Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baby of the Family or The Case of the Missing Dress Socks

Kent and I are down to one child. The other three are technically adults and live away from home. Carolyn is twenty-four, a college graduate, soon to be married. Kurt is home from an L.D.S. mission to Brazil (see January 19, 2010 post The Foreign Language House), lives in an apartment with a bunch of guys, and attends B.Y.U. Jeff is currently serving a mission for the church in Germany.

That leaves Joel, our sixteen-year-old. And he has dreaded this.

"Joel!" I tell him. "It's going to be great! Just the three of us! We'll spoil you!"

"Oh yeah? How?" He knows we've never been indulgent parents. Nobody could ever accuse us of spoiling any of our children in the past.

"Well, we'll go out to eat more often now that there are only three of us, " I tell him.

He'd rather have his brothers in-house to wrestle with. They're at it constantly when they're together. A couple of weeks ago, Kurt came over to the house for a visit. I was working in the kitchen. I opened the pantry door and Joel was in there. He quickly put his finger to his lips before I could scream. I shut the door. He was carrying out a plan to attack Kurt. I don't know how long he was willing to wait in there. I guess he knows that one of  the first things Kurt will do upon arrival at the house is look for something to eat.

"And we'll maybe go to a movie once in a while before it gets to the dollar theater!" I tell him.

He'd rather have a live-in ping pong partner. He and Jeff drove us crazy. Sometimes we had to tell them they couldn't play. Did you know ping pong is a violent sport? Jeff is the worst. He's a terrible winner and a terrible loser. He chased Joel and beat him with the paddles after every game.

And Joel misses that.

"Think about Christmas," I tell him. "The grown-up kids won't get as much."

It's no good. He misses his siblings. Even though he now occupies three bedrooms, he misses them. Three bedrooms. Really. This is the way he is being spoiled now that he's the only one left. Forget the dinners out and the movies. Three bedrooms. And not one of them is clean. He basically has a clothing bedroom, a sleeping bedroom and a school books bedroom. Although lately he's been sleeping in the clothing bedroom.

One day last week, Kent was looking for a pair of socks to wear.

"I don't have a single pair of dark socks clean," he told me.

"Well, I just did a dark load the other day." I was quick to defend my homemaking skills.

Then I had a thought. Joel, because he's generally not spoiled, does his own laundry. But he only washes what he needs. The rest stays on the floor in his clothing bedroom. I went in there. I found twenty-four of his father's dark socks around the room. You see, every Sunday morning when he gets dressed for church, Joel goes into our room for a pair of dress socks out of Kent's drawer. Then, when he takes them off, he throws them on the floor of his clothing bedroom. He doesn't wash them because he doesn't need them.One Sunday in a week. Twenty-four socks. That's three months of church socks on the floor of his clothing bedroom. Now when the other boys were living here and each taking a pair of dress socks out of Dad's drawer every Sunday, he never could have gotten away with it for three months.

The other night, while Joel was at basketball practice, Kent and I did a service project for him. We cleaned one of his rooms.

Has this kid got it made or what?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How To Feed A Crowd - cheap and easy

My husband and I are affiliated with an L.D.S. congregation of college students. (See October 2009 post A Pediatrician's Advice or February 2010 post Now Go Sit Down.) They all live in an apartment complex in Provo, near Brigham Young University. Twenty-six apartments with up to six kids living in each one. We like to have groups of them over for dinner on Sundays. We usually invite two or three apartments at a time. It's a fun way to get to know them better, and many of them like the chance to be in a house now and then. If I had a dollar for every time one of them said "Real carpet!" upon hitting our family room, I'd probably have enough money to pay for a fair amount of the food I serve them. Feeding all these students as well as our own kids (and usually some of their friends) could get expensive. But I've figured out how to feed a crowd, cheap and easy. I've got it down. I make the same meal every week. They seem to love it, and, believe it or not,  my family doesn't even get sick of it.

I make a big pot of Lasagna Soup and two pans of homemade foccacia bread. I put out ingredients for make-your-own-salad, including torn up hearts of Romaine, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and green onions. If I happen to have anything else that would be good in a salad, I put it out as well. They can also use the Parmesan cheese that I put out for the soup in their salad if they want. Then I make an easy dessert. Sometimes apple crisp in the Dutch oven, or Texas sheet cake. Maybe cupcakes and let them frost their own. I usually have vanilla ice cream to go along with any of these.

I got the soup recipe from my friend and neighbor, Cherie Peterson. She's an excellent cook. Her family actually calls it Freakin' Good Lasagna Soup. And it is.

Here's the recipe:

1 lb. ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced (I actually use garlic-in-a-jar)

1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce

1 (28 oz.) can Italian style petite diced tomatoes

1 tsp. beef bouillon (1 cube - I like the granules because you don’t have to unwrap them.)

3 tsp. chicken bouillon (3 cubes)

4 cups water

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried basil

crushed red pepper flakes

about 5 lasagna noodles, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (a pizza cutter works well)

mozzarella cheese, grated

Parmesan cheese, grated

Ricotta cheese

Heat a little olive oil in a good sized pot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until golden. Add the ground beef and brown it. Drain fat and return ground beef mixture to pot. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bouillon, water and seasonings. (Adjust seasoning amounts to your taste. I never really measure.) Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Add cooked lasagna noodles. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

When I make this for a crowd (maybe twenty people), I triple it and use a whole box of lasagna noodles. Be careful with the crushed red pepper flakes!

So, on to the foccacia bread. It's really easy to make. Really! And so good.

Foccacia Bread

6 cups flour

2 cups warm water

¼ cup oil

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

1 ½ Tbsp yeast (2 single use packets)

6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp Italian seasonings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Combine 3 cups of the flour, water, oil, 2 tsp. salt, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Mix with beaters or dough hook for 5 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups of flour and knead for 5 minutes (by hand or in mixer). In a separate bowl, combine cheese and seasonings. Add ½ of the mixture to the dough and knead it in for 2 more minutes. (Sometimes, I make it to this point the night before, spray the inside of a plastic grocery bag with non-stick spray, toss the ball of dough into the bag, tie the top up and put it in the fridge. The next day I take it out, let it warm up a little and proceed.) Lightly cover the dough with oil place in a bowl, and let rise for 20 minutes. (If you had it in the fridge overnight, skip that. Just start here after the dough has warmed up a little.) Roll the dough out a little bigger than a baker’s half sheet (large cookie sheet with sides---11 x 17). Spray the pan and place the dough in it. The dough will retract a little; make it fit the pan. Spread the olive oil on the dough. Add the last 1/2 tsp. of salt to the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the mixture over the dough. Let rise for 15 – 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Poke the dough gently but firmly enough to leave depressions over the dough’s surface. (If you forget to do this, don’t worry about it! I usually forget.) Bake for 15 minutes, placing aluminum foil lightly over the top for the last five minutes to avoid over-browning. You might need to add a few more minutes of baking time, depending on your oven.

 (This bread is really good for sandwiches. Cut in squares and split in half lengthwise.)

I serve this cheap and easy meal most Sundays from September through December. (In January I change it up by making Pasta Alfredo instead of the Lasagna Soup. Maybe in January I'll post that recipe.) If you're in the neighborhood, drop in and join us. What's one more mouth when you're already feeding a crowd?

October 24th update: There is a pasta shaped like little lasagna noodles. It's called campanelle. Target sells it. It's a little cheaper than a box of lasagna noodles, and a lot more convenient to use. Also, I've been making the bread with four cups whole grain wheat flour and two of regular white flour. It's really good and I feel a lot better about eating it. For the students, I make a pan of white and a pan of wheat.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Growing Up

I just came across this piece I wrote up years ago. I had been asked to speak to a group of young girls from church on the importance of getting an education and preparing for the future or something like that.

I can remember being a very little girl and thinking that growing up was all a big hoax. I'm not kidding! I really didn't believe that my parents had once been children. That they had been born as babies into this world and grown to adulthood was inconceivable to me. Nobody could live that long. The days I knew moved altogether too slowly to make that possible. I truly believed that these two people, my parents, had been put in place on the earth as fully-formed adults, with manufactured histories, for the sole purpose of being my parents. They could tell me all the stories of their childhoods they wanted; I inwardly shook my head and doubted their actuality.

It's no surprise then that I lived my childhood day to day, thinking it would never end. I didn't seriously consider "what I wanted to be when I grew up." I didn't even consider it non-seriously. I thought I'd be a child forever. Well, in spite of what I wanted or believed, the years went by, a few changes occurred, and I found myself a teenager. This was okay though. It was a lot of fun. I had fun friends and good times. I was also a good student and I enjoyed learning and I loved to read. But it never crossed my mind that I should be planning ahead. I thought I'd be a teenager forever. College never crossed my mind until my sister, who is just nineteen months older than I am, was filling out college applications. Two years later, I found myself at Brigham Young University.

Boy, was it fun! And the classes were okay, too. But guess what? Two years went by and I still hadn't given much consideration to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought I'd be a college student forever. And then all of a sudden, I knew without a doubt, that growing up was no hoax. I had to choose a major and choose one fast. For the first time in my life, I was forced to look ahead. I considered different subjects I could study, and decided I'd like to be a teacher. I went ahead and majored in Elementary Education, thinking it would be fun to work with children. Maybe I would be able to convince some of them that, yes, they would grow up someday. About the same time I decided on a major, I met my future husband. Naturally, the thought of marriage had never entered my mind at any time prior to this. Let alone the thought of someday being a parent. As I continued with my studies, however, I could see how my education would not only prepare me to have a career as a teacher, but the things I was learning I could put to use in raising my own children someday.

Well, I got married and finished my education and eventually we had our first child. The most important thing to me was being a mother. I worked as a substitute teacher until our baby was born, and then I put all my energy and education into raising my children. And the education didn't stop there. I'm a firm believer in continuing education, even in an informal way. I have continued to educate myself through reading, keeping up on what's going on in the world, and taking occasional classes. I am a teacher every day. I pass on my knowledge to my children. I encourage them to learn all they can and to look ahead!

Recently I have started substitute teaching again. My youngest child is in school all day and the schools are short on substitutes. I thought I'd try it out and see how it goes. If it doesn't interfere with my most important job of being a mother, I'll keep it up. I have found that I really enjoy teaching. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I can explain an idea to the kids (either at school or at home) and they get it! It's very rewarding.

I wasn't able to be a child forever. I wasn't able to be a teenager forever. I wasn't able to be a college student forever. But guess what? A mother and a teacher I can be forever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chicken on the Bones - with Skin!

Remember when we used to eat chicken on the bones? With the skin? If for some reason we wanted chicken without bones and skin, we boned and skinned it ourselves. It wasn't the most pleasant task in the kitchen, so we usually just cooked it as was. Then along came conveniently boned and skinned chicken breast halves, individually flash frozen and available for purchase in giant bags at places like Costco, and for a pretty good price. Is it just me or is there something spineless about boneless-skinless? (I really just wanted to say that. I actually love the convenience of boneless-skinless chicken breasts.)
Here's a recipe for the world's best chicken. It has to been made with bones and skin intact. I've tried it without. Don't even bother. Really - chicken with bones and skin. Try it. I promise that everyone you serve it to will love it. Young people might want to know what kind of animal it is that comes to the table with bones and skin. Just make something up.

Parmesan Chicken Breasts

6 chicken breast halves with bones and skin
1 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese (just the dried powdered kind in the can)
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
1 Tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced (I use garlic-in-a-jar)
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (don't even think about bottled lemon juice - for anything!)

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine melted butter, garlic and lemon juice. Rinse chicken breast halves under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Dip chicken pieces in butter mixture and then in bread crumb mixture. Place in 9 x 13 pan. Pour extra butter mixture over chicken and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.