Summer Food

You know what I love about summer? The grill. I hardly even use the stove from June through September.

You know what else I love about summer? The garden. I love that I can just walk down the deck steps to the back yard and pluck some stuff off the vines to add to the dinner ingredients. The tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers went wild in our garden this summer and we are enjoying them as often as possible, knowing that soon, our supply will begin to die off.  (I say our garden and our supply, but really, Mark gets all the credit here. He’s got the farming instincts. I just like to eat the stuff.)

005bDinner tonight was simple. Just some chicken breasts sprinkled with some seasoning mix that I bought at the farmers market and some potatoes chopped up and mixed with onion, green peppers, some butter and salt and pepper. All grilled, of course, by me. (We have one of those unconventional marriages in which I am more likely to be “manning” the grill than he is.) Then Mark sliced a fresh tomato and we sprinkled the slices with grated parmesan cheese. He was practically drooling over the chicken and potatoes.

I love fall, but I am sure going to miss summer food.

 

Jake Cooks

I spent the weekend away from home, bowling in the Women’s State Tournament with a couple of girls from my Monday team and a few others from my Saturday league. Some of us got hotel rooms and spent the night. We bowled the team event on Saturday and then wandered into the bar where a d.j. was playing fun dancing music. We talked and laughed and danced until midnight. On Sunday, we bowled the doubles and individuals events. I bowled respectably, but more important, I had a great time.

But… the homebody part of me was anxious to get home when the last event was done. I missed Mark and Jake and the dogs and was ready to get back to my own bed. Mark called me from work just as we were finishing up the individuals event and asked when I’d be home. I told him I was getting ready to leave and after dropping Joan off at her house, I’d be home around 5:30.

“Good,” he said. “Jake will have dinner ready for you when you get there.”

I was momentarily speechless. “What? Jake made dinner?”

“Yep. I told him to get the corned beef out of the freezer and then I sent him to the grocery store for the fixings.”

“Jake went to the grocery store?” I was incredulous.

“Yep. And I talked him through cooking the meat.”

“Over the phone?”

“Yep.

“Ohhhh-kayyyyy,” I said. “Umm. Thanks?”

Jake cooked dinner. This would prove to be interesting because Jake doesn’t cook. I mean, unless you count melting cheese on a tortilla or heating pizza rolls in the microwave as cooking.

“Don’t you think having him cook corned beef as his first attempt at cooking is a little ambitious,” I asked Mark?

“I talked him through it. It’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“Okay,” I said in a most unconvinced tone. But I figured no matter how bad it was, I would eat it and I would be thankful because I wanted Jake to know I believed in his ability to cook.

When I arrived home, Jake was in the kitchen. He had the bread and sauerkraut on the counter.

“The Swiss cheese and Thousand Island are in the fridge,” Jake told me. “And I sure hope I did this right because trying to cook something by listening to Dad’s instructions over the phone is not the easiest thing in the world! He kept calling and telling me things he forgot to tell me!”

I peeked at the pot of meat and told Jake it looked right to me.

“You got the seasonings in there. Looks good,” I said. (The seasonings came prepackaged along with the cut of meat when we bought it.)

“Well, I didn’t know if those seasonings would cut it,” Jake said. “So I added some of my own.”

“You did? What did you add?” I was trying not to look skeptical.

“Some garlic salt and some red pepper flakes.”

“Red Pepper! Hmmm. Okay,” I said.

“Is that bad?”

“No! I’m sure it will be good,” I encouraged, trying to hide my worry.

Mark had told me he’d had a talk with Jake a few days ago about being more mature and responsible. He told Jake that if he was going to  continue living at home, at twenty-one years-old, (almost twenty-two,) he could pick up some bigger responsibilities around the house, like cooking. Honestly, I’d never thought to ask Jake to do any cooking. He’s never expressed any interest and quite frankly, I wasn’t willing to take the risk. But Mark decided to put him to the test.

Working in the kitchen with Jake to finish up the meal preparations, I realized we were having the most in-depth conversation we’d had in a long, long time. He kept expressing doubt that the food would be good and I kept telling him it looked great and I was looking forward to eating it. When the meat was done, I sliced a few pieces and tasted it. It was good! Jake must not have gone too heavy on the red pepper. I couldn’t taste it at all!

I passed Jake a slice of the meat and said, “Here, try it! You did good!”

“It’s kind of dry,” he said doubtfully.

“No it’s not, it’s just the way it should be.”

Not Jake's sandwiches but a close representation!

Not Jake’s sandwiches but a close representation!

We made up our sandwiches, Jake insisting that he didn’t want sauerkraut on his, and we sat together at the table to eat. Jake’s first home cooked meal was delicious and I very much enjoyed having dinner with my “quiet” child, just the two of us.

When Mark came home, he made a couple of sandwiches and agreed. The food was great!

When it was time to clean up the kitchen, Jake asked, “Do I get to play the ‘I cooked, you clean’ card, like you and Dad do?”

“Sure do,” I said. “You cooked. I’ll clean up.”

“Well, I sure hope you guys don’t think I should be cooking all the time now.”

“You blew it, buddy,” I laughed. “If you didn’t want to be asked to cook again, you shouldn’t have done such a good job!”

“Great,” he deadpanned, trying to look disappointed. But I’m sure I saw the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile that he was trying to hide from me.

He’ll be cooking again! :-)

Off to a Decent Start

Two days into January and I’m happy to report that I’m making good on all of my resolutions so far this year! I only hit the snooze on the alarm clock one time this morning. Resisting the temptation to give in to the desire for an extra hour of sleep, I ventured out from under a pile of warm blankets and warm dogs and braced myself for the cold morning air. I got dressed in my workout clothes, pulled up my hair, grabbed the iPhone and some ear-buds and drove off to the gym.

There is typically only a handful of vehicles in the gym parking lot when I arrive at 5 am. Today there were many more cars than usual. Normally, I recognize the same familiar faces during my early morning gym visits. Today there were new and ambitious faces. Said my friend Scott, who chats with me for ten minutes or so while he warms up on an elliptical near my treadmill before he heads off to the weights area, “It will be interesting to see how many of these people come back tomorrow or even next week.”

I knew he was probably right in his expectations but I secretly hoped that the New Years Resolutioners would stick it out. I remember how hard it was for me to keep going back at first. Some sort of encouragement would have made it a lot easier. I think everyone should have a friend at the gym to help keep them motivated. Maybe there should be an online service to match people up with a gym buddy. You know, you never feel as awkward trying to figure out how to adjust a foreign piece of weight training equipment when you have someone there to feel dumb with you or to laugh with you as you give it a go and realize just how out-of-shape certain muscles are.

 

I'm here to PUMP you UP!

I’m here to PUMP you UP!

 

I didn’t run today since I’m still nursing a pinched nerve or muscle strain or whatever it is in my back that I am impatiently waiting to move on. So far the ache has only moved down the back of my leg. But it felt good to move while I was moving, even if it felt tight and painful again as soon as I stopped. I hope I’ll be running again soon. And since I’ve yet to try out my new racquetball racquet, and since my pal, Lori just got one for Christmas, we’re both anxious to get back to our new sport.

As for doing more reading, I read a good bunch of a new book before going to sleep last night. My blog pal, Kimberly McKay recently published her second book, Facing Redemption and kindly sent me a copy to read. So far, I’m loving it and plan to post a review here when I’ve finished reading it.

And I cooked! Well, technically I cooked. As we drove home from our joint chiropractor appointments this evening and spying the golden arches, Mark said, “Should we just swing through McDonald’s and grab something to eat?”

“Eh,” I said as he turned the corner.

“Do you want McDonald’s,” he asked?

“Not really,” I replied and so he drove on by.

At home, without a meal plan and it already being dinner time, I offered to make pancakes. He turned me down. I offered to make omelets. He turned me down. (All this turning me down and yet he offers up no suggestions as to what he would actually like to eat. Typical. And what is wrong with breakfast for supper? I love breakfast any time of the day!)

But since Mark was turning up his nose at all my ideas, I went to the downstairs freezer to browse the selection of foods within. I spied a container of White Chili that I’d made and frozen a while ago. I hollered to Mark, “Do you want chili?”

“I would eat chili,” he agreed.

“You’d better,” I warned him! And so I cooked heated up the chili, sprinkled on some shredded cheese and added some heat and eat dinner rolls smeared with butter on the side. And it was way better than McDonald’s, I’ll just say.

Two days down. Only 363 to go!

Messin’ Up the Kitchen

You know what I’m really bad at? Keeping a regular schedule. Life would probably be so much easier if I just scheduled regular times in the week to do household chores, plan a menu and go to the grocery store, or check in with my parents. I don’t check in on my parents often enough. And how hard could this possibly be? They live on the next block! But I think there’s some flaw in my genetic makeup that contributes to my habit of flying by the seat of my pants. I can’t tell you how many times there will be a thought in the back of my mind to get something taken care of , but I simply choose to ignore it because … I don’t know … because I’m either mentally or physically exhausted or maybe because I’m just that lazy. The flip side of this problem, though, is that I work well under pressure. I get things done best when there’s a sense of urgency.

I have the best of intentions to change my ways. It just hasn’t happened yet. There’s always that sense of guilt that accompanies the knowledge that I’ve sort of dropped the ball again. And I always vow to do better from that point forward. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all the things that I wish I could.

And so what happened on Friday is so very typical for me.  I was at work when I received a text message from my sister saying that we should probably talk soon, and seriously about our parents. My mom’s ongoing health problems are simply not going to get better. She has bad days and not so bad days, but she never has really good days anymore. Getting a full breath of air is a thing of the past for her. And as a result, she is often dizzy, sick, and utterly fatigued. Running errands, keeping house and cooking can seem like such daunting tasks for her.

My sis and I made a quick agreement to get over to our parents’ house this weekend to help take some of the weight off Mom’s shoulders. I had a quiet weekend ahead anyway, what with the kids back to school again and Lucy Pie healing from her hip surgery. Normally Friday nights are my lazy nights. I usually read or watch a movie and then do chores over the weekend. But since I had just agreed to squeeze in extra activities, I tackled as much housework as I could so as to free up some hours on Saturday.

I was up early on Saturday morning with the Girly Pies. I took them out in the backyard first thing, then passed out meds and treats and filled their food dishes. I did a few more of my own chores then before showering and heading over to Mom and Dad’s house to do whatever was needed there. My sister arrived not long after me and we were able to pare down Mom’s to-do list pretty quickly.

When Mom asked Dad what he wanted for lunch, he asked what the options were. She informed him that there weren’t many. The cupboards were getting bare. I remembered then that I had really been slacking off on my resolution to cook more and make enough to share with my parents. Even cooking on a regular basis is sometimes just too much for my mom.

I ended up running to the local McDonald’s and picking up sandwiches for everyone. Yech! That was motivation for me. As soon as I got back home, I started planning a menu and making a grocery list. It was a dreary, rainy weekend anyway. If I was going to be stuck in the house because of the weather and a recuperating dog, I might as well cook. My parents were my main motivation, but this would benefit my own family as well. Try as I might, I just cannot seem to get into a good routine of cooking. If I manage a home-cooked meal two or three times a week, I’m lucky. So while I doubted I would soon turn over a new leaf and start cooking every night, (I’ve proven myself incapable time and again,) I knew I could do a whole buncha cooking all at once.

I broke out the favorite cookbooks, checked the freezer to see what I already had on hand (lots of ground beef and lots of chicken,) paged through the cookbooks to find the tried and true favorites and whipped out a list. (Go figure. Having a grocery lists makes the shopping so much easier and cheaper!)

I started last evening with the family favorite Sloppy Joe recipe. I made four pounds of this – some for Mom and Dad, some for us, and some for the freezer (at Kacey’s request.) Next I made a big pot of White Chicken Chili, again dividing it into three portions. This morning I made a couple of meat loaves and a big pot of traditional chili and some cornbread muffins. And if my enthusiasm holds out, later on today I’ll make a big pan of lasagna to split with Mom and Dad.

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Yeah, so these aren’t the healthiest of meals, but they’re home-cooked and can be frozen for later use, so that’s half the battle right there. I may have bad habits, but at least I’ve figured out how to capitalize on at least one of them. And we’ll be eating happy this week!

Granola Galore!

I was trying to figure out, does the granola I make taste so good because I make it myself? Or is it really just that good?

I just wanted to make something healthy for myself to eat for breakfast. A friend had mentioned she made her own. She explained that her homemade variety had much less sugar than the commercial brands. That appealed to me and I figured if she could make her own, I could do the same. I bought a few ingredients and then looked for a recipe that fit the things I’d purchased. (I’m a little backwards that way sometimes.) I found one that worked, modified it to suit my own tastes and it turned out good! It was kind of pretty to look at too! I ate it for breakfast for a few days and decided it really was that good. Way better than the store-bought kind.

Heather tried it when she and Brad were here for the weekend and she loved it. I decided to make some for her to take back home. And then I realized my own batch was gone, so Sunday night I ended up making my third batch of homemade granola that week. Mark called home from work and asked what I was doing. When I explained about the granola he asked, “You’re not taking it all to work, are you?”

“Um, yeah. I was planning on it. Why?”

“I liked it. It’s good to snack on. Can you leave some at home?”

So that’s why it had disappeared so quickly!  I told Mark I’d leave some home for him. And before I could take my own container to work the next morning, Kacey poured herself a bowl and ate it before leaving for her own job. Who would have thought that my family of junk-food lovers would get so excited over my “healthy” food?

I’ve since replenished my supply of ingredients. Now Mark wants to know if I can make it into bars for easier snacking. Clearly I’ll be making more and doing so often!

Bake and stir and bake some more…

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (or cashews or slivered almonds or a mixture of whatever nuts you like)
  • 3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins (or golden raisins or dried cranberries or a combination any of these)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

Mix in the raisins after the granola has cooled.

Pour in a bowl. Pour in some milk and enjoy!

Learning to Relax

A few weeks ago I realized it was time for a change. I was at the end of my rope, due only to self-imposed expectations. Years ago, early in our marriage, I developed a need to clean the whole house every weekend. It wasn’t so difficult when I was home all day every day, but I carried that expectation on even as I went back to work full-time. Even as our kids got involved in sports and we sometimes spent entire weekends at some gym or ball field cheering them on in tournaments.

I realized recently that no one is making me do this clean-the-whole-house-in-one-day thing. It’s just me. I’m the only one who cares. No one else looks at the house the same way that I doAnd I was making myself crazy because every weekend I would waste precious free time and beautiful days stuck inside, cleaning. And I was making everyone else crazy because I was playing the martyr, refusing to delegate tasks and generally spending my weekends in a crabby mood. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t allow myself to do a little bit this day and another little bit that day. It all had to be done at once.

For years this went on to the point that I began to dread weekends. I would talk about this to my friend, Lori at work, and she would ask why I thought I had to clean every week. I didn’t have any good answers. I don’t judge family and friends by the state of their homes. In fact, I feel more relaxed in the homes of people where things look a little more comfortable and lived in. Lori asked why I was holding myself to a higher standard and I couldn’t give her a good reason. And what really gave me a boost is when Lori said, you should see my kitchen. It’s always cluttered unless we’re having company.

I thought a lot about what Lori said and realized that I am tired of wasting precious weekends trying to get the house in a state that isn’t going to last more than a couple of days anyway. We have people coming and going at all hours in this house. With all of our varying schedules, with all of the kids’ friends coming and going all the time, the place just isn’t going to stay pristine. And maybe that’s why the kids’ friends like to come here. They know they can relax. They know they can go to the snack cupboard and help themselves. They know they can rumple up the living room in an evening and it’s okay with me.

I still want my house clean every week. I’m just going to teach myself to do it in phases. One thing this day, a couple of things the next. I’m going to remember to delegate a few things. And if there’s a little dust on the end tables, well, no one but me is really going to notice anyway. I mentioned this new plan to my mom, and she good-naturedly teased me. “Good luck with that, Sweetie.” She can laugh, but I think I can do this. Of course I’ll still do the cleaning frenzy thing when company’s coming, but I’m really going to try hard to make more of my weekends.

So I’ve managed to get through a couple of weeks with this new plan and new attitude and you know what? Weekends are fun again. I’ve found time to be with friends and family. I’ve found time to read. I’ve found time to soak up a few rays out on the deck. And I’ve found time to cook – really cook. Not some whip-it-together kind of meal, but an all day, relaxed preparation kind of meal. I’ve realized that doing fun things on the weekends is much more fun when I’m not mentally reminding myself of all the work that awaits me at home.

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Yeah. I think this is good.

Food is Love

Somewhere in my upbringing, I must have picked up on the belief that food equals love.

This weekend was one to have all of my kids at home, a make-up for two weekends ago when a winter storm kept Brad and Heather away. I took the day off on Friday so that I might prepare for this special weekend. There were things that needed doing, things like cleaning house and picking up my daughter from school. But top priority on my to-do list was grocery shopping. I simply felt that I couldn’t adequately welcome my kids back home without a well-stocked refrigerator and cupboards. I also wanted to have all of the ingredients to make the foods my kids were craving and had requested that I make for them sometime over the weekend.

My day began early on Friday. After a visit to the gym, I showered and dressed and then proceeded to make a grocery list and clip coupons. At the grocery store, I filled a cart to the brim with all the things on my list and then some. I got it all home and put away just in time to go pick up Kacey from school.

It was a beautiful, sunny day on Friday and the drive to and from Kacey’s school was pleasant. I enjoyed having one-on-one mom and daughter time in the car on the way home. And once we were back home, it wasn’t long before Connor arrived and the two of them hung out with me for a while. Kacey helped me out by making the barbecue sauce for the ribs Brad had asked me to make. When the sauce was done, I covered the ribs and wrapped them in foil. They went in the fridge to marinate overnight. Before long, Kacey’s friends, home on spring break, were beckoning her and Connor to come hang out. I agreed that Kacey could go, only because I still wanted to clean house and it would be several hours before Brad and Heather arrived anyway.

It was a quiet afternoon and early evening, but as I did my cleaning and prepared dinner, I thought how the quiet wouldn’t last. Soon Mark would come home from work. Soon kids and dogs would descend upon the tranquility and stir things up good. And they did. We had a late dinner on Friday once all had arrived. The kitchen was a mess as I had been busy preparing baked fish, sauteed zucchini, tossed salad and biscuits for a full table full of people instead of the usual two or three of us. Everyone gathered round the table to eat together and catch up with one another. All of those surfaces I’d spent the day cleaning and decluttering were soon cluttered again with car keys and phones, water bottles and various belongings. And I didn’t even mind. My kids were home. Everyone helped clean up afterwards and afterwards everyone found a place to lounge and wind down for the evening.

Saturday morning came early. Lucy was too excited, wanting to play with her pal Dacotah to bother sleeping in. I let the dogs out in the back yard and prepared to watch the chasing games begin. But they never did. Dacotah was ready to run and play, but she couldn’t get Lucy to engage. Dacotah would try to wrestle with Lucy, and Lucy would just roll over on her back. She would roll around on the ground a bit, but she wouldn’t run.

When the dogs were ready to come back in the house, I noticed that Lucy wasn’t racing up the deck steps, full speed ahead like she normally does. She took the stairs slowly, almost gingerly. She’d been doing this off and on for a few days but I’d thought maybe she’d just pulled a muscle racing around the yard like she always does. Now I was getting worried. If she wasn’t keeping pace with Dacotah, something must be wrong.

Neither Mark nor Brad thought anything serious was wrong and both suggested I wait until Monday to go to the vet, but I was worried. Mark must have been more worried than he let on too. While Heather and I went to a class at the gym, Mark called the vet. They had limited Saturday hours, but had an opening at 11:20 and could see Lucy.

I showered after the gym, then went with Mark and Lucy to the vet. We explained why we thought something was wrong. She’d gone from being fast and fearless to slow and careful. We explained the biggest red flag being the fact that she wouldn’t play with our son’s dog. Mark explained how Lucy has a habit of sleeping, curled up so tight in a ball that she must be stiff and sore when she awakens. He described her ability to lay flat on her belly with her front legs straight out in front of her, and her hind legs stretched out straight back. Maybe these were reasons for whatever was ailing her.

“I’ve never seen a dog do that before,” Mark said.

The doctor checked out Lucy’s feet and toes. He studied and felt her legs and knees. She never once whined or yelped. Finally he said, “I don’t believe there’s anything wrong in her feet or legs. Her knees are fine.” He hesitated then before saying, “I think it’s her hip.”

I felt a mild panic when he said that. I heard the words Hip Displasia in my head. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but had heard enough about it to know it wasn’t good. I assured myself, though that I was overreacting and doing so too soon. And then the vet said those words. He said, “Not all dogs who can stretch out as you’ve described have Hip Displasia, but most dogs who have Hip Displasia are able to stretch out that way.

“I’m going to take Lucy for an x-ray,” the vet said.

While my dog willing followed him out of the room, I googled Hip Displasia on my iPhone and learned that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Lucy had it and that there were several forms of treatment including surgery. Still, I was keeping my fingers crossed that it wasn’t that.

Unfortunately, the finger crossing didn’t do much good. The vet and Lucy came back and it was confirmed that she has Hip Displasia. This condition, according to Wikipedia, is an abnormal formation of the hip socket that, in its more severe form, can eventually cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints.

I could feel tears beginning to sting my eyes. I know there are some who might say she’s just a dog. But she’s not just a dog to me. She’s the one who is always there for me. When I come home, she greets me as if I’m the greatest person in the world. She snuggles me when I need snuggling and she keeps me from feeling alone and lonely during those times when none of my people are around. She makes me laugh and she loves me. I love her. It makes me sad to think of her in such pain. And she was in obvious pain.

So, we were given options for treatment. Some of them are expensive. We have some thinking to do, but I’m thinking it won’t be a tough decision. We’ll figure out a way to make our puppy-girl feel better. The vet gave her some anti-inflammatory medication and said she should be feeling better in a day. She’ll need to take the meds every day, at least until we decide what course of treatment to go with.

When we came home we told the kids what was wrong. Of course they wanted to know what Lucy’s options were. As we talked about it, Mark made a comment that made me think he’d prefer to take the least expensive route, which means Lucy will eventually suffer more than she is now. With that thought in mind, tears threatened to come again. I escaped to the lower level of the house before anyone could notice. But I didn’t go unnoticed. Brad came downstairs behind me and wrapped me in a hug, saying, “Don’t cry, Mom. She’ll be okay. It’s not like you’re losing her.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m worried that Dad doesn’t want to spend the money to help her. I can tell she’s in pain and I feel so bad. Everywhere she goes in this house, even to get to the yard, she has to travel up and down steps.”

“You guys will do what she needs,” Brad said. “I know you will.”

I didn’t know, but I felt a little better.

Brad said the ribs I’d made for him for lunch were delicious. I didn’t notice. I felt like the vet’s news had put a damper on the day.

This morning, Mark said to me, “So we need to figure out the best way to pay for Lucy’s surgery, if that’s what we decide to do.”

I felt way better then!

Brad and Heather were the earliest risers this morning. While they pampered the dogs in the living room, I prepared the biggest breakfast possible. I made bacon, scrambled eggs and hash browns. There was cinnamon toast too. We sat at the table enjoying the kind of breakfast I rarely allow myself to enjoy. Jake and Kacey slept through it all. I knew they’d rather sleep than eat.

Besides, by the time Kacey finally greeted the day, I was already on my way to making the Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder she had requested. It was done cooking just in time for her to have some for lunch.

Too soon, it was time for everyone to go back to school again. That’s always the hardest part of a visit. But Dacotah going home meant Lucy would settle down for some much-needed rest. And Kacey returned to school, only for a week. Spring break is next week, so she’ll be home again soon.

I’d better make sure I get that refrigerator stocked up again!