Lunch Letters

Last August, I was in a scramble, trying to gather all materials necessary to send my first sweet babe off to school. I was also uber pregnant, with the idea of getting to an actual store feeling pretty far fetched, so I resorted to my go-to fave, Amazon, to stock our cupboards with lunch-ready gear in particular.

Of course, you know what happens sometimes when you can’t actually see the products you are buying, right? They don’t turn out quite as expected (please tell me this happens to other people, too!)??

Such was the case in my choice of food containers – perfect size and with compartments for proper food separation, but are you kidding me? The lids don’t actually attach to the containers! You can push down one side and then the other but nothing ever latches, much less seals. So, yeah, kind of pointless for putting in a lunch box.

After a reorder on Zulily (which thankfully worked), the old/new boxes became snack trays. And at some point, on a drive somewhere, I put masking tape on them, a little piece on each side to hold the useless lids in place, and labeled each side with the kids’ initials so we could keep everything straight. And with that simple bit of problem solving, I stumbled upon pure awesomeness. I love it when that happens!
You see, my other grand plan for the start of the year was to include notes in HD’s lunch box on the 3 out of 5 days each week that he does not each school lunch. You know – PostIts with cute sayings and whatnot – all Pinterest-y and enduring. But then I made the mistake of asking him that first week of school if I could write him a note for his lunch and he totally turned me down. SAY WHAT?! Six and already too cool for school, I mean Mom?! 😦

So I listened and included no notes, until the day I was in a dirty dish bind and had to use one of the crap lid trays for his lunch and sealed it shut with tape. Out of habit, I wrote and H on one side and a D on the other. When it came home that afternoon, I noticed that Harrison had taken both pieces off and stuck them back together to make HD across the top of his lid. That right there was the light bulb moment.

My little book and puzzle loving kid liked putting the broken phrase/tape back together! That was my ticket in to leaving him little notes!

Since this discovery, any time I have to use the tape-on-lid method (and I totally use them all the time now because I love leaving him a note to read in the middle of his day), I write a two-parter on both halves of the tape and they always come back to me stuck back together – my sign that Harrison noticed and read them. Somehow this makes the struggle of preparing home lunches (for real: why is this so hard? and I only have one kid to make one lunch for currently!!) so much more worth it, to know that we will have a connecting point at some point during his busy day away from me. And bless his sweet heart, he even got it the day I wrote “I lava you” on one piece and drew a really crappy volcano on the other!

Today was the second-to-last lunch I will have to pack (pardon me while I go do cartwheels about that!) and here is the note I wrote prior to taping.img_1785 I don’t know if the lunch itself is all that super, but the kid sure is and so is the love I have for him, especially since the moment he swung his backpack onto his shoulders this morning, he said, “My lunch isn’t in here.” and he was totally right! How’s that for a wee bit of irony, eh? The one lunch I snap a pic of is also the same lunch that I tried to forget on top of the stove instead of sending it with the kid to school! Good thing, for the sake of my brain cells, summer is almost here!




Best Day

By any chance, have any of you ever found yourself in near-tears during a trip to Walmart? And not just because you’re in Walmart (although those kind of tears are very much legit)? Tonight, I spent a good 3/4 of my shopping venture fighting back big waves of emotion, even though I was there totally kid- and time-crunch-free, and I got home a little bit ago feeling completely wrung out by the whole experience.

The source of my demise? School supplies and party favors.

Right when I walked in, the bins and aisles of ready-and-waiting writing utensils and folders, notebooks, etc. bombarded my senses and caused a minute of panic because oh-my-gosh, I have to learn how To Do the mom-of-school-aged-kids thing now. What?! How is that even possible?! That question, however, leads me my second trigger of the evening which took on the form of finding little bits to go in the favor bags for Harrison’s birthday party which is honoring the fact that *today* TODAY he turned 6.

OK, there’s my real downfall. My first baby is 6. And after a long day of celebration (and, oh my, a year’s worth of sugar), I am a big pile of mush. Perhaps it is a good thing the birthday boy is already in bed, otherwise I’m not sure his sad mama would make a whole lot of sense to his very literal brain at the end of what he called on multiple occasions, The Best Day! And he’s right – it was.

We started bright and early with a “surprise” as he came IMG_0493downstairs this morning at 6:30. This involved 1) him telling us yesterday that we must in fact do this; 2) Ben setting an alarm for 6:20 so he could get RL and LT up to “sneak” downstairs in time; 3) being reminded by HD at 5:20 a.m. that we needed to surprise him; 4) an opened door but then a crying surprise recipient still on the stairs because he wanted the lights on; and 5) eventual delight and joy at the sight of his super cool balloon. P.S. Mama knows best – I knew there was no way we could possibly know all the rules of this imposed surprise, but at least the fall-out was swift and fairly subtle.

IMG_0468Next up: Birthday Banana Bread! This has been HD’s favorite snack for a good four years now, so to make today extra special, I told him he got to have his very own whole loaf. Seriously, I may have made the day The Best Ever right then and there. His eyes were huge and he was pumped to devour that whole thing (which he pretty much did, save a couple bites). I heart my mini-loaf pan!

After a fun morning playdate with some future fellow Kindergarteners at his future school (see, there’s that pending school stuff again, messing with my uber-hormones), the Welschies ventured to Applebee’s for lunch and the first time HD has ever had people sing a crazy song to him at a restaurant. IMG_0481Again – he was thrilled with the experience (and the chocolate and ice cream that came with it)! And bless his sweet heart, he used his manners so nicely the whole time we were there, and asked at one point, “Could this day *be* any better?!” (a lovely contrast to the “Could this day *be* any worster?!” which we tend to hear when he’s frustrated with us or at the end of a long day). This question is extra cool because when he asked earlier in the morning, “Do I have any presents to unwrap?” and we said no, the different adventures throughout the day were his presents, he didn’t even bat an eye. Could he *be* any awesome-er?!

IMG_0498So, remember when I said my family shows love with food? That is exactly what we did today and so in those terms, yes. Yes, the day could be better because it could (and did!) involve a trip to Eileen’s to get a decorated cookie! Once we got RL to get over the fact that HD did not pick ice cream at Runza for his final treat (Oh, the 3s. You’re so much fun.), we all enjoyed our beloved Hastings staple (of which Ben totally stole half of LT’s when he wasn’t looking which bummer for LT, but score for B and I!).

Other highlights of Harrison’s Best Day Ever? Seeing two trains while we were downtown, playing in the kiddie pool in our backyard (in his clothes) for a good hour when we got home, and his birthday dinner request: Mama’s Stromboli. IMG_0507Note: he ate enough of it (even after all of the day’s goodies) to make me think maybe he turned 16, not just 6.

There were also books read, multiple rounds of “Happy Birthday to You!” sung, phone calls and messages sent from friends and family, and altogether, I think our boy felt a whole lot of love today. He certainly felt grown up, too, because when I asked, “How does it feel to be six?” he quickly answered, “Proud!” which is a pretty kick-ass answer, if you ask me.

I’m proud, too, of everything he’s done and learned, of how big his heart is, and to be his mama.

It is beyond crazy to me to think that six years ago, I was unexpectedly in a hospital room, having IMG_3067gone in to labor almost two weeks early and then delivering pretty fast, getting to know this new little person who would change everything about my life in all the best and biggest ways. We haven’t stopped growing or changing since, so I guess a night of emotions to mark the day is just as fitting as all of the treats that filled our bellies throughout the day.

It’s a darn big deal, this growing up business. I am honored to be part of the process for this amazing kiddo who hit the ground running and hasn’t slowed down since.

IMG_0473Also, I maaaay have purchased some Ben & Jerry’s at Walmart because, hey, this is a “birth”day for me, too – a celebration of my mamahood (and it’s July and I’m pretty-darn pregnant and it’s not like he was sharing that dessert at lunch!)!

Care Package

Are you familiar with the Love Languages? Have you ever read the book or taken a quiz to see how you give/receive love in this life? It’s a fantastic read and a remarkably eye-opening concept that can clue you in to what you desire from those around you in terms of feeling valued, seen, and loved; it centers on five different Love Languages (words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch).

Book plug aside, I think one extra love language that exists in my own family centers on food (maybe this is an off-shoot of acts of service?). Like many, we have seasonal and holiday traditions that include certain special foods (my fave, the four different soups on Christmas Eve, one selected each by my mom, my dad, my brother, and myself); but in general, my family definitely shows love via the kitchen. My dad makes my mom eggs each morning for breakfast. My mom takes menu requests whenever us kids come home to visit. And you should see the way they both (have always) plied my husband with seconds and thirds when we are there (they must think I don’t feed him)! Food is nourishment, but food is also together time and food is certainly full of love in my family.

It makes sense, then, that I was drawn to a task this week that centered on expressing thanks and gratitude through the preparation of food. As I’m sure you remember from earlier this month, the biggest Welschies (i.e. B & I) did not so much handle the week of the 4th so well. We were both stressed out and, honestly, pissed off, at various points in the week by inconsiderate people and their need to blow up fireworks near our house (or in Ben’s case, his head). I ranted a fair amount on Facebook and also requested ideas of what else could be done to honor those who serve (or have served) in the military. I found out from a local mama friend who is also a military wife that she would soon be sending cookies to her husband’s unit, if I wanted to help with that and I said yes. She contacted me this weekend to see if I was still interested and I again said, “Yes!!”

Bless her sweet heart. She not only took requests, but set the goal of sending each member two dozen of their said requests, which ended up totaling darn near 80 doz. cookies! Yeah, that’s not a typo. 80 dozen. I did what I could to help by taking on 19 of those dozen which I managed to complete last night post-book club and this morning while The Bigs were at camp (and Lincoln tooled around with Ben). I’m blaming the extreme heat this week for my flat chocolate chip cookies (and possibly my pregnant brain for thinking it could remember the recipe without looking), but the peanut butter ones and the Monster Cookies turned out great (and oh, my, does that recipe make a huge batch). In total I did 6 dozen chocolate chip, 3 dozen peanut butter, and 10 dozen Monster.

So here is our family’s response to fireworksIMG_0391 this year: Cookies. And lots of them. Made with love and many thanks, “for the soldiers” (as we explained to HD & RL). It may be a drop in the bucket in terms of really giving back, but if something homemade for someone local serving away from their own families can bring a little light and love into their day, then we are so grateful to use this as a means to celebrate Independence Day.

Monster Cookies (this recipe came from a small town or church cookbook at my parent’s house)

Ingredients: 6 eggs, 2 c. brown sugar, 2 c. sugar, 2 t. vanilla, 2 t. Karo syrup, 4 t. baking soda, 3 c. smooth peanut butter, 1/2 c. butter (softened), 9 c. oatmeal, 1 c. chocolate chip, 1 c. M&Ms

Directions: Mix in order given. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 9-11 minutes at 350 degrees.

Makes: 7-10 dozen, depending on size.

Chocolate Hangover?

Oy, me. (Um, I sense a trend here of starting my posts with *sigh* sounds. I blame April.) Why must the excitement of one day lead to the fallout of the next?

Yesterday was HD’s Easter Celebration at preK which included an egg hunt and a visit from the Easter Bunny. And, duh, goodies in plastic eggs. Each kid was asked to bring enough eggs for the class and then they hide those and somehow the teachers work their magic so everyone comes home with the same number of eggs. It doesn’t matter what you put in them and I have seen anything from band-aids (we totally copied that for his Valentines this year) to bouncy balls to balloons (Smart! and so copying that one next year) to the standard chocolate or jelly beans. Harrison got to pick his egg stuffer this year and went for Hershey’s chocolate eggs – a boy after his mama’s heart, I guess. Plenty of other kiddos must be after my heart, too, because his basket came home loaded with sugar yesterday.

I’ve taken different approaches to The World of Sugar with my kids, but for the most part my philosophy for food is all things in moderation. We don’t exclude much but we don’t go overboard with much either (except all things bread and dough – again, HD is just like his mama when it comes to this). Yesterday, though, I decided to get the Sugar Coma over in one big rush. Because he’s awesome, Harrison shared his goodies with his sister and with me and we opened every single egg; we ate all but two (there are only 15 kids in his class, so please don’t think I let my kids eat 50 lbs. of sweets in one sitting). And actually? The kids weren’t too bad after that. We had to listen to the Animal Actions songs about 100x so they could dance and run it all off, but I figured that was a small price to pay for not prolonging the whining for candy. I was, of course, wrong.

Why must there be a fallout? It’s the same when we go on a trip or they go to spend a few days with the grandparents – the return home and re-acclimation is always rough. And apparently going to town on Easter candy is no exception. This morning wasn’t pretty. No one finished even one bowl of cereal (HD usually has two or three and RL can have as many as five or six on any given day) and HD spent most of breakfast crying because he wanted the last two remaining eggs but I wouldn’t let him have them unless he finished his cereal. And I mean, crying (and wailing and tears) the. whole. meal. And of course RL chimed in with, “Me want sucker! Me want suckerrrrrrrrr!” and her own little whiny tears. For the love of Pete, children. How many times do I have to tell them whining does not help their case?
Apparently forever times because they just kept going to the point that HD had to take a break in the action to go calm down by himself. Even though it was a bit of A Morning, I had to smile when RL followed him to his time out spot where he asked her, through sobs, “Raegan! How am I ever going to calm down?!?!” and she started singing Daniel Tiger’s line “take a deep breath, and count to four!” to him. At least PBS and their yoga-lovin’ mama are teaching them something, eh?

Of course I’m sure you’ve realized the real lesson learned here, right? Eat ALL the flippin’ eggs the first time.

Homemade Brownies

For a brief period in my childhood, I was in Girl Scouts. And I believe it was a Girl Scouts cooking class where I stumbled upon the Best Brownie Recipe Ever and have continued to use it for the last 20ish years. Seriously. SO good. And SO unhealthy (as you will soon see). I say “I believe” because my overactive imagination tends to make things up (like the years I spent believing that the Cargill billboard I saw on my bus route to school as a kindergartner/first grader featured my dad’s face – um, why? Because he wore a Cargill hat around the farm? I don’t know, but I was pretty shocked when I later learned he was not their model!). So maybe it was GS, maybe it was not. But either way I ended up with this awesome plastic bound green cookbook (and yet that I remember) with the beloved and much used Dump Bar recipe. In fact, it was so much used, that the page is terribly stained with baking debris because like my dear father, the handsome-but-not-actually-a-seed-billboard-model, I am a terribly messy being in the kitchen.

I mention all of this because earlier today (two posts in one day – oh, my!), when I wrote about the crazy arse morning we were having, one of my dearest and obviously wisest friends suggested the word “chocolate” to me. And I, of course, thought of Dump Bars. And some folks started asking for the recipe. So here you have it – my first (I think) recipe post.

But I need your help. I hate extremely dislike the name Dump Bars. But I’ve always called it that because I’m a rule follower and that was the name given in the green cookbook. But seriously? Dump Bars? I get it because all you do is dump stuff in and stir and viola, magic happens:

But, for real, can you please help me come up with a better name?

Maybe, for inspiration, you should make a batch. Here’s the How To:

The Yet-to-be-Properly-Named Best Brownies Ever
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa (all I have currently is special dark and I have to say, for this recipe, not my fave)
1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 c. oil
1 t. vanilla
5 eggs
1 c. chocolate chips (divided) (and for this, I LOVE the special dark)

Mix all dry ingredients. Create a well and mix in remaining ingredients, including 1/3-1/2 chips last. Spread in greased 9×13 pan. Top with remaining chips. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees (I go for minimum time to get maximum goo factor).

Seriously. That’s it. And then they look like this and taste like amazing.

Now. I know some of you just fell off your chairs when you read that ingredient list. I know. It’s terrible and SO unhealthy (I warned you!). But please, don’t judge me for how unhealthy this is. Or do, if you’d like. I really won’t mind because I’ll be here enjoying my lovely sugar coma thanks to my awesome but
yet-to-be named brownies.

******Naming Update******
There were some great suggestions when I posted this the first time, but the winner is, hands down, Tuesday Bars. Great job, S! You know me and this blog well enough to know that that is just perfect! And since it is frigidycold today, we are making a batch (even though it is Saturday) because it will warm up the house (and add an extra layer of padding to ourselves, too). Enjoy, should you chose to do the same!

Meal Swap

Last Fall, in the midst of my crazed-nesting/get-this-baby-out-of-my-belly phase, I did a weekend of freezer meal cooking. I had never attempted such a feat before and even though I survived it (and we enjoyed most of the food), I wasn’t sure I would ever do it again. It was a LOT of work to cook twelve different recipes over the course of one weekend and the whole thing left me feeling a bit crazed.

Flash forward a few months, past the arrival of Miss Raegan, to a MOPS meeting that just so happened to be about freezer cooking. I was proud that I not only knew what freezer cooking was but that I was also a veteran of such cleverness. Actually, I was just happy to get the little collection of recipes that they gave us (after demonstrating one for the group) because, unlike my own foray into freezer cooking, these were meals that someone I knew had actually made/tested/survived/enjoyed. That’s not to say that my first twelve were all duds, but some were met with less than enthusiastic plate cleaning.

During that meeting, a friend who sat at my table mentioned a blog she had read where some women did a freezer meal swap. This meant that each participant made one meal five times over – enough for her own family and one to give to each other family. Then, when they got together, they walked away from the night with five different meals to toss in the freezer. “Brilliant!” I thought. Because making a whole bunch of meals is confusing and messy and slow. But making the same meal over and over again sounded so much easier.

So, when said friend sent out an inquiry email later that day, asking if anyone was interested in forming such a meal swap group, I was all, “Yes, Please!” Five others felt the same way, and so our little group of seven was formed.

Our first swap took place last February. It was a whole new ball game making that many meals in one go (actually, I spread it out over several days/nights/weekends), and, to add to the fun, we decided we would each make not one but TWO main dishes to swap. As my son would say, “Holy Moly Cow!”

And even though there were moments of Holy Moly Cow in trying to make seven pans of enchiladas and cook up seven batches of pork tacos, there was also a bit of excitement (I mean, hellooooo – look at these pork tacos!).

There was also a bit of wonder, as in, “I wonder if everyone else will like my cooking. I wonder if we’ll like theirs.”

Well, not to worry! The swap was a huge success. First, it allowed me to have my first girls’ night out since Raegan was born. You see, when we set our date to swap, one group member hosts at her house while another one brings dessert. Then we get to have wine and time to chat before hauling out the coolers. We’ve talked about our various mass cooking experiences and laughed at how some people just look at us like we’re nuts when we try to explain this group. (We also laugh because we are a teensy bit nuts, and we look really funny when we show up at someone’s house for a swap, all lugging our big heavy coolers!)

Second, the meal swap has allowed some awesome food to find its way to our table. I have two words for you: Elegant Chicken. That dish, made during our first exchange in February, is probably still my favorite thing about this whole experience. I don’t know how you could go wrong with a name like Elegant Chicken (it so had me wondering what it would be), and as a bonus, it is a lot like a dish that my mother-in-law makes (that I had never had), so Ben flipped when I served it for dinner.

But really, all of the meals have been fantastic and I always look forward to what I get to pull out of the freezer next. I consider myself a decent cook but I tend to make the same stuff all the time, so this has been a great way to add some variety to our dinner table.

Now, when we first started emailing, trying to plan the meal swap, we thought we might do this once a month. Ha! I actually just snorted a little bit when I typed that because I think all of us quickly realized that this is not an easy thing to do and not something we want to stress out over each and every month. We decided during our first exchange that every other month – at the most – was plenty and would allow us a couple three (I’m sorry, I know that makes no sense, but I love that expression) meals per week from the freezer. Excellent!

In the time since, we’ve had some fun and experimented a bit with how the group works. We’ve done a round with a main dish and a side. We’ve added a couple members and had one member sit out when her schedule didn’t allow for the extra cooking. We even took a longer stretch between exchanges this summer, because, frankly, all of us were busy and who wants to be doing a ton of cooking when it is 101 out every day?!

Thanks to a few tiny hints of cooler weather added to the fact that both school and MOPS have started up for another year, we are back at it with our freezer meals. Our next exchange is set for later this month and I am pumped. I think I only have one meal left from our last swap (because I have been totally hoarding it), so my freezer is all set to be loaded up with deliciousness again. This time we’re doing one dish that is kid friendly and one that is more geared for adults. I picked taverns (Sloppy Joes for you NE folk) and Baked Bean Chicken (because it sounded like something my hubby would like).

The taverns are done and done, thanks to some clever usage of my electric skillet (only had to do two batches of actual cooking to get all eight meals done). The chicken is another miracle that I’ve discovered since starting with this group – freezer meals for the slow cooker! This means that on “cook day” all you do is prep and toss in the bag; then the CrockPot does all the work for you when it is time to actually make the meal. I love my CrockPot, so this has been a wonderful revelation.

That being said, when you have to make eight of something it doesn’t really matter if you’re cooking it or not, it still takes time. OK, having to brown the chicken first would have been worse, but this meal was comical from the very get-go.

First, I had to go to Walmart to get my supplies. I’m not thrilled with the fact that I do so much of my shopping at Walmart, but it helps stretch some dollars for us and is (usually) one stop shopping, so I do it. Because I knew I’d have a cartload, I did this last night while Ben was putting the kids to bed (bless his heart). I crisscrossed my way through the store, collecting all the items from my list (except for the bread, which I forgot, dang it!). Here’s the thing about making Baked Bean Chicken – it takes a lot of beans and a lot of chicken! My cart was so heavy by the time I got to the produce section, I was having a hard time rounding corners with the darn thing. Right then, I started to get the giggles a little bit (which, when shopping alone, really just makes you look like a crazy person).

So I finally got my big, heavy cart to the checkouts, only to realize that even though the parking lot didn’t look too full when I got there, everybody and their uncles decided to check out at the exact same time. Holy Moly Cow – it was a lot of people and most of them had a lot of stuff.

As a former BigK cashier, I’m a big fan of the self checkout, so that is where I headed amidst all the chaos. I hopped in a semi-short line behind two other ladies, thinking I’d be out of there in no time. Silly me. The first one was done and gone, but then, the second…well, this was apparently her first time attempting the self checkout and she was holding each item so gingerly, swiping them so gently, that nothing was working. It was so bad that the girl who was supposed to be supervising all of the self checkouts had to come over and ring up her whole order! Again, the almost-giggles set in (only because I was there without my kids; had I been there with kids, I would have been freaking out going:!) (And, in hindsight, I should have offered up my BigK skills!).

When it was finally my turn, I attacked my cart as quickly and efficiently as I could. That’s all well and good, but when you have 56 cans and 16 lbs. of chicken (and other groceries and baby stuff) to scan, you’re going to monopolize that checkout for a wee bit of time.

Now, when I had to buy the 8 jars of salsa to make my pork tacos and all the fixings for my enchiladas, I got some funny looks at the register from the people around me, so this time I did my best not to make eye contact with other costumers while I checked out my order. That only worked for so long, though, and sure enough, I caught a few raised eyebrows and goofy grins as people looked at my items and wondered what apocalypse I was preparing for. And, because I laugh at really awkward moments, I had to resist the urge to bust a gut for the third time (and managed to do so, in hopes of not ending up on some People of Walmart website or something).

Finally I made it out of the store and back home where I decided I might as well make my meals. Here is what it looked like before I began (minus the mustard which I forgot to add to the pile before snapping this picture):

Again, I have to laugh a little bit at the absurdity of all this (and the fact that I now sometimes cook with garlic and onions). But I love it all so much. The food and the friendship and the fellowship are what make the crazy all worth it. 
And while I don’t have a picture of the finished bags, I can promise you girls – it looks like a good one!

Look, Mom! My First Pie!

My mother is famous for her homemade pizza. In high school, my friends would come over to watch The Real World on Tuesday nights and they would line up by the oven the minute she said it was done. These little parties grew (and contained enough hungry teenage boys – and girls!) so much that the first pizza, cut into eighths, wouldn’t be enough for everyone to get a piece on the first round. Eventually it got to the point that we had to make four pizzas just to feed everyone and have some leftovers (the leftovers are SO good). While my mother is a very patient and giving person, there was no way she was going to make four pizzas each week for my friends without my help, so just like that, I became her little pizza apprentice.

At first I would just help mix the simple ingredients of yeast, water, oil and flour and let her do the heavy lifting of kneading the dough. But then I started to do that as well and by the time I left for college, I was getting pretty good at making dough. Of course these pizza nights continued whenever I was home for a visit. Even in the first few years after I got married, a night of having friends over for pizza was not uncommon whenever I happened to be in Yankton. I learned right and I learned well and I make damn. fine. pizza. Have for years. Just like my mama!

What my mom never taught me to do, though, was make pie crust. Just like her pizza crust, her pie crust recipe is simple and amazing, but I never once helped her make the darn thing. I have watched her make many a pie over the years and helped with the filings, but for some reason (uh, because she’s GOOD at it?!), she always did the dough.

Somehow, in the almost six years of my marriage, this lack of skill has never been an issue. I make plenty of sweets and desserts, but I’ve never really had to make a pie because other family members do that when we have gatherings and it’s not like Ben to request such a treat. But yesterday our neighbor offered up his rhubarb patch and we just so happened to have a huge container of strawberries in the fridge that Ben had just purchased and so he suggested, ever so innocently, that a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie would be good. Good?! We love that pie. Ben’s grandma, Louise, makes it and it is my favorite thing ever. But me? Make a PIE?! Pie means pie crust and I had never even attempted a pie crust before, much less a whole pie and our favorite pie at that!

Like I do so often, I called my mom to get her recipe. She emailed it to me because my arms were full of screaming kids and when I looked at it last night, she added this little note to the end: “Good Luck, Betty.” Funny lady! It actually took me a second to get the joke and then I snorted when I did; it was quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. But wouldn’t you know it? It made me even more determined to make the pie.

This morning I made a quick trip to the store for cornstarch for my filing and then I followed the steps on my great grandma’s recipe for pie dough. As promised, it really was simple. After it chilled all morning, I set to work rolling the dough, adding my filling, and putting on the top crust:

Here is what I learned. Even though my I’ve never made a pie crust with my mom, I have watched her do it enough that the whole process kind of felt familiar. I formed the dough into the same round disc like she does and used the pie plate to measure out how big my circle actually needed to be. Now I highly doubt she would have ripped the top crust right in the middle or flutted the edges so poorly that the juices ran over in the oven, but hey – this is my first pie. Give me some credit, would ya? I mean, it did look like this when it came out of the oven:

Not bad, eh? Except for those darn edges. Oh, well. That is what self-cleaning ovens are for as far as I’m concerned!

We let the thing cool, although I thought Harrison might dive in the minute he saw it. “Oh, wow! Look at that! I love pie!” is a rough transcript of what he said upon first seeing it. So if my husband hasn’t been requesting pie, I guess I can count on my son to pick up the slack! It probably doesn’t help that we have a Backyardigans DVD where they make pie. Like a samurai! Yes, samurais who make pie. And now HD is a bit mystified, it seems, that his mama, too, can make a pie. Does that make me a samurai in his eyes? Awesome!

Now, I need some of you pie making people out there to tell me what in the world I did wrong, because proud as I am of my first pie attempt, I’m a bit baffled as well. The thing tasted amazing. The crust on top was yummy and flaky and the filling was delish, too. Here’s the only problem. It looked like this:

There was no way I was getting a piece out in actual pie piece form. It was just a big old mess. And what was left in pan was super juicy, like this:

Not that we really cared. We threw some ice cream on top (except for HD, who refused ice cream. He said it did NOT go on pie. Ben & I did not listen to that, by the way), and all three of us pretty much inhaled it.

So it was edible and enjoyable for the palate, if not the eye. But if you have a hypothesis (another word Harrison used today – thank you, very much, Dinosaur Train!), please share!!

So yes. I made a pie. And I have a feeling I might just make some more. It didn’t take me that long to get good at the whole pizza dough thing – just a few years. & I doubt my boys will complain if I keep practicing my pie skills even if it takes that long to really get the hang of it. Everyone keeps telling my husband he’s too skinny – maybe this will help.

Good Lucky, Betty! Ha!

UPDATE: Shhhhhh! I had a piece of pie for breakfast the morning after making it (oh, come on. if doughnuts and danishes can be breakfast, so can pie!), and it came out in pie form! My mom thinks maybe it wasn’t 100% cool & that is why the juices ran so much. I guess next time I’ll know that three hours does not automatically equal ready to eat temperatures! But, yummmmmmm – such a good breakfast treat! 

The Candida Diet (OR "Um, at least I’ll be skinny?")

Thrush update: we are still struggling.

We are on Round Two of the gentian violet as of yesterday and will continue with that through Sunday. I purchased a fresh bottle thinking that might make a difference, and if nothing else, it certainly stains more. Poor Raegan’s whole mouth-face area is purplish, and I keep thinking “Violet, you’re turning violet!” when I look at her. The stuff makes her gag when I first apply it to us, so we’re doing our best to nurse our way through it and not stain every single inch of ourselves or the house in the process.

Thanks to the help and generosity of a good friend, I now have actual live Acidophilus to take as opposed to the capsule form. Hopefully this will help neutralize the yeast/bacteria that seem to have taken up shop in my system. The bottle she brought me is blueberry flavored and actually tastes just fine, but for some reason the way the stuff in the bottle bubbles (and literally looks alive) kind of freaks me out. The same friend also brought me a bottle of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar which I am adding to water and drinking. It is gross and gaggy, but I keep doing it, again, in hopes of ridding my body of any and all things nasty.

My other approach to kicking the thrush is severely reducing my sugar intake. Prior to this week I was trying (sort of) to not eat as many sweets. I’ve come to realize after some research, though, that cutting out my beloved brownies and ice cream habit isn’t enough to do the trick. To really fight yeast, you have to really eliminate sugars and yeast from your diet, which is really not an easy task. As it turns out, yeast/sugar is in just about everything. My dear husband did some research online for me the other night and came up with several sites that detail just how strict the Candida (yeast) Diet is. In short, sugar in almost every form, alcohol (duh), grains, fruits, all pork and lunch meats, all fish except for sockeye salmon, all cheese, milk, coffee and teas, peanuts, beans and soy, condiments, vinegars (save for the apple cider), and a lot of fats/oils (save actual butter) ALL equal big NO-NOs. Doesn’t look so short, now does it? If you want the really long version, click here. Fortunately, Ben also found another web site that tells me what I can eat. Basically a lot of fresh greens and vegetables, chicken and lean beef, almonds, eggs, and some fruits like oranges and peaches. But if you know me, this diet is asking a lot.

For one thing, I have to remember that I’m nursing. Yes, I want to get rid of the thrush so the nursing feels better, but I have to remain mindful of taking in enough to produce enough for both my body and Little Miss Raegan, too. Another important factor here is the fact that we are moving one week from tomorrow. I honestly don’t have time to totally re-haul my entire pantry and diet right now. I also don’t have time to make double meals – one for me and one for the boys. We’re trying to eat a bunch of the freezer meals I made last fall and some of those just do not follow the Candida Diet.

Lastly, if you didn’t know, I am a carb freak. I love bread and pasta and baked goods – they have always been my favorites. So this is a real stretch just for my palate, but I am trying. I’ve gone on a couple shopping trips now to collect some “OK” items to eat, including more fresh veggies and new alternatives to snacks (list-approved nuts, for example). The real bummer in all of this, though, is how much yeast fights to stay in your system. As I’m working to eliminate it, it’s fighting to hang on, literally making me crave sweets and breads more than ever. Nice, huh?

I guess the bright side here, in addition to Goal Number One: Get Rid of Thrush, is that, if I stick to it, I will get real skinny following this diet. I would say “real skinny without even trying” but obviously I am having to try all the time to follow the rules. I know that I won’t be able to follow the lists 100% of the time, but I guess I’m hoping that every little change I make helps us move in the direction of healing. It would (will!) be so nice just to enjoy my nursing/nursing my baby girl.

It’s Not Easy Being Purple

So I totally freaked out about 10 different moms at MOPS this morning. Here I am, carrying around this two-month-old little baby, smile on my face and blue-looking lips on hers. Each one that noticed it got wide-eyed and said, “Um, Mom….” But no worries. Well, not really – there are worries, but not the fact that Raegan’s lips aren’t the natural or normal pink that they should be.

See, we are STILL treating for thrush and gentian violet is our latest attempt to rid it from both of our systems. As you can tell by the name (or the link if you take a peek at it), it is a purple liquid and it stains. Everything. But the basic concept is that you paint it on the baby’s mouth or your nipples or perhaps both and – hopefully – after a few days, the thrush will disappear. Now we’ve tried weeks of antibiotics for both of us and probiotics/yogurt for me and vinegar washes after nursing and Lotramin and reduced sugar intake for my diet, but none of that has been able to get rid of the white on her tongue or the stinging in me when we nurse (and sometimes even when we’re not). So purple mouth it is.

But being purple isn’t easy, and not just because it scares everyone who sees her sweet little face. The stuff really is a holy terror mess. I apply it once every evening and then we both have to wear and be surrounded by things that we don’t mind turning purple. Fortunately I have some lovely old towels that just happen to be a lovely shade of lavender – perfect for this week of treatment! I also found some old gowns that Harrison managed to stain in other ways and we are using those for Little Miss so she doesn’t get icky anywhere other than her face. Olive oil has helped too – I paint a little of that around her mouth before applying the gentian violet and then the purple doesn’t stain the outside of her mouth quite so much. So yes – fun, fun.

The thing is, if it works, I don’t care. I am obviously willing to try just about anything to get rid of this because I want to enjoy nursing. I plan to do it for at least another 10 months, either way, but I would really appreciate it if I wasn’t in pain for that entire time span.

So, no, being purple isn’t easy or fun, but hopefully it is effective. 

4 Days, 12 Meals

If you do the math, 12 meals in 4 days makes perfect sense. But clearly I am either very, very pregnant or just plain crazy, because in the last 4 days (starting Thursday evening and lasting until this morning), I made 12 extra meals, which clearly does not make sense. And these were not just any old meals. These were casseroles and marinades and sides that, to some extent, involved a heck of a lot more cooking/prep than I normally do. And did I mention the number of loads of dishes? Probably close to 12 as well!

Here is what I looked like Friday evening, three meals in:

Notice the slightly exasperated expression, but decent clothes and make up to boot.

There are no pictures of me from yesterday or this morning. There is only this:

This is, perhaps, the most beautiful sight I have seen in days. This is my completed list of freezer-ready dishes made, minus the Sloppy Joes that I did Thursday night, giving this whole crazy project its kick start. I did not go in the order I planned, nor I did go this adventure alone. Ben was an excellent chef’s assistant, especially when my pregnant back and belly could not take one more minute of standing at the stove, whisking butter, flour, and various seasonings to make a white sauce or base for a cheese dish. He was supposed to be working on homework all weekend, but he is not only helpful but also kind; he told me that family stuff just has to come first sometimes.

And really, that is what this whirlwind of weekend work was all about….getting ready to expand our little family. I meant to do something like this before Harrison was born but never did. This time around, the idea of cooking ahead was again rolling around in my brain, but like so much else, kept getting forgotten or overlooked in the day-to-day chaos. But this weekend HD was off to the farm with Grandma and Grandpa Welsch, so I took full advantage of my 56 free hours and went to town in my teeny, tiny kitchen. If you know my relationship with my house, you know that I consider my kitchen to be the structure’s Achilles’ heel for its lack of storage and counter space. Without a toddler around to disturb the work in process, though, my kitchen and I managed to pull off a tremendous feat. Did I mention that I also made a slow cook roast for supper last night and fresh rolls to make said roast into BBQ sandwiches? And that I’m making meatballs tonight? Surely this must be some form of nesting!

Friday morning, as I pushed my very full, very heavy shopping cart around the grocery store, I thought I must have lost my mind. I mean, I was even buying onions to saute and put in dishes – something I never do. But here I am, Sunday afternoon, with a freezer chest full of what I hope are tasty dishes that we will get to enjoy in the coming months after BWNo.2 arrives. That is perhaps the funniest and the looniest part of this whole venture. With the exception of the mashed potatoes, we have never tried any of these specific recipes. But, as my very wise father pointed out, they will taste just fine simply because they will mean that we don’t have to cook on the days when we are dragging our tired bodies from one diaper change to the next. Works for me!

And now, on to that final load of dishes…