Sunday, June 26, 2016

Recipe: Blackberry Bacon Swiss Grilled Cheese

Summer where I live in California can come with some pretty intense heat. So hot that if you haven't gotten the kids to the park and off the slides before 9am, forget about it. Hot enough that I'm learning I have to cover my tomatoes so they don't burn before they are ripe enough to pick. And hot enough that the last thing I want to be doing is preparing a meal over a hot stove, oven or even a grill. Even a crock pot can heat up our little kitchen a bit too much.
All the ingredients for one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had.
To that end, I was delighted when I saw some ideas for summer sandwiches - easy, delicious and best of all: no heat required. Well - only very small amounts of heat, and that's only if you want the cheese melted. I like this particular sandwich heated up just a bit in the microwave, but I'm guessing it would taste just fine cold, too. If you're daring enough to actually use a griddle on a hot summer day, you can get the nice browned outsides too. This recips is a twist on one I saw from Lemon Tree Dwelling that sounds delicious, but since my family cannot do jalapenos (I personally love a little kick, but maybe not quite as much as you could get in a jalapeno), I improvised.

This is the part where I apologize for the fact that I am neither a food blogger nor a photographer. But I promise I do know when something tastes too good to not be shared!
I am a sucker for salty/sweet combinations, and one of the great things about this sandwich is that it's easy to substitute what you have for what you don't. No goat cheese? Cream cheese will do. No bacon? Sliced ham or lunchmeat will work in a pinch. No blackberry jam? Use whatever flavor you have on hand. A friend even thought an apricot or mango chutney might work well. The possibilities are honestly quite endless.

Confession: for photos, I did use cream cheese, not goat cheese. A good substitute!
I make a lazy "pesto": lots of basil, a small handful of kale & a couple tomatoes. It really doesn't even count as pesto. I like going a little heavy on the basil.
Lazy Man's Pesto. 

Blackberry Bacon Swiss Grilled Cheese
An easily modifiable twist on an old classic.
Ingredients
  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 1-3 TB blackberry jam
  • 1 TB goat cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2-4 slices bacon (I use pre-cooked bacon bought at Costco)
  • 2 slices swiss cheese
  • large handful basil
  • small handful kale
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1-2 TB butter (optional)
Instructions
Toast both slices of bread. Spread butter on outsides of slices if desired. On inside of one slice, spread blackberry jam. On the other, goat cheese (or cream cheese substitute). Layer bacon and swiss on one of the slices. In food processor, combine kale, basil & tomatoes until they form a loose pesto-like consistency. Spread portion of mixture to taste on sandwich. If desired, heat sandwich in microwave just enough to heat and melt Swiss cheese (about 45 seconds). Enjoy!
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 sandwich

I'd love to hear about how you'd modify this recipe with what you have. I think sticking with the salty/sweet combo is key, but the rest can be played with. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

To Three or Not to Three: A Two-Kid Family Dilemma

This post was originally published on Parent.co. You can read the entire post here.


“I just realized­ this is the first summer I will not be either pregnant or breastfeeding since 2011!” I text my friends.

I don’t remember what made me think of it, but it’s a groundbreaking revelation for me. Every one of the past four summers I have been growing a baby inside or outside my body, with my body. My daughter is now three-and-a-half, my son is eighteen months. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been four years of this, but it’s been four years of this. An amazing four years, a beautiful four years, a privileged four years. But four freakin’ years.

This is the first summer, in other words, where I will actually not be sharing my body with a tiny person for the purpose of nourishing their physical bodies.

I tell my husband about this revelation as he eats breakfast.

“Oh, we can fix that,” he quips. I laugh and give him a “deer ­in­ the ­headlights” look. Not what I was getting at, but we’ve been in negotiations about this recently...

You can read the rest of this post here. Thanks!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Squeaky Clean: How I Got My Toddler to Brush Her Teeth

This post was originally published on Parent.co. You can read the post in full here


With her pajamas finally on, I reach my hand up above my daughter’s belly, widen my eyes, and grin at her; she stills and begins to giggle in the middle of the long pause as she anticipates another round of tickle wrestling.

I growl playfully and plunge the tips of my fingers onto her belly, underarms, legs. The squeal of tickled laughter fills the tiny bedroom. This is my favorite part of the exhausting process that is the bedtime routine.

And then I remember. Dang it. It can wait until morning, right?
But tonight, Elmo toothpaste has apparently lost its appeal.

“Zoe, we forgot to brush your teeth,” I say, wishing I could have blocked that other part of me that whispered something about having to build consistent dental hygiene habits.

“Uh oh!” she replies smiling, the tickles still miraculously working their happy effect.

“I know, silly mama forgot. Let’s go to the bathroom, kiddo.”

We trudge down the hall and flip on the lights. I sigh as I lift her up to sit on the bathroom counter so she can only move so far. I pull out her generic caterpillar toothbrush and the Elmo toothpaste. In this house, Elmo wins everything, and so far, Elmo toothpaste has helped us with the teethbrushing routine. Thanks, Elmo.

“Please, Zoe, open your mouth. We need to brush your teeth!”

I am met with pursed lips. I don’t have the energy for pursed lips.

“Come on, Zoe, we can get it done really fast and then go rock and snuggle!”

Toddler bedtime ranks right up there with doing your taxes and driving the freeway during rush hour in the way that it can suck the life out of you...

You can read the rest of this story here. And if you like it, please consider sharing!



Friday, June 10, 2016

6 Inexpensive Things That Will Entertain Traveling Kids

Our sweet little Honda Fit that we stuffed with 2 adults and 2 kids under 3, one double BOB stroller, one pack n play, snacks, one Bumbo and two suitcases jam packed full of clothing for all four of us, for a two week trip up to Seattle and back down the West Coast. It was awesome, and might have been even more awesome with a couple long trip toys to keep the kiddos a bit more chill.
This post was originally published at Parent.co. You can read the entire post here

It's that time of year again! Summer is here, and while traveling long distances is not a part of every family's summer plans, for some families who live far away from grandparents and extended family, this is peak travel season.

This summer we will travel back to the MidWest for my brother's wedding, and while I love getting to go back to my hometown and see some of the people I love the most, I always get a little panicked worried thinking about the long airplane trips we sign ourselves up for. We usually have at least one layover involved, making for almost an entire day of travel with our two young kids. While we try to schedule our flights around nap time to ideally pass a few of the hours with cranky and tired sleeping children, my 3 year old daughter has recently started giving up her naps, so I'm hoping to get a little more creative with how we keep her occupied on the plane ride this time.

While she is old enough to be addicted to appreciate screen time and apps, my son is still a little young to fully utilize them, so we are looking for a mix of hands-on and screen-based activities. Thankfully, there are quite a few of both out there that can keep our kiddos occupied. I try to look for activities that will hold their attention for longer stretches and are low cost. Here are a few I recommend:

You can read the rest of this post here

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

5 Things I Hope My Children Learn From Growing A Vegetable Garden

This post was originally published by Parent.co. You can find the entire version here.



Growing up in Michigan, my mom had a vegetable garden that she grew just adjacent to our back porch. I remember her excitement at bringing in lettuce leaves, making rhubarb bread, and trying to recover from spying the occasional slithering garden snake.
I don’t remember getting involved in the gardening process much, other than eating (and probably complaining about eating) the vegetables and fruits that were grown there, but now – deep into parenthood myself – I appreciate much more the effort involved in raising young children and trying to keep plants alive and growing, too.
I started a garden in our California backyard when my first child was nearly one year old with the simple intention of trying to save a little money by growing some of our own food. As we added another child to our family, my commitment to gardening waned because, well, children. But we are finally coming to the surface for air again this growing season with a 3-and-a-half-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old, and I’m trying to approach it with new intentions as I get my children involved.
Here’s what I hope to show them without directly telling them:

1 | Good things take time.

It’s been roughly 80 days since our first tomato plants were planted earlier this spring. We have harvested four tomatoes so far, each on separate days, two of which were bite-­size cherry tomatoes. The anticipation of a ripened tomato has been hard for my daughter when I tell her they aren’t quite ready yet, especially when I’ve enticed her outside with, “Let’s check and see if the tomatoes are ready!”
However, the few times we have taken a ripe one off the vine, sliced it, sprinkled it with a little salt, and bitten into it have been moments worth the wait. We’ve even convinced her to categorize tomatoes as a “dessert” item. (Relax… she’s known about chocolate for years.)...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Letter to Joel + Bumble Bee Tickling Rhymes


Dear Joel,

Sometimes I want just an entire day to stare at your face, to kiss your soft cheeks, tousle your hair, chase you and your sister around the house, tackle you with tickles and rock you to sleep. Actually, when I think of it, most of our days are made up of moments like this - they're just mixed in with moments of tantrums, whining, slips and falls and many, many tears. I can't have one without the other at this stage, but that's ok. I'll take the pain and growing moments with the delightful ones.


You got your hair cut a couple months ago. It was much needed, as your hair had fallen well over your eyes and was getting full of food at dinner time. I was ready and not yet ready to say goodbye to the baby hair, but when I could see your eyes clearly again without having to sweep your hair to one side, I saw how much expression I had been missing out on, too.


You have so many new words, and I sense that this summer will be one of vocabulary explosion as it was for your sister the summer before you were born.

"Wawa" - specifically water, but useful to refer to any liquid drink that you are pointing to, be it milk or orange juice.

"Ah-poo" - specifically apples, but useful to refer to any fruit that you are pointing to, from bananas to strawberries and, much to my chagrin, even Welch's fruit snacks.

"Mama" - you've had this one for a while, but it's particularly delightful to hear when I appear after an absence from you and you turn to me, arms wide open and stumble-running, inflection changing from high to low between first syllable and last, as if sighing out an entire feeling of peace - "Mama is here, all is well."

"Dah-dee" - you've also had this one for a while, equally as delightful. I'll admit it stung a smidge when you first started calling out for Daddy through cries and tears after a tumble or a bump, especially when I was already holding you. I think, however, it was sweet to realize that you were just imitating your older sister's cry out for Daddy after such events. She also used to cry for me, and then when you were born, she and Daddy grew much closer as it became more difficult to hold two little independent, wiggly bodies in my lap. Still, most days, your preference is still Mama.




"Diddy" - your word for your sister, Zoe. Not to be confused with "Dah-dee", a distinction we, as your immediate family members, can usually make but others cannot. Perhaps because we occasionally call her "Sissy", which I'll admit is easier for the toddler tongue to imitate than the buzz of the "Z" that starts your sister's name. Particularly sweet on the mornings, most mornings, when you wake up earlier than she and must wait around for her slumber to lift, making do with boring old Mom or Dad until the most exciting member of our tribe awakes.

"Nah" - snack, particularly one you have spotted with your little eye or when you come running upon hearing the crinkle of plastic being opened.

"Bee" - blankie, a recently developed comfort object. Thankfully, it can be any "bee" and not a particular one. When you go down for nap or night night, this is your favorite thing to grab as we rock and snuggle.

"Nigh-nigh" - you eagerly head toward nap time and night time, as long as you are sufficiently tired (not difficult when you have your older sister running you ragged all day). The other night, you even kind of asked for it when you stepped down from your chair after dinner, laying your head on the seat. "Nigh-nigh" you sighed, and it was clear you were more than ready. You know when we talk pajamas and brushing teeth and giving night night hugs and kisses that one of your most treasured times of day is coming - snuggle time. My little introvert baby.

"Side!" - always with an exclamation point when you hear that it might happen, always with many tears and gnashing of teeth when it becomes apparent that it will not be happening. Outside is your favorite place, and I am so glad that we are now at the point where I can send you out on your own and watch from the kitchen window, or charge your older sister with keeping an eye on you (she's more than happy to be in charge of you, though I usually try to keep her focused on being your friend and sister, not your keeper).

"Ahp! Ahp!" - when you need to be lifted to our bed, or a couch, or a chair, or up into our arms. As with your sister, this is used interchangeably with "Dow" (down) - the point is, you want whichever position you are not in currently.

"Nnnnnnno!" - your sister told me the other day "Mama, Joel is practicing saying 'no'," as indeed you were. Always the long emphasis on the end, often with an added push away of whatever object or physical touch is being offered to you.

"Bah-bah" - bumble bee. Your grandma introduced me to some precious tickling rhymes that my grandfather, the impish jokester, had used with her growing up, and your dad and I have adopted them and added to them. We get you and your sister while laid out on the bed, while sitting on the couch, or whenever we need to distract you from something, particularly a path leading toward Whinesville. You have recently started tickling us, using your pointed finger to represent the Bumble Bee in the rhyme, circling your arm to make it fly toward its destination. A few examples of the rhymes:

Bumble bee, bumble bee, come from the farm 
to sting little Joel right under the arm!

Bumble bee, bumble bee, come from Quebec 

to sting little Zoe right in the neck!

Bumble bee, bumble bee, from Winnipeg 

come to sting Joel right in the leg!

Bumble bee, bumble bee, come from the jelly 

to sting little Zoe right in the belly!

Bumble bee, bumble bee, come from a rose 

to sting little Joel right in the toes!

Turns out that some Canadian cities make for good tickling rhymes - who knew?


I love that I get to be a mama for a second time. You and your sister and your Dad are such gifts to me from a God who loves beyond comprehension. These days are hard and full and good and I know I will miss them. I already miss them, some days, when you and your sister are asleep and I want to just breathe you in for a little bit.

Love you forever,

Mama

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tomatoes.

Sweet 100 Tomatoes. These rarely make it indoors - pop 'em in my mouth, just like candy.
It's my third summer at attempting to grow tomatoes, and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it enough to not outright kill them. It's the first summer where we will be around to really enjoy the peak of tomato season. I think I could grow an entire backyard of tomatoes and never get tired of them, or at least never get tired of giving them away. And, though you can put them in all sorts of great recipes, I honestly love the simplicity of picking one ripe off the vine, slicing it up, sprinkling it with a wee bit of salt, and eating it fresh.

This post is entirely made of pictures of tomatoes, because I honestly just can't get enough of how fun it is to finally be growing some of our own vegetables. I'm working on gleaning some lessons as I continue to garden, and I think the one that God is trying to get across to me right now is that in order to grow you must be watered. Without water, leaves of the plants curl up, wither and eventually the plant dies. Sometimes it's amazing how long they can hold on without much water, but eventually, the fate is the same. Watering is the one thing I have changed to be more consistent with in caring for the tomatoes this season. It seems so simple, but I'm such a stubborn one. I don't always want to sit still and drink. But the beauty that comes with regular watering is beyond compare. Love these colors. Even the pre-ripened greenery is gorgeous - the anticipation for it to be ready enough to pluck from the vine is so much like the anticipation on Christmas Eve, and each ripened tomato like a gift. Hoping to see many good gifts this season.

L to R: 2 Early Girls, 3 Black Princes
Sweet 100 Tomatoes

Top: Purple Cherokee, Bottom: Early Girl
The first Black Prince of the season
The first Early Girl of the season
Eager gardening apprentice 
Early Girls on the vine
Sweet 100s on the vine

Unripened Black Prince tomatoes on the vine 
Unripened Black Prince tomato

10 People Who Are My Everyday Heroes as A Parent of Young Kids


This post was originally published by Parent.co. You can find the entire version here

It takes a village to raise a child - it always has, it always will. Parents can often feel very alone in the process of raising children, and to a certain degree there is validity to those claims. An increasingly globalized world means we often don't live close to family members (my own family lives three time zones away from the nearest grandparents), and in some cases we don't even get along with family members nearby. It can be easy to forget how much help we truly have around us - I've certainly fallen into this trap.

On a daily basis, I rely on the help of many people who likely see themselves as doing nothing extraordinary, but to me it can feel pretty monumentally helpful. These people are my everyday heroes - you may even be one of them:

1. The grocery cart swipers. These are the folks who, while walking through the parking lot on their way in to the grocery store, notice the struggle bus that is me trying to load two children back into car seats and ask if they can take my cart. What kind of angel are you, dear stranger? Yes, YES! What a win - you get a cart, I get to schlep my kids and groceries home about 30 seconds earlier - a 30 seconds that might make all the difference today in my maintenance of sanity. Bonus points if these are the same people who offer their empty carts to a just-arrived parent and their crew.

2. The meal bringers. Whether it's because we have a new baby or our family has the latest case of feels-like-death illness, these are my chicken-soup people. They know that food might as well be a love language, and may or may not know the weight lifted in not having to figure out what the next meal will be. They know it doesn't have to be fancy or even homemade to communicate solidarity and warmth.

3. The caretakers. The people who watch my kids on occasion - parents morning out or evening out at local churches, grandparents, babysitters, fellow friends. My village. Even if I'm paying $10 per kid for 3-4 hours (side note: so cheap!) this much-craved alone time is the time I look forward to so much. One of our local churches has a weekly parents morning out on Wednesday mornings, and it became so popular that the sign-up list fills up within an hour of being opened. The poor church secretary - also a hero of mine.

4. The February Christmas light take-down crew. People who see a need you had overlooked and offer to fix it for you. I know some folks might take offense to being offered help with something like this. Like - should I be ashamed that someone noticed my Christmas lights are still up? My advice to you: lay down thy pride, sisters and brothers. There is nothing like the swallowing of pride that happens as a parent to young children. Had they not offered, it is entirely possible those lights would have remained up until June. Or December. Whatever...