Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Little More "Mermaids", A Little Less "Leave It to Beaver"

I fear that I may be giving you all the wrong impression. Yes, I can cook. Yes, I like to cook fresh, healthy meals. Yes, I made all of the recipes I've posted on this blog. 

But the reality is, the ballerinas won't eat most of them. The other reality is, when BSD is home he is the one who cooks. He's really good too. Better than me. Unfortunately, he's not home for dinner often enough.

So if this is the image of me you have imprinted in your mind...

You need to replace it. Because dinner around here looks more like this...

than this...

Sad, but true.

Just keepin' it real.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pennette with Swiss Chard Ragu

Tonight was the big night. It was the first night I actually harvested something more than an herb from the garden. I've been waiting to try this recipe from Mario Batali's new cookbook Molto Gusto that calls for one pound of Swiss chard.

I wasn't sure how much Swiss chard made up one pound, but the square of chard was exploding so I figured I must be close.

In case you're wondering also, it takes about 20 large Swiss chard leaves to make one pound. More like 25 if some leaves are just medium sized.  (The picture below is only about 1/2 lb.)

The recipe was super easy to make. Didn't require anything unusual except for maybe the pennette (baby penne), but you can use regular penne if you can't find it. (I could only find pennette at Trader Joe's.) And despite my initial worries as I was halfway through cooking it, it had great flavor.

Great flavor + cancer-busting Swiss chard = a winner in my book! 

The only thing I would do differently is reduce the amount of butter. It called for 4 TBL of butter. That's half a stick! It was definitely rich and creamy, but I think it would have been just as good with only half that amount.
Pennette with Swiss Chard Ragu
(adapted from a Mario Batali recipe)
Serves six
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, halved, peeled, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 pound Swiss chard, rinsed, drained, and trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
Sea Salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces (I am going to reduce this to 2 TBL next time.)
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound pennette (small penne) pasta or other small pasta
¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving

Combine 1/4 cup oil, onion, garlic and chard in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion and chard begin to soften, about five minutes. 
Season well with sea salt. 

Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the butter, stirring until melted, then season with pepper and remove from the heat. 

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Drop in the pasta, and cook until just al dente (done, but still firm). Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water to the chard, and stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated. If necessary, add a splash or two more of the reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce. Stir in the cheese.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.

 Buon Appetito!

Off to watch the American Idol finale now. Can't wait!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Eel Deal

I'm back with a little more motherly advice. OK, so you've had your spring/summer baby and your birthday parties are in the bag. Good going. You're on the road to easy street. 

Fast forward to 4th grade. The year of the animal research project. 

When your baby comes home shouting, "I chose an eel!" Don't roll your eyes and mutter, "what the heck were you thinking?!" be discouraged. An eel may be the most boring animal in the kingdom, but boring animal= not much info= easy research. You'll be done in no time. And then she can spend the rest of the week getting creative with her project. 

Instead of just drawing a picture of the eel in its habitat, she can get out the new basket of paints you scored at last weekend's rummage sale for $1...

and get busy painting....

and crafting and hot gluing in her artist studio until she's made a model like this. Extra bonus points if she's a ballerina because she'll have plenty of those lovely hair nets lying around to add authenticity.

And then, instead of making a ho-hum word search or crossword puzzle to teach her classmates about her animal, she can create a REAL game and call it, what else...

Eel or No Eel?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May Family Photos: Musical Chairs

I failed to get a family portrait in April. I was REALLY bummed to miss last month, but BSD was gone unexpectedly for the last few days of April when I planned to take the picture. 

Lesson to be learned? Take the picture EARLY in the month. 

Lesson I learned? Wait until the last minute.

Then force everyone to cooperate. 

Bribe them if you have to.

 During the last minutes of daylight.

On the last day that you'll all be together.

For the rest of the month. 

Then deal with the fact that you look like a behemoth in that shirt. 

That you thought looked cute. 
Until you sat down.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bye Bye Birdie

If you remember, I mentioned that our past gardens had been plagued by birds and squirrels. So far, I haven't seen evidence that we're having the same problem this year, but I am trying to be proactive just in case. 

My friend told me that her grandmother tied aluminum pie plates to the tops of her stakes to scare away the birds. I googled this idea, and found that it can be effective. I also read that other gardeners have been stringing up old CD's in an effort to keep birds away. It seems the birds don't like the noise, the movement, nor the shine given off by the pie plates or the CD's.

Thinking about these three factors, and because a large part of the enjoyment of gardening for me is simply spending time admiring how pretty the garden is, I came up with an idea that meets ALL of these criteria. 

Noise? Yes, a beautiful tinkling sound.
Movement? Yep.
Shine? Uh huh.
Pretty? Yeah, baby!

Living in a town full of junk souvenir shops can have its perks. It's super easy to get your hands on these capiz shell wind chimes on the cheap. So far it seems to be working. I haven't seen any birds hanging out in the garden. We'll see what happens when the itty bitty green tomatoes start ripening. *fingers crossed*

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finding Nemo and a Little of Myself Along the Way

One of my favorite weekend indulgences is to go yard sale-ing. When we lived in San Diego, my friend and I used to go all the time. Since moving to Virginia, um over EIGHT years ago, I stopped cold turkey. Not sure why. Maybe it just didn't seem the same without my partner-in-yard-sale-ing-crime. Maybe it's because I had two kids. Maybe it's because I never met an old chair I couldn't live without, and BSD would have shot me if I brought home one more stray wing back.

Lately, the whole family has been bitten by the yard sale bug. And I couldn't be more excited. Those old dormant feelings are stirring. As long as the sale is in our little neighborhood everyone is ready to roll bright and early. If it requires actually driving the car, BSD is not interested. Better that way, I guess. Then he can't give me stink eye as I'm off in the corner petting an old dresser, wondering how I can stuff it into the back of the car.

Since it's hard to sneak tables into the house without BSD noticing, I've been trying to curb my furniture fetish. Instead, I've been hunting for little oddities for the garden or accessories for the house. Some weekends have been epic while others have been complete duds. The thrill of the hunt is definitely an addiction. Kind of like my weekly visits to HomeGoods, only much easier on the wallet.  

So far, my absolute favorite yard sale find has been this old, craggy fish ashtray that I snagged for $1. At least, I think he's an ashtray. Whatever he is, he makes my heart sing. I think he could be a long-lost cousin of my new whale butter dish

I planned to hang him up somewhere in the yard, but he needs to be part of a grouping that hasn't presented itself to me yet. Maybe after a few more yard sales, he'll have some friends to hang with. For now, he's found a home at the end of the gravel path that leads to our back yard. Every time I stroll down the path and spot him, I can't help but grin.

What about you? Do you like to yard sale? Any favorite finds that make you giddy?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Smoked Sausage and Corn Frittata

* I have no idea WHY this post is showing up in all caps. It doesn't show up that way as I type or preview it. Aaaarrrggghh!

The other night we did not feel much like cooking. Instead of copping out completely, we turned to the Cooking Light 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Cookbook. For a few days, I've been telling BSD we need to make something with cilantro because it's growing like wildfire in the garden. 

We lucked out and found a recipe that called for 3 tablespoons of cilantro. Not enough to  make a dent in the plant, but enough to trim down the tops that could easily go to seed if we're not careful.

My expectations were low. I just wanted something we could throw together quickly and not gag on. Surprisingly, it was really tasty! It would make a great brunch dish served with fresh fruit and toast, but it also works as a light dinner in a pinch. 

Our only obstacle was finding a non-stick skillet. It seems our only non-stick cookware is a wok. BSD was about to use the wok when I grabbed the cast-iron skillet and shoved it at him. He was not happy, and I knew my butt was on the line if the eggs stuck like glue to the pan. I held my breath as the frittata cooked and let out a big sigh of relief when it slid right out of its cast-iron cocoon onto our waiting plate. Phew!

The best part was the thrill of using an ingredient that we had grown in our own garden. It was our first "harvest" of the season. Yes, I know it's only an herb, but, hey, it's a start.

Smoked Sausage and Corn Frittata


  • cooking spray (we just used a little butter)
  • 4  ounces smoked turkey sausage, quartered lengthwise and diced
  • 1 1/2  cups frozen shoepeg white corn, thawed
  • 1/4  teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
  • 1  large egg
  • 4  large egg whites
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3  tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided


1. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add sausage; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Stir in corn and, if desired, red pepper; reduce heat to medium-low.
2. Combine egg and egg whites in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Drizzle evenly over sausage mixture. Cover and cook 8 minutes or until almost set. Remove pan from heat; sprinkle evenly with cheese and 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro. Cover and let stand 2 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro. Cut into 4 wedges.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is it June 18th Yet?

I'm not quite sure the Little Ballerina is going to make a career out of dance. I'm thinking she may be better suited for boxing. You see, for the past two weeks she's been coming home from school with more "Yellow Days" than green ones. She even earned her first RED day for not listening during the library lesson. And not just one, but two in a row! The next day her behavior calendar was red also. This time the note read, "Please keep your hands to yourself." YIKES! Sounds more like a boxer than a dancer, doesn't it?

Her teacher now wants to set up a meeting with the guidance counselor hoping that she can provide us all with some "fresh ideas." Seeing as it's the end of May, and school is out in five weeks she better be pretty darn innovative. Because the Little Ballerina has already checked out for summer vacation. If she were still in preschool, she'd be done at the end of this week. This school year is dragging on too long for her. She told me, "I quit Kindergarten!"

I welcome the guidance counselor's ideas, but I can't get this image out of my mind.

Yep, Emma Pillsbury has ruined my faith in guidance counselors. I'm going to sit down in her office staring at her. Wondering if this is the moment she's going to bust out in song. Plus, I've spent the whole weekend trying to guess what song it will be. I'm thinking since she's freakishly shy that she'll probably just have this piped in through the speakers.

rocky theme song sound bite

And that is why I've been taking LB out in the early evenings and having her run the dunes in true Rocky fashion. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Square Foot Gardening: Is it the Answer to our Vegetable Garden Prayers?

We plant a vegetable garden every year. The first year we were off to a great start. We had a nice sunny location. The cucumber plants in the center of the garden grew so tall that we built a second level of trellising and watched those babies head for the stars. We thought we were going to climb those vines like Jack did. A week later a big wind storm blew through.  The cucumbers came crashing down committing suicide and killing everything underneath it.

The next year we had to relocate the garden. We built it up against the fence in the backyard. It seemed like a good spot. There was a sturdy fence for the vining plants to climb. The danger of another Cucumber Massacre was eliminated. So was the majority of the sun. The plants grew. They would flower. But the flowers would die off before any vegetables would emerge.

For two more years, we planted a garden in that spot. For two more years, we barely got past the flowering stage. When a tomato would finally make it we'd check it daily until it grew plump. "One more day!" we'd squeal.  We'd go to sleep dreaming of the Caprese salad we'd make with the juicy, red tomato and fresh basil picked from our very own garden. But we weren't the only ones watching that prize.

The next morning, as we walked the path from the deck to the garden, we'd find it. Our precious tomato lying on the ground a foot away. A carcass sucked dry. The squirrels (or birds) had beat us to it. Over and over we'd play out this same scene with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and cucumbers.

This year we stared out at our overgrown, dilapidated garden box. Ready to hang up our gardening gloves. It seemed pointless. Unless we wanted to become rosemary farmers. Rosemary had become our only friend in the vegetable garden.
But I just couldn't do it. I couldn't quit. I love watching the garden grow. I love making my salad with my own homegrown cucumbers. There had to be a better way.

And there is! 

I read a comment on my friend, Fawn's blog, about Square Foot Gardening. I checked the book out of the library and decided to give it a try. We found a new sunny location, built a new box, hunted down the ingredients to make "Mel's Mix" special soil, and planted our first seeds and plants on April 11th. And the results have been amazing compared to past years.

The zucchini plant was only 2 tiny leaves when I added it to the garden one month ago. Here it is today. It's already a monster!

The green beans planted from seeds are already finding their way up the poles.

The super cancer-busting Swiss Chard also planted from seeds look practically ready to eat.

We've already picked three strawberries!

And everything else seems to be thriving with the exception of the lettuce. Not sure what I did wrong there.
Some of the squares appear empty because they were only just planted with seeds this week. I decided to add in some flowers for cutting. We'll see how they fare. 

We seem to have solved two out of our three problems. We haven't done anything to keep the squirrels and the birds away, but we've taken away the fence the squirrels used for easy access. If need be, I'll read up on Mel's section about enclosures.  This is going to be the year we break our losing streak.

I can't wait for the vines to grow up and shake hands with their new friend!

How about you? Is anybody else growing vegetables this year? Any tips you'd like to pass along would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Slide Show Sunday: Mother's Day

For those of you who don't have children yet, let me give you a little advice. Have your kids when the weather is warm. 

I'm serious. As a mother of two winter ballerinas, I know what I'm talking about. If you have warm weather babies you won't have to clean your house only to have it destroyed two hours later by 20 wild birthday guests spilling juice boxes and smashing cake crumbs into your couch. You won't be stalked by a giant mouse as you eat overpriced pizza with 20 screeching party animals clawing at you for more tokens. 

By having your children when the weather is beautiful, you can save yourself tons of money and continue to let your dust bunnies mate. If you're really smart and have summer babies, you can have a free party at the beach. Easy Peasy. Done. 

Or if you have them in the spring you can do something really sweet like this...

It won't be free, but it will be a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for 20 kids to run around in the dark shooting lasers at each other. Where you can't take a single picture. Which will leave you without proof of what a great mom you were. And you'll wind up old and alone eating overpriced pizza on Mother's Day. Because your kids won't remember the $250 you spent on their parties each year.

No. Have babies in the spring so you can take funky pictures of their parties like this...

And earn bonus points by posting them on a blog like this...

Where people can see them. And will hopefully leave a comment. So your kids will have documentation of what a great mom you were.

And when they question you about why they're such great jugglers, you can remind them of this...

Yes. The mother who planned this birthday party at the strawberry field was genius. And since I have no pictures of the Little Ballerina's party at the germy indoor Jungle Gym, I'm going to tell her this was HER party. As soon as I learn how to photoshop her face over the real birthday girl's face in the candle blowing picture.

Oh, and one last bit of Mother's Day advice. Make sure you write a blog. And write posts about things that tickle your fancy. So when you open your gift on this special day, you will be pleasantly "surprised." (Thank you to my BSD and my ballerinas. I love him. But not as much as I love all of you. We need to give our new pet a name.)

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thank You, Jackie

My sister, Claire, emailed me this picture today. 

It seems there was a 5K race in the Philadelphia area today.

For pancreatic cancer.

I had no idea. 

Neither did Claire.  

But her friend, Jackie, did. 

And she ran the race. 

Wearing this sign on her back. 

For my dad. 

This picture touches my heart.

And at the same time,

Kicks me in the gut.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How to Install a Dash and Albert Rug as a Stair Runner

It turns out the Bloomin' Onion light fixture will need a conversion kit to make it work in the stairwell. And, of course, that kit is backordered until June. So it will be a while before I can hang that coconut disco ball and share it with all of you. Bummer!

While we're waiting, I'll go ahead and post the details about how we installed the Dash & Albert runner on the stairs. We really flew by the seat of our pants on this project because for the first time ever Google failed me and even a call to Dash & Albert customer service left me scratching my head.

Since we have no carpet laying skills nor tools we decided we needed to hire someone. Nobody (friends or professionals) was very confident in the idea. I kept telling them, "I've seen it done in magazines so it CAN be done!" We finally found a carpet installer (Todd) from Craigslist who seemed genuinely interested in figuring it out and doing a careful job. 

Todd brought all of his tools over and together we got to work. Because we didn't know what we were doing, it took us ALL day. I think Todd was a little afraid of me because he wouldn't tack a single step down until I gave him the official OK, the stripes are lined up thumbs-up.  Amazingly, by the end of the day, we were best buddies, sharing recipes and sob stories. He even taught me how to use his fancy electric staple gun.

OK, here is what we used:

1) Two 12 foot cotton woven runners from Dash & Albert (We have 13 stairs and this was just enough to cover all of them with no landing.)

2) 1/4 inch rug padding

3) Utility knife

4) Electric Carpet Staple Gun (We tried little carpet tacks, but they showed more than the staples.)
5) Carpet Stair Tool (This was used to tuck the carpet into the crease between the tread and the riser giving it a nice crisp look.)


1) Cut the rug pad the same size as the depth of each step and about 1 inch shorter on each edge of the width of the runner. This will allow the runner to lay nice and flat along the edges of your treads.

2) Center the rug pads on each tread.

3) Staple the pads to each stair tread. We used quite a bit of staples to make sure it was completely secure.

4) Because our top treads do not have an overhang where we could hide our staples, we started from the top step and worked our way down. Todd told me it is usually done from the bottom up, though.

5) Staple the runner to the under side of the top tread where it is not visible. (In our case, these staples are visible if you really look for them, but they are less visible than if you use carpet tacks.)
6) Pull the runner tightly down over the tread, step back and carefully check to make sure the stripes are all lined up perfectly. 

7) Use the carpet stair tool to push the runner down into the crease where the tread meets the riser. Check stripes again for alignment. 

8) Staple runner into the crease between the tread and riser so staples will not be visible.

9) Wrap the runner TIGHTLY over the tread all the way back to the top of the riser below. Check stripes for alignment.

10) Staple runner against the very top of the riser where it is not visible.

11) Continue doing this until all steps are covered.

Special Notes of Interest:

1) If you need to cut the runner (we did), use a utility knife and leave enough extra to turn the edges under 2 times so it will not fray. You will need to plan carefully where to cut so that you can hide this edge on the underside of a tread.

2) These cotton runners are VERY stretchy so you will need two people to really pull it taut before stapling. 

3) We did not staple the runner down onto the stepping surface of any of the treads. This was done for aesthetics and to protect the runner from additional staples that could damage it. The runner does wind up shifting a smidge now and then, but it is easy to just readjust if necessary.

4) The runners are only about $118 each so it will not be a bank breaker should they need to be replaced for any reason. Plus with all the great choices available, it will be fun to replace it with different color combos once it wears out.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures to go along with these instructions. I was too busy helping install the runner to grab my camera. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Resolution #2: Check

I was searching online for a local photography class a new friend recently mentioned. I don't know what she was talking about because it's not listed anywhere on their site. Hate when that happens.

Buuuuuttttt, check out what I found instead....

Children's Picture Book Writing Workshop

This hands-on workshop introduces basic information about the craft of writing for children and will also delve in the business of publishing children's picture books. Participants will develop a picture-book manuscript, get feedback, and work to strengthen the story with revision. The workshop also provides an overview of the editing, illustration and publishing process. Students should bring their imagination along with their favorite children's book for discussion. 
A 6 week session beginning June 5
Open to: writers of all levels of experience 
I couldn't believe it. Months ago I searched for local writing classes and came up empty. Then, BAM! This bad boy flashes across my screen. You know me and signs. It must have been meant to be, right? What are the odds?  I mean, c'mon. I meet this new friend. I happen to ask her about her camera. She happens to mention these "mystery" photography classes. I happen to try to find them. The class session happens to start just when BSD will be starting vacation so I don't have to worry about child care. Blah, blah, blah.
The course description sounds comprehensive. I hope it's worthwhile. I've been hanging out on some really amazing writer's blogs (here, here, and here) so I'm feeling pretty smart that I know what's up. This will be me....
I'm going to know all the answers. I'll be the overachiever. I'm going to blow them all away with my brilliance and creativity. They're going to ask me to teach the next session.
Yeah, right. 
This is more likely....
I'll gather up my pathetic scraps of paper with ideas and quotes and slink into the room. Wondering who the other students are. What their "level of experience" is. Am I going to be the only one who's never completed a full manuscript? Do all of my ideas suck? Are they going to all head over to the coffee shop after class to listen to poetry readings, smoke clove cigarettes and laugh about "that mom who thinks she's going to write a children's book?"
At least I can complete the first assignment. There are a ton of picture books that I love. I just need to pick one favorite. Oh, and since I don't smoke, I'll get a cool beret so maybe my classmates will let me tag along after all.
Resolution #2: Check