If you could have a cat-sized pet dinosaur…

Several years ago, I had a vivid dream in which colorful, miniature, tame dinosaurs walked about. It was as delightful as it sounds, and I was fairly disappointed to wake up to the reality that, of course, people cannot have tiny dino-pets.

 photo (3)

Still, one can imagine, right?

I asked my husband what sort he’d have.

“A T-Rex, absolutely.”

“Really? Don’t you think a cat-sized stegosaurus would be awesome?”

“Well, sure, of course, but that wasn’t your question. If I had to choose one, I’d definitely choose a T-Rex, definitely.  I mean, come on.  It’d be so boss.”

“Yeah, it would be cool, roaring around with his tiny arms.”

I’m still deciding.

How about you? If you could have a mini dinosaur as a pet, what kind would you have, and why?

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“The Summer of Mixed Drinks”

peach mojito

peach mojito

Back in June, I was chatting online with a college friend, and I declared that this summer would be the “summer of mixed drinks.” I tend to be a dry white wine kind of girl – sauvignon blanc, torrontes, unoaked chardonnay – but I do love the over-the-top, celebratory experience of a fancy drink. As I typed out the words to my friend, I began imagining all of the recipes I’d try, create, and enjoy in the steamy months of summer respite.

Yeah, big ole FAIL.

I’m staring down staff week in 6 days, and I have not concocted a single beverage worthy of a garnish. The last mixed drink I made was green sangria back in March. What happened? How can this be?!

It pains me to admit this truth, but the fault lies in my own audacity. Although I decreed that this would be the “summer of mixed drinks,” there was no goal or plan. I thought I could just say it, and then it would fall into place.

I failed to establish a SMART goal: specific, measurable, achievement-oriented, realistic, and time-bound. (Actually, depending upon what school system or business you ask, those letters might alternatively stand for criteria such as strategic, achievable, rigorous, research-based, etc.)

Whatever.  The point is, I disengaged entirely from my process mindset, and I lost sight of one of my summer goals for joy as a result.

And I can’t believe the irony.

My friend has been gracious enough not to call me out on the fact that I have dropped the fancy drink ball. (Darn nice of her, too.) But I can’t live with it. I feel like a flaky, under-achieving heel. I need to redeem myself, lest this become the “summer of NO mixed drinks.”

Tonight, I’m making these peach mojitos. We’re having fajitas and making the whole scene festive and delicious.

Lesson learned.

Cheers!

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She’s making a list…

Earlier this spring, I read The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande.  My brother recommended it to me, and I really “drank the Kool-Aid,” as they say.  I’ve been considering checklists in all areas of my life: at home, at school, for my kids, etc.  Now that we’re staring down a new school year, I’m particularly juiced about checklists.

My newest checklist is a complicated one, containing several moments of required discussion among my family members.  Because simplicity is essential to success, I’m still refining this Getting Ready for School list, streamlining it to improve efficiency and accuracy.  And interestingly, this checklist requires the generation of several straight-up lists (of the non-check variety.)

To explain, let me first say that my children are fascinating, creative, brilliant, energetic, passionate boys, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about who they are.  That said, they are not exactly “typical” children.  We need an inordinate amount of structure in our home in order to accomplish ordinary, daily tasks.  (Executive function is slim around here.)  And my younger son wrestles with sensory concerns that impact his eating.  Smells and textures are particularly overwhelming to my little guy, and the list of foods he will eat is minuscule.

For the past two years, he has been attending a tiny school where he had access to a microwave.  So I’ve been able to pack chicken, bacon, or pizza in his lunch.  But this fall, he’s headed to our neighborhood public school, which has a standard cafeteria situation – no microwave.  So we’re making a multi-categoried list of foods (that he will actually eat) that can be ready for consumption using ordinary lunch containers.  (As an aside, I totally lust after those PlanetBox containers, but I can’t bring myself to throw down that kind of money on something I don’t genuinely need, and I wonder how well it keeps foods hot.)

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  • Proteins and main dishes – almonds, chicken (if I can get a container that keeps it warm,) “cupcakes” which are actually muffins in which I have hidden Greek yogurt and pulverized fruits or vegetables
  • Breads and carbs – granola bars, pretzels, chips, corn nuts, popcorn, cereal
  • Fruits and vegetables – apples
  • Drinks – water, juice, milk

That’s it.

"Look, honey, he's eating something!"

“Look, honey, he’s eating something!”

I’d love some suggestions about containers that work well for transporting hot foods, containers for milk that don’t leak (for the cereal thing) and food options.  So please comment with your wisdom and creativity.  And I’m always looking for reading suggestions.  (Check out my recent reads here.)

Best wishes to all of you who are embarking upon a fresh school year!

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Penne Rosa with Italian Sausage

I’ve been home from my trip for almost two weeks now, but I’m still recovering from the awkward dessert encounter at the college cafeteria.  Therefore, we’ve been making lean meals around here.  However, I’m jonesing for some carbs at this point, so we cooked this tasty meal last night.  I was inspired by this recipe by Cassie Johnston because it looked so amazing I could almost smell the photo.

It was totally worth it.

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Penne Rosa with Italian Sausage

  • 4 hot Italian sausage links
  • 1/4 cup wine (whatever you’re drinking – red would be nice, but white works, too)
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 cups baby spinach
  • 16 ounces penne
  • 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 – 3 cups tomato basil sauce (depending on how “saucy” you like it)
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned, no judgment)
  • shredded parmesan
  • salt & pepper
  1. Remove casings from the sausage; fry over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to the directions.
  3. Remove the sausage from the pan and place onto a plate of paper towels.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping all the delicious bits from the bottom.
  5. Simmer the mushrooms in the pan, remove and add to sausage.  At this point, it may be wise to move the whole scene into a larger bowl and throw out the paper towels.
  6. Sauté the spinach and garlic for two minutes; remove, add to sausage and mushrooms, and remove the pan from heat.  You’re all done with that one.
  7. Drain pasta.
  8. Using the now empty pasta pot, simmer your sauce: mix the tomato basil sauce with the yogurt, add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and mix in everything you set aside earlier.    Simmer for about 2 minutes.
  9. Mix your pasta back into the pot.  Let everything return to bubbly and enticing, then serve with generous sprinklings of parmesan.

 

 

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“Tsk, tsk.”

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of traveling with rising juniors and seniors to several college campuses as a part of a program supporting families whose first generation will go to college.  It was an enormous undertaking for the administrators in charge, and I was pleased to go along for the ride.  (Read about my interview for this job here.)  We took 60 kids, 11 adults, and 2 tour buses, and we visited 3 schools, staying overnight in the dorms of a real university.  I packed shower shoes, of course.

It was a fantastic trip.  As I finished packing the night before, my husband put me in the college spirit by playing the soundtrack of our college years (listed in reverse alphabetical order): Warren G and Nate Dogg, UB40, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Salt-N-Pepa, Pearl Jam, Boyz II Men, Beck, Ace of Base … all the early 90s music that transports me back to those glorious, carefree days a generation ago.

I zipped up my 25-year-old floral Laura Ashley duffle, stuffed with four days worth of clothes, towels, sheets, and my Hoos blanket.  I was ready.

I’m not going to try to summarize the trip, because I couldn’t do it justice.  Suffice it to say that we all learned, grew, and changed, and I’m enormously thankful to have been a part of such a powerful experience for these students.

We did have our Griswold situations, however.  Like when the power went out in the campus library right before our college essay work session. Or when one school tour took two hours (100% longer than anticipated) and was immediately followed by a financial aid information session in which the speaker consistently referred to FAFSA as “fassfa” and many of our kids nodded off to sleep.  My favorite choice moments of the trip involved eating in the cafeteria, however.

I’m gonna lay it out there: the food was as disappointing as it was back when I was in school.  This was a different college, and many years later, but I guess some things are universal.  Anyway, I ended up subsisting on salad and dessert, for the most part.  The second night on campus, following the aforementioned info session, I decided to try my hand at the soft serve machine.  (Back in the day, I made perfect spirals with curlicue tips due to my substantial ice cream / frozen yogurt shop experience.)

“Tsk, tsk!  You sure you wanna do that?”

I turned around to see a tall, dark, and in no way handsome man smiling at me, displaying his seven or eight teeth.

“Oh, I love soft ice cream.  Why?  Is it not good?”  I inquired.

“Naw it’s good, but what will your HUHHHHZband say?”  he chuckled and winked disconcertingly.

What?!?  Wait.  What is happening?  Did that guy just insult my size?  And why is my husband involved here?  Did I time travel or something?  Permission for dessert?  My head is exploding…

I looked at him sideways, and as I proceeded to dispense the ice cream, he continued to describe a detailed vignette he had imagined:

“He gon’ be all, ‘you promised me you wouldn’t eat snacks and junk!’  So are you sure you really want that?…”  I walked away.

I returned to my seat, shared the story with other staff members on the trip, and we’ve all been laughing ever since.  Because no way that happened.

Also, I decided to keep a mental log of my food choices to share with my husband. Surprisingly, he had very little interest in what I ate on the trip.

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Three stores, a quattuordecillion dishes, and one fabulous summer dinner

As I was leaving to procure ingredients for tonight’s dinner, it occurred to my husband that I might not find turkey cutlets.  “I can make the same dish with chicken,” I advised.

“Yeah, but don’t,” he replied.

“Shrimp?”

“It’s all or nothing on this one, Annie.  I’ve gotta have me some turkey.  If you can’t get turkey cutlets, let’s have something else.”

And so began my hunting and gathering.  I went to my neighborhood grocery store, and went straight to the poultry section.  No cutlets.  I bought the ingredients for the back-up dinner: Zatarain’s red beans & rice mix and andouille sausage.  (You know that’ll be delicious tomorrow.)

Then I drove across town to the specialty grocery store (with the cheerful staff sporting tropical shirts) and bought everything I needed.

Except for a lemon.  “We’re out!” chirped the smiling young lady restocking produce.  Dag.

I drove back toward my house and stopped into a third store.  Lemons.  Yesssss.

My husband and I cooked together like we were newlyweds, using all the fun tools like the microplane, the juicer, the copper skillet, and pretty much all of our knives and bowls.  (Lots of hand washing tonight, but worth it.)

Cheers!

Creamy Lemon-Basil Turkey Cutlets

Creamy Lemon-Basil Turkey Cutlets

Summer Turkey Cutlets (with Creamy Lemon-Basil Sauce)

Serves 4, uses a whole mess of utensils and dishes, involves lots of “setting aside,” and really satisfies summer creamy lemon-basil cravings

1 tablespoon butter
1 sweet yellow onion, sliced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup flour
8 turkey cutlets
1 lemon
½ cup white wine
6-7 large fresh basil leaves, or more to taste
2 tablespoons cream

1 pot of mashed potatoes (however you prepare yours – I make mine with Yukon golds, butter, and cream while I’m cooking this dish.)

1. Salt and pepper the cutlets to taste, then dredge through flour and set aside on a plate.
2. Zest the lemon into a small bowl. Chiffonade the basil and add to the zest. Set aside.
3. Juice the lemon into a separate bowl and add the wine. Save for a couple of minutes.
4. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
5. Brown the cutlets in the hot pan, 1-2 minutes per side. Remove the cutlets from the pan. Wait for it…set aside!
6. Deglaze the pan with the lemon – wine sauce. Add back the cutlets and vegetables, reduce to low, and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until turkey is cooked through and veggies are tender.
7. Plate the mashed potatoes. Place the servings of cutlets and veggies onto the potatoes.
8. Add the cream, zest, and basil to the sauce. Whisk for a skinny minute, and then drizzle over the plates.  Serve.

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Yar Sale

yar sale

Eye patches? Peg legs? Doubloons? Jolly Rogers?

Arrrrr, I’m saaarrrry I missed it.

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5 of the Things that Delighted Me on this Summer Saturday

My family has convened for the weekend at my parents’ house, and I am filled with gratitude and joy.  Among the huge and tiny moments of inspiration are these:

1. Creamy Sriracha sauce at Subway  Y’all know I love me some sriracha.  Somehow, I didn’t know about this sauce’s existence, and it provided the perfect biting balance against the crisp cucumbers and warm, tender roasted chicken.  Awesome.

2. Free form building with Nanoblocks  We chose the Big Ben kit because it had the most variety in colors and bricks, and we built what we wanted.  These things are so tiny, it’s a bit like building with grains of rice.  Challenging, but satisfying.  And really, I got to spend some special time with my sweet, creative little guy.  I heart him so much!

Cool tower, bro

Cool tower, bro

3. Watching the pool action  My sister and my father competed in cannonballs and canoe racing.  My older son took a pool chair and a noodle to fashion an aquatic battle tank.  That child slays me.  Dag, I love my family.

4. Soccer trash talking  “I’m an impenetrable wall!  I’m titanium!  Your balls can’t get past my body!”  and “That was a good place you put your beer, Uncle Mark.  Our balls haven’t knocked it over!”

They played with two balls.

They played with two balls.

5. Beef Wellington  Yessssssss.

Update:  6. Forty year old port  Amazing.

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“It’s in the ‘freezes beautifully’ section of my cookbook” – Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

I might have to watch Steel Magnolias again, now that I think about it.  Anyway, my husband has been fighting off a bug, and he requested this dish tonight, which never fails to comfort.  It’s old-school, not so much healthy, and definitely not gourmet.  Super satisfying, though, so cheers.

cheesy chicken

 

  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cubed
  • 2 crowns of broccoli, trimmed into very small bits
  • 1 cup of uncooked rice (which you will cook, but I’ve never measured the rice afterward…)
  • 1 6-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • about 2 cups of shredded cheddar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat, so the crust looks super-brown here)
  • salt, pepper, and paprika to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9×13 casserole dish.
  2. Cook the rice, then spread it in the bottom of the dish.  Throw some salt and pepper on that layer.
  3. Steam the broccoli for about 2 minutes in the microwave.  It should still be firm.  Place the florets across the rice so every bite will have broccoli.
  4. Mix the soup and yogurt together, then spread a moderately thin layer over the broccoli.  Season with paprika.
  5. Boil or sauté the chicken, strain, and place evenly across the layer of sauce.
  6. Melt the butter in a small skillet and brown the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re totally moist. Set aside for a second.
  7. Spread a layer of cheese on the casserole, then top with the breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes.  “Freezes beautifully.”
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Situations Indicating that You Have Chosen the Wrong Check-out Line

I got in the wrong line again yesterday.  I was taking my kids to stay with my parents for a few days, and we stopped at a grocery mega-store to pick up a bottle of sauvignon blanc to bring.  Like a rookie, I had promised the jaunt would be fast, even though keeping such a promise would not be within my control.  Since the wine selection was organized neither by varietal nor by region of origin, it took us a few minutes to find the particular bottle.

Then we headed to the check-out lines.  The first three were congested two-deep with folks buying full carts-worth of groceries, so we proceeded on to find a quicker option.  I settled on a line I thought would move quickly: two men in front with just three items, followed by a lady riding a mobility device who had five items on the belt.

Wrong.  One of the men pulled out a CHECKBOOK to pay for the groceries.  My younger son asked me what was happening, and I was almost too stunned to explain the anachronism.  Fortunately, the lady’s transaction did proceed quickly, and despite being carded (with my grey hair and fairly big children) so did mine.

The checkbook got me thinking: how can the savvy shopper know if he’s chosen the wrong line?  And so I shall describe the following situations indicating that you have chosen the wrong check-out line

  • You’re behind someone who is sick.  You cruise behind the one person in a line and smile as you put your items down.  Then you notice he’s buying anti-diarrheal medication and Gatorade.  Or she’s wearing pajama bottoms, buying tissues, and coughing.  Of course, the cashier will have to scan these germ-riddled items, then he will handle your items.  So wash your hands, take a vitamin, and pray, because a storm of misery is headed your way.
  • Your cashier is in training.  Invariably, you, or the person in front of you, has a bounty of gorgeous, unusual produce, and the new cashier is frantically spinning the laminated cylinder of codes and calling out to the veteran cashier for help.  And the folks behind you are sighing, shifting from one hip to the other, and jostling their carts dismay. Patience, people – everyone has to start somewhere.  Still, you might want to choose another line with your jillion non-barcoded items.
  • Your cashier is 15 years old.  I see this often when a thoughtful man rushes into line with a bouquet of flowers, a card, and a bottle of champagne.  (Or when it’s Tuesday, so I’ll need to pick up a bottle of white.)  Anyway, because the cashier isn’t legal to vote, much less consume alcohol, an override must be summoned.  It’s no one’s fault, but it’s time-consuming, and best to avoid if possible.
  • The patron next to you is nosey and judgmental.  “Don’t you know that Yoo-hoo is not even real milk?”  Look, thanks for your concern (unsolicited judgment) and I’ll keep that in mind (nope) as I shop in the future.  But even though our groceries are positioned on the belt for everyone to see, it’s still disconcerting to acknowledge that people are looking at them.  And, lest I start quoting Ludacris about my bisnazz, I’d advise you to keep your thoughts about my groceries to yourself.  I’ll make my own choices about food, politics, religion, and how I hang the toilet paper.  I love America.
  • There’s only one person in front of you, but there are three divider bars with separate groupings of items.  For a variety of reasons, folks sometimes need to make separate transactions.  But if you’re hoping for a speedy check-out, it’s best to look out for the lone shopper who’s about to scan her bonus card, slide her credit card, and sign a receipt several times in a row.

Of course, noticing these situations doesn’t necessarily prevent you from experiencing them.  Sometimes you get stuck behind a person who’s counting pennies.  Sometimes the register tape runs out, or the extreme couponer in front of you has a glitch on a sale item.  Sometimes, though, you get in a fast-moving line with a cheerful, adept cashier and a dedicated bagger.  And then you’re golden.

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