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Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Yay for Hippy Dippy Preschools

In Family on May 30, 2008 at 1:27 pm

It’s been a stressful week. Madeleine’s teacher/preschool director announced last week that she and her husband would be relocating and therefore closing the school that’s run in their home.

Well, that’s unofficially a “school” since it’s in a home, but that’s an argument for the bureaucrats.

Anyhoo…while M will be moving on to kindergarten, the school’s closing left us without a preschool for Dax — the week before Memorial Day. Any parent of preschoolers knows that the mad rush for finding “the” school was several months ago. Generally late January or February is registration time in this area, with the “it” schools taking reservations for observations a full year before a kid can enroll.

This is craziness, isn’t it? But here I am in the middle of it all, largely annoyed that no one else in the preschool universe will take a 3-year-old for two full days a week. Crap.

After seeing 5 schools in as many days, I was ready to throw in the towel and sign up with a popluar church-based preschool between home and the gym. I was overly tired on Wednesday and just disgusted with the thought of looking at yet another school, as I’d scheduled to do on Thursday. Richard talked me into going, even though I was yapping about the place being over the Severn River from us (ick…driving over the bridge).

So M, D, and I drove over to the school (oh wait, it’s another not-really-school attached to a home) yesterday morning. Three other moms from the closing school were there too, and we were all nearly falling over ourselves to get enrollment forms after the first 5 minutes.

This whole preschool search seems to be underscoring our bent for the unconventional. Oh sure, we look all average in our picket-fenced Cape Cod and our polos and khakis, but we’ve got some ideas under our hats that get the raised eyebrow from many. Old school was a Montessori. New school is Reggio Emilia. Some people actually think these approaches (or Waldorf and others) are at best misguided and at worst cultish. They’re hippy dippy and touchy feely and they’re working on saving the world from its own ugliness. Some people avoid these educational styles and flock (like sheep?) to conventional models.

I don’t get it.

I don’t get how someone can walk into a serene, well-lit environment where kids serve themselves banana bread that they mixed themselves right after doing four digit subtraction and just before doing yoga, and NOT fall in love. Are you kidding me? Send my kid to the school with the alphabet on the wall at my eye level where a teacher unpacks their lunch for them instead? No way.

I also don’t get how teachers, once exposed to approaches that emphasize how capable kids already are as toddlers versus how much information needs to be poured into them, can opt for the latter.

So maybe I’m a sucker for feeling like I’m finicky. Maybe all that minimimalist natural wood grain decor is really just appealing to my aesthetic sense.

Whatever. Give me and my crazy kids the hippy dippy school. We like it here outside the box.

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Sunflower Massacre

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Damn squirrels.

I bought six little sunflower plants at the farmers’ market on Saturday and planted them — more for Madeleine’s amusement than any thoughts of their actually thriving in our heavily shaded yard.

Monday we had five upright plants and one leaning over which I initially blamed on Dax and the dump truck. That is, until I picked the leaner over and saw its roots had been gnawed off. And a tomato plant was gone. Grrrrrrrrrr…….. Voles, said I.

But then I noticed a couple of squirrels looking drunk, frolicking about the golden blooms.

Tuesday, four sad sunflowers left.

Wednesday, three.

Today, no flowers, one stalk.

I think I need to break out my grandmother’s recipe for squirrel stew.

 

Dirty Rice Does the Job

In Family, Food on May 27, 2008 at 11:21 pm

One challenge of a CSA subscription is not letting food go to waste. You don’t necessarily know what foods you’ll get in a box or how much of them, so it can be tricky to plan a menu and other food purchases. I suppose if you don’t like to cook, this could be a major pain in the ass. If you don’t know what to do with mustard greens and green onions and you don’t care to find out, they are likely to rot or get tossed in the compost.

Luckily for me and my budget, I like to figure out how to make what I’ve got on hand turn into a meal. What’s known as Cajun dirty rice (but what I grew up calling rice dressing) is a great starting point for inexpensive, quick and tasty meals. Saute some aromatics, brown the meat (generally ground), add the starch and seasonings, and your good to go. My husband calls it “camposino” food, and it is more on the peasant end than the haute level, but it gets the job done.

Tonight’s dinner was a quick and dirty cleaning out of the fridge. The kids and I got back from the farm about 5:30 and Richard had a meeting at 6:30, so I had to hustle. Between the fridge and today’s box from the farm, we had a pound of ground beef (originally intended for burgers over the weekend), broccoli chopped for crudite over the weekend, a bag of sauté greens starting to get yellow, more greens in the box, and loads of green onions.

1. Got water boiling for 1 lb. orzo (rice would have taken too long, and no, I do not ever use parboiled or minute rice. It is for the weak!)

2. Browned 1 lb. ground beef. Cleaned and chopped sauté greens. Chopped 4 green onions.

3. With two minutes left on the orzo, threw broccoli into the pasta pot.

4. Drained ground beef, set aside.

5. Sautéed green onions in skillet used for beef for a minute or two, added greens and sautéed until tender.

6. Drained the pasta and broccoli.

7. Combined all ingredients in the pasta pot with salt and pepper to taste.

Family of four fed (and dad out the door to his meeting) in under an hour. Greens and broccoli saved from a compost heap sentence. Mission accomplished. Thanks, dirty rice.

First Pie of the Season

In Food on May 26, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Though I come down firmly in the cake camp in the great cake or pie debate, Madeleine and I have declared this to be the summer of pie (oh what a mother will do for her beloved daughter). This was our first of the season — strawberry rhubarb pie from the Joy of Cooking recipe (I’ll post it later). The strawberries were from Schillinger’s Farm and the rhubarb from Lancaster County. We served it with vanilla ice cream after a lunch of bbq chicken.

Not a bad way to welcome summer.

Before:

Before

 

After:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

after

 

Rockin’ radishes

In Food on May 22, 2008 at 11:24 am

I’m not a huge radish fan, but when the cute little Easter egg variety showed up in our CSA box last spring, I decided to find a way to show them their props.

Sautéeing radishes significantly mellows their bite. But better yet, this recipe combines sugar snap peas and dill — two other items that were in the box waiting to be used. It’s a perfect dish to celebrate the season.

Sautéed Radishes and Sugar Snap Peas with Dill

from Bon Appétit April 2004

Makes 6 servings.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
12 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, strings removed
2 cups thinly sliced radishes (about 1 large bunch)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
This side dish would pair beautifully with roast lamb or salmon. To remove strings from fresh peas, just snap off the stem end and pull string lengthwise down each pod. Melt butter with oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add sugar snap peas and radishes; sauté until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice and dill seeds; stir 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in chopped dill. Transfer to bowl; serve.

Down on the farm

In Family, Food, In Other Words, Writing on May 20, 2008 at 9:47 pm

About three years ago, I wrote an article for the food section of the Annapolis Capital on Ivy Brand Farm. The farm is owned by Sara Colhoun who is one of those really cool people in the world who get good things done.

We subscribed to the Ivy Brand CSA (community supported agriculture program) for a while but dropped out over the winter. On Sunday, we went to the farm on a field trip arranged by our church. We talked about the benefits of sustainable, organic, local agriculture then weeded onions in one bed and planted onions in another (pics on flickr). It was a lovely pastoral setting on the South River — one I really wanted my kids to see more of.

Sara and I got talking and I agreed to go to the farm on Tuesdays to “work” a bit while my kids ran around and then I’d deliver a load of produce boxes to a drop in my neighborhood. In exchange, I’ll get some produce to bring home. So today the kids and I went after (yet another) morning of rain. Madeleine and Dax looked for tadpoles in puddles and climbed onto haybales. I weeded tomato beds for two hours then we drove back home muddy and satisfied.

So if you ever wonder where your money’s going when you buy organic produce, think about me bent over and kneeling in the mud digging clover and nettles and potato beetles out of your heirloom tomatoes.

Boil 2008

In Family, Food on May 18, 2008 at 9:48 pm

 

Every spring I get homesick. Spring in Louisiana means Mardi Gras parades, azalea trails, Jazz Fest, and crawfish boils. Like the crab feast in the Chesapeake region or the clam bake in New England, the crawfish boil offers the chance to get down and dirty with some flavorful seafood. But more importantly, it offers the time to linger over conversations with friends and family.  No showy parade of six courses, no dine and dash. It’s a meal that’s about the people eating it. And that’s my favorite kind.

Yesterday we held our fourth annual crawfish boil. Last year’s boil was a massive event (for our humble abode) with some fifty guests. Richard and I felt like we worked more than enjoyed our own party. So, as nice as it was to invite so many friends and neighbors, this year we went for a much more intimate affair. The weather was superb — about 70 degrees and mostly sunny. And the best part — we actually sat down and feasted ourselves!

The kids kept themselves busy. Dax ferried a couple of crawfish about in the beloved dumptruck.

Madeleine and the other girls created a plethora of signs elucidating their newfound “dislike” of boys. All males in attendance were issued a bathroom pass. All other purposes for entering the house were banned. Interestingly, Dax was the only one who “didn’t need a pass”, though he was likely the only true target of the “no boys — even boy octopuses” ruling.

Boil 2008 has been declared a success. Thanks for coming, y’all!

You too can boil crawfish at home. We’ve ordered live crawfish every year from Cajun Grocer, and have been pleased with the quality of the crawdads and the pricing. We basically follow this recipe from Chef John Folse.

Chef John Folse’s Boiled Crawfish
PREP TIME: 2 Hours
SERVES: 12
COMMMENT: The crawfish boil is the premier social event in the springtime here in Louisiana . Friends and family gather for an afternoon under the shade of an oak tree to enjoy a delicacy unequaled in the Southland.

INGREDIENTS:
50 pounds cleaned crawfish
30 quarts cold water
12 medium onions, quartered
6 heads of garlic, split in half, exposing pods
1 dozen lemons, quartered
1 quart vegetable oil
4 pounds salt
¼ pound cayenne pepper
8 ounces celery salt
4 ounces McCormick Old Bay Seasoning
4 (3-ounce) bags Zatarain’s crab boil
1 (4-ounce) bottle Zatarain’s liquid crab boil
3 (12-ounce) bottles of beer
24 medium red potatoes
6 whole artichokes
3 pounds smoked sausage
12 ears of corn

METHOD:
Live crawfish may be purchased already washed from your seafood supplier. However, a second rinsing in cold water would not hurt. The purging of crawfish, that is, washing the crawfish in cold salted water, has been found to be useless other than to place the animal under unnecessary stress. So forget the purging — rinsing in cold water will suffice. In a 60-quart stockpot, bring water to a rolling boil. Add onions, garlic, lemons, cooking oil, and all other flavorings except vegetables and sausage. Allow mixture to continue boiling for 30 minutes. This boiling of the vegetables will ensure a good flavor. Add red potatoes, artichokes and sausage and cook approximately 10-12 minutes. Add corn and cook 10 minutes before adding the crawfish. Once crawfish are added, bring to a rolling boil, stir gently for one minute. Turn off heat, cover and allow crawfish to soak in hot liquid 12-15 additional minutes, testing occasionally for seasoning and doneness. Crawfish should be served hot with potatoes, artichokes, corn and pitchers of ice cold beer.
NOTE: If boiling 20 pounds or less, cut the ingredient amounts in half including the water.

 

 

Awesome

In Family, Food on May 16, 2008 at 1:29 am

A good day indeed.

First, the Madster’s dance show.

FLowers for Big Sister

This afternoon I ordered crawfish for Saturday from Cajun Grocer. In my search for their phone number, I mistakedly called 1-800-CRAWFISH. The web site is a hoot. Please check it out. And promise me that you won’t think all Cajuns are like this…

Pure Boy Does Yardwork

In Family on May 14, 2008 at 8:14 pm

pure boyAfter ark-worthy rains last week, it was time to clean  up the yard. After the gym, Dax and I set out with gloves, a wheel-barrow and a rake. Dax pushed his beloved Tonka dump truck hither and yon while I picked up branches and leaves that were shredded by the most lashing rain and wind.

As so often seems the case with two small children, cleaning up one mess led to another. I’d dumped out the sitting water from our wading pool way too close to a low bare spot of the yard that is perfect for mud puddles. Dax promptly shed his shoes, socks, shorts, and underwear (note the bare bottom) to get down to business. Nothing a quick bath couldn’t fix.

Cleaning the yard now is a must as Saturday we’ll host our fourth annual crawfish boil. It’s a MUCH smaller affair than last year, and we’re looking forward to actually socializing and eating this time. I vow never again to host 50 people for a party without paying someone to help me run it.

 

Tri Mama

In Family on May 13, 2008 at 2:47 am

Happy Belated Mother’s Day, everyone. One of my proudest mom moments thus far was crossing the finish line of my first triathlon with my five-year-old daughter in April. Training for competition has been a tremendous experience – both physically and psychologically.

I’ve always had athletic potential but for whatever reason never had the gumption to be an athlete. I’ve worked out regularly for years and ran a 10k – once. But in January when my personal trainer, B Good, asked me to write down my fitness goals, my hand betrayed the doubt in my mind.

“Complete the Irongirl Triathlon,” it wrote.

That was the moment I became an athlete. The commitment to a goal, to beat myself if no one else, was there in black and white. As running philosopher George Sheehan put it, “The difference between jogging and running is an entry blank.”

Over the last few months I’ve undergone a transformation. I’ve lost weight, gained strength, and lopped over thirty seconds off my mile.

I am psyched about fitting into a size 8. But more interesting to me than all the physical manifestations of this change is what’s going on in my head. B is constantly telling the group I workout with that it’s “all mental”. I couldn’t agree more.

I wasn’t an athlete before because I held myself back. Fear of failure, fear of success, self-doubt – they were all there. But they can all be overcome.