This cowboy will cut you

Every year the boys school takes “cowboy” photos of my children. I really don’t know why. It is not around Go Texan day and we don’t live in the country so it is baffling to me. They put cowboy hats and bandannas on the children and make them hold ropes and horseshoes. And like a sucker I always buy them because I think my children are precious and need all photos of them, even the cheesy ones.

So this year I knew they were coming and put the boys in their coordinating blue plaid shirts (well the Wall’s did because I was out of town for work. Again.) with jeans and Zach brought his own hat. I had reasonably high expectations as the company that does the photos must be made of magicians. Usually the photos they get of kids are significantly better than you would think.

Until this year. I was running late when I picked up the photos so I just wrote a check for them and ran to my car. On the way to work I finally looked at the 8×10, two 5x7s and eight wallets I have of this photo:

 Oh James….why so angry and grumpy? Someone said he looked like Curly from City Slickers and I have to agree. Minus the cig and it is very, very close.

He is so displeased with the photographer’s choice of rope and hat. He is not impressed with the whole procedure. Do you see that I am not exaggerating?? James is mildly unimpressed the majority of the time.

Then look at this precious boy. He is so happy and excited to be wearing his hat and clutching that wagon wheel.

James gave a more pleasant look once he was joined with his brother. Still not a smile but less threatening at least.

And my four year old just beaming. He is the best I tell you.

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I need the truth

Truth: I am a terrible speller. Truth: Grammar is not my gift. Truth: There are grammar, spelling and other word mishaps on this blog and NO ONE IS TELLING ME.

I am sorry to start screaming at you so early this morning, but I feel it is needed. Do you really think I want to be using the wrong version of “suit” and “too”? Or leaving out words in sentences? My sister will tell me but she can’t be my only editor!

Usually I am typing this up late at night when I am tired and I read what I want to read. I try to double check it but again, I am tired and I know what I meant to say.

So this is my plea – if you see a mistake will you please, please make a comment about it? I lost my shame a long time ago along with my bikinis so I will not feel bad about it. I will feel bad if I look like a stupid blogger who can’t even spell probably. Which I can’t PS.

I want to know. I need to know.

Followers I am looking at you….all six of you….

Don’t make me send James to scream at you as well.

I have a blower and I know how to use it

What do you do if your husband is off gallivanting around the UK and your children need to play in the driveway? YouTube “Starting a Stihl BG55 Leaf Blower” and feel like a bad-ass.

As I think I have mentioned we do most of our playing in the driveway. James has figured out how to climb up the large play structure in the back so he can’t be out there unsupervised. Unacceptable in my parenting handbook. However, the driveway is wide and has a gate at the end. I can let them play out there with little supervision required. I can see them from the kitchen and with the doors and windows open I can easily check on them practicing their independent play. Or I can be a good mother and participate. 

Either way, last weekend, I had to get the leaves, pollen and sticks off the driveway so they could run, kick balls, hit things with bats, throw sticks, start to cry, fight over the sticks, etc.

Alex has had a leaf blower since we got married – so technically it is our leaf blower. Our leaf blower that I have never turned on. Now, I like to think I am handy around the house, but the outside of the house is another story. Since we have been married I have left that squarely to him. I brought a law mower (thanks to my dad) into this marriage and did mow the lawn prior to getting married. But once I said “I do” I have been saying “I don’t” to anything outside of the house. It is bad enough there are giant boy shoes cluttering up the house that I have to deal with; I can’t be bothered with trimmers, blowers and mowers.


But when push comes to shove I knew I could do it. Again, thank you parents for my unreasonably high self confidence.  And for YouTube. You really can find anything on there. 


The point of this post? Ladies if you are a co-owner of a leaf blower turn it on one day. Don’t talk to your husband about it. YouTube it and just turn it on. I promise the shock and awe on your husband and children’s faces will be worth it. And your dad from afar.

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Macaroni and Cheese Soup with Broccoli

I found this recipe back when I was on Weight Watchers and lying to myself that I was ever going to lose these last 5-10 lbs.

I am not. They are a part of me. Like my decisiveness and loudness they are not going anywhere.

But this recipe I have kept as it is a great freezer meal, very easy, healthy and doesn’t taste like a skinny meal. Though mine does not look quite as pretty as her picture.

Skinnytaste says: “A classic, kid-friendly comfort dish made into a soup. A great way to sneak some veggies into those picky tummies while enjoying a tasty warm bowl of soup.”

Ummm unless your kids eat broccoli, they are not going to eat this soup. Period the end. Look at it. Kids are not idiots, they can see the broccoli. I do love her enthusiasm about it though. And the carrots do go unnoticed by my carrot-hating first born.

Also mine is never very soup-like. It is more like your standard mac and cheese. Which is just fine by me because it is very good either way.

 Skinny Macaroni and Cheese Soup with Broccoli
With slight modifications from Skinnytaste (she has really good photos on her site of the steps)

Ingredients:
6 oz dry elbow macaroni
1 shallot, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup milk
pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp dry mustard (I never have this)
salt and fresh pepper to taste
2 cups (about 10 oz) broccoli florets, chopped into small pieces
1-1/2 or 2 cups 2% shredded sharp cheddar
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Directons:

  1. Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. Chop onion, carrot, celery, garlic 
  3. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt light butter. Add chopped vegetables and sauté on low heat until soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add flour and fresh pepper to the pot and stir until smooth. Slowly add chicken broth, milk, nutmeg and dry mustard powder; whisking constantly. Set heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil. Cover and cook on low about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add broccoli florets, Parmesan cheese, and stir well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Cook uncovered until broccoli is cooked, about 5 minutes or more to your liking.
  6. Add cheddar, mixing well until cheese melts and immediately remove from heat. *Add cooked elbows and mix well, adjust salt and pepper if needed. Eat right away so the pasta doesn’t absorb all the broth. 

If freezing do not combine. Freeze pasta and broccoli together and put cheese sauce in a freezer bag on top. Otherwise everything will be overcooked and mushy when you re-heat. Trust.

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Alex went to London and all I got was this shirt

As you can imagine I was less than thrilled. 
No, Alex was not in London for work, it was a voluntary vacation. Because he needs a break from working so hard and taking care of our children. I kid, but as Uncle Chris says I was invited and I chose not to go. That is correct, I was invited to go to London with Chris, Alex and Andy to watch Premier League soccer (as if I know what that is) and I politely declined. Yes, I would rather stay with my children for 4 days than do that.
Alex tried to go last year, you know, when we had a 7 month old and a just turned 3 year old. I calmly asked, “Why now? Why must you go NOW. Soccer is not going anywhere and our life is fairly miserable right now. Why now?” Once put that way (and not just shutting it down completely) he agreed. But that meant this year was the year.
And as I said, I was invited. He tried to say we would go to London than Greece where I really want to go. I wish I could convey how heavily my eyes rolled at that. Don’t try to tack on MY trip to the end of YOUR TRIP. As if. I am only going to London for one thing – HRH Baby of Cambridge. Not some sweaty soccer players and drunk fans. I can stay home and experience that.
So Alex headed off on Thursday and came back Tuesday. Luckily Liv came to stay on Friday night and was here most of Saturday. I didn’t really think it was totally necessary at the time…until Sunday around 5. Thank GOD she came. What in the world would I have done for the entire weekend? I can’t even think about it. 
Instead of me having a total meltdown, we cooked dinner, took soccer photos, planted some flowers and veggies in the garden, saw Uncle Dave and I did not lose my mind. Zach and I also went to Menchie’s,which is a frozen yogurt place in our neighborhood that was having their one year anniversary. Zach is semi-obsessed with it. Some of the girls in his class talk about it so he feels he needs to go there. He doesn’t even eat much when we are there. But whatever, when I saw that they were having a celebration with shirts, balloons and face painting I knew he would love it.
Liv offered stayed at home with fat baby and Zach and I headed up there. Unfortunately when we arrived everyone was decorating their shirts….and they were out of shirts. Holy shit, seriously Menchie’s? It was 12:30 and the party started at 12. So guess who is now the proud owner of a way too big Menchie’s shirt? I didn’t even care. How could I say no to this face? On an unrelated note: I can only handle so many meltdowns a day.
But the face painter, now she was awesome. She was this cuter than cute girl maybe in her early 20’s. And so fast. She was painting a dog on a little boy’s face when we arrived. He insisted on barking at everyone and his parents found it endearing. It was not.

 Zach decided he wanted a tiger.

He then starting roaring at people. It was very, very endearing.

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To be a mother

There are many things you need to be a mother including a strong gag reflex and a willingness to have close contact with a variety of bodily functions.

But the other day I got to thinking about the items that you need or at least make it easier to be a mom when it comes to feeding your children, specifically. Here are some of my favorite things:

I love these compartment containers. They are made especially for little hands to open them. So much so that the creator had to put a caveat on the Amazon description in bold, that they are not 100% sealed, like Ziploc containers. Duh. They do leak, but I will say they only leak liquid like syrup or yogurt. I put applesauce in them and have no trouble. And both boys can open them which any preschool teacher will tell you is the bees knees.
If they lunchboxes leak and get syrup all over the lunch box I am especially thankful that I found these washable neoprene lunch boxes. They are not cheap, but every week I wash and dry these and they look as good as new. The lunchboxes can lay flat or stand up. There is a holder for a drink and utensils in front and inside. Love them.

KALAS 18-piece flatware set IKEA
Duh, Kinsey, I know. But I think the RIGHT plastic silverware is key. We had some of that rounded stuff and it could not pick up a thing. So imagine an already irate toddler learning to use a fork and he can’t pick up his GD eggs (his words, not mine). I grabbed these from Ikea on a whim and love them. There are a bunch in there, first of all and they are just sharp enough to be of use but not sharp enough to take someones eye out. Which is what Alex is overly concerned about. All the time. Might I note that both he and his brother have both their eyes so I really don’t understand where this irrational concern comes from.
I am sure we all have our favorite sippy cups. I love the Thermos Foogo for James’ sippy cups and straw ones as they don’t leak at all. But my favorite are the simple Take and Toss cups and lids. They let James feel like a big boy and still have a lid but let Zach not feel like a baby for having a lid. And they are cheap and washable. Done and done.

5. Squeeze anything
Don’t you love how they now have tons of flavors of squeezable applesauce? My kids still like the Go Go Squeeze brand the best and they sell it in bulk at Costco and Target. I will say however, I think I might have stunted James’ use of utensils as I would just toss him a squeeze packet on the go. Whoops. Zach and James also are big fans of these Pro Bugs squeezable pro-biotic yogurt. I really just bought it because Tony in Zach’s class had it so we had to as well, but they adore it. And it is a nice way to make sure they are getting some calcium when the milk drinking is not happening. I’m looking at you James.

Ok so this has nothing to do with food, but I love it and wanted to share. We get comments on the wagon we have every time we take it out. I say “a good wagon” as I didn’t want one to begin with. But Liv spotted one at Sam’s and knew we needed it. And she was right. But it is not just any wagon. First it is collapsible so it does not take up more room in the garage (our 4 strollers need their space) and second, well really that is its main selling point. It is more narrow than others so can tip…and has…but the boys are fine. And now that we know that, we are more careful and Alex doesn’t go running down the street with the wagon. I joke but I really love it, I can easily toss it in the car for soccer practice or a trip to the zoo. No it does not have a cover or seat backs, but that is what sunscreen and reclining are for right?
So that is my list – tell me what I am missing! You know I am an Amazon Prime member so I can get anything in 2 days…

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Chicken ‘n Dumplings

It took me a long time to draft this post. Making this dish gave me such nostalia for my childhood, my mom, my grandma – just to be little again.

I have fond and vivid memories of making chicken and dumplings with my mom. I can picture us both at the stove with her telling me just when to put the dumplings in and how to know when they are ready.

My mom is not a big fan of cooking. She does it and likes it OK but it is really not her thing and Lauren is the same. They want to get in, get out and get on with it. But dumplings are different. This was a process and she always seemed to enjoy it and us with her. I know my mom made them with her mom and hence a tradition was born.

I always remember my mom telling me the story of her mother, my Granny, saying that the dumplings would be “inedible” with no salt. Never one to cave, my mom persisted and I loved to salt and pepper those flat dumplings back when I didn’t use salt and pepper at all. Foreshadowing – I should have listened to my mom not my Granny.

To start with, these are not “drop” dumplings, those gooey masses of dough but “cut” dumplings, rolled out and cut then slipped into the boiling water. I got inspired to make these (I have not in years) when I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. I knew I would like to recreate it but without the drop dumplings. And the peas. Gross, who puts peas in dumplings? People from New York apparently.

Here are the dumplings simmering away in the broth. Such a comfort food. There was a glorious afternoon when the boys were playing outside with Alex and I got to just be with my kitchen and my memories.

I halved the recipe and just used one package of drumsticks which was the perfect amount for me for two dinners and the boys for one dinner. I was not certain the boys would like it, which they did and I knew Alex would not (turns out he did as well) so half was perfect. I also totally, totally over salted them. The broth is plenty salty and you can always add (I know, Momma, I know) but you can’t take it back. Do as I say, not as I do.


Chicken and Dumplings with Leeks and Tarragon
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, February 2005 and Smitten Kitchen
Stew:
5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs/drumsticks
Table salt and ground black pepper
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
2 medium leeks , white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch pieces
1 shallot, minced
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
Dumplings:
2 cups flour
1 egg
Milk to moisten
1. For the stew: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Pour off the chicken fat and reserve. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining chicken. Pour off and reserve any chicken fat.
2. Add the butter to the Dutch oven and melt over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken, with any accumulated juices, into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 1 hour.
3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones, then return it to the stew.
4. While the chicken is cooking,make the dumplings. Pile the flour up on a large cutting board (or your counter top). Make a small well in the center for the egg and milk. Crack the egg into the well and whisk slightly. Start by pulling the outside flour into the wet mixture and continue until you have a dough like substance. Do not over mix or they will become tough. Once it is just mixed, roll out the dough and cut  2 x2 inch dumplings (or whatever size you like) with knife or kitchen shears. Do not salt. For the love of God, do not salt.
5. Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the tarragon, and season with salt and pepper. Once the stew is at a rolling boil (you might need to add more broth to get it to really boil) drop the dumplings directly into one of the boiling bubbles. Wait for it is pop back up to the top before you drop the next one. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have puffed a bit and are done, 10 -15 minutes. Serve.

Here is James enjoying the dumplings. Well, enjoying them as much as James enjoys anything while I am taking his picture. He is saying “cheese” with a mouth full of dumplings.

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