Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, I may not have got much sleep, but...

It's been a long year. Last January Olivia was up once an hour all night long for two, ten-day stretches. I gave up wheat and eggs, and then a few months later dairy. I relearned what to eat when, and adjusted all my cooking. I figured out how to make a simple pasta dinner for four, when the toddler eats regular pasta only with butter and cheese, the baby eats gluten-free pasta with oil, and my husband and I enjoy interesting sauces, but he eats regular pasta and I have to eat the gluten-free pasta. Olivia still isn't a great sleeper, she has a very sensitive stomach (raisins are on our list of forbidden foods) and painkillers do nothing when she is teething, but every once in awhile she sleeps for six hours straight and so we have hope.

On the upside, my girls have grown in amazing ways. Alessia's favorite game at the moment is to sing songs and recite books taking the first consonants off all the words. "Ark the erald angels ing. Ory to the ew orn ing." Sometimes she substitutes another consonant. "Posty the pow pan." Olivia speaks in full sentences and has stared singing herself. My mom sent her a card that plays the tune to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." She recognized the tune and chimed in at the end with "Happy New Year." We've started painting together and drawing on big sheets of paper taped to the floor. We've become semi-regular museum-goers again. The girls have become good at playing together, which means I make dinner with both hands, and occasionally write a blog post like this one.

For myself, I started reading books again. That may sound crazy, but up until about July of this year, I didn't have the brain power to do much more than read the news and browse cookbooks from the library. I've also started finding bits of time here and there to make things again. I made Alessia's Halloween costume and a few Christmas presents for my family.

Mostly what I have to say about 2013 is, I did it. I survived. I didn't think I was going to at moments, but I did, thanks to the loving support of my amazing husband who took on more than his share of laundry and vacuuming and scrubbing the tub, pretended not to notice when I couldn't make dinner without dropping broccolli on the floor, and waited patiently when I struggled to put words together to make a coherent sentence at the end of the day. So, here's to 2013, one of the longest years of my life, and here's to 2014, I look forward to the adventures it will bring.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Olivia's First Time Out

Yesterday Olivia was throwing crayons. I told her to stop several times, and each time she responded by throwing a large handful of crayons and laughing. So I decided it was time. I picked her up and said, "Olivia, you get your first time out today." I put her in a chair at the dining room table and told her she was in time out and needed to stay there for one minute. When I went back to get her, she smiled at me and said "I time out" in her cheery just-glad-to-be-part-of-the-team voice. I tried to continue with my stern face and a level "we do not throw crayons," but instead I started grinning ear to ear, and she added "get down safe."

I have an old-coworker whose 2-year-old son refuses to be punished. Whenever they tell him he is getting a time out, he cheerfully obliges, by getting into the time out chair, singing himself little songs and smiling at them the whole time. I think Olivia might be this type as well. She's very much the little birichina, always with a twinkle in her eye. She's just so damn cute though.




Monday, November 11, 2013

Flu shot and saying goodbye to the flowers

This morning I needed to go into Boston to my doctor's office to get a flu shot. I always try to turn these errands into little adventures. On the train Alessia and I count the number of stations we have to go and name them. She knows at this point that Wellington is first and then Sullivan and Community College. We even note the characteristics of some of the stations. At North Station you can change for the green line, and State has the stinky elevator (seriously, I'm not using that elevator anymore). Olivia is still little enough to flirt with strangers on the train. At the doctor's office I let them wander around the waiting room. They don't see many children at this office, so my kids are generally smiled at and named adorable by the assistants. After the shot, off for morning snack at Sip, the coffeeshop in Post Office Square. Alessia got a cookie. We don't normally have cookies at home, so this was a treat. After snack, we took a little walk through Post Office square. My girls are good listeners so they both walked. There was a display of fall mums. We stopped to admire them and say goodbye to the flowers until spring comes again. "Ciao ciao fiori. Ci aspettiamo." Alessia climbed up a wall in order to dance in front of a small pine tree. I think children are natural pagans. Then back in the stroller. We were hoping to go to the farmers' market, but it was closed for the holiday. So back on the train, and a quick stop at the store before heading home. I love these mornings when work and pleasure are blended together.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Alessia at 3

Alessia is three, and I don't even know where to begin. She talks all day long, and while she has her toddler grammar foibles, she's also taken to saying things like, "mamma, continue reading this book" or "daddy, I just don't want to eat my cannelini beans tonight." My mother said yesterday "she's like an old lady." At the same time, she's developing a wonderful toddler's sense of humor. Slapstick is big right now. We've learned a song that takes any nursery rhyme and changes the last two verses to "threw it out the windor, the second story window." We sing it as loud as possible with a wild hand gesture for the throwing part.

She loves to be in the garden, and spent the summer helping me plant seeds, build trellises, water plants, and pick tomatoes.

She has a year of challenges ahead of her. Potty training is very slow going. Alessia needs to be able to see every step ahead of her before tackling the unknown. For weeks now we've been discussing the big girl bed she will be getting next weekend. She's curious about it, and I can see her thinking it through, but she always ends the conversation with an airy "not right now though." Trick-or-treating almost didn't happen for her. I had to explain for days every detail, and at the last minute she still almost bailed. In the end she went, and had a fantastic time.

She loves trucks and trains, which makes me very happy.

We spent the last year trying new churches, and finally decided on Old South in Boston. This is the first time Alessia has been in a pre-school type situation. Our last church didn't have other kids her age, and so I could never leave her in the pre-schoool room. Old South has dozens of little ones. Alessia hesitates as I drop her off, but she always has big smiles on her face when she comes down to the chapel with the other kids. So I think she is enjoying herself, and it's good for her.

Alessia loves her little sister.

Alessia made me a mom. I love this job. Can I say it again? I love this job. Thank you Alessia.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welcome Fall

The garden is mostly buttoned up for the season. There are some parlsey and cilantro plants left and some late spinach. I'll pick them slowly over the next few weeks, so that summer doesn't come to too abrupt an end. I picked all the green tomatoes last week. I'll pickle some and make pasta sauce with others. The leaves are putting on their fall colors, much to Alessia's delight, and Adam keeps trying to make a game of collecting leaves in the yard. Across the back of my property are several maple trees. While I find collecting leaves all fall exhausting, I have to admit that the first day I step outside and my entire backyard is blanketed in yellow leaves, it's truly beautiful.

In the house, the oven goes on again. The first of the winter squash and the last of the summer's corn were roasted last night. Tonight I am going to try and bake corn bread (with my dietary restrictions it should be an interesting experiment). I also have more time and energy for inside projects. I am sewing Alessia a halloween costume (more on that later), and I am setting up a project on the table top loom I bought myself this summer.

I'll miss our summer picnics at the Boston Public Garden and the fresh vegetables from our CSA share, but I'm also ready for fall.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fried Rice - the leftover solution for people who don't like soup

Fried rice has become a staple leftover lunch for us. I had always thought about fried rice in terms of Chinese food or Thai food. After reading An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, I realized that fried rice can be seasoned in any way I choose and really anything bite-sized can be added. Leftover broccoli? A bit of shredded chicken from taco night? A half piece of fish? Some peas? Is there a can of ceci beans lurking in the cabinet? I always make more rice than we need for dinner, so that I have some on hand for lunch.

So the basic formula goes like this:

Fry diced onion in oil until translucent. Add any dry seasonings you are using. Add bite-sized vegetables and meat. If you don't have enough left over vegetables, a handful of frozen corn or peas works well. Add rice and stir, stir, stir until the rice sucks up the oil. Add soy sauce or fish sauce if you are going for an East Asian flavor. If you are using them, add beans. Add salt and pepper and any fresh seasonings, like cilantro or parsley. Lunch is served.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The beginning of fall and a foodie weekend

We got back from a week in Maine on Thursday to find that fall had arrived in our absence. I love it. Cool nights and mornings, followed by warm days and breezy evenings. New England is at its best right now, and it is cool enough to use the oven and have pots of goodness bubbling away on the stove.

Saturday I put a pot of beans in the oven. We went to a party that evening, so I'll have the beans for lunches all week. Since the oven was on I roasted three whole sweet potatoes to make baby food for Olivia. I also roasted a fourth cut in chunks and slathered in olive oil. This is, by far, my favorite way to eat sweet potatoes. I've read several cookbooks that claim sweet potatoes can only be roasted whole. This is not true. Roasted in chunks they caramelize inside and blacken a little on the outside. Outstanding. I also froze two bunches of kale and all of the overgrown beans from my garden. Going on vacation just as the beans were coming in did not work out so well for the beans. I like my beans slow-stewed though, so it isn't all bad.

Sunday I made green tomato salsa to freeze. I had cilantro, peppers, and onions from my CSA share, and I know that all of my tomatoes aren't going to ripen so I picked some green now. It's the first time I've tried making salsa from green tomatoes. It came out well. I don't like my salsa sweet anyway, so I don't miss the sweetness of the ripened tomatoes. We'll see how it is after being frozen. In the afternoon I roasted a chicken and potatoes. I love roasted chicken. It was a big one, over five pounds, which means there will be leftover chicken all week. I saved the pan juices. I read recently that they make a great base for a soup. Once I thought about that, it makes sense. It's basically concentrated stock. I'll probably make chicken soup for dinner tomorrow night. I'm going to make it with corn, peppers, rice, and a little tomato. I haven't tried that before, but it sounds delicious.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Peaches, Peaches, Everywhere Peaches

The peaches this year are fantastic. We've been eating them out of hand for a couple of weeks now. Olivia goes nuts upon seeing them. Before trying them Alessia declared that she didn't like them. The day that I explained peach was all we had for fruit she changed her mind. When I asked Adam if there was anything he wanted from the farmers' market today, he responded with one word.

So today, I bought five pounds. Four pounds are going in the freezer with honey and a touch of lemon juice. They will be perfect on my morning oatmeal. As I was peeling them I wondered if there was something to do with the peels besides compost them. I put them in a pitcher and poured a cup of red wine over them, sort of a thrifty housewife's version of peaches soaked in red wine.

That leaves a pound to eat fresh tomorrow. I also want to try a peach crumble. I found a recipe online for a gluten-free and dairy-free crumble topping. Luckily there is a farmers' market outside Adam's office. So we will have enough for the crumble and fresh eating this weekend.


Monday, August 19, 2013

What Kind of Day We Actually Had

The online world is full of overly rosy depictions of life. We tend to share just the happy moments. According to some psychologists this is making us all miserable as we mistakenly get the impression that everyone else we know only has happy moments. So in the interest of balance, this is what kind of day we actually had.

Both girls were up multiple times last night due to congestion. Olivia woke up crying at 7:00. Alessia woke up miserable and completely covered in crusty snot at 8:30. She promptly threw up on herself and on me and on the bathroom floor. (Cheers to me for taking her straight into the bathroom from her room as headcolds always make her throw up once at the beginning.) We made it to the grocery store. The girls picked at their lunch half-heartedly. During nap time Alessia discoved her own poop for the first time (in the build up to potty training she is very curious about what goes on in her diaper), and by the time I got her from nap she needed a bath, her sheets and blankets and dollies needed to go in the laundry, and several books needed to be wiped down with baby wipes. This afternoon the girls took turns crawling into my lap and then protesting as I wiped snot off their faces. (Until I had children I didn't realize that snot has a really disgusting odor.) On the upside (really the only upside to today), both girls are already asleep and it isn't even 7:30. Here's hoping they sleep well tonight and that today was the worst of their colds, the other option being that tomorrow is much worse than today.

So, that's what kind of day we actually had, and my attempt to balance the psychological damage being done daily by too many photos of smiling babies and well-behaved children.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Stages of Grieving and a New Dolly

It has been interesting over the last few days watching Alessia go through different stages of grieving. Saturday night she was in loud angry denial. By the time she fell asleep she was red-eyed. By Sunday the tears had passed. Throughout the day she said "I need my dolly" in a very matter-of-fact sort of way. Once she said very cheerily "we'll find dolly in a second." We responded gently with "dolly's lost, baby" or "dolly's gone, beautiful, we tried to find her, but she's gone." Yesterday morning she looked at me sadly and stated "I losed my dolly." "Yes, baby," I told her, "we lost your dolly." Later in the afternoon she put her head on my shoulder and said "I miss dolly." "I miss dolly too, Alessia," I replied. Throughout the day she carried around Trudi, but she didn't play with her the way she had always played with dolly.

Then we visited the neighbors. We sat in the living room and a pile of big-breasted barbies was plopped down in front of her. I could see her contemplating these "dollies" (as she tentatively called them at one point), and I decided that she would have the new dolly hiding in the upstairs closet before bedtime. I wasn't going to let her go from a sweet little baby doll to pointy-toed, princess-themed barbies at the age of two and a half.

So before dinner, I talked to her about different versions of the same song and different copies of the same book and I gave her this new version of dolly. She smiled at it. "It isn't dolly," she affirmed. "No, it isn't dolly, but it's like another version of dolly," I explained again. "She's yours, if you want her." She noted the differences, being too young to remember that dolly looked like this new dolly once. Adam tried to talk her into a name, but Alessia seems to have settled on "new dolly," at least for now. She protested whenever Adam called her "dolly," but at one point she called her dolly as well. Before long she was showing new dolly things in books and her empty bowl at the end of dinner. "New dolly likes puzzles" she explained. This morning we built new dolly her first lego house.

The only danger in all this is that she comes to believe all things can be replaced. Last night she asked about a new Trudi. We explained that there are no other Trudis and no more new dollies after this one. Eventually Alessia may have to say goodbye to her dolly for real, although I know teenagers who still have their's safely tucked away. For now, I'm just glad Alessia has dolly back again.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Alessia's Dolly

We came home last night without Alessia's dolly. This time she seems to be missing for good. Crazy person that I am, I went out with little Olivia in the stroller at 7:30 to retrace our steps, back through the grocery store, past the restaurant where we had dinner (we had already called them), to the subway station. I had already decided that if Olivia fell asleep in the stroller, I would even get on a train and head back into town to retrace our steps from the subway to the apartment building where we had been to a birthday party and where we had last seen dolly. So at 8:00 with a sleeping one-year-old in a stroller I got on the train.

All of this may sound crazy, and I'm sure that the mom of the birthday boy thought I was crazy when her doorman called up to say that I was there and had she seen a dolly after the party. After all we had already called her earlier in the evening. When I asked her doorman about dolly I was hoping that she had been found in the elevator or lobby, and I wasn't expecting him to call her again. So when she came down, I tried to explain how upset Alessia was, and how Alessia had left dolly in the stroller at the beginning of the party and was it possible that some other child had picked her up and played with her, leaving her somewhere else during the party. I was really afraid that I was making it sound like some other child had "stolen" dolly. She very nicely offered to email the other parents, just in case they had seen dolly.

It's hard to explain how important dolly has been. Alessia isn't very brave. The spring she was a year and half, it took multiple trips to the park before she worked up the courage to go on the swings and down the slide. Dolly went down the slide dozens of times and took many swing rides, before Alessia herself was willing to try it. After Olivia was born, dolly was a major part of how Alessia adjusted. She changed dolly's diaper, swaddled her and put her in the swing for naps, and gave her her very own binky. Alessia nursed dolly as recently as last week, pulling up her shirt and smooshing dolly's face into her little baby bosom. And all of these mothering activities were initiated by Alessia, not by me. Dolly went on adventures in picture books, playing at the park with Richard Scarry's cat family kids. She became the protagonist of her own book Dolly and the Purple Crayon. When Olivia started crawling and could get her hands on Alessia's toys, including dolly, we made it clear to Alessia that dolly was the one toy she never had to share. Dolly was a constant part of Alessia's play and her adventures into the world. We never left the house without her. And Alessia never went into her crib without Dolly. I know that Alessia will weather this storm. She's strong, which is different than being brave. This morning she is walking around with her Trudi doll under her arm, only occasionally saying to me or Adam "I need my dolly." Trudi has always been dolly's sidekick. Maybe this is her opportunity to take on a leading role.

Last night I learned where the line between mom and that crazy lady is, and I learned that I am capable of stopping short of crossing it. Getting on the train might have seemed crazy, but I really think most people would have done that. At one point while walking down the street in downtown crossing looking for dolly, I noticed a trash can and thought "someone could have thrown out dolly if they found her on the street, but I'm not going to start looking in trash cans THAT would be crazy." When I got back on the train to come home, I parked Olivia still asleep in the stroller and then thought "there's always the one in a million chance that this is the same train we were on." So I walked up the train a little looking under the seats. Before I went too far, I thought "going much further away from Olivia would be crossing the line into crazy" so I went back and sat down.

There are two last slim rays of hope for dolly. If one of the other kids at the party went home with dolly, I imagine we will hear today. Adam also sent an email with a photo of dolly to the subway's lost and found. They are open tomorrow. I can only imagine that we entering a post-dolly era though.

Post Script: Upstairs there is another dolly hidden away in a closet. Last summer Adam bought her on ebay. I've always thought of her as a bit of an abomination, a pretender. We would never try to pass her off as Dolly. Alessia is too smart for that. Alessia understands though that there are multiple copies of books and different versions of songs. If we don't find Dolly in the next couple of days, we will present this other dolly, explaining that she is another version or a copy of her dolly. Then we will let Alessia decide what role this new dolly will have in her life.


Friday, August 2, 2013

The Conceptual Leaps of a Two-Year-Old

Last fall Alessia memorized several of her books. She would sit with a book turning the pages and recite the whole story. Then one day in January something changed in her brain. She was running around with a stuffed giraffe. She suddenly stopped and looked down at a green box. She slammed the giraffe into the box and recited from a book "Who's hiding inside the flowery box?" She plucked the giraffe out of the box and exclaimed, again reciting from the book, "It's jolly giraffe." Her play changed after that as she realized that objects could become props for reciting stories. She was no longer limited to reciting the story while looking at the pictures of the book itself. Throughout the day she would grab objects and recite stories.

Sometime in the spring she made another conceptual leap. All of a sudden I would hear her reciting a familliar story, but with herself or her dolly or another toy in place of the story's usual protagonist, "dolly and the purple crayon" for example.

Today something changed again. She not only changed the protagonist of If You Take a Mouse To School to herself, but she changed the story to fit her own life. "I'll be ready for my lunch. On the way to my kitchen, I'll see some building blocks. I'll build a bank.” In the original the mouse is on the way to the school lunchroom and he builds a mouse house. Alessia has lunch in the kitchen, and Adam and Alessia often build a bank with our wooden blocks. The story ended there as she got distracted with the blocks themselves.

I wish I knew more about brain development. It fascinates me to watch my girls' brains changes. When Alessia was a baby I used to describe it as someone turning on light switches inside her head, and with each switch even familiar things looked different to her. It doesn't surprise me that my babies get tired and cranky, it has to be difficult to have the whole world change and shift every few weeks.



Monday, July 29, 2013

Cooking in Malden: Summer Time

Summer is all about fresh, local vegetables in my house. Here in Malden there are two ways to get local vegetables. There is the weekly farmers' market, on Tuesdays at City Hall from 3:00 to 6:30. The market features fresh vegetables and fruits from local farms, as well as fresh baked bread. Malden is also home to two pick up points for Farmer Dave's CSA program. CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture. Members pay in the spring when the farmers need the cash to plant crops, and then they get a share of those vegetables during the summer and early fall. Each week, I go to First Parish Church on Pleasant Street and pick up a box full of vegetables picked that day, or at most the day before. What could be fresher?

Right now we are at one of my favorite points in the season. We are getting the last of the spring vegetables like kale and chard, and the first of the hot weather vegetables like tomatoes, corn, zucchine, and cucumbers. A dinner for two at this point in the season looks like this.


Sausage and Kale over Rice

  • Four sweet sausages (tonight we had sweet Italian sausages from Dom's on Commercial Street)
  • One bunch kale, tear the leaves off of the tough stems and wash
  • Two cloves garlic, chopped
  • Oive oil
  • Enough rice for two

Heat a little olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven. Brown the sausages. Remove them and set aside. Saute the garlic. Add the kale, still wet. Add a little salt. Lay the sausages on top of the kale and cover the pan. Turn the heat down to simmer. If it seems dry, add a little water. Usually the water left on the kale from washing it is enough. Simmer until the sausages are cooked through.

We had the sausages and kale with a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes from our CSA share and lettuce from my garden. It was a perfect summer dinner.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Grilled Rice Bowl Dinner for Four

In her book An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler suggests rice bowl meals. Each diner gets a bowl of hot white rice, and then the table is filled with little bowls of this and that, like in Indian thali meals and other variations served all over Asia. Througout the meal you add bits of different dishes to your bowl, the meal changing as you eat and the rice absorbing all the different flavors. Last night we had friends over for dinner, and I made a grilled rice bowl meal. Here is the gist of it.

  • 4 grilled chorizo sausages, sliced
  • 4 small zucchine, sliced and grilled
  • 2 ripe plantains, sliced open and grilled, then cut into chunks
  • Fresh salsa made with tomatoes, cilantro, grilled corn, scallions, salt, and vinegar
  • 2 chopped avocados
  • Pickled cabbage made with shredded cabbage, vinegar, salt, oregano, and sliced jalapenos
  • Big bowls of hot white rice (we normally eat brown rice, but white rice is better here)
  • A bottle of wine

It made for a wonderful meal to enjoy with friends. Rather than pass the plates once at the beginning of the meal, they got repeatedly passed back and forth. We ate and drank wine, fed three sweet little baby girls, and chatted until everyone was tired and ready for the evening to end.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Conversations with my children


Olivia (1-year-old): Mama! Mama!

Me: Hi, Olivia. I'm back.

Olivia: I wan milk!

Me: Olivia, do you want milk?

Olivia: Yea, yea, yea (while bouncing up and down and smiling)



Me: Alessia, throw out Olivia's diaper for me.

Alessia (2.5-year-old): (determined silence)

Me: Alessia, are you going to throw out Olivia's diaper? Are you going to be my big helper today?

Alessia: (determined, deliberate silence)

Me: Alright, I'm going to do it.

Alessia: I'M GOING TO DO IT. (Runs to snatch diaper from my hand.)



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Olivia at 1

My sweetheart and my little trouble is turning one. A year ago she was almost born in the neighbor's car.

Today she tried a step or two while holding Adam's hands and is willing to crawl over any surface (pavement, woodchips, cold kitchen floor) even in shorts with bare knees. She tries to say any word that begins with a B (ball, book, bambola), waggles her finger while saying no, waves while saying bye-bye in the most overdone southern accent, and babbles mamamamama and dadadadada. She giggles like a nutter when tickled and loves bath time. She believes crayons have no business whatsoever being inside their box and feels the same way about the books on the shelves at the library. She hands me books to read and already has her favorites - Eric Carle books about animals, books with flaps, and any book about Pimpa. She loves to eat, even though there is a long list of things she can't (yet) eat. She is my little "sorresina" as her godmother has dubbed her.

And me? When I told my mom that I was having a second so soon after the first (I announced I was two months pregnant at Alessia's first birthday party), my mom said "you'll survive the first year and after that it will get better." While at a certain point it was touch and go (Olivia was up once an hour for much of the month of January), I did it. I survived. And I'm happy to say that not only is it getting better, but it's getting good. I love being the mom of my two little girls. They're my adventure girls. They're so much fun, and I love being with them all day.


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Life Cycle of a Boiled Chicken and a Book Review

My husbands eyes light up when I suggest we have a boiled chicken dinner. I first made one last December after reading about them in An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. The name is misleading as it isn't really one dinner, but the posibility of many meals all cooked and waiting in your fridge and freezer after one afternoon's cooking. I'm not talking about those complicated "cook for a week" systems that have you make a menu plan with overlapping ingredients and then cook so many pounds of this and so many cups of that and than freeze them in the correct quantities for each recipe. This is much more freeform and enjoyable.

I'm not going to give any quantities here, because that really depends on the size of your family and what kinds of vegetables you love, are on sale, or are seasonally available. I'm just going to give two descriptions of two recent boiled chicken dinners.


Winter Boiled Chicken Dinner

On Sunday afternoon I boiled the chicken with leeks and parsley stems from the freezer and peppercorns, thyme, and cloves from the pantry. Once the chicken was out, I boiled an abundance of onions, butternut squash, carrots, and broccoli. Once the veg were out, I boiled just enough tortellini for dinner. We ate tortellini in broth and then chicken and vegetables for dinner. On Tuesday we ate chicken sandwhiches for lunch. On Wednesday we ate chicken tetrazzini and leftover broccoli for dinner. On Thursday I put some of the leftover veg and chicken in some broth with some noodles for lunch. On Friday I took what was left of the veg with some broth and made a pureed soup. Six cups of broth went into the freezer.


Summer Boiled Chicken Dinner (Asian inspired)

On Sunday afternoon, I boiled the chicken with leeks, cilantro, and lemongrass from the freezer and peppercorns and cloves from the pantry. When the chicken came out, I boiled an abundance of carrots, bok choi, and mushrooms. I made a large pot of rice. For dinner we had chicken and vegetables with dipping sauces and big bowls of rice. It was too hot for soup. Tuesday we ate leftover veg with tofu over rice for lunch. Wednesday we had chicken tacos for dinner. The was a little of that left so I ate it for lunch on Thursday. Thursday was cooler so I made soup with the veg, broth, and leftover chicken. We had it with rice. Saturday I added noodles to the leftover soup and we had it for lunch. There are four cups of broth in the freezer.


Tamar Adler's book is lovely and inspiring. There are very few recipes. She presents her philosophy of how one meal leads to the next. How a little bit of this and a little of that can make a delicious meal. When I first read it, I could eat eggs, bread, and cheese which play fairly large parts in her approach. She likes to gratinize leftovers with bread crumbs, spread things on toast, crack an egg over that last cup of something, and grate parmigian liberally. Reading it again now, has been helpful to me, as I've learned to focus on the things I can eat (honey poured liberally on that last bit of grilled polenta was brilliant, by the way) and attempt to cook those things with, as Tamar Adler puts it, "economy and grace."


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Museum of Fine Arts free weekend

Yesterday we took the girls to the MFA with Adam's parents, Kirk and Cornie. We met them at the T station and took the train in. The museum is free for the whole weekend. Needless to say, we were not the only people who noticed and when we got there there was a line out the door on the Huntington Avenue side of the building and down the block. We got on the end of it. First we heard an MFA staffer explain that anyone who wished to sign up for a membership could skip the line and go straight in. Now that's an impressive bit of marketing. Hats off to the membership department. We didn't think we will make it out there often enough to make a membership worthwhile for a couple of more years though. So we declined that offer. A few minutes later another MFA staffer came along and told a small group of us that the entrance on the Fenway side of the building had a short line and a five minute wait. So ten minutes later we were headed into the building.

The MFA allows people to check strollers at the coat checks. I can not tell you how much I love that. It makes it so much easier to take my girls on adventures if I can check the stroller. I had the girls lunches and the diaper changing kit hanging off one of my shoulders, and I put Olivia on my other hip in the sling. Adam took Alessia, and we were off.

Alessia has a series of books that tell stories using the works of impressionist painters. So we headed straight to the impressionist gallery. She was mesmerized. We pointed to individual works by Monet and Van Gogh and recited lines from the books. From there we wandered through the European galleries, stopping whenever a painting depicted something Alessia could relate to, portraits, food, boats, and landscapes were particularly popular. Olivia is just starting to point, so she had a grand time occasionally thrusting out her little arm and pointy finger and cawing, eyes wide open. She also expressed a need to nurse halfway through the European galleries, so add that to the list of places where I have nursed Olivia.


We realized we only had so much time before the need to eat would take over everyone's mood, so we went to the Asian wing. Both girls were taken with the Buddhas, and we walked through the Chinese furniture exhibition, which is a series of "rooms" and feels very much like walking through someone's house. We pointed out the bed and couch, the tea pot, and the desk. Alessia loved them. It's interesting how certain categories of things are recognizable across time and space.

Lunch time came. We checked out the cafeteria, which was a mad house, and then decided to wait the twenty minutes for a table at the New American Cafe. It was perfect. Alessia sat in a big girl chair and Oliva had a high chair. We had adult conversation while the girls ate the food we brought for them. It took awhile for our food to come, but the girls were calm and the courtyard is beautiful. So we enjoyed ourselves all around.

Both girls fell asleep on the way home in the stroller. We parked them in the backyard and made a cup of tea. Overall a very successful adventure.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Dairy - the last piece of the puzzle

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go dairy-free just to see if dairy was making more of an impact on Olivia's sleep than I was willing to admit. It took me three days to feel full, and I had to start eating more meat than I am used to. After about ten days, we didn't think it was helping, so I started putting parmesan on my pasta. We had two good nights sleep in a row, but again I was putting parmesan on my pasta so I assumed that there was no connection. I then started eating cheese at lunch again, and Olivia's sleep immediately got worse. So, I will be eating dairy-free for a while. This is definitely the hardest. I've gotten used to cooking gluten-free. We have taco night and eat more rice. I've found decent gf pastas and even a bread that is both gf and egg-free and actually worth eating. I have a real avversion to fake dairy products though. If nothing else they tend to be highly processed, and I think I would rather eat more meat than eat that much guar gum and soy lecithin. Even more importantly, I don't enjoy the taste of fake dairy.

I've been eating more peanut butter and nuts and will add more tofu into my routine. I'm also hoping that I will be able to eat more beans. I think beans are a problem for Olivia when her system is upset. If the lack of gluten, eggs, and dairy leads to a happier tummy, then hopefully it will be more tolerant of beans.

So that's that. Here's a picture of the little stinker.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

We're Going on a Bear Hunt... In Malden

Today we took a walk around Fellsmere Pond here in Malden. It's a man-made pond with fountains, surrounded by trees, rocky hills, and Olmsted-type meandering paths. Alessia loves nature, which is a polite way of seeing she is a dirt monkey whom we should be raising in the country. She loves sticks and rocks, trees and bushes, ducks and geese, and dirt and mud. So, needless to say, she was having a grand time, wandering on and off the path and asking a million "what's that?" questions. About halfway around the pond, she jumped up to a tree "We're going on a bear hunt. We're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day. We're not scared. Uh, oh. A forest. A deep dark forest. We can't go over it. We can't go under it. We've got to go through it. Stumble trip. Stumble trip. Stumble trip." During that last bit she repeatedly "tripped" and through herself to the ground. All of a sudden the landscape was part of one of her favorite books, We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

Further along, "what's that?" Tall grass. And off she went again. "Uh, oh. Grass. Long wavy grass. We can't go over it...." A few steps in among the trees she sat on the remains of a stump. She plunged her hands into the dark earth. "Uh, oh. Mud. Thick, oozy mud. We can't go over it..." And finally the pond itself was noticed as part of the story. "Uh, oh. A river. A deep, cold river. We can't go over it..."

This is what I love about spending time with a two-year-old. The first time we visited this pond, Alessia picked up about hundred different sticks and noted the various sizes - little, big, reeeaaally big, teeny tiny. Today the pond became the setting of a favorite book, and there is no way to know what the pond will look like next time we go.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bird Seeds Really Are Seeds

This winter my mother-in-law gave us a bird feeder. We hung it on the front pronch so that we could watch the birds from our window seat. Birds are very messy, and the porch was soon covered with seeds. No big deal. Adam swept the seeds off the porch. Unfortunately, he swept them off the side into one of my raised garden beds. Now, along with my kale, parsley, scallions, pac choi, and lettuce seelings, there are hundreds of tiny blades of grass (millet?) poking up from the soil. There's going to be a lot of weeding this spring.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


This morning Alessia was running around with a yellow ribbon. She announced that she was "focking." It took me awhile to figure out what this meant. Here is the logic for you:

If fishing is what you do when you wish to catch a fish and newting is what you do when you wish to catch a newt, then focking is what you do when you wish to catch a fock, which is, of course, a single fox.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

In the Spring Garden

We spent Saturday in the garden. Adam cleaned out the last of the fall leaves and cut back dead foliage. We gave the lillies and daffodils a bit of breathing room, and we are all happier for it. Adam also put out mulch to give us a head start on weed control.

I turned over my two raised vegetable beds, built a trellis, and seeded all the spring veg - peas, carrots, radishes, lettuces, arugula, kale, pac choi, parsley, cilantro, and scallions. I grow such small quantities of each vegetable and herb, that if I loose some in a late hard frost, there are still seeds in the packets. I also have some seeds started in the basement and will transplant swiss chard and kale to pots next weekend. This is our first year for kale, chard, and pac choi. I grew tatsoi last year. It was delicious, but since it grows outwards rather than up, it just doesn't make much sense in a tiny little garden like mine.

I've been talking to Alessia about the coming spring for over a month now. We talk about the snow disappearing and the first leaves and flowers coming. We're keeping an eye on the lilly shoots and dandelions peeking out of the dirt in our yard. Before Easter we took a long walk and she started pointing wildly and exclaiming "fiori, fiori" (we tend to talk about this subject in Italian) when she saw the first crocuses. Yesterday we took a long walk around the neighborhood. Olivia is my summer baby. All winter long she has fussed when the wind hits her in the stroller. Yesterday for the first time she smiled into the wind as it blew her hair around. "La primavera é arrivata!" was our cry.

And since I don't have any pictures of the garden, here's Olivia sporting short sleeves.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Weekday Vegetarian - Taco Night

Many families have a taco night. Taco night was an occasional thing for us, until I had to go gluten-free. Now it is a weekly event. Taco night has evolved as my cooking has evolved. I don't buy tomatoes out of season, and I very rarely buy lettuce out of season anymore. They are two foods that use incredible amounts of resources to grow, ship, and store during the winter. Tomatoes taste so much better in summer, that I am happy to wait for them, and lettuce has so few calories that it's become hard for me to justify buying it out of season, except on rare occasions. So, without the traditional meat filling and tomato and lettuce garnishes what does taco night look like?

The Filling

Saute an onion with cumin and coriander. Add chopped green peppers and beans (black or red beans). Add cayenne, chilli powder, and salt to taste.


Slices of pepper jack cheese and cabbage slaw. Cabbage slaw is traditional on fish tacos in tex mex restaurants. It's delicious on any taco though. I slice cabbage into long thin ribbons, which makes it easier to keep on the taco. Then I dress it with salt, lemon juice, a little oil, and something creamy - mayo, yogurt, or sour cream. Lately we've been using yogurt.


We prefer soft corn tortillas. I put a slice of pepper jack on each tortilla as I heat it up.


Some nights we just eat whatever's left of the slaw as a side. Last night I roasted plaintains with olive oil and salt for a side.

So that's what taco night currently looks like at my house.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Olivia's Tummy and Doctor Nonsense

After several days of improved sleep, Olivia went back to waking up once an hour even though I continued to eat gluten-feee. So I called the doctor's office and made an appointment. The nurse on the phone was very sympathetic, and I had hopes that soon I would know what was wrong and how to make it better.

Instead, the doctor told me that there was nothing wrong with her tummy and I just needed to turn off the monitor for ten hours a night. During the appointment I was so tired that it all sounded reasonable, if disheartening. We never ignored Alessia's cries during the night, but the doctor assured me that different babies need different approaches. So I went home and ate a sandwhich on wheat toast, ordered the book the doctor recommended, and had a good cry. We weren't prepared to turn the monitor off that night, so we did our ususal routine. Well the wheat sandwhich did a number on Olivia's tummy that night. So that was strike one against the doctor. Obviously what I ate did effect her. The next day, with a slightly clearer head I remembered going through all this with Alessia. Now Alessia never woke up once an hour for several weeks straight, but her sleep did have its up and downs. Throughout, people recommended we just turn off the monitor, and throughout it all, we continued to respond to her cries. In remembering all of that, I remembered all my counter arguments to the doctor's arguments in favoring of allowing my tiny baby to cry all night.

In the meantime I went back to eating gluten-free and for two nights Olivia went back to her usual routine of waking up every three hours. (Strike two against the doctor who told me that once a baby is used to waking up once an hour it will never get better on its own.) Then yesterday I ate eggs for breakfast and made muffins with eggs and butter in them. Well, Olivia was up all night with gas pain again. It occured to me that the reason her sleep got better when I first went gluten-free and then got bad again was that it wasn't for a few days after going gluten-free that I bought and made gluten-free cookies, both of which contain eggs and butter. The day after the doctor's appointment I was out and it wasn't until Saturday that I cooked eggs again.

So, for a bit, I will be eating gluten-free, egg-free, and butter-free. Cheese doesn't seem to be a problem, nor does a small amout of milk on my oatmeal in the morning. It's the rich dairy like butter and cream. I debated calling the doctor and telling her all this, but I'm not sure it's worth my time. She obviously felt she knew exactly what the problem and answer were before even talking to me, and she is not our usual doctor anyway.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Maybe It's Not Wheat

Eliminating wheat had an immediate, positive impact on Olivia's sleep.... for about a week. For the past week we have been back to waking up once an hour all night long. So the question is did I replace all that wheaty goodness in my diet with something else that is also problematic? I've been eating a lot of dairy lately, and when she was about three months old, too much milk in my diet made Olivia gassy. So I'm going dairy free for a few days, in addition to going gluten free. If this doesn't help fairly quickly (and from what I have read, even if dairy is the problem it can take weeks for it to work itself completely out of our systems) we will be going to the doctor. I hate to go that route, as I'm sure it will mean special trips to specialists and needles and needless worrying, but I'm in danger of falling apart from lack of sleep and need an answer, and the fact of the matter is there are so many things it could be - nuts, trace amounts of gluten, eggs, peanut butter, soy, and on and on. The breastfeeding-powers-that-be recommend an "elimination diet" of nothing but turkey, lamb, potatoes, rice, zucchini, and pear for TWO weeks, but that might make me more crazy than the lack of sleep.

So once again, here is a cute picture of Olivia.



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wheat Free - the absence of wheat or the presence of something different?

After a week of not eating wheat, Olivia is now waking up every three hours, rather than every one to two hours. So that's a huge improvement. I've been exploring the world of gluten-free knock-offs of wheaty foodstuffs. It's not a completely new world to me. Twice I've had a cousin with celiacs stay with us, and a friend of mine has had to go wheat free recently. Last week I tried a gluten-free pasta (Italian-made, no less) and Friday we ordered a gluten-free pizza. The problem I am having is that I enjoy the taste of wheat. The texture of the pasta and the pizza crust were pretty spot on, but the flavor wasn't right, and I didn't really enjoy them. I've had gluten-free cookies that are pretty good, but most cookies don't taste of wheat anyway. The wheat is a vehicle for butter, sugar, chocolate chips, cinnamon, whatever. I've also tried brown rice pasta that I enjoyed, although admittedly, so far I have only used it to make Chinese-style dishes. This weekend I am going to try it with tomato sauce.

I think the problem I am having is that I have an avversion to anything "faux." The site of vegan sour cream turns my stomach, and I find fake fur almost as offensive as real fur. So the pastas and the pizzas that are trying to taste like wheat bother me, because they are trying really hard to be something they aren't, and will never be. A pasta that wants to taste like wheat, but doesn't, lacks an honest flavor of it's own. I prefer the brown rice pasta that isn't trying to be something it isn't and is instead unabashedly what it is. I'm going to try some gluten-free baking. I'd like to have muffins as an alternative to oatmeal for breakfast, pancakes for weekend breakfasts, and some quick breads or cookies for snacks. Rather than try to replicate the blueberry muffins made of wheat flour though, I want to make buckwheat muffins that taste of buckwheat and oat muffins that taste of oats. I've been finding recipes online for gluten-free baked goods that focus on the flavor of the gluten-free flours, rather than trying to replicate the taste of wheat flours. I hope to learn something about baking, and maybe even find some recipes that I will enjoy making even after I can go back to eating wheat.

In the meantime, here is another cute picture of Olivia, the reason for this new pain-in-the-butt-yet-somehow-fascinating turn of events in my eating and cooking.