Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Magic of Silence

It's 7:30. The kids are in bed, banished there early because they were off their respective rockers today. I'm going to go ahead and blame it on the full moon. There has to be a reason - why else would kids act crazy??? (insert huge sarcasm here). Ted is not home. There is no TV on. The house is SILENT. It is magical. I thought this would be a lovely topic for my neglected blog. For those of you without kids, silence is a state grossly taken for granted. Like so many aspects of autonomous adulthood, silence is gone once you have kids. As babies, they cry. As toddlers, they whine. As preschoolers, they talk. Incessantly. I haven't reached the older stages yet, but suffice it to say that I find the noise one of the most galling things about parenthood. When my oldest was a year old, I was eager for him to talk. Now he doesn't STOP talking. He says many funny things, which definitely help offset the effect of the really obnoxious things that come out of his mouth. Then add in a 3 and a 2 year old, and then din is deafening. Sometimes the decibels aren't even that high, sometimes it's like a constant hum or buzz that you can't escape. You lose your ability to think, reason and make simple decisions when there is so much noise. And believe me, that has effects on your patience, your stamina, and your ability to cope.

It's gotten to the point where I would absolutely go on one of those silent retreats. I think I would have absolutely NO PROBLEM not talking for a couple of days. You know what? I'll go and then let you know how it is - because by the time I can probably go to one, they will be teenagers and won't be talking at all.

I don't mean to sully such a wonderful state with my negative talk about parenthood - minor complaints. I sit with my tea (had a little night out last night and maybe feeling the effects of the wine today) and I can think. I can write. I can browse Amazon. And I can read a book which I think I will do. Right now. In silence.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thank you, Danielle

One of the reasons I started blogging was to keep myself writing as often as possible and assist in writing my novel. Well, here I am and it has been a month since I have posted. I realize that no one is waiting with baited breath for my latest entry but when my good friend Danielle wrote to me on Facebook last night and said she missed my posts, well, I was somewhat shamed into doing it. (Not that you shamed me, Danielle! You simply put out there what I had been thinking) Besides, I went to Catholic school and am from the most Irish Catholic family you can find - guilt, shame, and not talking about things are the way we roll. So, thank you Danielle!
Accountability is important in reaching a goal. I was at a training last night for my Stella & Dot business and one of the things we talked about was goal setting. Apparently, there have been studies done and people who have goals, write them down, and revisit those goals are more likely to achieve them (makes sense) and earn nine times more than people who don't. Absolutely - when you write it down it becomes concrete and not some random thought floating through your head. (I realize this writing is not my most eloquent and not even grammatically correct, but hey, sometimes if you wait for perfection, nothing happens, right? I'm all heart in this post :-) )
When you articulate a goal, you put it out there - and not only does it keep you accountable, but if you're smart enough to put it somewhere you can see it, it stays with you and you begin to think about that goal and how you can get there. And then you take steps to achieve it. One foot in front of the other - or one sentence in front of the other, in my case.
I have put my writing aside. I spent a good six months researching and trying to get a good start on my novel. Things weren't adding up and that was when I ran into a wall of fear. Maybe I really couldn't do this - maybe I should just forget it, it's not working. Or, even, what if I was successful? Fear can be a useful emotion if you recognize it for what it is - either that something is wrong and you need to change it - or, as I believe in my case, that I was on the verge of a breakthrough and got spooked. So unconsciously, I distracted myself. I started cooking a lot, trying to get back on an exercise routine, started Stella & Dot. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Stella & Dot and am so glad I did it. But I think my tricky little brain was trying to distract my from my original goal. Hey, knowing is half the battle, right?
I think my approach to my novel before was all or nothing. Perhaps I needed this break to get some perspective. I don't have to write a chapter a day. Or even 1,000 words. That would be nice, but at this stage, not possible. So, let's start with a sentence:

Today was the last day of Father McCauley's life, but he had not yet achieved his sacred contract.

Ok, so maybe that will go nowhere. Maybe it won't even fit in the story, but it is something. If you're a writer, you may know Anne Lamott's idea of shitty first drafts. Novels don't spring from our minds, fully formed and plotted. They often start with utterly crappy writing but sometimes from that pool of shit, you can pull out something usable. I wanted fully formed and plotted but it just wasn't happening. I'm not that kind of writer, although I would like to be.

I am amazed that my kids aren't up yet as the clock ticks toward 8:00 - this just doesn't happen. Usually I am up to my elbows in diapers and screaming kids by now - and since time is precious and I need a shower, I must end here. So there it is, my rambling somewhat incoherent post. It may be shit, but it's something. :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Skidding in Sideways

Since my last two posts were about food (and each began with "mmmmm" - I need to be more creative), I thought I would shift gears and talk a little bit about other things going on in my life. 'Cause it's my blog! And if no one reads it, so what! My first couple of posts were pretty personal and that goes against my whole modus operandi - I am a private person and I mostly keep to myself. However, the older I get, the more I realize that sure, you can insulate yourself from hurt and pain and embarrassment by huddling in a turtle shell, but that is a lonely existence and as a person, you don't grow. I honestly think that is one of the lessons I have taken away from my last few tumultuous years. No risk, no reward. (10 years in the investment services world taught me that!) I love this quote:

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride!"

After those first couple of blog posts, I felt icky. And while those posts were hardly confessional, they were definitely more than I typically let on. However, I talked to a few people who read those posts and they said how they felt in much the same way, or that it resonated with them. Not only did that make me feel better, but it showed me what reaching out can do - forge connections with other people. Sounds totally elementary, but admitting how you really feel, not that everything's fine and dandy, can be a good thing.

A roundabout way to get to the next point, but it goes along with stepping out of my comfort zone. I am starting my own business as an Independent Stylist for Stella & Dot. They are a jewelry company out of San Francisco, specializing in direct selling via in-home trunk shows and online. I was invited to a trunk show a month ago and a light bulb went off in my head. Why don't I do something like this? It's flexible, you can work "off hours" (key with kids) and it can be as much or as little as you want it to be. I went to their website, watched the videos, read about the firm's founders, and was intrigued. It was more than just your average direct selling company. They jewelry is gorgeous, first of all, and the experience of the firm's founder, Jessica Herrin, was compelling. Add to that a $37 million investment by Seqouia Capital, and I was hooked. Could I do this? I'm a bit on the shy side, I'm not a fashionista, could I really get out there? Well, I definitely wanted to get out of the house, so that was a big motivating factor. Ultimately, I decided to take the plunge because of those very questions I raised above. Get over my shyness (it's not debilitating) and wear jewelry? Really, not too hard. I'm not a girly girl, but I'm not a total slouch, either. I viewed it as a way to earn money, get out of the house, and meet new people. And so far, it's fun. I actually want to go sit down and "work" although it doesn't feel like work. It feels like something I am doing for myself and selling a fun product that people love.

Between this blog and Stella & Dot, I'm trying to reach out, get connected again. Having small children can be an isolating experience - you don't have a ton of built-in opportunities to get out and meet people (you have to be proactive in that area) and if you have multiple small children, as I do, it can feel like a monumental task to take them anywhere. Plus, between short attention spans, naps, and all that, you're ready to go to bed when they are. So this is my attempt to get back into the world and try something new.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


This recipe was just so good and interesting that I had to post it. From Rachael Ray, Meat-Free BLT Spaghetti with Butter Lettuce, Leek, and Tomato. I have Rachael's latest cookbook, Look and Cook and it has a number of yummy recipes in it. Back in the days when I was snobby foodie, I thought I was too good for Rachael Ray. And then I had kids and I soon figured out that my days of planning menus, leisurely shopping at Whole Foods and then lovingly preparing the meal were OVER. OVER. If I still wanted to cook good food and try new recipes, I had to find a way to fit it into my life. And so I went over to the dark side. The Rachael side. And I discovered that her recipes are fun and really tasty. Not always easy on the waistline - there's lots of "EVOO" and cheese but really, who can go wrong with that? Just don't eat her portions - they are ginormous. She often does riffs on popular things like a spinach artichoke dip and makes it into a meal. For example, she makes a Spinach & Artichoke Mac and Cheese that is pretty darn good.  Anyway, I had spotted this recipe in the book and thought it was interesting but passed over it - Ted was the one who had pointed it out (he made the Chicken Ragu and that was awesome) and I included it in our little weekly menu plan. Now, the recipe has you make a pesto out of butter lettuce, basil, mint, parsley, pine nuts, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, and EVOO. I was a bit skeptical. A pesto recipe whose main ingredient was lettuce? Sounded grody (yes, yes, the 80s called and they want their word back) but heck, why not? Lachlan helped me make the pesto and before I knew it, he was dipping a bowl scraper in the food processor bowl and eating it. Turned out to be refreshing, light, and a perfect complement to the tomatoes and leeks that you saute and then toss with the pasta and pesto. Very summery, very flavorful and I recommend you give it a shot. The best part? The kids LOVED the pesto. Since they are not apt to consume vegetables, I was a happy mama. The proof is below. In fact, I almost DIDN'T post about this because it was so good I didn't want to run upstairs to get my camera. I wanted to keep shoveling it in my mouth.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mmmmm, bread

Ok, so maybe you don't necessarily want to hear about baking bread in the middle of summer, but this is how I roll. To give you a frame of reference, my dad was known to roast turkeys in July. Full on Thanksgiving dinner. Not sure why, but perhaps this will help you better understand my pathos: it's genetic. Anyhoo! So at the Borders liquidation sale, I found a book called (you can excuse the irony for linking to Amazon) Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The premise is that you make a huge amount of bread dough and then store it in your fridge for up to two weeks. From that large batch, you can pull off smaller bits for various loaves of bread. And what's even better is that the longer the dough sits in your fridge, the more it will begin to develop a sourdough-like taste. No need to make and feed and cultivate a sourdough starter, my friends! Last weekend, Ted made the ginormous amount of dough - he had to go to Target to get a bowl big enough to store it. For whatever reason, we just didn't get to baking the actual bread (probably because the ginormous bowl was in our fridge in the basement - out of sight, out of mind), so yesterday I gave it a whirl. All I can say is, impressive. It was insanely easy. You pull off a one pound ball, shape it (no kneading), and let it rest and rise at room temp for about 40 minutes. You do need a pizza stone to actually bake it, but they are pretty ubiquitous these days. 30 minutes of baking and out comes a gorgeous loaf that looks like it came from a bakery (without the $3.99 price tag). There are lots of recipes in this book, mostly variations on the master recipe, so I think I may be baking my own bread from now on! So long expensive peasant loaves! Buh-bye Pepperidge Farm!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Open Letter to my Chickens

Dear Chickens:

Well, we find ourselves here yet again. Some weeks ago, I chided you via Facebook for escaping and warned you that the consequences were life threatening. And they were - two of your sisters died, bringing the total loss to 3 chickens. Now we must have another come to Jesus - this on a different topic. Productivity. Yes, chickens, it is time to begin the process of cozying down in your Poulet Chalet or Chick'n Villa, whatever you call it, and laying some eggs. Since early May, we have housed you, fed you, and cleaned up your poop. (Never mind that I also do this for my children and I don't expect the same from them) We have also tried (operative word is tried) to keep you safe from the Wild Kingdom that is Mansfield. Alas, to no avail.

Yes, remaining five chickens, it is up to you to carry the torch for your lost brethren. Make them proud as they scratch and bawk up there in chicken heaven. Provide us with sustenance, show us how good farm fresh eggs can be. At this point, they better be. So get to laying. Ted is already making plans for Coq Au Vin. Get busy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cookies and Kids' Books

By now, you are aware of my love of reading. I want to pass that love of reading down to my kids and so I try to read to them as much as possible. I have to admit, though, that since having the third, I don't have as much energy or time to read to them. Even at night before bed, something I feel tremendously guilty about. So I am trying to do something about that, especially for Lachlan, since he is now able to write his name and loves spelling out words. I have to admit, I am really bored reading picture books. If I have to read "Blueberries for Sal" one more time, I may jump out the window. One of my best friends started reading beginning chapter books to her then-4-year-old daughter and I found the idea appealing. A narrative to follow, a chapter every night - I thought it would be something I would enjoy as well. I am really looking forward to the day when we can read "The Hobbit" and Harry Potter together! So off to the library I went. I could not find one single "How to Train Your Dragon" book - they were all checked out. Lachlan loves the movie so I thought it would be a good place to start. I ended up getting a Magic Tree House book about Vikings, "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by JK Rowling, and "The House at Pooh Corner" by AA Milne. The Magic Tree House series is something I would have loved as a kid. A brother and sister time travel in a tree house solving mysteries about various books. In this particular book, the kids time travel back to pre-medieval Ireland when the monks were illuminating manuscripts - a funny coincidence, since that is the basic topic of my novel. So a few nights ago before bed, I tried to get him all excited about it. "I don't want to read that book, I want to read the "I Spy" book," he says. "But this is about Vikings! Just like 'How to Train Your Dragon'!" He grudgingly agreed, so I embarked on the first chapter, trying to make up for the lack of pictures with a lively storytelling voice. Then, as I got to an exciting part and put emphasis on my voice, Lachlan turned to me with the FAKEST "I'm so excited" face ever. And he continued to do that through the rest of the chapter. That was when I realized that my 4-year-old was placating me. He was not interested in the book but was willing to sit through it and pretend he was because I was clearly excited. I am laughing even as I write this. I'll give it a try a few more times because, like with most things with kids, you have to expose them over and over before they "accept" it. If not, then I'll wait until he is older and suffer through "Blueberries for Sal" if necessary. It's not about me, even though it is worth a try. So many things with parenting are gray. There are certainly black and white areas, like hitting, manners, etc. But a lot of things are personal preference and for lack of a better way to put it, "what you can tolerate." Those are hard waters to wade in. Again, as I have discovered, parenting is more art than science and more finesse than gauntlet.

What's with the cookies, you ask? The cookie baking occurred the same night as the storytelling incident. I was having a real hankerin' for something sweet and these are my favorite cookies because they are a pretty healthy treat. Admittedly, I increase the amount of chocolate chips required in the recipe, but hey, they're still dark chocolate. :-) I got this recipe from Tony Horton's "Bring It" fitness book. For those of you who aren't familiar with Tony, he is the trainer from the P90X workout videos. (Ever seen the infomercial?) I can testify first hand that these workouts are amazing and got me into the best shape of my life. In fact, I am gearing up to do the three month program again because they are coming out with a sequel in the fall and I am eager to do that, but since it looks harder, I need to "pump it up" (ha!) again. Here's a link to the trailer for P90X 2 and tell me that doesn't make you want to get in shape!

Anyway, back to the cookies. When I was dipping my toe in the vegan waters some months ago, I started making these cookies. They are incredibly delicious and I could be wrong, but I think even celiacs can have these? I know some people can tolerate spelt flour more so than wheat. I urge you to give these a try.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups spelt flour or a mixture of oat and spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips (I used regular Ghirardelli because they are also vegan and grain-sweetened chips are pretty expensive)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon (I omitted the spices for personal preference)
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup agave nectar or maple syrup
2/3 cup heated coconut oil, avocado, or grapeseed oil
3 tbsp. water or almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, walnuts, chocolate chips, salt, baking soda, and spices. In a medium bowl, whisk together the agave nectar or syrup, oil, water or almond milk, and extract. Add the syrup mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Place the cookie dough by tablespoonful on the prepared baking sheet. And lick the bowl! No eggs, no salmonella!! Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack.  Makes about 3 dozen

Friday, July 22, 2011

Extreme Home Makeover: Chicken Edition

In preparation for the chickens' eventual laying, Ted did a little makeover on Chick'n Villa, making their area of the shed a bit bigger and putting up some places for them to nest and lay. He used a modular utility shelf with the shelves separated and put the top of their old cage in there for them to perch. What did he find this morning when he went to feed them? They were perched on the handle of the lawnmower (half of the shed is given to lawn and yard tools). I wish I could have gotten a picture...after all that re-configuring and they perch on the lawnmower. It's the same kind of feeling when you give your baby expensive developmental toys and all they want to play with are wooden spoons and tupperware lids. It's off to the feed store today for some more feed and some boxes for their nests - although I have heard that kitty litter boxes work just as well!

As soon as I opened the shed doors, the chickens were in to check out what I was doing

Plump chicken, hope a fox doesn't get you

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The End of Books?

I think I might have a heart attack: Borders is closing. Yes, for those of you who haven't heard, the bookstore chain is officially going belly-up and will be shuttering its 399 remaining stores in the United States. I, for one, am devastated. In fact, I dreamed about the Borders liquidation sale all last night! (Ok, it was about all the bargains I was going to scoop up. In the dream, I went back multiple times and I even remember the books I was looking at! Ted kept trying to get me to leave but I was still wandering around the store)
Why am I devastated, you ask? I mean, there is still Barnes & Noble and Amazon. (Another guilty pleasure of mine. Some women love Coach or Christian Louboutin. I love Simon & Schuster and Little, Brown.) The media seems to be trumpeting the end of paper books and the triumph of e-readers such as the Kindle. I think that would be a travesty. One of the things I love about reading is how it engages your senses - not only visually, but feeling the heft of the book, the texture of the pages, even the way it smells. We have an iPad and I have downloaded books onto it, but I don't find the experience nearly as satisfying. And I love seeing the books I have read sitting on my shelf. Those books I don't think I will ever read again I give away or donate, but favorites, or ones I will refer to again, remain. While you have a "bookshelf" on an e-reader, it's not a physical structure. You can't just look at it; you have to turn it on and navigate to the appropriate place. In other words, what I don't like is that it is a representation of something physical; it's not real, it doesn't truly exist. And perhaps that is what I fear? That in our increasingly digital world, things will become one-dimensional?  What does this mean for us as human beings - what impact will it have on us, the way we perceive the world and its impact on society?
Okay, perhaps I am getting a bit hyperbolic. To tone it down a bit, I go to bookstores, particularly Borders because it is right down the street, as an escape. It is quiet, unlike my house. I can get a cup of coffee. No one needs anything from me. I can browse the stacks and let my imagination wander. To read a book requires a certain amount of concentration and quiet, two things that are hard for me to come by these days. Even as I am writing this post, there is someone outside my door, chattering about an airplane and wanting breakfast. So I am sad that Borders is closing. My "escape" will not be so close. But who knows if Barnes & Noble is next? The super bookstores edged out the independents. What happens when Amazon and e-readers edge out the superstores? Ok, I know that this is the least of all problems in the world, but I do think the Internet and all its accoutrements are impacting society for sure. Email makes interacting less personal. Texting is leading to poor spelling and grammar among our youth today. As a whole, we are becoming less social. Pretty soon, we won't have to leave our houses for anything: books, groceries, conversation. Then what happens?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Fire!

I wish I could have more days like this. Before the kids got up (well, before the two smaller ones got up; the 4 year old is an early bird), I had exercised, made chocolate chip oatmeal muffins, wrote a mission statement for a non-profit, did a bit of networking, and started researching a home-based business. WHOA! Okay, so it helps greatly that my husband is making a real effort to take on more responsibility around the house. It really is amazing what you can do when you are not completely bogged down by the everyday chores required in a house with three little kids. (Thanks, Ted, for man-ing up) Getting out of bed and getting a shower used to require some effort and planning. I hope that a new chapter in my life is beginning. One that is far more peaceful than the previous several years. Deaths, births, job gain, job loss, addiction, health problems, moving, gosh you name it, it's been a part of my life these days. I almost feel like a entire lifetime has been crammed into a few short years.

You really never know what a day will bring. Good, bad, mundane, I am learning to roll with the punches life has to offer. But I do ask the universe for a respite. I think I deserve that and a whole lot more. So here's to being on fire. I hope your day is getting off to a good start and that it is full of all you want it to be.

Since I'm getting all New Age-y and mushy, how do you deal with life's surprises and setbacks?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Le Jardin

Everything sounds so much more fancy and eloquent in French. It is kind of a cliche, but I am simply referring to my humble little garden and just wanted to amp up the fancy factor. Kind of like when you refer to Target as Tarshay. Anyway, along with chickens, we're trying out a little garden this year. I have wanted to start a garden for years, but before kids there were some lame excuses and then I was full-on pregnant for two summers in a row. Uh-uh. I was not weeding with a 7, 8, 9 month pregnant belly. I've also always thought that I have a black, rather than a green, thumb. So here we are, finally doing it. Well, Ted was the one who actually dug it, planted everything and put a little chicken wire fence around it. But I have taken the baton and taken charge. Really, it had been neglected for several weeks and I started noticing that the weeds were taking over. Early yesterday morning, I got this ringing in my ear and went to town. Well, at least until the sweat started pouring down my face and into my eyes from the heat and humidity. Rome wasn't built in a day, right? I left the remainder to this morning and while it is still not perfect, I don't think our precious vegetables are getting choked by encroaching weeds. While I was weeding, Ted took down the chicken wire so that I could get all the weeds around the perimeter. Of course, the kids charged in, stomping all over everything. Lily, my one year old, trampled a pepper plant that I fear many never be the same. Ainsley, the two year old, plucked off a couple of immature cherry tomatoes. Who knew that the chicken wire was to keep my little animals out and not the critter variety?

It's funny, I have always detested yard work. I would much rather scrub a toilet than be cutting grass or planting flowers, or taking care of them. Probably why for so long I thought I had a black thumb. I have to say, even including all the sweat and humidity and dirt and all the things I have never liked before, there was satisfaction in ripping out those weeds and showing them who's boss. Not to mention, my reward for this hard work will be delicious tomatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, squash, cucumbers, peppers, and hopefully pumpkins in the fall (thanks, Jeanne!).

While I was taking pictures of the plants, I also took some more pics of the chicks and you can see how big they are. We're even starting to hear the beginnings of some "bawks." Farm fresh eggs can't come fast enough!

Note: This is the garden, post-weeding. I would never post the "before" pictures for fear that the garden police would arrest me for cruelty to plants. The weeds were that bad. I'm all about saving a little face for the purposes of my blog.

The tomatoes that Ainsley plucked too soon. They WERE tasty!

I love how nosy they are

Nothing to see here peeps! Just plotting our next escape

Our "coop" - just a shed on clearance from Home Depot that Ted added a door to

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vegan French Toast?

A few months ago, I began experimenting with a vegan diet and found that not only is it really a healthy way to eat (ignore the picture above) but it is an interesting way to cook. I always assumed that avoiding meat, eggs, cheese, all animal products would be a limiting and boring way to eat. And while I like vegetables, mmmm, not sure I liked them THAT much. But after watching the documentary Food, Inc. and reading some books, including The China Study (ok, I didn't read it cover to cover, it's a bit dense), I was appalled enough at the state of food production in America to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised that a diet based on vegetables, fruits, and grains was delicious. Not only that, but as an avid home cook, I was having fun using new cooking techniques and ingredients. I even started to experiment cooking with greens, including kale, which I have always been grossed out by.

All that being said, you might be looking at the picture above and thinking, ummm, that french toast isn't looking so healthy. And it is not by any means. It's deep fried bread, for Pete's sake. But it was tasty and I'd like to think proves that vegan cooking is way more than rabbit food. The recipe comes from a cookbook called Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites and has all kinds of sumptuous recipes like Chorizo and Potato Lasagna Bake, Fruity Creamsicle Whoopie Pies, and Coconut Creme Brulee Baked Oatmeal. The french toast sticks you see above is the first recipe I have tried and it was delicious. Of course, the kids liked it (but then again, anything with maple syrup is always welcomed).

I'm certainly not exclusively vegan, or even completely vegetarian, but I do tend to cook that way a lot these days. So you'll see a lot of posts with vegan recipes and I hope you might consider giving them a try.

French Toast Dipsticks

vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp. evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup vanilla-flavored non-dairy milk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 loaf hearty artisan French bread, stale is best
Powdered sugar, for serving
Warm maple syrup, for serving

Preheat the oil to 350. (I used a large, deep stockpot) In a shallow dish, combine the flour sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the milk and vanilla and stir to combine until there are virtually no lumps. Cut the bread into strips about 4-6 inches long and 1 inch thick and wide. Dip each strip of bread into the batter and place in the hot oil using tongs. If using a deep fryer, it should take only 5-10 seconds to get nice and golden and crispy. If using a frying pan, place on one side for 5-10 seconds, then flip and repeat until both sides are golden and crispy.

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar and serve with the the warm maple syrup for dipping.

Yield: 12-16 dipsticks

From Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman, Fair Winds, 2011.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Green Acres is the place to be....

A few months ago, we welcomed chickens into our household. Literally - they were so small at first that we kept them in a cage in our kitchen with a heat lamp on. It has become quite trendy to raise your own chickens and we decided to jump on that bandwagon. A friend of mine who lives in New Hampshire raises chickens as well and raved about how much better the eggs taste. With the cost of free range eggs in the stores these days and the way so-called "conventional" eggs are produced, it seemed like a good idea.

 It's been an exciting and sometimes heartbreaking adventure. Yes, I said heartbreaking. We started out with eight chickens and lost three to predators along the way - one to a chicken hawk (we think) and two to foxes. Who knew that Mansfield, Massachusetts was akin to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? We have coyotes, deer, moths as big as my hand. When we moved here three years ago, I thought we were moving to a suburb, not the country! My sisters have dubbed our home "Green Acres," and while I laughed at that at first, now I think it is an apt description!

I digress. The kids love the chickens and I have to admit, they are quite entertaining. They've had a penchant for escape (perhaps why we have lost three of them) and we have spent many an evening or afternoon chasing them around the yard trying to capture them. So when I say entertaining, I actually mean that it is incredibly funny to watch my husband, red-faced and ticked off, just about to get his hands on a chicken and then she darts out of the way. I have to remind him that they are animals with very small brains and that they are not intentionally trying to mess with him.

I read in a book that chickens are a "gateway" farm animal - leading to the addition of others such as ducks or goats. Now, I am not sure if I want to go that far although my husband did suggest we get a cow. I told him we could if he wanted to milk it every day. He grew up in Vermont surrounded by farms - he likens the smell of manure to "home." Yes, people. This girl who grew up in a suburb of Boston and does not know the first thing about nature married a country boy. I like to think I am better off for it! He showed me how to herd the chickens and it is a skill that I have incorporated into my everyday parenting repetoire. Valuable life skills! Who knew??

 They haven't started laying eggs yet (we're thinking perhaps at the end of the summer) but we are highly anticipating our very own "farm fresh eggs." Omelets, quiches, scrambled eggs, oh my!

Some pictures through the months:

I wanted to post more recent pictures and had planned to take some this morning but we have been having crazy rain and thunderstorms this morning. Hopefully later if the storms pass through.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Good morning

I'll admit it - I'm a morning person. I am one of those people who doesn't mind and, in fact, likes getting up early. I love the peacefulness of a day that hasn't begun, the smell of the air, and the possibility of a new day. Yesterday is over, and today has potential. For example, yesterday when I woke up, I had no idea that I was going to start a blog. I did wake up feeling like I needed to do something. Take my writing to the next level. Express myself creatively. I've hit a bit of a standstill with the novel I am working on and have been feeling very frustrated. So when I mentioned to Ted that I was thinking of starting a website or something like that, he sat me down and before I knew it, I was off and running. I have a tendency to think about doing all kinds of things but when it comes to action, I am terrible.

Here I am, 6:30 in the morning, writing another entry. I had always scoffed at writing a blog - everybody does it, who is going to care about things I write? That is the point exactly. I need to write for myself and only myself and if people read it and like it, great! If not, that's fine, too. I am finding that writing these entries is more healing and rejuvenating than I ever would have thought. I am the kind of person who takes forever to return phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and the like. When I am in a stressful situation (as I have been for several years now), I tend to isolate myself and not communicate with other people. That can result in hurt feelings or lapsed friendships. If anything, perhaps this blog will teach me the importance and value of opening myself up. I am always worried about upsetting other people and one of my biggest fears in life is having people angry at me. So instead of facing things head on, I tuck my head back into my shell and just don't deal with - not a healthy or productive way of living.

What will today bring?

And in a note of deliciousness, as I mentioned last night, here is a picture of the blueberry focaccia I made last night - breakfast this morning:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Focaccia Experiment #4

This afternoon, while the girls napped, I made my fourth attempt at improving my focaccia recipe. This time, I used all bread flour, one packet of yeast, and kneaded it by hand. In my previous three experiments, I used my stand mixer to knead the dough. Perhaps kneading it by hand will result in softer dough.

Here it is, ready for its first rise:

I had a helper, my 4 year old, who liked eating the dough (??!!)

Second rise

Caramelizing onions and apples with thyme for a topping

The finished product- one half topped with cherry tomatoes and sliced garlic, the other half topped with the aforementioned caramelized onions, apples, and thyme:

Experiment 4 was a success. Kneading by hand seems to be the key - the bread was a lot softer and less tough. Oh, well, I always thought that was the beauty of the stand mixer - that you could use it for breads, too. I had a little dough left over, and a pint of blueberries that needed to be used, so I tried my hand at a dessert focaccia - I'll post a picture later. When the kids are in bed, it will be me, a slice of focaccia (or two) and a glass of wine. Mmmmmmm

A New Journey: The Writing Life

I love to read. Books and stories have the ability to transport you to a place full of new languages, characters, places. The best books evoke an atmosphere, whether it is haunting and dark or ethereal and hopeful, and make you feel as if you are actually there. I have been an avid reader since I was much younger. The Christmas I was 8, I think, my sister Jeanne gave me a boxed set of Beverly Cleary's Ramona the Pest series and I was off and running. I always had at least two books going - they were usually folded open and left around the house. I read while I ate, I read lying down on the dining room floor (I still remember the feeling of the blue shag rug under my shorts-clad legs on a hot summer day like today), I read in the car on family vacations.

My love of reading and literature followed me into adulthood. When I went off to college, I believed I had to major in something "useful," so I chose biology, thinking I would go into research or some such nonsense. I was completely ignoring the fact that I am completely verbal and not mathematically oriented. Let's just say that on my math SATs, I more or less just got the credit for filling in my name. Well, surprise, surprise, I did terribly in my science courses my first semester (that and the freedom of being away from home may have contributed) and was forced to do some thinking over the winter break. I had taken an English class that fall semester, a survey course of English literature, and loved it and the professor. But I worried that English wasn't a "useful" major and that I would be unemployable after college. I didn't have the maturity or life experience at the time to understand that unless I wanted to train for something specific immediately, such as nursing or teaching, it was best to study something that I was interested in - and really, isn't writing a "useful" skill? So I plunged in and never regretted it. It was never a hindrance to getting a job after school and, in fact, my writing skills served me well as I worked in a variety of marketing communications roles.

Since childhood, I have wanted to be a writer, but again, my practical side got the better of me and I believed that I could never make a career out of it. I completely dismissed the idea and while I flirted with the idea in my twenties of combining my love of both writing and cooking and becoming a food writer, again, I was trying to fit my passion into a neat box. What I really loved was fiction for all the reasons I mentioned above - taking you out of whatever situation you might be in and plunking you down in Middle Earth (yes, I am a geek and love Lord of the Rings) or in a cave with Dracula, or in a hidden garden on an English estate. So I am here to state, publicly, that I am going to write fiction. Even if it never gets published, I'll write what I enjoy reading simply to do the same thing other writers have done for me: invite me into their minds and the characters and worlds they create.

In January of 2009, I was laid off from my job at a financial services firm. It was a devastating blow to someone who prided herself on being the good girl and the dutiful employee. Three weeks back from my maternity leave, I had recently found out that I was pregnant again, my third child in as many years. I clearly remember sitting in the HR person's office while my boss delivered the news. My first thought was I'm going to write that book. I didn't know what that book was yet and I hadn't even really been writing at all at that point but I knew that that would be my next step. Here I am two years later, kids are a bit bigger and while it's not the greatest time to embark upon this new adventure, I've learned that life rarely presents golden opportunities and that it is up to us to make them. It's just like having children - there is no right time to have them. You can plan the hell out of having kids and just about everything else in life, but the reality is you have no control and time is not on your side. You just gotta grab the bull by the horns and do it. Git R Done.

First (real) post

Introductions done, let's get down to it. It's a hot day here in Massachusetts and I am hiding in my air conditioning. There is something in my genetic makeup that hates hot weather. My favorite season is fall when the air is crisp but the sun is warm, you feel a need to cook hearty stews, and the leaves are changing color. Believe me, I will take heat over 20 degrees and snow (I went to college in northern Vermont, what was I thinking?) but still, something about the heat makes me grumpy and lethargic. Fortunately, we had a busy weekend visiting family in Vermont so the kids could use a couple of days with down time. Or at least, that is how I am justifying a couple of movies this morning.

I am trying to come up with something for dinner that the kids will eat and that can be done with little need to stand near a hot stove. My kids are hugely picky eaters and I can't tell if I have cultivated that by not exposing them to enough of a varied diet or if it is really out of my hands. Anyhoo, I am thinking about throwing together some focaccia - true, there is an oven involved but I don't have to be near it while it cooks. I found a focaccia recipe in a recent issue of Parenting magazine:

And the picture just looked so delectable, I had to try it. My first attempt, following the recipe verbatim, came out tough and crackery and not nearly as fluffy as in the picture. So I embarked on a campaign to perfect it, first trying it with all bread flour (less tough but not as bready-looking), then increasing the yeast to 2 packets - surprisingly, it did not blow up and take over the house. That was certainly a better result, but I am just not sure that two packets of yeast is the answer. Perhaps I overkneaded?

I also tried all the toppings suggested in the recipe and found the tomato-basil combination to be the best. I need to experiment with other ideas (fig jam, blue cheese, and prosciutto come to mind) but I am working with a "what we've got in the fridge/pantry" mentality since I do not have the inclination to head out to the grocery store. Once I get started with it this afternoon, I'll post some pictures and try and come up with a new and exciting topping! I find that those days leading up to a grocery store shopping trip can be the most interesting from a culinary perspective: I am not following recipes and am forced to use my own creativity.

In the focaccia/pizza category, my brother-in-law made a yummy dinner for us in Vermont - something called pizza frito, where he basically made a pizza dough then took sections of it and fried it in a pan with olive oil and then we would dip it into tomato sauce. it was delicious, but then again, frying, like bacon, makes everything taste better!

Well, the kids have found me and it is time for lunch. Until later...

Introduction and bring your appetite!

It's time to put my money where my mouth is. This blog will be about a little of everything and my interests: writing, cooking, books, reading, healthy eating, wine, parenting, learning to homestead (more on that later). I want readers to feel like they can pull up a chair, sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, or wine, depending on what time of day it is, and surf around to whatever their interest might be - a recipe for dinner that night, a book recommendation, or perhaps my latest rant about our town's grumpy children's librarian.

I also need people to keep me honest about writing my first novel (oh, yes, I can add that to the laundry list) because I need to be shamed into it! There, I have come out of the proverbial closet: I have always wanted to be a writer and now I am going to put fear and self-consciousness aside and forge ahead with a novel idea that has been percolating in my head (and on paper) for about eight months. When I was about 10 years old, I wrote a letter to Beverly Cleary and asked for advice on how to be a writer. It was never sent - my mother found it later and kept it (my mother kept everything, God rest her). When it surfaced some years later, when my parents were moving, I realized that what I wanted to do in life had been right there all the time and I needed to just admit it.

I've named the blog Chez Patti because someone (I can't remember who) nicknamed me Chez Pate for my love of cooking. Since this blog is about a little of everything, I liked the idea of having an online cafe where you can come, take a break from your crazy life and read about my crazy life - because it is. And it will make you feel SO much better about yourself. I promise. I have seen it before firsthand.

I look at this as an adventure for me and a fun place for you, the reader, to come to. So check in frequently and I will write as often as possible. I'll try and post pictures and make it all pretty.