Crazed In the Kitchen   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Once Again, I Owned Daylight Savings Time

This is not a humble brag post. You know humble brags? When someone wants to brag but doesn’t want to seem like they’re bragging? They’re all over facebook.


Barf.

Anyway, this is not that. This is just a brag. A straight-up, to-the-point post about how awesome I am. I’m not even going to pretend to try to be humble right now. I’m about to brag your ears off. Get ready.

Here it is:

ONCE AGAIN, I *OWNED* DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME.

I wrote last fall about that jerk Fall Back, who brought me so much pleasure in my youth but then turned on me when I had kids. I spent the last few years feeling bitter about the end of our great relationship, but then I found a way to get revenge…and it felt great.

Things were a bit different last month with Spring Forward. There’s been no love lost between me and Spring Forward over the years. I have pretty much always hated Spring Forward. Every year since I learned to love sleep (so for a LONG TIME now), I have railed against it. To me, Spring Forward is like that mean girl in high school who you *know* you should just ignore but who manages to get under your skin Every. Single. Time. She knows she’s doing it, and she loves that she bothers you, and she loves the fact that you can’t just let it go.

(OK, I may be personalizing this whole Daylight Savings thing a bit too much. Or I have some issues leftover from adolescence to work through….)

But this year, I did it. I just let it go. That mean girl Spring Forward came knocking with some mean stuff to say and instead of getting all riled up, I was mature. I was calm. What did I do? I flat-out ignored her.

Yep, I just pretended like Spring Forward wasn’t even happening. Didn’t set the clocks forward on Saturday night, or on Sunday morning for that matter. We did our thing Sunday like nothing was different. Played outside, watched TV, ate chicken nuggets, er quinoa and kale salad for dinner (is that a thing?), and put the kids to bed. Then my husband and I set the clocks forward, watched tv for an hour, and went to bed.

Of course, it wasn’t quite as exciting as Fall Back, when we found ourselves with an extra hour of kid-free time in the evening. That felt like a victory, like something that deserved a little celebration.

But Spring Forward? It was more like…meh. Whatevs. Talk to the hand, or whatever the kids are saying these days. I mean, we were probably going to go to bed early anyway. So, you know, we just did that. And the next morning? Nothing different really happened. I’ve said before that my kids are like roosters: up at the crack of dawn and noisy about it. So, they got up early. Like always. And they were a bit cranky at bedtime. Like always. Lots of noisy with periods of cranky? Pretty much a regular day for us.

So. Nice try, Spring Forward. I got you beat, and I’m telling everyone who will listen. (And, quite frankly, a few people who I think were trying hard not to listen. Oh well.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wholly Half-Assed Valentines Day Cookies

It’s important to start holiday traditions early, when your children are young. That way, they’ll have years and years of memories to talk about with each other and their therapists. So, while I’d like to say that we have established some warm and fuzzy holiday traditions for our family, the truth is there’s really only one constant…

We ALWAYS half-ass it. Every holiday, every time.

Like, you won’t see any fun or scary Halloween decorations on our house in October. Last year I finally got my butt to Target and bought a few signs that say “BOO!” which you *might* see if we remember to turn the porch light on.

And, until recently, the only Christmas tree we had was a pathetic two-foot tall fake plant that we set on a table and surrounded with garbage. This year we had a full-size fake tree, which was great because Santa got lazy about wrapping some of the baby’s presents and this happened:
C'mon, Santa. Get your sh*t together.
And St. Patrick’s Day? My kids barely know that it exists.

Needless to say, Valentines Day has been mostly a non-event around here. I always buy little cards for the boys to give out at school, but that’s it. No heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast, no trail of paper hearts leading from their bedroom door to the kitchen, no “Love Tree” with heart-shaped leaves bearing messages of love from me to them. All of those things sound pretty awesome, actually, but…come on. WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT STUFF??

So, I felt like Mother of the Freaking Year last week when I decided we should make heart-shaped cookies for Valentines Day, using an easy recipe I found on—where else?—Pinterest.

And let me just say that “recipe” is really stretching the meaning of that word. If you do this right, there is almost no work involved. No mixing, no measuring, no sifting.

(No flavor, either, which is an unfortunate and somewhat important detail that I’ll tell you more about later.)

So how do you make these only sort-of ok cookies? It’s easy!! Just use the leftover pie crust scraps from your annual heart-shaped chocolate Valentines Day pie! Or, if you’re an “efficient” baker like me, use the leftover premade frozen pie crust from the two-pack you bought at Christmas that has been taking up space in your freezer since then. Use cookie cutters to cut out hearts, brush the “cookies” with melted butter, and sprinkle with colored sugar or other fun Valentines-themed decorations.
Hearts and...caterpillars?
We used green sugar, obviously.

Bake them a little too long at 350 degrees, then chisel them off the cookie sheet and let them cool. If you’re angling for a hot Pinterest-worthy photo, use some store-bought white icing to trace your kids’ initials on two of the cookies, then snap a fuzzy pic with your phone. Serve them to your kids, and watch their faces fall in disappointment as you all realize that these are NOT COOKIES, they are over-cooked pieces of crappy pie crust sprinkled with green chemicals. Put them in a zip-lock bag on the counter for a week, then throw them away because no one will eat them.

So. It seems that we have managed to continue our tradition of celebrating holidays in the most half-assed fashion. The good news, I guess, is that my kids are still probably too young to remember this disaster, so I’ll get another chance next year. In the meantime, I’ll just start pinning some fun St. Patrick’s Day ideas…
Never going to happen. (credit: http://christiepepper.com/?s=St.+Patrick%27s+Day)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Chocolate, Coffee, and Wine: Breakfast of Champions?

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I have a serious taste for chocolate. Like, SERIOUS. I will eat chocolate in pretty much any form. To be honest, I have never seen the point of fruity candies. Skittles? You can have them. Give me M&Ms, Twix, or—even better—a bar of pure dark chocolate.

So you can just imagine my reaction when an email from Kallari Chocolate landed in my inbox inviting me to sample and review some high-end dark chocolate bars.

I ate them before I remembered to take a pic. Oops.
“HECK YEAH!” is approximately what I said. (There may have been some additional not-so-family-friendly words said in there, too. Also, whooping and hollering and dancing around. I’ve been known to do worse for chocolate.)

My very practical husband encouraged me to reread the email to make sure I was clear on what the deal entailed. I did and, sure enough, it boiled down to this:
They send me chocolate. I eat the chocolate. I write about the chocolate.

Emphasis on the I EAT THE CHOCOLATE part.

As I waited for my chocolate to arrive, I called up the Kallari Chocolate website and poked around. And, holy hot cocoa, about 5 minutes in I realized that I am actually a chocolate amateur. There was so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know about chocolate!

For one, Kallari says there is an art to tasting chocolate. You can read about the whole process here, but the basic idea is that instead of chowing down like I usually do, you should really let the chocolate melt in your mouth in order to fully enjoy its flavor.

I’m not really a willpower kind of person so this melt-in-your-mouth stuff was not easy for me, but once I got my chocolate samples I gave it a try. I have to say, it really made a difference. I tried the Kallari 70%, 75%, and 85% cacao bars and they were all sooooo good. (Though I should say, the 85% cacao bar is really dark and not very sweet, so that may be only for us hardcore dark chocolate lovers.) The 75% cacao bar was my favorite. And eating it square by square, letting each square melt in my mouth, meant that I felt like I was eating a lot of chocolate, even though I only ate about 1/3 of the bar. (At that time. I ate the whole bar—all three bars, actually—within a few days. Willpower, remember?)

Um, Ok. If you insist.
Before all the chocolate was gone, I remembered that Kallari is planning to make chocolate chips using their chocolate. So I checked out some of their recipes, thinking maybe I would try to bake cookies or scones or something using chopped-up chocolate bars. But, as often happens, I got
distracted by wine. I wasn’t actually drinking any, believe it or not, but the Kallari website suggests wine pairings for their various chocolates. Obviously, this was a revelation to me. Were they saying that the chocolate-eating experience might be improved by…wait for it…DRINKING WINE??

SIGN ME UP!

The bad news was that it was only 10 am, so I made a mental note to try the chocolate-wine pairing later* and moved on to a more appropriate recipe—chocolate mixed with coffee. It was good—REALLY good—but for me, I’d rather eat the chocolate on its own or in a recipe that highlights it more.

(OK, cookies. I’d rather eat it in cookies. I’d always rather eat cookies.)

But, I didn’t end up chopping up the chocolate and baking it into cookies because I ate it all before I got around to it. So I can’t tell you how awesome Kallari chocolate chips will be from first-hand experience, but I CAN tell you that I’m pretty sure they’ll be awesome because this chocolate is so good. Like, ruined-Hersheys-forever-for-me good. Like, I-might-make-a-special-trip-to-Whole-Foods-to-buy-more good. (Find locations where Kallari chocolate is sold here.)

Do it! Do it!
So. My recommendation? Kallari chocolate is really good. I’d buy it to eat or bake with for that reason alone, but you should also know that it’s organic and produced, distributed, and owned by a Kichwa indigenous cooperative in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Read more about their story here, then go get some.

And, go ahead. Eat it for breakfast. I won’t tell anyone.

*As for the whole pairing-wine-with-chocolate deal? Check out their recommendations here. I had Chardonnay on hand, so I just went with that with the 70% cacao chocolate. It was great, but I am by no means a wine expert. Basically, wine + chocolate = delicious snack, in my book.

(This is a sponsored post. I was given three Kallari Chocolate bars to review. All opinions are my own. If you would like me to review your product, send me three Kallari Chocolate bars and I will consider it.)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman--What Does Addiction "Look" Like?

Like a lot of people, I was shocked to learn that Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose yesterday. I had no idea that he had struggled with addiction—relapsing last year after staying clean for over two decades. Because Hoffman had somehow managed to achieve and maintain both critical acclaim and a (relatively) low public profile, his was a celebrity death that many of us never saw coming.
Photo credit: www.tvweek.com

So, I spent some time yesterday thinking about Hoffman and why his addiction and death surprised me so much. Other public figures have succumbed to addiction and, while their deaths felt tragic and unnecessary, they weren’t this much of a shock to me. I guess I think first of Amy Winehouse. She was inarguably an incredibly talented singer who had achieved great commercial success and critical acclaim. But her struggles with substance abuse were as well-known as her beehive and eyeliner. I was sad to hear of her overdose death, but I was not shocked.  

So what was it about Hoffman’s death that left me standing frozen, mouth agape, staring in shock at a tiny TV at the gym?

I think it was that my impression of Hoffman was that he was one of the few in his field who were not only wildly talented, but also widely respected by fans, critics, and fellow actors alike. He didn’t seem to be in it for the celebrity, the parties, the fancy houses, the vacations, or the babes—and he somehow kept his private life mostly private. I’ve been known to check out celebrity magazines and websites, and I rarely saw him discussed or photographed there. He seemed to be a down-to-earth guy who took his craft very seriously.

In short, he didn’t “look” to me like an addict.

And in realizing that, I realized that along with my shock I was a little ashamed. Because in my mind, I “knew” what addicts look like. I mean, I knew enough to know that they don’t always look like the scruffy, strung-out homeless guy on the corner. But I figured that they were obvious, like Amy Winehouse. And, of course, this isn’t true. Anyone, anywhere could be wrestling with any number of demons and seem—on the outside—to be just “fine.” This goes for celebrities, but also for the rest of us “regular” people too.

So I guess the lesson I’m taking away from all this is to try even harder to be gentle with people. The slow driver ahead of me in the fast lane, the distracted grocery store clerk, the unfriendly receptionist at the pediatrician’s office: It could be that they are all just jerks—but it’s unlikely. And while it’s also unlikely that they are all heroin addicts, it’s quite possible that they are facing some struggle I can’t begin to know. And who knows, maybe the kindness I show them will be paid forward to someone else.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I Used To Be The Best Mom On Earth. For Real.

I used to be the best mom. I’m not kidding—I was the BEST. I knew how to quiet a crying infant, how to get a toddler to sleep through the night, how to teach a preschooler to behave in a restaurant. As I walked through the mall, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office, I watched the poor, unskilled parents I saw and thought about how lucky I was to be such a great parent. I judged parents who were trying to wrangle tantruming toddlers or unruly school-aged kids. I gave out dirty looks like Oprah hands out new cars to those selfish, lazy parents who couldn’t be bothered to raise their kids right. 

But then, something happened that shook my rock-solid parenting self-confidence to the core. My perfect parenting skills slipped, I started losing control, I….

I had kids.

As I stared at my wailing newborn at 2 am on our first night home from the hospital, I realized with a sinking feeling that I actually knew nothing about raising kids. But, I thought to myself, how could this be true? I had 15 years of babysitting under my belt, and I had read pretty much every baby care book published! I was an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER, for crying out loud, and I watched Supernanny religiously! Those things made me a freaking expert on kids, right? RIGHT???

Wrong.

Unfortunately, there truly is no way to understand parenthood other than by having a kid. And, there really is no way to know for sure what kind of parent you will be until you’re doing it. If you had described Attachment Parenting to me before my first son was born, I would have nodded politely while screaming in my head, “GET A BACKBONE!” Now that I have kids, I’m mostly a believer. Before I had kids, I thought for sure that I would embrace being a working mother. Now, I’m on my third year of child care leave and loving being a stay-at-home mom.

It turns out parenting is just like any other job. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about waiting tables or performing brain surgery: You can Google it, watch videos, read books, but you can’t truly understand it until you do it. Parenting is no different—except that many, many, MANY people who have never done it seem to think they know just how it should be done.

One problem, I think, for most non-parents lies in the whole nature vs. nurture debate. Before I had kids, I put a lot of stock in the nurture side of the argument. Kids will always do as they’re told and as they’re taught, I believed. For example, I really believed that my kids would love vegetables because I would tell them that we were eating a rainbow of different colored foods. How fun! Fast forward a few years and my 4-year-old couldn’t care less about rainbows and only eats veggies that start with the letter C. My 2-year-old, on the other hand, will try pretty much anything. They are human beings that come with personalities of their own, not robots to be programmed. Yes, a child’s upbringing plays a major role in who they are, but a big part of who they are is just…who they are.
How I pictured my hubby...before we had kids

So, to all the non-parents out there, I ask you to give us parents the benefit of the doubt. Please understand that the mother of three ahead of you in line at Target probably did not teach her 3-year-old to chant, “Vagina! Vagina! Beautiful vagina!” at top volume. Yes, she can encourage him to use more appropriate language or she can punish him if he refuses to stop. But the wonderful and awful thing about kids is that only they are truly in control of their voices and bodies. They often make good choices about how to act, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they choose mayhem. How you react to their behavior says loads more about you as a parent than how they behave.

Mostly, my childless friends, I ask you to remember what I once overheard another parent say: “The only perfect parents are the ones who have not yet had kids. And the only perfect kids are the ones who have not yet been born.”

This post was first published on the awesome blog Daddy Knows Less. You should go check it out.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I'm OK With Not Being A MILF As Long As I Don't Have To Clean Up Pee Anymore

Someone has been peeing on the floor and walls around our toilet.

Yes, I am the mother of two small boys, so I expect a certain amount of, um…spray. That’s fine. I can deal with spray. But what I have been finding lately is NOT SPRAY, unless the new meaning of “spray” is “puddles.”

It’s smelly. It’s gross to look at. And it’s NOT OK.

At first, I tried talking to my boys about the problem. I figured it would be like those conversations you read about in parenting books: They would willingly take responsibility for their actions and together we’d create a fun plan to avoid future problems. Heck, we might even make a sticker chart!

Right. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Guys, someone is peeing on the floor and walls around the toilet.

5-year-old: (shrugging exaggeratedly) It’s not me!

3-year-old: (eyes wide with “innocence”) It’s not me!

Me: Well, who is it then???

(Both look pensive)

5-year-old: Guess it must be Daddy!

3-year-old: Yeah, Daddy!!

And off they ran to do whatever it is they do when they’re not peeing on the floor and walls around the toilet.

My husband, of course, was shocked and horrified by this. And I, of course, mostly believed him when he swore that he was not responsible.

But, here’s the thing.

It’s PROBABLY NOT him.

It PROBABLY IS the boys.

But—and I know this to be true—it’s DEFINITELY NOT me.

And so I have decided to abdicate my position of head-cleaner-of-pee-on-the-floor-and-walls-around-the-toilet. And since my husband has until now been the vice-cleaner-of-pee-on-the-floor-and-walls-around-the-toilet, that leaves him in charge.

My husband tried to argue that I really couldn’t with 100% certainty claim that I had never peed on the floor next to or behind the toilet.

“Oh, yeah?” I responded. “I guess you’re right. I guess maybe if I did this….”

And I proceeded to pretend to pee, standing up and facing an imaginary toilet while aiming for the walls and floor.

Now I’m a woman, with regular working lady parts, so you can just imagine the bending, thrusting, and gyrating that this little show involved—even while fully clothed.

My husband cringed, and maybe even heaved a little, and told me that was by far the least sexy thing he has ever seen me do. (I think he has blocked out the unmedicated childbirth that he witnessed just 8 months ago, lucky bastard.) But I was willing to take the hit on my MILF status, because he eventually had to agree that I was not the pee-pee perpetrator.

So…I’m out. Starting tomorrow, my boys are on notice that THEY will be responsible for cleaning the floor and walls around the toilet.

And I’m willing to bet that everyone’s aim will miraculously improve soon after.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Brain Cells--Who Needs 'Em? Monthly Momfessional

They say confession is good for the soul, right? Kind of like “they” say red wine and chocolate are good for the heart? Well “they” sound like very wise people, so let’s get this month’s Momfessional (the first!) underway…

MONTHLY MOMFESSIONAL, JANUARY EDITION:  BRAIN CELLS--WHO NEEDS 'EM?

Recently, my husband and I had a “discussion” (you know the kind) about who should watch our family’s only TV that night. Yes, we have a DVR, but we had both been waiting a long time for our favorite shows to restart and we both felt like we couldn’t wait ONE MINUTE MORE to watch them.

Why the marital showdown? Let’s just say that two classic, iconic gems of television artistry were showing at the same time.

It was THIS:
Vs. THIS:

And yes, I confess that I am one of the 8 English-speaking women on Earth who doesn’t watch Downton Abbey.

And yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to confess that I LOVE watching The Bachelor (and The Bachelorette). LOVE. THEM.

I don’t actually have anything against Downton Abbey. In fact, I’m certain that someday when my children are grown and I have one freaking minute to myself more time, I will thoroughly enjoy watching the whole series on Netflix or whatever has taken its place by then. (We’re talking WAY in the future here, unfortunately.) But for now, catching up is just too much of a time commitment.

Plus, Downton Abbey? I’m thinking it’s probably hard to watch, at least by my tired-mom-of-three standards. I’m guessing it takes actual functioning brain cells to follow the complex storylines and to keep track of the many characters. The writing is stellar, I hear, and everyone speaks with a British accent. All of this means I would have to PAY ATTENTION THE WHOLE TIME. That if I happened to do one of those 5-minute-long blinks that I sometimes do in the evening, I might actually miss something.

Yeah. That sounds just way too hard.

But you know what’s easy to watch? The Bachelor.

No one on The Bachelor uses long words or complicated language. No one. Not only is the plotline exactly the same every season, but the stories are pretty much the same each episode, too. Even better, the producers helpfully reduce the number of characters each week, so that by the end of the season you really only have to keep track of 3 or 4 different people.

And the best part? Having a glass (or two, ahem) of wine during The Bachelor doesn’t make it any harder to follow what’s going on. If anything, it eases my anxiety about the fact that I can’t tell most of the “ladies” apart, and makes me more tolerant—sympathetic, even—when they act all crazy and bitchy.

(I have the feeling that drinking wine during Downton Abbey would make me very sleepy and not a little confused. It also might make me start trying to talk with an British accent, which would scare the cat and confuse the kids.)

So, for now, it’s The Bachelor for me. It may be killing my brain cells, but at least I get to stare at this each week:
ALMOST as cute as my husband. Almost.

Totally worth it.