31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 18: Need Less

monkey-breadWhen I was in junior high, my mother used to be able to feed her family of six on $50 a week. We ate a lot of homemade soup and homemade bread, yet somehow I don’t ever remember feeling deprived. I had this hippy friend, Larry, who looked a little like Jesus and played the guitar like a dream. A recovered addict, Larry looked like a zipper when he stood sideways and stuck out his tongue … and could put away a dozen pieces of my mother’s monkey-bread. She would see his jalopy pull in the driveway, sigh, smile, and break out her mixing bowl.

We were not wealthy, not by a long shot. We didn’t even have a television set, and “family vacations” consisted of driving to one or the other grandparents houses, or camping in the woods. I look around my children’s rooms, crammed with all sorts of toys and clothes, and wonder if in fact they would be happier with less.

I know I would be. When you have boxes and boxes piled up in the basement, it’s hard to find what you need when you need it. Drawers stuffed with clothes actually make for MORE laundry, rather than less. And then there’s the books, shelf after shelf of volumes read once, then stored in perpetuity.

But I have come up with a great way to pare back to essentials: Move every year or so, and only take along one truckload. Simple, right?

My plan this year, to get things pared back to the right size:

*  I will get rid of ALL clothes that I haven’t seen on one of us in the past two years. Coats, shoes, boots, snow gear, all of it.

*  Take the children’s books my kids have outgrown to the local church school (I was in their library and was surprised at how threadbare it was), and the rest to the seminary. Parenting books to the Salvation Army.

*  Find a local recycle center that will take computer crap, and have Craig take one box a week until it is all gone, except for what he needs for his job.

*  Save only the Christmas decorations I truly love. Recycle the others.

*  Tear the recipes out of the dozens of cookbooks I have on my shelf that I truly intend to try, and dispose of the others. Seriously, I keep making the same 12 meals over and over — why do I need 46 cookbooks?

What’s your favorite way to simplify?

 

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The Things We Do for Love: “Chopped”!

"Chopped" All StarsWhen you’ve been married for more than a decade, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a routine: He nods off around 9 o’clock while I “channel surf” until I land on a decent movie or one of my cooking shows. My current favorite is “Chopped.”

Each week four professional cooks vie for $10,000 prize money by creating culinary magic from a basket full of unlikely ingredients, creating first an appetizer (from grape jelly beans, conch, purple potatoes and kale), main dish (tofu, rabbit tenderloin, raddicchio, and Sambucca), and dessert (pumpernicle, lichi fruit, quail eggs, and corn nuts). Thirty minutes, starting NOW.

In each round, one chef gets “chopped.” A messy plate, unseasoned vegetable, or (gasp) forgotten ingredient — a regular occurrance at our house, I might add — is enough to send the ‘choppee’ on the walk of shame to those glass doors leading out of the studio.

“What is it ABOUT that show?” My husband usually stirs awake about 10:50, just as the last contestant’s crestfallen visage gets the requisite closeup as he (or, more often, she) recognizes the rejected dish. A fair question, that. Heaven knows I’m a utilitarian cook most days. But there is something about it that resonates with me. I can just see it: Getting trussed in a gown, forced to turn an armful of strange and not a little intimidating raw materials into something approaching a civilized dining experience, on pain of facing a chorus of alternately disapproving and appreciative “experts” whose opinion can make or break your future.

Yeah. A LOT like parenting . . . foster and special needs parenting especially. Alternately exhausting and exhilarating, satisfying and alarming. Sometimes you have to make do with a Cuisinart when what you really need is the sausage grinder, or the broiler when what you really need is the brulee torch. But somehow, inexplicably, joyfully, wondrously . . . it all comes together in the end.

And in the end, you get something a lot better than ten thousand dollars: You get to be “Mom” to a kid that some das you can’t but love so fiercely, it takes your  breath away. And on those other days . . . well, on THOSE days you hold on and just pray that bond between you holds tight. ’cause love never says “chopped.”

OK, all you secret chefs out there: If you could created a “Chopped basket” to challenge your favorite cook, what would go in YOUR basket?

Photo Credit:  “Chopped” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

EMN Blogroll …

The other day I noticed that all the wonderful little links that had once filled the right margin had disappeared. So much for “network.”

I’ve now added a dedicated PAGE that you can click on to find what you need. If you’re having trouble, here’s the link.

Also, as long as I’m telling you where to go and what to do, I have a post at “Mommy Monsters” you may find helpful if you have a child that struggles with insomnia. We had Christopher at a specialist yesterday, and she suggested we check his iron levels — apparently ADHD is sometimes treated when in fact the kid is just sleep deprived.

So … “Sleep-Deprived, or ADHD?”

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Wee Cook Wednesday: Best-Ever Brownies

This recipe seemed particularly apt today … Those of us (myself among them) who are feeling down about last night, well the chocolate will boost that endorphin level! 

And Governor Palin, if you’re reading this, know that this is one mother who still thinks you’re extraordinary, and if I had to do it all again I’d STILL vote for you!  I have a hard time finding the right words — it’s just too sad — so I’ll turn you to this lovely tribe I found, courtesy of Sarah Reinhard, by Carter Clews at GetLiberty.com.

This morning at “Aussie Coffee Shop,” Therese also offers some consoling perspective … as well as the notice that she is gathering information about “Type 1 diabetes” in children. Please drop me a note or comment if you have found any particularly useful resources. Thanks!

As the weather turns, some cards are released from the big black recipe box and seem to take up permanent residence on my window sill for the season. This is one of them. The recipes are rich and cakey … and because the shortening is melted, it only takes a minute to whip up! Which is a good thing … that 9×13 pan is empty in no time.

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Tips in the Kitchen: Kid-friendly chicken recipes

Today on YouTube I came across this video about the best way to cut up a chicken. This is a truly useful skill that will save you mucho dinero at the store. Even the parts that don’t normally get eaten whole (such as the back) make great soup stock.

My favorite ways to make chicken include:

Chicken Mexicali: Mix 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken with 1 can of cream of chicken soup with 1 cup sour cream. Pour 1/2 jar of salsa in the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole. Place spoonful of chicken mix in tortilla (I use wheat) and wrap like burrito. Place on top of salsa, and repeat until the pan is full. Top with remaining salsa, fresh cilantro (chopped) and shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve with salad.

Chicken Divan: Boil and debone 2 chicken breasts; cut meat in strips. Thaw one large bag of broccoli florets, or steam 2 crowns of fresh broccoli and chop. Set aside; mix 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 cup mayo, 2 tsp curry powder, 1 Tbls lemon juice, and dash pepper. Butter 13×9 casserole, put drained broccoli on bottom, chicken on top, and soup mix over all. Top with shredded cheddar and bread crumbs (if desired). Bake 350 for 30 minutes. Serve over rice with fruit salad.

Deadline Chicken: Put chicken parts in crock pot along with 3 cut-up sweet potatoes, 1 chopped onion, can of corn, and can of black beans. Poor large jar of salsa over all. Turn on “low” and cook all day. Wa-la!~ Serve with tortillas and salad.

Hope this inspires you!