Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Letter To My Oldest Daughter On Her First Day Of Kindergarten

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

Shakespeare was onto something when old Polonius was doling out parental advice to his son, Laertes, as he’s about to embark upon a journey to satisfy his young man’s education in Paris: Keep the aphorisms short and sweet, lest they be ignored. On the eve of my eldest child’s commencement of formal schooling, I feel the need to share a few thoughts. She may not stumble upon these words until much later in her life. Maybe they’ll serve as a refresher for us both, somewhere down the line and act as a guide as she leaves home to begin full-time school.

My Dear Daughter:

Congratulations! You are about to start a new chapter in life. You’re five-and-a-half.  Things may not feel different from day to day, but pretty soon a majority of your day will be spent away from home; away from your dad, sister, brother, and me.  Instead, for most of the day, you’ll be with a teacher and other kids your own age. The next twelve years will be a primer for life.  Welcome to “Society 101.”  You may not be outright excited at this moment, “I want to stay home! Home is better!” but I am excited for you!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: nothing you do in Grades 1-8 really matters..at least not on paper. They don’t start keeping score until High School. Of course, your Dad and I will never tell you this, but it’s true. You could take a nap all the way up to 8th grade, turn it around in High School, and go on and lead a perfectly successful life.

Still….

It’s your choices in life that matter.

Choose wisely, choose fearlessly, and choose often.  Sometimes you will get second chances, but such opportunities are never guaranteed.  Just focus on what you can control, ignore what you can’t, and make choices you can stand by.  I have no doubt you will do this.  You wouldn’t allow others to choose for you, and we’ve known that for a while.

From the time you were two years old, you have gone forth and forged your own path. Here’s an example: about 3 years ago, I signed us up for a Mommy-&-Me ballet class in the rich neighborhood of town. All the little girls looked downright precious in their tutus and slippers, and the teacher was so sweet and flexible, considering the age cohort of 2-3 year olds. While the other girls dutifully followed the instructions of the teacher, I watched as you ran serpentine around the studio and swung upside down from the barre for the duration of class. We quit ballet after the third week.  This was an early indicator of your feisty nature.

I’ve pored over many an internet article titled, “Raising Your Headstrong Child With Love” and looked into “Taming the Spirited Child Without Taming Their Spirit”. You know what, though? None of those labels matter. You are strong-willed, inquisitive, and blunt (but in a good way). You would make an excellent lawyer someday, although you say you want to follow in your Grandfather’s footsteps and join the medical profession as a “Broken Bone Doctor.” On the eve of your entry into formal schooling, you have room to change your mind. Your Dad and I are here to support you.

That being said, all the support in the world can’t keep you from making mistakes.  It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, I hope you DO make mistakes. Screwing up is part of life.  It’s the only way to learn new things. I grew up in the era of parents who believed in Self-Esteem. This was (in hindsight) a well-meaning social experiment played out in the aggregate, the results of which were mixed at best and social corrosive at worst.  Parents inflated their children with constant, empty praise all the while protecting children from experiencing failure.  Every parent thought his/her child was “so smart,” and never hesitated to holler it from the rooftops for the most fleeting and banal of reasons. This is not a path we will walk with you. You have true gifts.  On their own they will do nothing and take you nowhere.  Combine them with your dynamic personality, fuel them with hard work, and you could literally change the world.  The teachers you will meet in the years to come can point you in the right direction, but no one can walk the path for you (no matter how smart you are).

And you are smart, kid…but there’s a lot more to life than just smarts.  Be kind to others, always. You may only be five, but there will be many children whose paths will cross with yours, and some of them have been through things no child should ever have to go through. Demonstrate compassion. Your peers may not remember every lesson they learn in school, but they will remember every single person who treated them with kindness.

I love you, and I am here for you every step of the way for the next twelve years. You will always be the rainbow jewel of my heart.

Love,

Mom


Blue Apron 39: Za’atar Spiced Eggplant & Squash Pitas w Cucumber-Squash & Tabbouleh

I’ve figured out the precise scent combination of “generic suburban pizza parlor”. Generic suburban pizza parlor, of course, was THE place to be at age 13 when all you wanted was to hang out with friends, play arcade games, and watch WWE on the big screen TV while drinking a Suicide from the soda fountain. Go heavy on the Dr Pepper and Diet Coke for the optimum ratio of disgustingness.

It is…oregano + roasted sweet pepper.

This is exactly what my kitchen smelled like upon preparing this Blue Apron dinner, one of the final ones in this “learning to cook” series. Blue Apron claims this meal was complexly seasoned. I’m going to have to disagree, I thought this dinner was bland. Filling…but there wasn’t much going on in the flavor department.

Blueapronpita

The filling of the pita consisted of roasted squash, eggplant, and tomato (which I went off-recipe here and  roasted the beautiful beefsteak tomato Blue Apron sent because I’m still uncomfortable eating raw tomato). The veggies were topped with a lovely Tzaziki sauce and sprinkled with Feta cheese crumbs. I ended up modifying the Tzaziki sauce from a previous Blue Apron recipe by adding garlic paste and lemon juice because it gave this much more flavor than the yogurt and cucumber alone Blue Apron was suggesting. That would have been even more boring than this already ended up tasting!

A cucumber divided: one half to the yogurt sauce, the other half to the filling

A cucumber divided: one half to the yogurt sauce, the other half to the filling

I am not a tomato person, but I will give it to Blue Apron for sending a beautiful specimen of fresh Beefsteak tomato. This is not the kind of tomato you will find in a grocery store.  I chuckled at the Big Mac box style packaging.

more like beefcake tomato

more like beefcake tomato

This dinner was healthy, 540 cals per serving, and this is what we all need right now. I’m actually impressed that the kids didn’t complain about eating this one either. They were enthusiastic and ate a decent enough portion that I might feel confident in saying this could be something I’d could for them again, but I just don’t know. Maybe it was the very blandness of this that didn’t cause them to put up a fight over dinner tonight.

The Pita Bread Blue Apron sent was fresh and tasty. Maybe I’m not a fan of sweet peppers in general. Give me spice. Take us out of suburban blandness and liven things up. For sending a meal my kids didn’t put up a fight over, I’ll give Blue Apron 2/5 stars on this dinner.

Blue apron sweet pepper image

As I near the grand finale of my learning to cook experience, I’m mentally making a tally of the best recipes I’ve cooked with Blue Apron. While I don’t think this one makes the Top 10, certainly not the Top 5, I feel like I’m a much more confident chef from where I started out 6 months ago. Cooking meals for my family has become NBD. No Big Deal. My children don’t complain, “eewww, not MOMMY’S cooking”  as much anymore. At least, not on a nightly basis. Teaching myself to cooks is still a work in progress. But Progress has been made. My cooking, at this point, is at the least…somewhat edible.

blueaproneggplant

blueaproneggplantpita


Places Google Maps Has Sent Me: Lottie’s Kok Cafe, Hammarstrand, Sweden

hammarstrand

hammarstrand

Are you so reliant upon technology, you need a “smart” phone to dictate your every move? Does GPS more closely stand for Going Places Securely, else you end up lost, alone, somewhere along the Rio in Tijuana? Well, I am you and you are me and we are all together. If this is indeed the case, you may be familiar with the occasional glitch in the matrix that happens when you type your intended location into a MapApp –  be it Google, Bing, Apple, whathaveyour device –  and you end up someplace completely different from where you mean to go; as in thousands-of-miles-away-on-another-continent-different.

I think this is fun!

This accidental happenstance has brought forth a new blogger-ary adventure series called “Places Google Maps Has Sent Me”… because, honestly, life is too short to actually go the places you’re supposed to.

What is the thought process behind choosing a vacation destination? Travel and resort marketing professionals must have a better insight into this, but I want to know why people jet-off to the places they choose for a holiday, when not visiting family or friends. A totally solo venture with you or a partner/travel buddy. What exactly is it about a location that draws a person for R&R, sight-seeing, or broadening their cultural horizons? Do you spin a globe and declare, “wherever my finger sticks, there, with the grace of God go I.”

When I think back to my wild, child-free jetsetting years (all four of them), each country outside the US I visited was chosen deliberately, however, there was a small percentage of pure randomness thrown into that choice for good measure. China, 2009? The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century took place and that was something pretty incredible to witness. I read about it happening in a news article and decided, “hey, that might be cool to see.” So my friend Jessica and I spent 4 weeks backpacking across the Chinese countryside. We did end up being there for the eclipse, however, it was raining and overcast in Shanghai that day.

It is that bit of randomness I wish to explore in this blog series. Now, as a parent to three curious children, I very much desire to expose them to as many different cultures as possible. I get all Sancti-Mommy when I come across other Mom and Dad bloggers who practice and preach insular parenting. Homeschool. Small Town Religulous Lifestyle.  Why? Why shelter your children from the reality of this beautiful and diverse planet? Would they have chosen such a lifestyle when they themselves were children?

Perhaps we will traverse these places one day. With the time, and the money, I would really, really like to. Being that opportunities to engage in such unfettered jet-setting are in my rearview mirror, at the very least I can leap up this haphazard roll of the proverbial dice and learn a thing or two about Inner Scandanavia…or South Africa…or Kansas.  So, without further ado, “Places Google Maps Has Sent Me”; far-flung, randomly selected corners of the world I hope to see someday.

~

WHERE I MEANT TO GO:

Lottie’s Lounge, Seattle, WA – a homestyle-food, comfy café, perfect for a weekend gathering with friends

WHERE GOOGLE MAPS SENT ME:

Lottie’s Kok Café, Hammarstrand, Sweden

Let’s explore the things we know about Sweden. IKEA…Fish…Meatballs…Penis Pumps? OK. Check. All sensuously go hand over ‘is zee pressure too hard?’ massaging hand said country is also known for. Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbors are all up there on the places I am highly anticipating a visit to one day. So if Google Maps is going to send me to a restaurant in rural fucking Sweden, I AM ALL ABOUT THIS. Let’s go!

What, and where, is a Hammarstrand?

hammarbalsa

Hammarstrand is a city (locality) in the midshaft of Jamtland-cannot-write-umlauts County, North-Central Sweden. The county is dominated (dominated! hah!) by the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Swedish Rural Centre Party, which is unique in Sweden, but corresponds to the situation in the bordering Norwegian county of Nord-Trøndelag. Which, thank you Wikipedia, but this explains nothing of said “situation” in the bordertown along the Norwegian side. Drug and gang violence? Political murders and corruption? Do the opposing factions scatter stealth landmines throughout the heavily thicketed forest? Because of Wikipedia’s ineptness, the world may never know the scandalous and tenuous situation taking place this very minute along the Sweden/Norway border.

Röd Trip!

Röd Trip!

Hammarstrand is about a 5 hour drive from Stockholm. Presumably, Stockholm is the Int’l hub airport one flies into. Rent a Volvo, epic road trip. Although, according to the never-confusing GPS, Klarastrandsleden becomes Blekholmstunneln followed shortly by Blekholmstunneln becoming Klarastrandsleden again…shit!  I don’t know what this means, but I securely leave my life in your hands GPS. I’m sure some friendly locals will be able to help us on our journey North. Swedes seem to be quite competent English speakers, more so than quite a few native English speakers I know.

klaraswedesh

What’s the first thing you do when you get Hammarstrand?

Go to Lottie’s Café, of course! You must be very hungry after a long day of driving. Look at the quaintness! Oh mein Gott, can you get any quainter?

lottie's café via facebook

lottie’s café via facebook

The empty chocolate paper wrappers may not look satisfying, but the dessert popcorn should satiate you!

lottie's café via facebook

lottie’s café via facebook

I loaf you times three!

lottie's café via facebook

lottie’s café via facebook

This mystery meat in a jar, however, I do not trust.

lottie's café via facebook

lottie’s café via facebook

It’s okay though, if this puppy is the Café Mascot in residence, all is clearly right in this world. Oh my goodness.

lottie's café via facebook

lottie’s café via facebook

We’ve eliminated our hunger, enjoyed some provencal Swedish cuisine, and loved on some puppies. Where are we going to stay? There appears to be at least one hotel in Hammarstrand…Hotell (double L) Hammarstrand, motto: “Camp Wild Life”!

Wild, and absolutely gorgeous.

hotel hammarstrand via website

hotel hammarstrand via website

How do you feel about camping in the wintertime on a pillowy blanket of snow in an IKEA-grade cabin? Hammarstrand provides.

via TripAdvisor

via TripAdvisor

FUN FACTS ABOUT HAMMARSTRAND:

*It is the site of a retired World Cup bobsleigh and luge track. Curves 9 and 10 of the track are named “Ding” and “Dong”, respectively.

*It’s latitude and longitude coordinates are 63°06′N 16°21′E.

*The Zorb Center for recreation has giant inflatable hamster balls you can climb into and attempt to run in, as if you were a spazzed-out hamster in an inflatable golf ball. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty good time.

*There is a giant sign mimicking the famous HOLLYWOOD landmark which greets you upon entry into Hammarstrand. What more do those cheeky Swedes have in store with a welcoming such as this?!

~

Thanks to a propitious glitch, I now have a reason to visit rural Sweden. Planning vacations to places Google Maps sends you may be the modern day equivalent of spinning a globe and ending up where your finger lands, usually middle of the Indian Ocean. It does, however, make me smile to zoom out, zoom out some more, and exclaim, “oh, that is definitely not what I wanted, but wow! Sweden! Okay!” Suddenly there is a new place to discover which never would have crossed my radar before. So who knows…with a little more time and money, Google maps may actually send me to Lottie’s Cafe after all.


Blue Apron 38: Hoisin-Glazed Chicken Thighs w Sticky Rice & Marinated Cucumber Salad

Steps to hosting a successful dinner party:

1. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to poison your dinner guests with rancid sesame oil.

That’s pretty much covers it all.

Fortunately, disaster averted and the attendees are, so far, out of harm’s way from any gastrointestinal distress.

The catastrophe almost happened because Blue Apron shorted me an ingredient in our recipe box this week, a small bottle of rice vinegar. There should have been two small bottles in the brown bag of “knick knacks” but, as I’ve been apt to do lately, went overlooked because I just assumed every ingredient was present and accounted for.

only one bottle here

only one bottle here

Instead of marinating the red onion in the rice vinegar, I emptied the contents of the sesame oil bottle into the bowl of chopped onion. Helpful cooking tip: always look at what you’re pouring before you actually pour. Realizing my mistake, I searched high and low for the missing bottle of vinegar, de-oilified the onions by rinsing in water, and substituted balsamic vinegar instead. That left me short on sesame oil. Had I looked ahead in the cooking instructions, I would have seen that it wouldn’t have made much a difference anyway since the onions were going into the cucumber salad which consisted of, you guessed it, the sesame oil. Too hasty of a dump. So when it was finally time to assemble the cucumber salad with the marinated onion, sliced cucumbers, sugar, garlic, ginger, and Thai basil, I grabbed the bottle of sesame oil I knew we had from the pantry.

Cooking needn’t be a sprint to the finish where you’re distracted enough that you overlook critical details like the expiration date on the bottle of sesame oil from your pantry.

hoisingchickend

Dost the oil even spoil?

I’m not sure? After a year and a half post expiration, I didn’t want to take a chance. I sampled a finger-full and something tasted…off.

Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party for you Father-in-Law (age: 60s) and his new girlfriend. If that wasn’t an already awkward scenario, imagine preparing a meal that gave everyone the runs. Welcome to our home, now let’s compete for bathroom time! Time to rebuke the cukes.

The entrée portion of this meal was fine – glazed chicken thighs in a savory-sweet hoisin sauce. There was also enough ginger and garlic rice to go around. And the best part, none of the dinner guests knew just how close to disaster they came because I was alone in the house while this all went down. See no evil, taste no evil.

hoinsingse

The chicken and rice alone wasn’t enough to feed 6 of us, so the children were supplemented with the organic version of Lucky Charms. Smug, misguided Mother-me says, “the organic make them sooooo much healthier.”

Organic Lucky Charms are way less colorful than the originals

Organic Lucky Charms are way less colorful than the originals

Even with so many meals under my belt, I’m still capable of making disastrous cooking errors! Only two more to write-up and then I can put this cooking blog series to rest. I have a fun idea in mind for another series that involves travel – something I’ve been desperately missing and itching to do for a while. Back to entertaining I go with a trusty Australian beer. Tonight I hope to dream of red earth, cerulean skies, and the parched vistas of the Southern land I visited a decade ago.

poison your dinner guests with alcohol, instead! prost!

poison your dinner guests with alcohol, instead! prost!