24 June 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

It's that time again. This is the week of my birthday, and I REFUSE to cook on my birthday. Yes, I do enjoy cooking, but it's the principle of the thing. My birthday is my time off for good behavior. I am still trying to decide where we should go to celebrate. So there are only three meals listed this week, because of the birthday, of course, and also because Friday evening will be a travel evening, so we won't have dinner at home. We're headed to Ohio for a wedding! Yippee!
So, for what it's worth, here is my plan for the week:

Chicken with mixed greens, feta, toasted almonds, and raspberry vinaigrette
Garlic Bread

Chef Salad

Corn on the Cob

Chicken Pasta Toss with garlic, olive oil, parmesan, and fresh basil
Garlicky Green Beans
Peaches and cherries over shortcake

Someone else cooks and cleans up for me

More than likely, we'll grab something at Chez McDonald...

Free food at wedding reception

Birthday celebration with my family

Last, I wanted to share with you my version of the Not-Zagna that was on the menu last week. I was so pleased with it--it was half the effort of actual lasagna, but with all of the flavor.

Cori's Two-Saucy MockZagna

1 lb ground beef (with additional crumbled Italian sausage, if desired), browned with 1 minced onion and 3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 lb. short-cut pasta (I used rigatoni, but whatever)
1 c. ricotta
1/3 c. parmesan
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chiffonaded, or 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning

1) Brown beef. When it has lost its pink, add the onion and garlic, and let that work for a minute or two.
2) Prepare pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/3-1/2 c. of the water for the ricotta sauce.
3) To the beef mixture, add the spaghetti sauce and the stewed tomatoes (smush the tomatoes up with your hands before you add them), and let this sit over medium heat until you need it.
4) In the bottom of a large bowl, mix together ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, basil, salt and pepper to taste, and add the pasta water. Stir well.
5) Add the pasta to the ricotta sauce, then add 1/3 of the spaghetti sauce to that; toss to combine.
6) Spoon additional spaghetti sauce over the top and sprinkle with additional mozzarella, if desired.

So easy, and so YUM! If you put a lid on the pasta pot to bring the water to a boil faster, the whole shebang can go from start to finish in 20 minutes or so!

The Charis Post

My little girl. It seems just days ago we brought her home from the hospital, and now, she is a walking, talking, three year-old wonder. We just celebrated her birthday (another one? they just keep coming), and in her honor, I offer this yearly assessment of Things That I Love About Charis Ruth.

1. Her spirit. This was her first year for VBS, and she was just in the preschool program. VBS started on the 18th, and Charis turned 3 on the 16th, so that officially put her in the 3 year-olds class--just barely. As you can imagine, she was the very youngest in her class. Anyway. I was there helping with the 1st graders for the week, and every morning, all of the kids--from age 3 to fifth grade--started the morning in the sanctuary with songs and announcements. On the first day, I pointed her out to the leader of my little group. On every subsequent day, Charis was easily identified--she was always the one dancing in the aisle, trying to walk over to other sections to see friends, crawling on the floor, heading up the stairs to the platform...you get the idea. I suppose I could be embarrassed about it, but she has such life in her, and this was her first time in the sanctuary having to show any measure of decorum, so a little rambunctiousness is to be expected, and to her credit, she did improve over the course of the week. But still, even when she wasn't jumping on her leaders, you can just see that spark of spirit.

2. Her kindness. She has absolutely no qualms about inviting anybody to our house: "Would you like to come in my house?" And of course, that goes double for people she already knows and likes. Today, on the way back to the swing set, she passed her kiddie pool. "Can we play in that?" she asked. "Not tonight," I said. "But this week is supposed to be very hot, so I'm sure we'll get to play in the pool soon." She paused. "Is Gideon coming over to play?" "Well," I said, "not that I know of, but I suppose we could call and see if they want to come over to play." She nodded and did a little jump. "YES!!! Call them! Because I love Gideon! And I love Beth! And I love Tim! And I love Elise. I love ALL of the Elises. And ALL of the Tims. And ALL of the Gideons. And ALL of the Beths." Later, after we had chatted with our neighbors, Charis said, "Our neighbors will come inside with us?" She didn't understand why they would go into their own house, when they could come into the house with her. That is what she's all about. Even during VBS week, on the very first day, she showed this kindness. Her little friend Travis is also 3--3 turning 4, but 3 nonetheless--and was scheduled to be in her group. Well, when Travis arrived, he was in quite a state. Not quite ready to leave his sister and mom. Seeing him upset, Charis (I learned later) went over and grabbed his hand and said, "You can sit with me, Travis!"

3. She's actually a pretty good sharer. (For a 3 year-old.) In her Wednesday night church class, one of the last things they learned this spring was the concept of "Sharing and Caring." It was implied to them that sharing is one way to show people you love them. Well, Charis embraced this concept wholeheartedly. Very often, I will hear her exclaim, "I'm sharing and caring with Bubs!" Indeed, we hear about it every time she shares with Judah. She does occasionally turn it around in her favor, as when she takes some sort of food or toy from Judah's hands and announces that "Bubs shared and cared with me!" or when Abe has something she wants, and she says something like, "Daddy, you need to share and care." But still. She's pretty good.

4. Her helpfulness. Like tonight, when I left the cap on the tub of Balmex loose, and when I wasn't looking, Judah got into it and started to finger paint. She was kind enough to help me wipe things up. Or tonight, when she got a bit of ketchup on the carpet, she told me right away and cleaned it up all by herself. She's also a handy go-fer--particularly if I need her to bring me a toy or a dish or a diaper or anything. She is very accommodating.

5. Her maturity. She is growing so fast. She can now tell me when she's sad, or even explain to me why I made her mad (Usually, because I didn't 'share and care' as she would have liked) She's also developing reasoning skills, which is fun to watch. The other day, we were coming in from outside. There is a hill leading into our "way back" yard, where the swing set is, and it is marked by the two tracks that get driven over when trucks or trailers go in and out of the yard. Charis calls them "paths" and will often stand in front of them and deliberate over which path she should take. On this particular day, Muirne (the dog) was sleeping in the shade on one of the "paths," so when we approached, I asked Charis, "Which path should we take?" Without hesitation, she said, "Well, Muirne (though she says it "Nurna") is on that path, so we should take the other one!" I thought that was pretty good.

6. Her joy. It is infectious. She laughs like little bubbles breaking on the surface of a pond. She smiles rays of light. She dances like music. Her kisses are little butterflies that alight on your nose and brighten your week. Her joy is pure magic. I think she might be a tiny bit fairy.

7. Her independence. She does an amazing job at entertaining herself, whether with a video, books, toys, or art supplies. I really never have to worry about her "getting into" anything or being bored--she's always got something to do. Also, she is usually very bold and comfortable in leaving us, or when we leave her, whether it is with a babysitter or in her Sunday school class. It is nice not to have to worry about that. At one point, they stopped giving us pagers from the nursery because they knew they wouldn't need to page us for anything. She's easy. For her birthday, she was given Auntie Moriah's (whom Charis calls YaYa Grace) dollhouse and accessories, and she can honestly play for minutes on her own. But on the flip side...

8. She loves to play with others. Especially the game she calls "Hello," where she holds one character and you hold the other, and your characters say hello. "Hello! How are you today? Do you want to go to the store with me?" And when Gideon or Katie and Travis come over, it is all she wants to do to interact with them. On the other hand...

9. She loves to cuddle. We went through a phase where she was far too busy to cuddle. But now, very often, if you are sitting still, she will crawl up right beside you, just to be near. And when she goes to bed, she loves to nuzzle next to me, pressing her forehead against mine. "You sleep with me for two minutes?" she'll ask. And I'll try to say no, but it's useless. Because I know she'll look into my eyes, kiss me on the nose, and say, "'Love you, mama. Love you so much."

10. She is my Charis. She is such a gift. Even when she is a handful, even when I would just like her to sleep a little while longer so I can have another minute of peace before the chaos ensues, she is a gift. Even when she tells me I make her mad, she is a gift. Even when she uses her lemonade to "clean" the table and carpet, she is a gift. Even when she needs to be punished for her astonishing deliberate disobedience, she is a gift. Why? See reasons 1-9. Need I say more?

19 June 2007

Menu-Plan Tuesday?

Well, I didn't get this all chosen and posted on Monday as I would have liked to. I am way behind on blogging, and this is the only post that seemed doable this week. Upcoming posts will be about Charis and her THIRD BIRTHDAY, and also construction updates. But for now, today, when I am wiped out from a morning full of first graders at VBS, a menu-plan post is about all I can manage. When I emerge from my semi-comatose state, I will have lots to say. Lots.

Charis' Birthday party leftovers (so, see, you didn't really miss anything)

Grilled Pork Steak
Rice Pilaf
Leftover Corn on the Cob

Dinner at Abe's parents' house (beef BBQ sandwiches, I think)

Rachel Ray's Not-Zagna (because we never had the rigatoni I'd planned for last week)

Sweet and Sour Chicken

15 June 2007

Be "Exasperation"

Years ago, on Sesame Street, I think, they showed a sequence where people displayed different emotions, and the off-screen children would announce what faces they were making (HAPPY! SAD! EXCITED!) in order to teach children either a)how to read these expressions on others, or b)how to become a bad actor. Our family took to playing this game in the car, but our version went like this: Stephen (7 years younger than I) would tell mom to "BE" whatever, and she would show that emotion. "BE SLEEPY! BE SURPRISED! BE WORRIED!" Our favorite was "BE . . .COOPERATION!" Anywho, for a while, my brother's version of these emotions was uncannily near in appearance to how my mom displayed them. I always thought that was funny, especially since my mom's version was a bit (as you can imagine if you know her) over-the-top.

Kids. I chuckled. So impressionable.

Fast forward to the present (my brother, now 23, displays emotion very appropriately), and I've got my own little impression-master named Charis. She has always been big into making faces--I blame the large mirror in our living room and the fact that her mother is a bit of a ham--so various expressions of happiness or fatigue or even cooperation are normal around here. But the other day, I was mildly frustrated by something--say, the tightness of the pickle jar lid or the crumby mess that was on the floor where moments earlier there had been animal crackers--and uttered a sound that any one of you would recognize, sort of a throaty "rrnnrnrnrnggggghhhh!" Well, dear, sweet, impressionable Charis happened to be nearby.

So now, whenever Charis wants to convey that she is somewhat less than pleased about something, as today in the car on the way home from Meijer when I wouldn't allow her to have any of the mini-donuts she picked out, she emits that same sort of rrrrrnrnrnggghh! in a distinctly 3-year-old way, and does so repeatedly until you have acknowledged that you understand she is frustrated.

Kids. SOOOOO impressionable.

11 June 2007

Retail Therapy

(Is it odd this is my second post that references therapy? I like to think I am as balanced as the next girl, but perhaps this is not the case.)

Let's just first get this out of the way: Ikea is a balm to my soul. And so is chocolate fondue.

Periodically--perhaps every six months or so--I take a road trip with My mother-in-law and my three sisters-in-law. Usually we go to a nearby Amish community and stuff ourselves with pie and stuff our trunk with antiques and cutesy stuff, and usually, we have at least one child with us. THIS particular trip was a departure--oh, boy, was it. We traded Amish country for Greater Detroit, antiques for inexpensive Swedish household goods, pie for chocolate fondue, and we left our children at home. Perhaps we will never go back to the old way. This trip was delicious.

We left at about 2 on Saturday, drove to our hotel (listening to as varied a mix of music as you can imagine) and checked in, then set out to find dinner. What a trial. I will spare you the details, but the short version is that we spent nearly as long as our trip from home driving over the same three streets trying to decide where to eat. We have a couple of selective eaters amongst our ranks, so many restaurants got rejected. We passed a restaurant called Steve and Rocky's about twelve times (Note to Steve and/or Rocky: There's very little indication to outsiders what kind of food you serve and its level of palatability {is that a word?}, so you'd do well to add some sort of description to your sign: perhaps "All-American Cuisine" or "Bistro" or "Wing Emporium" or whatever it is that you serve. We would gladly have frequented your establishment, but alas. We didn't want to take our chances on a Frat-boy name like Rocky and the hash he would sling), and never went in. Eventually, on our third circuit around the mall, we accosted a woman and asked her for a recommendation. She directed us to a restaurant called Diamond Jim Brady's (which, incidentally, we also passed twelve times, owing to its proximity to Steve and Rocky's), where we gorged ourselves on some really really great burgers and turkey clubs. Our sandwiches were the most tame thing on the menu (and also the cheapest), but I think we probably enjoyed them more than we would have anything else at the time. I recommend Diamond Jim's burgers if you ever get the chance to partake!

After dinner, we headed back to the mall where we indulged our Paris Hilton sides and tried on amazingly expensive party dresses at Lord and Taylor. When the store closed, we headed to a fondue restaurant we'd passed earlier called The Melting Pot, where we had the most marvelous time. We ordered plain dark chocolate fondue and a flambeed turtle fondue, which were accompanied by bananas, fresh pineapple, strawberries, pound cake, brownies, oreo- and graham cracker-covered marshmallows and cheesecake. I kid you not--we couldn't have been more pleased. We preferred the dark chocolate fondue (it was so fantastically scrumptious when combined with the cheesecake that all you could do was swoon), but, as you can imagine, ate both with devotion.

It became evident that if we ate anything more, we'd burst.

After paying our bill and taking a "Souvenir Menu," we headed back to the hotel and, more specifically, its hot tub, where we spent a good hour. We then returned to our room and played The Ungame until 2 a.m. It's a good way to get to know your family, I tell you. The men might hate it, but the women will love it.

Our free hotel breakfast in the morning included make-your-own waffles, so we of course fueled up before we hit the reason for our visit: Ikea.

Ikea is 311,000 square feet of retail bliss. There's no way for me to describe to you the hours that were there (though I can tell you we were there from 11-5) other than to say we were the proverbial kids in the candy store. If we had an Ikea that was conveniently located and didn't necessitate a hotel stay we would almost certainly be less enamored of it, but for us it is a treat to be savored, so there was hardly a nook in the store that we did not thoroughly investigate. I left the store much poorer than I arrived, but it was all worth it.

Running late, we opted to eat at the ever-so-fast Fazoli's for dinner, and we opted to eat in so we could have the opportunity to eat their free breadsticks until we were bleeding out our eyes. Which we very nearly did.

And though every moment of the trip was a delicious, relaxing treat, possibly the best part was opening the door to my house and greeting the two sweet-smelling, very excited munchkins I had left the day before and hugging them thoroughly. Being away for a while makes coming home all the sweeter.

(Also, our basement is now covered by the first floor, which was framed on Saturday, but I will save pictures and details for a later post!)

Menu-Plan Mondays

Well, here's another list of what we plan to eat this week! Last week, we ended up switching and things ended up a little differently than I'd planned, so I think we only actually ate two of the meals I'd planned to make. Ah, well. At least there was a plan in place in case I needed it! I have never kept track of the differences between the plan and actual meals consumed, but I'd bet that most weeks end up varying a bit from the original outline. At any rate, here's this week's list.

Shredded Beef and Black Bean Burritos (from leftover Italian Beef from Friday)

Sloppy Joes
Tangy Broccoli Slaw
Corn on the Cob

Western-Style Pork Ribs
Baked Mac'n'Cheese
Sugar Snap Peas

Italian Pasta Salad with Chicken, Basil and Spinach

Chicken Sausage


We celebrate Charis' birthday with Abe's family. She's terribly excited to have a party! Her cake will be a Dora cake from the pan my mom purchased for us (I've never done one of these before. We'll just see.). For lunch, we'll have Burgers; Roasted Potatoes, Loaded; Corn on the Cob; and veggies and dip. Dessert will of course be cake and ice cream!

04 June 2007

All the Riches

What a beautiful and interesting evening with my daughter.

She didn't eat much at dinner, so, of course, was hungry right at about bedtime. She sat down in front of me moments before bedtime, thoughtfully cradled her chin in her hand and tapped her face with a finger. "Hmmmm. I'm hungry. Hungry, hungry. What should I eat? Think. Think, think, think. What should I eat?
I know!!! Eggs. I should eat eggs, mama!"

Then, when we finally made it up to bed, and I had just tugged her pajamas past her ears, she informed me, "I waked up in the morning!"

"You did!" I replied.

"Yeah! Jesus woked me up!"

"He did? What did He want you to do?"

"Not know! He waked me up! He waked you up, too!"

Snuggling through our bedtime routine, she kept asking for "one more song" (of course). The last couple of nights, she has asked for "EyeEyeOh" (Old MacDonald), so we sang that one, and tonight, for the first time, she requested "ABC." And she knew almost all the letters! She got hung up a little on LMNOP, but really, what kid doesn't?

I kissed her goodnight, and left the room. She started crying, which is not totally out of the ordinary lately--more often than not, it's a sneaky way of persuading you to let her stay up a few minutes longer, or postpone bed by claiming hunger or something--so I let it continue, figuring that she'd get the picture and be asleep in moments, but that was not to be. Tonight, the crying escalated until I heard her slide out of bed. I rushed up the stairs, hoping that I could contain her and her sobs before she woke Judah. Somehow, he slept through her sobbing in the hall before I made it up there.

I snatched her up and sat her on the end of the bed. "What's wrong, Charis?

"I sad."

"Why are you sad?"

"I crying."

"Were you scared? Or hot? Or lonely?"

Her eyes widened. "Scared!"

"Well, we need to pray and ask Jesus to take away the scared, okay?"

We prayed, and I lay next to her while she calmed down. Her eyes fluttered, centimeters away from sleep, and before turning over, she lifted her head off the pillow and kissed me on the nose. When I thought she was asleep, I sat up to leave. She sat up too, kissed me again, and I told her that I loved her so much, but I needed to go downstairs so she could sleep. "We pray first." she said. So we did.

And yes, it is more than an hour and a half past her bedtime, but she's asleep now. And I had to run down and blog all of this before I forgot a single thing. What a treasure.

03 June 2007

Menu-Plan Mondays

I stumbled upon a blog called "Organizing Junkie," the author of which hosts something called "Menu-Plan Mondays." In essence, every Monday, people link to a post on their blog with a list of what they're planning to fix for dinner each week.

I've been doing this--planning meals by the week--fairly faithfully for a while now, after growing tired of the daily battle of "What on earth are we going to eat tonight?" I usually just write my plans in my calendar, and then I have a guide to go by. To be truthful, it doesn't always work out that I use every menu idea for that week, owing to abundances of leftovers or changes in plan or changes in cravings or weather, but it's nice to have it in black and white every day. And it's really not that hard to do--for me, what works is an Excel Spreadsheet that I've formatted with categories of food (Beef, Poultry, Pork, Sides, Veggies, etc.), which I use as a master menu from which to pluck meal ideas. It only takes me about 10 minutes a week to plan, which saves me endless hours of staring into the freezer looking for dinner to jump out at me. It also makes grocery shopping far more efficient--I can pare down my list or even tailor my meals to what's on sale that week. So the beauty of it is twofold. At least.

Anyway, I checked some of the plans listed on the blog (orgjunkie.blogspot.com), and felt inspired by ideas from people who are not in a rut--or are clearly not in the same rut I am in--and thought I'd add my two cents' worth. I don't feel compelled to add my name and menu items to the massive list on Orgjunkie's blog, especially since some of my ideas were culled from blog posts alredy there, but I thought I might post them here. If nothing else, it's a gastronomic record for future enlightenment.

Spinach and Sausage Ravioli "Lasagna"
Homemade Brothers' Bread

Ham and Cheese Panini with Cucumber Ranch Cream Cheese

Asian Pork Tenderloin
Steamed Peas or Broccoli

Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Pasta Salad with Spinach and Feta

Italian Beef
Garlic and Parmesan Potato Wedges

01 June 2007

Funny Face

Yesterday, Charis was fnishing a cookie in the living room, and Judah was in the dining room having lunch. I was seated next to him so he wouldn't have to eat alone, when all of the sudden, I got the urge to snap a couple of pictures of him. I don't seem to do random pictures often enough, I think. Anyway, No sooner had I turned the camera on, than Judah started making faces. I promise you that none of these expressions were prompted in any way. Yes, it appears our son is developing his personality!

Also, the other day I was testing his language comprehension. I wanted to know if he understands simple words like ball. Well, he does. We were sitting near the toy basket, and I said, "Judah, would you hand me a ball?" So he reached over and picked out a red, white and blue mini-volleyball. I was pretty impressed. Then I said, "Judah, would you hand me another ball, please?" He looked at me for a second, then turned back to the basket and plucked out a partially-hidden Winnie the Pooh ball. I was stunned!
When Charis was his age, I thought she was brilliant. And old. I thought that, at the ripe old age of 14 months, she should know things. And she did. Judah's age has sort of snuck up on me--I still think of him as such a baby, even though he is turning into a full-fledged toddler right before my eyes. So when he shows the intelligence of a young toddler, I am amazed; not because I think he is not intelligent, I just forget that he is able to do age-appropriate things, and that his age is not 9 months! It all goes by so fast.

Of course, big sister wanted to get in on the action. (Maybe that's where he learned the faces...)