Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kissing the School Year Goodbye

Teachers don't measure the year by the traditional calendar but by the school calendar.  Years begin for me in early August when I return to my room and end in July after having time to rejuvenate.  Normally, at the end of the school year, I am ready to leave the year behind.  But looking back at this year, I want to embrace it with a squishy hug and kiss it passionately on the lips like a dear friend that is moving away.  

At work, I decided to switch up my job.  I know that any change brings challenge, but this challenge invigorated me.   I loved getting up to go to my job.  Three different classes forced me to be more organized and productive.  It allowed me to discover that the teenage brain in 8th grade does not mesh with my teaching style.  It allowed me to realize that I love the 6th grade enthusiasm.  It allowed me to realize that I enjoyed being a lone wolf at the work place but missed the camaraderie of being in the hallway with the other co-workers that I love.  I had to rely on myself to accomplish the job, finding that I can be a confident teacher.   

Summer Exploring


As a momma, I am in this good place with the punks.  They are becoming who they need to be.  I have to guide them, teach them.   Conversations are enjoyable and challenging some days.  The school year is a busy tornado of homework, routines, and obligations.  It is a welcome change to have them in their static state where their worry-free talks with me are entertaining.  Their concerns about friends, family, fairness let me know that they are trying to figure it all out. 

So begins the summer of recharging the batteries. There is no schedule, no rules.  Just us, hanging out.  We spend quiet time just enjoying the outdoors and books and swimming pools.  Sometimes when lounging on the float in the pool, my brain drifts to plans and reflections of the school year, but for the most part, the brain waves are content to be still. 

What are your plans for the summer?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Still My Girl

Prayer for Our Daughters

May they never be lonely at parties
Or wait for mail from people they haven't written
Or still in middle age ask God for favors
Or forbid their children things they were never forbidden.

May hatred be like a habit they never developed
And can't see the point of, like gambling or heavy drinking.
If they forget themselves, may it be in music
Or the kind of prayer that makes a garden of thinking.

May they enter the coming century
Like swans under a bridge into enchantment
And take with them enough of this century
To assure their grandchildren it really happened.

May they find a place to love, without nostalgia
For some place else that they can never go back to.
And may they find themselves, as we have found them,
Complete at each stage of their lives, each part they add to.

May they be themselves, long after we've stopped watching.
May they return from every kind of suffering
(Except the last, which doesn't bear repeating)
And be themselves again, both blessed and blessing.
Before she was ever conceived, I was saying prayers for her.  I prayed for her the entire ten months she cocooned in my body.  I've been saying prayers for her the past ten years.  The prayers run through my head like a calming mantra.  Sometimes the prayers are for the present, but oftentimes, they include her future.  I see glimpses of the sassy teenager she is going to become soon, but for now, she is still my girl. 
My sweet birthday girl, nine years ago. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Yeast Doesn't Like the Polar Vortex

It has been a little cold here lately.  The heat pump, running constantly, sounds like a dying cow. It cannot keep up with the frigid air.  When the temperatures dip below ten degrees, the heat from the heat pump hovers around 60 in the house. This is not a hardship, just not what we are accustomed to. 

To keep warm, I have hung beach towels and blankets over the windows.  We have moved the portable electric heater into whichever room we are in.  We moved the mattress off of my bed into the living room and created a large nest to nestle into.  I may have slept with a toboggan on one night.  And of course, I keep the oven on and bake to warm the house. 

The Nest.
Dough is the best therapy on cold days.  You venture in to the kitchen and mix the dough.  Leave it to rise.  Run back to the nest and read.  Go roll out the dough.   Leave it to rise.  Run back to the nest and watch a movie.  Go put it in the oven.  Run back to the nest and take a nap.  Take it out of the oven.  Serve it up to nosh on while in the nest.

This dough is what my mom makes.  I made one turn of the dough and played with fillings.  Of course, pepperoni rolls were a given. 

Pepperoni Roll
Then, I tried an apple pie cinnamon roll recipe from Pinterest from this site

Apple Pie Cinnamon Rolls
Then, instead of frozen raspberries, I had frozen blueberries and tried this lovely recipe, also pinned from Pinterest from this site.  I used the simple glaze with this recipe for both set of rolls. 

Blueberry Swirl Sweet Rolls

Needless to say, all of this dough and resting in the nest has not been good for my healthy changes.

As you can tell from the pictures, the temperature in the house wasn't the best to make the yeast all happy and bubbly.  Even though they didn't rise well, they were eaten.  Maybe when the weather warms up in the house, I will make these again?  
What have you been baking on these cold days?  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Orange Pill Bottle of Change

After a recent yearly check-up and blood work, my doctor, who had warned me about my cholesterol last year, prescribed me a daily dose of Lipitor.  However, I didn't have to take it if I could prove in three months that I could lower the cholesterol on my own with diet and exercise. 

It was that moment in the office when I was weighed that I realized that it was more than a few pounds I had added in the past year since I had been there.  I had been delusional about the weight, thinking that gravity was just readjusting where my fat was on my body.  No, apparently, the fat had been packing on and packing on.  The fat had packed its bags and had moved into my body like a squatter for the long haul. 

Here are my excuses:  I was happy last year.  I was in love.  My Mr. Frank and I just wallowed in each other and restaurant dining. 

But the truth of it was that I was just filling my pie hole with food with abandon.  Extra cheese?  Yes, please.   Appetizer?  Yes, please.  More Cucci's bread and sauce?  Yes, please.  Ice cream run?  Yes, please. 

Here I am, the person who said she wasn't making resolutions, the girl who said her body image was just fine, the woman who was happy with how things were - staring down the orange pill bottle of change.   Now, it is a competition to me to show that doctor.  Watch me show her how I don't need her stinking pills.

So in response, I made baked chicken.  Okay, with bacon.  Oh, and brown sugar.

Stay tuned for the exciting appointment with the doctor in April where she awards me my prescription. 

Sweet and Spicy Bacon Chicken
   Source:  around the web and inspired by a friend's husband who makes something similar and sends to school for us to snack on. 

1 pkg. of chicken breast tenders
bacon slices
garlic powder
chili powder
salt and pepper
brown sugar

Make yourself a little assembly line:  Chicken laid out on a cutting board/plate.  Spices to sprinkle. Slices of bacon already separated for easy handling.  Shallow bowl with brown sugar.  Greased 9x13 baking dish (olive oil / cooking spray).

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with garlic powder, chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Wrap each piece of chicken with a piece of bacon.  Roll in the brown sugar.  Place in baking dish. 

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  Bacon should be crispy and curling. 


Monday, January 6, 2014

Bringing Home the Dough

One of the transitions that I have been going through over the past couple of years is from a two-income household to a single-income household.  That is one of the hardest obstacles to deal with.  I have been taking efforts to adjust our spending.   The punks handle it with minor grumblings.  I handle it as a challenge.

I have turned off the cable, relying on Internet streaming services.   After my iPhone was stolen last year, I down-graded to a generic flip phone without internet services.  The Nugget Wagon is paid off and gentle care is taken to keep it running until the wheels fall off. 

The biggest expenses of the month are our food purchases.  I have been trying, although not always succeeding in, cutting the grocery budget in half each week.  This requires coupons and comparison shopping.  This requires creativity in meal planning.  This requires buying less processed food and making more staples at home. 

I enjoy making bread but am still new at it.  This recipe, even though it looks like a very time consuming project, is really easy and hearty.  It is worth the extra steps and splurge of buying parsley and heads of garlic.  I was completely unprepared to make this bread.  I only had one head of garlic with several cloves removed.   I didn't have enough flour and had to substitute about a cup and a half of self-rising flour.  Even with my errors, it still turned out great. 

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson.  Her cookbooks are a delight to read.   It as though you have a gorgeous friend telling you how she makes her recipes.  I suggest if you like cookbooks that you buy a copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess.  There are recipes for tarts, scones, and fairy cakes.  One of my favorites is the baby bundts

On a side note, Nigella is how I picture myself looking in the kitchen, even though I'm closer to Ina in sexiness. 

Garlic and Parsley Hearthbreads

How to Be a Domestic Goddess:  Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson

3 1/2 c. white bread flour
1 pkg.  (1/4 oz.) rapid-rise yeast
1 Tb. salt
1 1/3 - 1 2/3 c. warm water
5 Tb. olive oil, plus more for greasing and pouring over the garlic
3 large or 4 small heads of garlic
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
bunch of flat-leaf parsley
salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl.  Pour 1 1/2 cups of warm water into a measuring cup and stir in the olive oil.  Mix the liquid with the dry ingredients to make a soft but firm dough, adding more liquid as needed, and turn this out onto a surface and knead by hand until smooth, supple, and full of elastic life.  Form into a ball, wash out and dry the bowl, oil it, and turn the dough in it so it's lightly oiled all over.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise for an hour or until the dough is doubled in size.

While the bread is rising, trim the tops off the heads of garlic, making sure they remain whole, sit them in some torn-off squares of foil, dribble over some oil, and wrap them loosely.  That's to say, the packages should be baggy but the foil tightly sealed at the edges.  Cook the garlic packages for 45 minutes;  they should not be mushy by this stage but still just holding their shape.  Remove from the oven, unwrap, and let cool till you can handle them.  Turn the oven up to 400 degrees.

Tear the parsley leaves from their stems and add a good handful to the bowl of the food processor - not worrying if some stems here and there are left on - and chop.  Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins and into the bowl and process again.  Poor in enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a runny paste down the funnel, while still processing, and leave this pungent emulsion where it is while you get back to the bread.

When the dough's risen, punch it down and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  Divide the dough in half, and get out 2 sheets of baking parchment.  sit a ball of dough on each, and roll out to form a curved rectangle or bulky oval.  Then, using your hands, press out a little more.  Transfer the breads on their papers to the baking sheets, cover with tea towels and leave to rise and get puffy for about 25 minutes.

Poke your fingers all over the tops of the breads to dimple them, then go back to the processor and pulse once or twice to make sure the parsley, garlic, and oil are combined and pour this green mixture all over the corrugated flatbreads.

Put the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the breads are cooked - becoming golden in parts, with the garlic flecks a darker brown, and the rims puffing up around the oily topping.  Whip out of the oven and drizzle over a generous amount of good extra-virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle over some salt and set down on the table for people to tear greedily at with their bare hands.
This makes two of these.  Very company worthy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Big Bowl of Sunshine

Ahhhh.....tis the new year.   A time for grand proclamation that this year will be better, be different.  To be honest, last year was pretty good for me.  I have been in and will continue to be in a state of transition.  As I barrel down the road to the 40's, I am becoming more aware of who I am, how I work, what I like.  With this awareness is the acknowledgement that I no longer have to say "yes", be a team player, commit to social obligations that will deflate me, or make excuses for my body.

Moving from being a people pleaser to a self-pleaser finds me taking more care of myself.   And sometimes this care of myself leads other people to think that I am avoiding them or skipping obligations.  The truth of it is that my health and well-being is essential to me being a good mother, an excellent girlfriend, a supportive friend/daughter/sister/aunt, and a productive teacher.  You know, all those priorities I want to place in the forefront for myself. 

So, no doom and gloom here about the last year, and no promises that I will struggle to fulfill leaving me feeling poopy about myself.  I just want to be this happy, confident human that just emits sunshine in her path. 

Take this from me - my first gift of sunshine to you.  This is a lovely bowl of sunshine to eat during these cold months.  Imagine opening your lunch box on a dreary winter day and seeing this colorful salad.  I understand that strawberries are out of season and can taste mushy.  I know they are expensive.  Feel free to substitute grapes, apple chunks, or any other fruit on sale this week.  The dressing is good on everything.  Make the dressing separate and only drizzle it on when you are ready to eat. 

Fruit Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

Lettuce (Red leaf and green leaf mixture)
1 pint sliced, fresh strawberries
1 can mandarin oranges
1 green onion, chopped
sliced almonds
chow mien noodles

1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. poppy seeds

Combine sugar and mustard.  Add other ingredients in a container with a tight lid.  Shake well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

His Mama's Cake

I have a foodie friend.  He appreciates food of all types.  I often will share with him what I make, and he will give me honest feedback.  Sometimes, too honest.

I had worked hard at making a chocolate zucchini cake with chocolate butter cream frosting. It was dry.  I knew it was dry.  The frosting was enough to cover the dryness, I thought.  When he ate a bite, he didn't say much, just, "You should try my mom's chocolate zucchini cake."

That is like a dagger to the heart of this woman.  A boy's first love is always his mama, and I can find that endearing.  But when you start comparing my cooking to yo' mama's cooking, you set the expectations higher than a girl can reach.  Okay, I know he didn't say that the cake was dry.  I know he didn't say his mom's cake was better.  It was heavily implied, though.

A few days later, she friended me on Facebook, sending me the recipe for her chocolate zucchini cake.

Don't tell him, but her cake was better than mine.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
by His Mama

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. oil
1 3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 c.all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 c. zucchini, finely shredded
1/4 c. chocolate chips

Cream butter, oil, and sugar together in large bowl.  Add eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk.  Beat with mixer.  Mix dry ingredient together and add to creamed mixture.  Beat well.  Stir in zucchini.  Spoon batter into greased and floured 9x13 pan.  Sprinkle top with chocolate chips.  Bake at 325 degrees for 40 - 45 minutes.

Alas, it was so good and moist, it needed no frosting.

Insert Photo Here

In an unfortunate accident, I dropped my iPhone into the water while getting a pedicure.  Even thought the thoughtful nail technician hurriedly placed the phone in a bowl of rice, my iPhone was lost, including all the photos of this lovely cake.  I currently am out of zucchini, or I would have made another cake and placed photos here.  

In the meantime, here is a  picture of me and Frack who I hope will never appreciate anyone's baking but mine.  


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