Mountain Climbing

Hunting for fairies...

We (along with all of you, I'm sure) just had to take advantage of the beautiful weekend weather. We hatched a plan Saturday morning to take the girls to Sawnee Mountain for a little picnic hike. It was so much fun! We weren't sure how far Annie's little legs would take her, so we took turns carrying her along, but she was a trooper. She either wanted to walk like Violet, refusing to hold our hands on even the most bumpy, gnarled parts of the trail, or she was in our arms. But the true secret to a successful hike? Lots and lots of snacks. We had PB&J, trail mix, applesauce pouches, cheese sticks... we could have probably survived two days out there, much less two hours! But it kept everyone happy and moving forward, so it was worth it! We stopped at a really nice playground before leaving the mountain, and both girls conked out on the ride home (winning!) It was such a lovely experience that it made Matt and I start thinking about spring break... Perhaps a trip to Cloudland Canyon? Another visit to Amicalola Falls? Perhaps we can even join the Georgia Canyon Climbers Club?!

We found a fairy house!

Annie walking like Violet.

Finally agreeing to be carried.

Look closely... Violet decided to wear her wolf ears into the wilderness!

Two teeth down!


What's Up? Chicken butt!

So as you know, one of my goals this year was to get more creative in the kitchen. I've talked at length about my insecurities in the kitchen, how my Type-A personality really just wants to follow directions to the eighth of a teaspoon. The idea of a "dash of this" or "salt to taste" makes me break out in hives. It's all terribly ironic that I find myself cooking for twelve people every week, but I've gotten by with my standard five recipes that I can cook blindfolded and no one has complained about yet.

But. I'm trying to stretch myself this year. Trying to get out of my comfort zone. Trying to get creative. And nothing says creative like dealing with an entire chicken. At least for me. If you're a defeathering, impaling on a beer can, trussing pro, you can just read this with gentle amusement and an eye roll or two.

Anyway, the goal: Martha Stewart's Whole Roasted Mustard Chicken, as featured in this month's M.S. Living magazine. It looked simple enough (entire recipe fit on an index card) yet scary enough (um, whole chicken) to qualify for my little project.

Here's what we're shooting for.
Step one: obtain ingredients. This was accomplished after dropping Annie at daycare this morning. Thank you all US Presidents all for granting me the day off. The whole chicken was found, the rosemary thyme was procured, the cashier offered lots of encouragement when I showed her the recipe.

Reading through the recipe, I noticed that the chicken was supposed to be at room temperature. This creeped me out. Leave some raw chicken to hang out on the counter for a few hours? I'm no cook, but I feel like this flies in the face of all food safety laws out there. But whatever, I let the bird sit out while I watched an old episode of X-Files (hello Netflix streaming, I love you).

Step two: slice up ingredients. Easy.

Step three: deal with chicken. Here's how it went down. First, I wrestled the chicken out of its packaging. There were... parts... that needed to come out of the body cavity. I tried not to look too closely as I rinsed it out. Then I had to "pat dry" so I made a nice little bed of paper towels to lay the thing on. Once it was nice and dry, I washed my hands. Safety first. The next instructions were to salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. But how to hold the thing open while simultaneously operating the pepper grinder, all the while not contaminating anything with my raw chicken-infected hands? I settled for making a little seasoning dish with the salt and pepper. Then I had to stuff two lemons and the thyme up in there. And then I washed my hands. I placed the chicken on the vegetables. And washed my hands again. Now I had to rub oil all over the body, followed by brushing on the mustard, then more salt and pepper. I tried to touch as little as possible. I had my right hand covered in chicken, my left hand attempting to rub and brush and sprinkle (in retrospect, those hands should have been reversed). And then I washed those hands. Oh yeah, but I still had to tie the sucker up. I'm sure there's an official, nifty way to tie up a chicken, but my method of winding my fancy twine (which may or may not have silver sparkles on it) around that bad girl until she can't move seemed to work fine.


Step four: into the oven. Finally. I was so exhausted I had to go lie down in the dark bedroom and rub lotion on my poor, chapped hands. All that work, all that hand washing, and the thing could still kill us with its underdoneness. Oh Martha, why do you do this to me?

All tied up and ready to go.
But lo and behold, what felt an hour and a half later (because it probably was), Matt arrived to pull this baby out of the oven! The veggies were a little overdone (not a hint of green left on those brussels sprouts, I'm afraid) but the chicken was mercifully cooked through. I let him have the honor of carving her up and I'm not going to lie, I soaked up every one of his compliments to the chef. And there you have it, folks. I roasted my first whole chicken and lived to tell the tale.

Who's hungry?
Credit where credit is due... 

Thank you Martha for the recipe. None of this would have been possible without Kim's roasting pan and meat thermometer - thanks for making sure my meat was cooked to a sufficient doneness. And thanks for leaving me the key to your house so I can go plunder your kitchen for the necessary tools I lack. Thank you to my supportive husband for his kind words and carving skills. Thank you to my kids for eating the chicken (I didn't even bother them with the veggies). Thank you to the lovely Publix cashier who gave me the confidence boost I needed while I waited in line. And finally, thank you to the internet, for teaching me that the correct name is brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts, as I've been calling those suckers for years. Feeling simultaneously smarter and more idiotic now. (And for the rest of you whose minds I just blew with that little fact, you're welcome.)


Cookie Time

A cold day to be hustling cookies. 

The cookies are here! The cookies are here! That's right, it's Girl Scout cookie delivery time. And as our troop's official co-cookie mom, it meant I was charged with picking up all the cookies this frigid Saturday morning. 

This operation is truly stunning in its efficiency. We got to pick our delivery location (I wasn't about to drive down to Turner Field) and delivery time (the earlier the better... I had other things to do with my day) and then it was off to the races. After checking in with the clipboard wielding women at the tent, we rolled our cars into our designated lane and watch the wonderful unfold. Each station held a particular type of cookie. We threw the cars into park, popped the trunks, and watched as groups of burly, bundled-up men began shoveling boxes in. They counted each box out loud and we echoed, double-checking our lists. Then it was back into the car, pull forward 15 feet, and start the process again with the next type of cookie.

The magic online ordering form predicted we would need two vehicles and it was right!

The office/Matt's music room/cookie HQ.
Now that all these boxes of deliciousness have been safely unloaded at my house, I'm just waiting for our troop to come grab what belongs to them. Fun fact: Girl Scouts must pay up-front for all the cookie orders they have placed. They it is up to each girl to collect the money from the people who have ordered when they deliver the goods. Here's hoping no one gets stiffed!

So if you ordered, we'll be coming around starting this week to drop off your cookies and collect payment. You've been warned!

Tooth Fairy!

So proud!
So it finally happened. After much wondering, asking, hoping and prodding... Violet finally lost a tooth. It happened Superbowl Sunday, actually. While hanging out in the playroom, watching a movie and munching on football fare, a bite into a tortilla chip was the straw the broke the camel's tooth. The next thing I knew, Violet was marching out of the bathroom announcing "My tooth fell out!" She had run in to check her smile in the mirror after apparently feeling the gaping hole in the bottom row. The tooth, however, was nowhere to be found. (Although a lot of other things were found in the carpet on the playroom floor. Gross. I hope to never that closely have to examine that rug again.)

I knew what to do, though. You see, when I was just a wee lass of tooth-losing age, I too misplaced a tooth. The scene: McDonald's. The circumstances: I placed the tooth in a napkin for safe keeping. The inevitable: the napkin was discarded with the rest of the trash. A note written to the tooth fairy, much like the one above, yielded a cash reward (and a mini bottle of perfume for my troubles) under the pillow the next morning.

Violet scored a whopping five bucks (due to inflation, I'm sure) for this first tooth. I called around and apparently it is the going rate for a first tooth. The remaining teeth will net somewhere in the range of one dollar per tooth, give or take the loose change in the bottom of the tooth fairy's purse. Which is good to know, considering that the first tooth's neighbor is currently hanging on by a thread.



This post is going to start the same way all these posts do - the rush of getting out the door in the morning, the temptation to grab a non-healthy breakfast item for the car, the sugar crash a couple hours in, the feeling of self-loathing for being such a horrible wife/mom/human being for not providing a nutritious, quick, easy breakfast that rivals Fruit Loops in your children's eyes.

Enter the solution - baked oatmeal muffins. Perhaps you've seen them on your own daily self-loathing trips to pinterest in search of solutions. And while these haven't solved the problem of missing shoes and toothpaste in the hair, it has worked for my routine. I can't say the kids are ready to give up their Fruit Loops for chai seeds and unsweetened applesauce, but I played around with various recipes until I found one that the husband finally agreed was edible. (That is, until he started making his own smoothies with kale, DHA oil and freshly grated ginger. Talk about a show-off.)

So good. Even at 10 at night.

Here's the thing I like about these muffins. I make a 12-batch and freeze everything in big ziplock bags. The night before, I can pull one out and let it thaw in the fridge. Come morning, I either zap it for 20-30 seconds for a delicious, warm breakfast. Or (more likely in this place), I can toss it in my bag until I finally get around to remembering/eating it, usually in front of my first graders during reading groups. (Don't worry, they are used to this behavior. We often play "find Mrs. Loughman's coffee cup" as I continuously set it down and forget where I left it.) Honestly, I could and have pulled these babies straight out of the freezer (because I forgot to thaw the night before) and by the time I remember to eat it, it has thawed itself to room temperature just fine.

Had to make sure you caught a glance at my smug organic fare. This is the batter before the milk.

A few things you should know about this recipe: For one, it is not very sweet. These aren't going to be your grandma's muffins or a muffin-shaped oatmeal cookie. The applesauce is unsweetened, there is no added sugar (although some recipes I've seen call for brown sugar). You will use a good-sized dollop of honey, and because I'm fancy like that, I used my sister-in-law's organic raw honey infused with organic elderberries (can you feel the smugness rolling off that last sentence?)

Makes 12 dense, little bites of health and happiness, plus some extra.

But because I like sweet things (I'm only human), I prefer to opt into the chocolate chips that get sprinkled on top. They make things just a bit yummier, especially if you warm things up. Blueberries work too, but it's okay to just go for it with the chocolate. No one is judging.

Baked Oatmeal Muffins
makes 12 plus some leftover
adapted from here

1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
2 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup honey 
2 1/2 cups, Old Fashioned rolled oats 
1/8 cup chai seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk 
Optional toppings: blueberries, raisins, walnuts, chocolate chips, pomegranate seeds, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix egg, vanilla, applesauce, banana and honey together in a bowl.
Add in oats, seeds (if using), cinnamon, baking powder, salt and mix well with wet ingredients.
Finally pour in milk and combine. Mixture will appear loose, but don't freak out. It will set up fine in the oven.
Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners. (I spray the paper with cooking spray - it seems to help the muffins slide out of their wrapping just a bit easier.)
Divide mixture evenly into muffin tin cups. I use a 1/4 measuring cup and fill to almost the top. Any extra batter I'll pour into a ramekin to bake alongside the muffins.
Add the toppings. Obviously chocolate chip is the least healthy, but also my favorite because it adds a touch of sweetness you won't get from the muffins themselves.
Bake 30 minutes. Cool, eat, freeze, you choose!


Good Start

So, how is going around here?

Well, I'm continuing to love getting creative with color. There is something weirdly therapeutic about it. The girls will be driving me nuts, I'll give up on bedtime and make Matt take over, I'll go color for ten minutes, and suddenly I'm ready to deal with things again. If I end up needing to take another trip upstairs, I am able to do it with a rather positive attitude. Strange what a few minutes of self-centered (not in the egotistical way) zen will do for you. So I'll be keeping up the coloring.

I got creative in the kitchen when I cooked up some quinoa and subbed it for the usual rice I serve with various recipes. The results were mixed. All agreed it was far healthier, some had no problem making a swap, others (like me) couldn't quite make the leap due to the textural differences, so I think I'll keep offering both. What food should I tackle next?

And thanks to a timely invitations, we even had the chance to create new relationships when we were invited to dinner by a lovely family we know through church. We have kids the same age and have gotten to know them a bit on Sunday mornings (us moms were on the same volunteer schedule for a while). But being invited into someone's home, breaking bread with them, talking life with them, really lets you form a new bond. We talked Disney World trips, school issues, and I heard about this book, which has totally inspired me, regardless of the fact that I only read the synopsis.

So January got off to a good start!

Now I'm off to create some Valentine's for my class. That counts, right?!
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