had chosen to complete a couple of assignments ahead of schedule.  So instead of spending the afternoon in my abandoned craft room, I planned next week's menu and wrote up the shopping list.  After picking up the twins from school we headed off to the grocery stores.  Then home to put away groceries, and make tonight's dinner/tomorrow's lunch as well as breakfast.  I have a meeting tomorrow morning so I hope that by spending today doing the necessary things I will be able to enjoy a lazy Saturday afternoon.  Hopefully all will work as planned. 

I am enjoying the feeling of knowing what is on the schedule.  I almost feel "together".  And yes, I just knocked on wood after that statement.  Will this new found organization last?  I hope so.  But like I tell the boys, if we mess up today then we just start from the beginning tomorrow. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Risking Our Hearts

We had an eventful weekend, full of wonderful moments and sad endings.  Sounds like a metaphor for life doesn't? The little people got their first musical instruments and the ear torturing has begun.  Twin A chose the saxophone and B the oboe.  If you enjoy the melodious sounds of waterfowl and cats being tortured then the dogs want to trade homes with you!  Of course that would deprive us of the crying dog accompaniment in our orchestra.  The music store that rented the instruments from had a free clinic and concert with an amazing musician by the name of Brian "Breeze" Cayolle.  This gentleman from New Orleans plays the sax, clarinet, flute and piccolo.  After the clinic he performed with a band of three others and it was like being transported to New Orleans, one of my favorite places in the world!  The music had me dancing in my seat and Twin A came straight home and started practicing his sax.  Mission accomplished.  I want to expose the boys to what music can be this year.  Not just the computer generated or cleaned up vocals but really talented people who spend years perfecting their instruments  and technique.  People who say everything begins with practice, dedication, determination.  There are no shortcuts in learning an instrument and my boys need to learn that this carries over into life.  The concert made my husband and I remember traveling to New Orleans and listening to concerts before children.  Of course the sour attitude of the the eldest and his proclivity for picking fights with Twin A brought us back to reality before we even got out of the parking lot.  Kids....

Sunday started off on the wrong foot with an odd dream that brought me to full alert at 3:00 am.  That combined with a migraine set the tone for the day.  After attending mass we went to a local park for a mini concert and a Food Truck Rodeo.  It was a lovely break in what is normally one of our busiest days of the week.  Sunday is no rest day at our house unfortunately.  The concert got rained out so off to home we headed.  Darling husband skipped his last soccer game so he could take the short ones to their scout meeting thereby allowing me to stay home and sleep off the migraine.  I love my husband.  While he and the twins were shooting the homemade 2 liter bottle rockets at the scout competition my only job was to take care of Wings, a baby bird we found three days ago.  He had been in really bad shape when we found him and I did not expect him to last 24 hours.  But yesterday we saw a huge difference and Twin B, who discovered the bird, got to name him.  Wings looked like he?she? would become at least a temporary member of the family.  And then while the boys were away the bird died.  A horrible jerking, spasming death.  And so I sat.  Looking at the tiny little body and dreading my children's homecoming.  The eldest was upstairs and I told him first and that was awful.  As expected from a huge animal lover he took it very hard.  Then the boys came home and I broke the news to them.  They cried most of the evening. 

Sometimes being a parent stinks.  Last night was one of those times.  I love the giant hearts of my children.  They have such good intentions and they tried so hard to do everything asked in the care of this bird.  We had long discussions about why they could not hold it, and love on it even though we all wanted to so badly.  We had talked about not imprinting on the baby and preparing it to be released back into the wild when the time was right.  We had discussed the difference between what we wanted and what was the best for a wild bird.  And they had obeyed, putting the needs of Wings before their own.  And then the bird died.  Nothing we did changed the ending that was in sight when we found Wings.  And that is the essence of life.  We risk our hearts and take chances but sometimes it does not end well.  The lesson I want the boys to learn from this is that the risk of heartbreak is always there but we need to take those chances anyway.  For three days this bird was sheltered, fed and loved.  Three days it would not have had if B hadn't found it baking on that sidewalk.  For three days we made a difference.  And in life we need to take risks so that we can make a difference.  Each time we put our heart into a new endeavor we risk loss, but we also risk gaining love, happiness and blessings. 

Just as music requires practice, determination and dedication so does risking our hearts.  We have to practice opening them to the world and all of the potential disappointments so that our capacity for love can grow.  We have to be determined to make a change, however small, in the world around us.  And we have to dedicate ourselves to doing things for others even if it is not always convenient.  For it is through practice, dedication and determination that we hear that joyful music that is life itself.  And the orchestra of life is glorious indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Twin A:  "Mom, is our house a democracy?"
Me:  "No.  You live in a Monarchy, jointly ruled by the king and queen."
Twin A:  "Mom, what is anarchy?"
Darling Husband:  "The absence of a government."
Twin A:  "Can my bedroom be the home of anarchy?"
King and Queen:  "NO!" 
Me:  "However when you desire to live in anarchy you may get a job and move to your own address that you pay for with your money."
Darling Husband:  "You can live in the Kingdom of Far, Far Away when you get ready for anarchy."

And that is why it is good to be the Queen (and King)!