Monday, November 29, 2010

Ellie's 5th birthday party, Fancy Nancy style!

When October 6th rolled around, my mama was in town detouring from a visit to Utah. Everybody knows that when Grandma's in town, life is pretty much one big birthday party. Ellie knows just how to coax goodies and gifts out of Grandma at every distinguishable opportunity. Yes, it was a deliciously sweet week. For instance, a birthday trip to Yumberi, Ellie's dessert venue of choice. Auntie Noelani joined us for frozen yogurt.

Grandma also thought to capture some footage of Ellie in action on the dance floor. Family and friends are not allowed in the dance studio while class is in session. However, there is a small crack in the door to be used for peeking in with a camera lens, all discrete-like. I'm usually too embarrassed to do so, but of course Grandma wasn't. Little girls learning tap and ballet is pretty much as cute as life gets. The only thing better would be getting to watch them learn tap and ballet. Thankfully, Ellie is hammy off the dance floor as well, as seen here with bffs Zina and Ellie T.

Oh, and by the way...

... to a tres posh birthday soiree, a la Fancy Nancy!

Yes, I felt a little hypocritical advocating the flamboyant ways of Nancy Clancy, given my vehement disapproval of divas as role models for girls. There's no disputing that Nancy's a diva. Still, in my book she's partially redeemed by her intellect (she's got to be well-read with a vocabulary like that!), creativity, and love of life and people, rendering her somewhat more tolerable than other divas dominating children's literature (eg Olivia, Lily the mouse, Disney princesses, etc.). At the very least, Nancy accomplishes her shenanigans using resourceful originality, not her parents' bank account.

I actually find her style quite endearing-- free-style fancy, I may call it. Very eclectic. Very much like my own style.

More to the point, Ellie loved Fancy Nancy for a while there and enjoyed brainstorming her party's extravagance with particular attention to each glittery detail.

With such a theme, "less is more" simply doesn't apply. And yet, the life perspective I'd gained from my month of party insanity last spring compelled me to reduce the o-t-t (over-the-top) quality of this party considerably.

For instance, I started crafting for the party only a few days prior to it. The decor was simple and mostly came from our holiday decor boxes. The menu was limited and the cupcakes were as plain as jane. The party planning and execution were not at all exasperating or exhausting as in all previous cases. AND I did it all myself-- no sucking innocent bystanders into my schemes against their will-- and that is a lifetime first for me! Mom still insisted several times that I was ridiculous for doing so much, but I was too busy feeling proud of myself for how little I was doing to give her much heed.

The party itself went spectacularly. While we waited for all the guests to arrive, the girls decorated purses (I'd constructed from cardboard) with pretty paper, stickers, feather, jewels, and glitter pens.

Next, we had to acquaint (or re-acquaint) everyone with the whimsy and spunk of Little Miss Fancy Nancy Clancy. I had the entire series checked out from the library and the girls sat patiently through about 1.5 narratives of Nancy's adventures.

Manicures were next in order, and while nails were wet, I doused them all in glitter, which sounded like such a splendiferous idea... and between that and all the glitzy decorations, I am still sweeping and vacuuming glitter from the upholstery.

With wet and glittery nails, outside was the best place to send them. I don't know how I missed photographing the ghetto ice cream pinata I made, in all its sugary splendor, or the act of the girls deconstructing it with their bare fists, but trust that that was a treat in and of itself. (A bonus was that filling the pinata cleansed my cupboards of candy while helping me avoid that heinous crime of tossing edibles.)

The girls continued filling up their purses with goodies once inside, scavenging for fancy accessories in the living room. If we managed it correctly, everyone ended up with a wand, sunglasses or plumed-pen, jewelry set, lacy gloves, and jewels in a silky pouch.

The trickiest part of this party was including Erik without feminizing him beyond Kyle's approval. Boys can be fancy, too, but it's just not nearly as much fun. Erik was more than a little disappointed that no wand or tiara ended up in his loot bag, although he was thrilled to have his nails painted with clear nail polish (which he now considers a "boy" color, as opposed to the purple he originally selected).

Loaded up with party favors, all that remained was to load up on delectable delicacies, of the toddler variety.

These chocolaty merged pretzels were supposed to look like Bonjour Butterflies.

One of Ellie's primary requests was that each of her friends be given their own candle and therefore their own special wish. Somehow we got eight flames going at once and stole eight wishes from a single birthday!

The only activity we ran out of time for was decorating Grandma. She was going to sit in a chair, looking all plain and therefore unhappy, and then I'd supply the girls with a box of fancy accessories and let them go wild on Ma. I was looking forward to a stunning before/after photo shoot, but as it was we didn't get around to opening presents until all the moms had arrived to pick up their daughters.

And then, as evidenced by Mom collapsed on the couch down there on the right, we were un-fancy, plain worn out. I was more emotionally spent when I coaxed out of Ellie her regret that I hadn't decorated more and that she hadn't received more presents. Granted, I did ask if there was anything she would've changed about her party, so I'm partially to blame, but the ingratitude was still shocking and intolerable! I sulked about it for days, swearing off parties, presents, and privileges forever.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the massive amount of love and effort that goes into my parties was taken for granted. I sensed all day and throughout her party that she did not feel the magic she did for her previous parties. Though her complacency was sorely disappointing, it was important for me to witness, and will certainly affect the manner in which future parties are conducted.

Lest we all leave disgusted, I happily report that all manifestations of Ellie's spoiled-birthday-girl attitude quickly dissolved in the following days. Ellie cried sincere tears of regret after we explained to her the faults of ingratitude and selfishness.

She wrote genuinely appreciative thank-you cards to her friends and had to earn the right to open each of her presents (and one still remains to be earned). Ellie is a sensitive and perceptive little girl-- I think she understands what she did wrong, as do I understand my own portion of the blame. It was, after all, my party extravagance that sustained her high expectations.

For now, all is well on the gratitude front. We are toning down Christmas this year quite a bit. Seeing that sparkle in their eyes is what makes doing special and expensive things for my kids worthwhile. I'm not afraid of doing less of them until we regain that sparkle.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More news from my kitchen

Like mother, like daughter. I keep shopping and cooking enough to feed a small bear colony. Meanwhile, produce goes rotten before it even gets rotated to the front of the fridge. Leftovers become left-over-over-overs, and then go rotten. Bob's absence, coupled with our changing appetites, has rendered Costco a much less appropriate grocery venue.

It breaks my heart, in some ways, to buy and consume less food, but I really should be thankful. This means I only have to go grocery shopping once a week or less (if I can stop myself!), and recipes hardly need to be doubled. It should feel more simple, yet it is still an adjustment.

To ease in this adjustment, and mostly in an effort to use up those easily-forgotten perishables, I have started meal planning. Since nearly every dinner I make these days is unfamiliar to our family, I've also been taking mediocre photos to pair with recipes in hopes that someday I will compile a recipe filing system superior to my current method of stacking post-it notes in drawers and cupboards. I know, I dream big.

Recipe compilation has been a grueling task. I'm searching for meal ideas that are not only composed almost completely of whole plant foods, but are also palatable to small children, flavorful enough for carnivorous, salt-crazy hubby, and fast and easy enough that I can whip them up one-handed (while holding Char). Also, the ingredients can't be too expensive or remote. And I'd prefer they taste good to me, too. So, almost no recipes work, but I've been clinging to that "almost," diligently excavating the hidden wonders of healthy, satisfying meals from cookbooks and blogs. I've a long way to go, to be sure, but I'm grateful to finally be finding a happy little food niche to make my own.

My goal is to post recipes I've tried recently, along with photos and our family's ratings. Originally I was going to include my own photos. They look like this

and this.

Until I learn how to decorate food and then take a photo that falls short of inducing nausea, I'll leave it to the professionals. I stole the following photos from absolutely anyone with a nicer camera and skills (Is that legal?...). Some of them are not exactly true to my creations, but they probably tasted very similar, just much, much prettier.

With no further ado, I bring you Mama T's breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bonus recipes from November 2-13! (I should warn, in case anyone actually attempts to use any of these recipes, that I am quite a minimalist when it comes to instructions. Sometimes I just omit them completely if they feel they are intuitive. Sorry about that. Also, I very rarely measure anything; the amounts listed probably came from someone else's recipe that I may or may not have followed particularly.) Oh yes, as it pertains to ratings, we'll just go by initials T, El, Er, and Ch, and let's use a scale of 1-3, 1 being a thumbs down, 2 being neutral or of mixed emotion, and 3 being a thumbs up.

Nov 2
Lunch: peanut celery spread on toast, fruit wedges

Peanut Celery Spread
1/3 c natural peanut butter
1 T lemon juice
2 t soy sauce
1 clove garlic
2 T water
1 c celery, minced

T 3, El 3, Er 2, Ch 1

Dinner: Three-layer dip and chips, those layers being hummus, broccamole, and salsa

Pumpkin Hummus
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can pumpkin
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 c tahini (sesame seed spread, but you can omit this or use whole sesame seeds, or even natural nut butters have about the same consistency as tahini)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t allspice
salt, cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper to taste

My Blendtec was able to smooth this out, but just barely. Food processors probably suit this recipe better. The can of pumpkin really made it creamy and perfect, in my opinion, but if that grosses you out, there are plenty of other tasty hummus varieties, eg roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, jalapeno, etc.

T 3, El 3, Er 3, Ch 3

1-2 avocados
1 large head broccoli, chopped and steamed
2 T red onion
4 cloves garlic
2+ T lime juice
1 T hot pepper sauce
2 T fresh cilantro
salt to taste

I tried blending this, but it proved too thick even for the illustrious Blendtec, so I sadly ended up mincing the broccoli by hand. With a smoother appearance, I believe this would have gone over better with the kiddos.

T 3 (for its ingenious disguise of fresh broccoli while maintaining guacamole taste), El 3, Er 2, Ch 2

Homemade salsa
banana pepper
chili powder
salt and pepper

Pulse in blender (or chop by hand) until chunky to your liking.

T 3, El 3, Er 1, Ch 1

Homemade chips
Cut corn tortillas into four pieces each. Broil 2 min on each side until lightly browned-- warning: 2 min 30 seconds was enough to burn an entire batch!

Nov 3
Dinner: pureed celery/carrot/sweet potato soup with dill biscuits and broccoli salad
-For the soup, I simmered garlic, onion, celery, carrot, sweet potato, other veggies, and generous seasonings in water until tender, and then blend! I added low-sodium chicken broth to thin and more sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, curry powder, and other seasonings to taste.

-I've also subbed celery for broccoli, but only because of that blasted Costco pack of celery-- why did I think we could polish off four heads of celery in our lifetimes?! I think this salad is actually my favorite way to eat raw celery, though.

Broccoli Salad
1 1/2 c fresh broccoli
2/3 c dried cranberries
2/3 c frozen peas, thawed
1/4 c fresh parsley
2 T chopped pecans
3 T mayo
3 T plain yogurt
1 T lemon juice
1/4 t each of salt and pepper

T 2, El 2, Er 1, Ch 1

Nov 4
Lunch: hummus and veggie sticks, banana bread

Banana Bread
3/4 c brown sugar (I usually scale this down and use part agave nectar)
3/4 flax seed meal
5 ripe mashed bananas
1/4 c skim milk of choice (I use almond, but of course soy, cow, etc. are fine)
1/4 c yogurt or applesauce
1 egg
in separate bowl, mix:
1 3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c rolled oats
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts
combine the two mixes and bake in greased loaf pans 70 min at 350, or 25 min for muffins

T 3, El 3, Er 3, Ch 3

Dinner: Asian vermicelli soup (sorry, no measurements here)
chicken broth
soy sauce
sesame oil
rice vinegar
Asian noodles
eggs cracked in while broth boiling
fresh basil (very distinct flavor-- much more potent and enjoyable than dried basil)

Nov 5
Breakfast: Pink Smoothie, almond milk over granola and berries (This has become my favoritest food in all the land-- it's replaced my nightly bowl of ice cream and honestly appeals to my taste buds now more than desserts. I'm shocked, too.)

Hot Pink Smoothie

juice of young Thai coconut
1 carrot
1/2 raw beet
splash vanilla
frozen strawberries
Blend everything but strawberries until liquid, then add strawberries and blend.

T 3, El 3, Er 3, Ch 3

Dinner: Pesto potatoes

Sun-dried tomato pesto
2 c fresh basil
5 whole sun-dried tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1/4 t salt
3 T pine nuts
1/4 c olive oil

Blentec also struggled with this one, surprisingly. This is when I miss my old Vitamix's tamper.

T3, El3, Er2, Ch3

Dessert/snack: Banana Pops

-freeze 4 bananas, halved width-wise (so they're short) on sticks 2 hrs or until firm
-spread peanut butter over them and re-freeze 30 min until firm
-dip in melted chocolate and roll in chopped nuts or granola (I scale back the chocolate quite a bit-- mine were more drizzled than dipped in chocolate, and they were still plenty sweet)
-freeze 1-2 hours on wax paper

T 2, El 3, Er 3, Ch 1 (too hard to bite!)

Nov 6
Breakast: Green smoothie (this is a staple, but I thought I'd throw some guidelines out there in case anyone's curious)
-10 oz or so of water or juice or milk drink
-fill up blender with greens like spinach, kale, wheatgrass, cabbage, and even a handful of dandelion greens, pea greens, mustard greens, etc. (These are just the ones I've tried. There are plenty more out there, but I usually go the mild and economical route.)
-add flax seed and dates
Blend until smooth.
-add fruit, fresh and/or frozen, to taste/texture/color (I usually use bananas, apples, pears, green grapes and assorted light-colored frozen fruit like pineapple, peaches, and cantaloupe)

T 3, El 2, Er 3, Ch 3

Nov 7
Dinner: Thai coconut corn soup

3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper, minced
4-5 scallions
30 oz coconut milk
16 oz frozen corn
2 t curry powder
1/4 t curry paste, or to taste, dissolved in water before adding
1 t salt
top with 1/2 c cilantro

T 3, El 3, Er 2, Ch 2

Nov 8
Dinner: Phyllo rolls with balsamic maple sauce

Moroccan Phyllo Rolls
roast 35-45 min at 425, tossing 1-2 times:
2 c bell peppers (I subbed whatever veggies I had on hand, like carrots and mushrooms)
3 c zucchini or squash
1 c onion
1 medium fennel bulb (I used celery)
1/2 c dried apricots
6 cloves garlic
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t cumin
3/4 t ginger
1/2 t paprika
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t pepper

1 c white beans
1/2 c fresh basil (I used pesto)

-reduce oven to 375
-spread oil on 1 phyllo sheet, top with another sheet, and then fill with 1 c veggies and wrap them, burrito-style (for better instructions, go to and search for "Top 10 recipes of 2008")
bake 15-20 min until golden; serve with balsamic maple sauce and top with chopped or slivered almonds

T 3, El 3, Er 2

Balsamic Maple Sauce
1/4 c pure maple syrup
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
2 t butter
1 minced garlic clove
1/8 t salt
1 1/2 t cornstarch, dissolved in 3 T soy sauce (I use a natural soy sauce called Braggs Liquid Aminos)
-bring it all to a boil for 1 min then remove from heat

T 2 (too salty -- I would reduce soy sauce and/or vinegar next time and up the syrup), El 3, Er 2

Nov 9

Dinner: Veggie and Ricotta lasagna (sorry no recipe; this meal is what I call a crisper cleanser. I used anything and everything in my fridge that was on the verge of perishing.)

T 3, El 3, Er 2, Ch 3

Nov 10
Breakfast: muesli
Dinner: quesadillas with avocado, tomato, hummus, cilantro, mushrooms, and a little shredded cheese to keep it all in there

-mix and refrigerate overnight:
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1/4 c raisins
1/8 c sunflower seeds
1/8 c chopped nuts
1/2 t cinnamon
2 c almond milk
1 c apple juice

I haven't tried this variation, but you can also omit the juice and add cocoa powder, maple syrup, and more milk to make chocolate muesli. Sounds super delish, but my kids gobble it up as is and I worry that after the sweeter version they may be less enthused about regular muesli. Also, this is my favorite breakfast in the whole world because it mostly makes itself, enabling me to lay comatose in bed a little longer.

T3, El3, Er3, Ch3

Nov 11 and beyond
Lunch: blender pancakes with hot pink smoothie poured on top
Dinner: Kristin's peanut butter sesame noodles

Blender Pancakes
1 c wheat, spelt, or oat groats (although I use quinoa, amaranth, or any whole wheat on hand)
1 c almond milk
2 eggs
2 T honey or sugar
2 T coconut oil
2 t baking powder (more if using oats)
1 t salt
-blend grain and milk first, and then add the rest
-cinnamon and dried fruit would also be yummy additions

T3, El3, Er3, Ch3

Sesame Noodles (as taken from

8 oz. angel hair
½ c. peanut butter (creamy is best)
½ c. water
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. white or rice vinegar
1 T. veg. oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 large carrot, shredded (about ½ c.)
1 small cucumber, halved and sliced.

Cook and drain pasta. Meanwhile, in large bowl whisk together all other ingredients except vegetables. Toss with hot pasta, carrots and cucumber to combine.

T3, El3+ (in a very serious tone, "Mom, this dinner is quite yummier than the bees knees."), Er3, Ch3

Well, that about concludes what is now my longest post ever, except for the natural childbirth one, or maybe Ellie's Dr. Seuss birthday party menu, or whatever else I'm obsessed with at the moment. Funny thing, though: I've clearly been exerting a great deal more time and effort learning about food and finding new recipes, but as time passes, I'm feeling less and less "obsessed" with my hobby. I still have a very appreciative, loving relationship with food, but I don't feel it controls me at all. Indeed, I don't think I've ever had a happier or better relationship with food than I currently enjoy.

Monday, November 08, 2010


[Grrr... I uploaded a cute video of Ellie tap dancing here, but it refuses to show up on the blog. Just use the cutest parts of your imagination to fill in this blankness.]

Oh, Ellie. Sweet, sweet, only occasionally bitter, but mostly sweet Ellie. Particularly when your brothers are acting like they're made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, how can I ever thank you for being so sweet?

I don't know how I would have survived the past year without you. Really. You are perhaps the only (cognizant) individual who witnessed how difficult it was for me to care for Erik and Charlie last year. Daddy and Mish and Kjerstin caught glimpses, but if ever they were present, the adult to child ratio would swing in my favor and thus my stress level diminished considerably. But you, you saw the nitty gritty darkness of our day to days, and YOU were the sunshine that saw us through it.

You were the one who'd apologize for your behavior after I lost my temper with you-- YOU apologized first.

You were the one who protected Charlie so I could shower or use the bathroom.

You were the one who exercised supreme patience with Erik and loved him and played with him and made him feel special.

You were the one who'd snuggle up to me when I had a breakdown, assuring me that taking care of three kids is a really hard job, but that I was still a great mom and everything would be okay.

Sure, you have your streaks of independence that drive the rest of us batty from time to time, but almost all the time, you are my faithful sidekick-- a shorter, cuter, funnier, lovable-er mini-me.

You're an expert on many topics, but guess what? I am an expert on you. I know lots of things that you don't even know about you, like...

-You always sleep with your mouth open, just like Grandma Nai-nai.
-You actually DO like broccoli because I sneak it into lots of foods you gobble up.
-You look kind of putzy dancing ballet, but I'm fairly certain you will grow into grace quite well.
-You still have elbow dimples.
-You probably won't marry Carter.
-You have more sincere faith than me many times.
-You look like me.
-You are everything to me.

Well, you do know that last one.

Happy 5th birthday to a daughter no mother could deserve, although I'll keep on trying. You are 100% pure and natural joy.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Hocus Pocus

I'll confess Halloween is among my least favorite holidays (down there with President's Day-- cuz what have they done for us, anyway?-- and Labor Day, and Children's Day, that thankfully we don't celebrate here), but when we were BOO-attacked by some neighbors, it was time to pay it forward with a batch of spooky goodies (finally using up those nasty white chocolate chips!).

I don't love to bake, and I really don't love to bake when the kids are "helping" me, so I was more than happy when they waxed uninterested with the cookies business and left me to stamp pumpkin dough in peace.

I should add that delivering the goodies was still a hoot. My heart really was pounding with the threat of being identified as we doorbell ditched, and with good reason, because Erik runs only slightly faster than he walks.

Here's an adorable shot of Mark and Noe's baby, Makakoa, in the preliminary stages of our costume designing. Unfortunately, I neglected to capture the sort-of important "after" frame, but I'll try to get that from her later because their family costumes put all y'alls to shame (mostly referring to our family's costumes).

Wednesday before Halloween we were supposed to trick-or-treat with Thunderkids to departments at Kyle's school. That turned out to be the worst day I've had in a looooong while, but I still took the kids to the event, hoping it'd satisfy their candy greed and get me out of further trick-or-treating over the weekend. Instead, we walked away from that event with a meager handful of candies that Ellie's friend donated and tears bursting from Ellie's and my eyes. Awful.

Ellie reassured me that I am still a good mom and expressed her confidence that the four other Halloween excursions remaining would make up for our failure in that incident.

She was right. The Joy School Halloween party was our typical overdose of cute, messy and fun.

Friday night's party with Mark's family was so relaxing and enjoyable that I only took a picture of the pumpkin roll appetizer I brought.

Saturday the fun continued with a T-kids subsidized trip to the farm

where Charlie first uttered the word "piggy" (and many times since, during his inaugural viewing of Babe),

nearly lost a few fingers to an ornery ostrich (just your average Arizona farm animal???),

made cornmeal,

pledged to eat more fresh produce,

burned whatever calories weren't evaporated by the scorching October sun,

launched a tomato into oblivion,

and, most importantly, went home happy.

Saturday night we showed up for our ward's Trunk-or-Treat sugar fest, and after feeling silly showing up costume-less to Mark and Noe's party the night previous, at the very last minute we dusted off our 80's attire for the party. (YES I rocked those leggings at a church function.) I don't even remember what the kids wore, because they selected different costume pieces for each event we attended. Oh wait, I remember Erik was an alligator because he peed on that costume and into the plastic jack-o-lantern decorating our trunk. Still, it was all around family fun. I feel especially proud and devious that after the kids and I made the rounds and returned to our car, we'd run out of candy to pass out so I distributed my kids' fresh loot to trunk-or-treaters. We still went home with a couple handfuls of junk, which is fine, because it's kept up high and the kids forget to ask about it very often, or perhaps they just know their mother.

Halloween was a good time, though a little understated. There were lots and lots of crafts and recipes I never made time for, but I suppose I'm the only one who knows or cares about that pish posh.

Thanksgiving will be understated this year, as well, seeing that we have no local family or friends-close-enough-to-call-family to share it with. I refuse to slave solo over an entire Thanksgiving dinner to feed the same crew I feed every day and night. So, we'll see if something develops. In the meantime, our thankey turkey went up tonight, and just in case you were wondering, Ellie is thankful for "buvrs," Charlie for Mommy, and Erik for evewyfing. And I'm just kind of thankful that it's my job to love these little lovables.