You Can’t Always Get What You Want (but usually)

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:13 pm

As we often do, Miles and Tobin and I stopped by Hy-Vee after we picked Miles up from school.  Miles is always ready for lunch when he finishes at 11:30, and he’s crazy about the orange chicken at their Chinese station.  I usually go for the salad bar.  Tobin snacks off both our plates.

After we got our food and sat down, Miles and I dug in, and I gave Tobin some rice.  He ate a good amount of that, as well as sharing some of Miles’s milk and his own water (of course; he loves water).

A while later, Tobin started frantically making the more sign in his own consistent but unorthodox ASL.   In his world, that sign doesn’t imply that he wants more of what he already has.  It often just means he wants something.   I offered him more rice:  no.  I offered him some vegetables from my salad:  no.  I offered him milk and water and everything else I could find that seemed reasonable:  no.  He kept signing for more.

Finally, after everybody was feeling pretty frustrated, he puckered up his lips and made a kissing noise.  Then he brought his hand to his mouth and did his approximation of blowing me a kiss.

A kiss.  He wanted a kiss.

I leaned down, brushed the rice of his face, and kissed him about thirty times.  He seemed satisfied after that.


Pete and Re-Pete

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:11 pm

I’ve cooked every day this week, but it’s all been repeats:  BLTs, beef and asparagus stir-fry, and chicken salad.

A lot of people love fall, and I recognize their point.  It’s kind of pleasant when the leaves are crunchy and you can wear sweatshirts and jeans and live la vida loca or whatever.  Still, I am a spring and summer person.  Fall’s charms are false ones.  They’re just the gentle touch of horrid winter yet to come.  Spring gets me excited; fall gets me nervous.

All this is to say that even though fall is a suspicious time, I’m still looking forward a teeny bit to fall and winter cooking.  I would eat dry-brined roast chicken once a week year-round if it didn’t heat up the kitchen so much.  I like crock-pot soups with fresh cornbread and spaghetti and meatballs made with the previous summer’s frozen sauce.  Fall and winter cooking is the consolation prize for the suffering of dark and cold.


The Tobin Times #13

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:05 pm

My sweet baby,

And now we begin year two.  You’re ready.  You’re so, so ready.  You walk with great confidence, sometimes even throwing in a little jump.  You want to be everywhere your brother is, and you’re sure you can climb anything he’s climbing, eat anything he’s eating, and play any computer game he’s playing.  You’ve already managed to topple the kitchen garbage can over, which was gross.  You can go up and down stairs (though down is a bit trickier).

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your budding language skills are really impressing me lately.  You say “Opie!” whenever you’re faced with a closed door.  Yesterday at the playground, you said “ing!” and gestured at the swings.  These two especially excite me because we made no particular effort to teach you those words.  I’ve spent a long time enunciating mama for you over and over, and you do pretty well at that one, but it’s even more exciting to hear evidence that you’re paying attention to words in context and putting them to use.  You’re getting the hang of a few animal sounds, notably the bear cub (a low growl), the sheep, and the cow.

We went to cousin Joel’s wedding last weekend, and of course you charmed all the relatives and not a few strangers.  You always have a smile or other funny face to make and a sound to go with it, and you’re so swift and curious.  You would still prefer to play with real objects (e.g., Daddy’s car key or a spoon) than toys.  You held a graham cracker up to your ear the other day and started chatting away.  You really enjoy looking at books, and you’re doing much better at turning the pages gently.  Sometimes you’ll sit and look at a book for consecutive minutes.

You’ve been reducing your naps lately, sometimes skipping the morning nap entirely.  I like to exercise in the morning, and you’re pretty good about entertaining yourself with the toys in the basement while I run on the treadmill.  I bought a child safety fence to put around it so you wouldn’t touch anything dangerous.

Three and a half minutes.  It took you three and a half minutes to defeat the fence.

I hadn’t wanted to mount it to the wall, because you won’t be an incorrigible toddler forever and I hope one day I’ll be able to explain to you that you can’t touch the treadmill and you’ll understand and listen.  After that three and a half minutes, though, I decided to just do it.  The screws that came with the mounting hardware were kind of short, but I got it attached to the wall, and it felt pretty secure.

One minute.

It took you only one minute to pull it out of the wall.

I don’t think I’d even broken a sweat in my workout yet.  I stopped, found some longer screws, and reattached the fence in a slightly different part of the wall.  I think I got it on a stud.  I hope.

That configuration lasted a good ten minutes.  I was getting confident.  I was coming up on the two mile mark, thinking, “I think we’ve found a really workable solution here.”  Then you squirmed through the legs of the piano and appeared right next to me.

I was so frustrated, but you were so cute and proud of yourself.  It was one of those moments when I wondered whether it was a good idea to take all those IQ-boosting supplements when I was pregnant with you.  I positioned a chair in front of the piano so you couldn’t get under it, and I finally managed to finish my workout.  You spent the entire time standing at the fence yelling at me, but at least I knew you were safe.

The next day went much better, as has every day since.  I think you’ve accepted your fate and are content to play like a normal child.  Actually what you mostly do is unshelve your dad’s CDs, but now and then you’ll deign to play with a toy.  You like the little riding tractor toy.  I think I only had to stop the treadmill twice today to get you out of some weird situation.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You are such a little stinker, but you’re so cute and charming that you always get away with it.  You love to flirt with the employees at Hy-Vee, and I think you understand it when I say we’re going there.  At Miles’s school, they have a community board on which the students have posted their pictures, and you always go to it and point at Miles.  You like to go to his school, and you always hover at the doorway to his classroom, wanting so much to go in, but glancing back at me because you know you’re not supposed to.

You spent some time with a care provider this month, my friend Amanda.  I did a couple of substitute teaching days at Miles’s school, and I was more nervous about being away from you than I was about counting from uno to diez with a bunch of kids.  You did pretty well, though, especially in the afternoon when Miles joined you.  Still, I’m glad I usually stay home with you.  What if you did something cute and I missed it?  What then?

That’s why I wander around the house after you, I guess.  There are too many cute moments I would miss otherwise.  Also, the garbage would be everywhere.

Technically, you’re a toddler now and not a baby, but I’ve decided that as long as you’re bald, you’re still a baby.

I love you, baby.



Pork tinga

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:21 pm

This is an America’s Test Kitchen recipe.  I love those guys.  This is the second time I’ve made it.  It’s not too labor-intensive, especially if you skip the frying-the-tostadas part (but they’re good, so I did it).  One thing I did differently was to cook the pork all day in the crockpot.  That significantly reduces the active cooking time.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 pounds boneless pork butt, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch pieces (see note)
  • 2 medium onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped fine
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, 3 peeled and smashed and 2 minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme (I used a generous shake of dried because the store never has thyme and it failed in my garden this year)
  •  kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 of a 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle powder (I ordered it from Penzey‘s)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3/4cup vegetable oil
  • 12(6-inch) corn tortillas (see note)
  •   Table salt
  •   Queso fresco or feta cheese
  •   Fresh cilantro leaves
  •   Sour cream
  •   Diced avocado
  •   Lime wedges
  • 1. FOR THE TINGA: Place pork, quartered onion, smashed garlic cloves, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 6 cups water in a slow cooker.  Cook on low for 8 hours or so.  When ready to move on, remove pork and discard remaining slow cooker contents except one cup of cooking liquid.  Set reserved cooking liquid aside.  Trim visible fat from pork and shred it into smallish pieces.
  • 2. Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add shredded pork, chopped onion, and oregano; cook, stirring often, until pork is well browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • 3. Stir in tomato sauce, chipotle powder, reserved pork cooking liquid, and bay leaves; simmer until almost all liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves and season with salt to taste.
  • 4. TO FRY TOSTADAS: Heat vegetable oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. Using fork, poke center of each tortilla 3 or 4 times (to prevent puffing and allow for even cooking). Fry 1 at a time, holding metal potato masher in upright position on top of tortilla to keep it submerged, until crisp and lightly browned, 45 to 60 seconds (no flipping is necessary). Drain on paper towel-lined plate and season with salt to taste. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  • 5. TO SERVE: Spoon small amount of shredded pork onto center of each tostada and serve, passing garnishes separately.


Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:34 am

Quiche is another of those meals I can usually make with what’s around.  If I were awesome, I would make my own pie crust, but that kind of negates the point of an easy meal, no?

I buy 4-packs of frozen pie dough blobs.  I think they’re better than the frozen ones that come pre-pressed into the tins, but they’re way easier than making pie crust from scratch (I save that effort for special desserts).


  • 1 single-crust pie dough
  • 1/2 onion
  • other veggies (I used red bell pepper and zucchini)
  • whatever herbs you like (I used oregano since it seemed to be going an Italian direction)
  • cheese of your choice, 3 oz or so
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk, cream, half-and-half, or whatever you have, in whatever proportion seems right for the occasion

I also sometimes add bacon or prosciutto or whatever else I have around, but it’s good without meat too.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll out pie crust and fit into a 9-inch pie pan (not deep-dish).  Saute vegetables until tender; season with S&P and whatever herbs and spices you like.  Sprinkle veggies more or less evenly over crust.  Cover with cheese.  In a bowl, beat eggs, milk, and some S&P.   Pour over vegetables and cheese.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on how cooked you like your eggs.  Let sit for a few minutes before serving.  You may need to use a pie crust guard to prevent excessive browning around the edges.

I served this with fruit salad.  Green salad would be good too.



Vegetable beef soup

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:21 pm

Crockpot meals rule.  Also, meals I can assemble with stuff we already have rule. This is a very flexible recipe, obviously.  I like to put potatoes in it, but we didn’t have any potatoes, so there you go.


  • Beef.  You know, a pound or so.  Something with some marbling.  I used some “Papa Meat” we had in the freezer, which is not as illegal as it sounds.
  • Onions.  I used two today, chopped up.
  • Garlic.  I think I used two big cloves.
  • Tomatoes.  Use canned if you don’t have easy access to fresh.  I chopped up a few medium ones.
  • Bay leaves.
  • Other veggies.  I used half a bag of mixed frozen vegetables.
  • Red wine.  I still have most of a box from that weird sangría I made last week or whenever that was.
  • A handful of fresh herbs, minced.  Today I used sage, basil, and rosemary.
  • S&P and hot sauce.

If anything is frozen, thaw it (in microwave is fine).  Put the beef, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and bay leaves into the crock pot.  Cover with water.  Put it on low and let it sit for half a day.

After half a day is over, remove the beef and trim any fat you can.  Return to pot and let it sit another approximately half day.  About an hour before serving, add thawed frozen vegetables, herbs, and S&P and hot sauce to taste.  Remove bay leaves before serving.

Also, exciting news:  I was cleaning out my pantry today and I found my big bag of bay leaves that I thought was gone forever.  I also found a bunch of spices in the bathtub the other day.



The future is now

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:33 pm

Miles stepped out of the bathroom.

M:  Is it a now?

A:  What?

M:  Is it a now?

A:  Now what?

M:  Is it a now?

A:  What are you talking about?

M:  I only flush now and then.  Is it a now?



Panini capresi

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:27 pm

This is something I invented.  It’s pretty much a caprese salad on bread, grilled on the panini maker.  This time I put some prosciutto on there because I had it, but you can also use leftover chicken.

The salad was sliced garden tomatoes, roughly chopped basil, some of those cute little fresh mozzarella pearls, a little extra virgin olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, S&P.  I put the prosciutto on a nice big slices of sourdough bread, topped with the salad, put another piece of bread on top, and grilled them up until they were crispy and the cheese was melted.

The best part was that I didn’t use all the salad in the sandwiches.  I meant to save it for lunch the next day, but what I actually did was eat it while cleaning up the dishes.

Easy easy and quick quick

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:24 pm

We were on a tight schedule last night, so I made a very swift dinner.  I seared one of those marinated pork tenderloins (garlic herb flavor, I think) in a cast-iron pan, then roasted it in a 400F oven until it was 160F inside.  On the side we had couscous with pine nuts, Miles’s all-time favorite, and asparagus that I quick-steamed in the microwave.


Chicken Tikka Masala

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:21 pm

I don’t cook Indian-style food very often.  It intimidates me.  Besides, when I go to the local Indian food buffet, I can try lots of different things without having to cook ten different dishes.  I saw this recipe in the Penzey’s catalog, though, and I realized I had almost all the ingredients.  I decided to give it a try with a few minor changes.

I served it with Jasmine rice.  I was looking in the pantry for my saffron, because I thought I’d make some saffron rice, and I found a jar or something called “Indian Saffron Rice Seasoning Blend” or something.  I used it.

The verdict:  It was really good.  Denny and I each had multiple helpings, and he’ll take leftovers to work tomorrow.  I made extra cashew paste (because how can a person really effectively blend a tablespoon of cashews and a tablespoon of water in a blender?  I went with 1/4 cup of each and froze the rest), so next time it’ll be easier.

Chicken Tikka Masala

  • 2 Cups boneless/skinless chicken breast chunks (about 1 lb.)
  • 1 TB. plain yogurt (I used sour cream because I had it)
  • 11/2 TB. minced fresh ginger
  • 11/2 TB. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 TB. GARAM MASALA or SWEET CURRY POWDER (I used the latter)
  • 11/2 tsp. GROUND CUMIN
  • 2 TB. lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 TB. vegetable oil
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 4 TB. cream
  • 1/4 Cup water
  • 1 TB. cashew nut paste (grind 1 TB. cashews with 1 tsp. water in a blender)
  • 2 TB. butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, yogurt, GINGER, GARLIC, SWEET CURRY POWDER, TANDOORI SEASONING, CUMIN and lemon juice. Mix to combine. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy pan. Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is white and almost cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and mix well. Add the PEPPER, cream, water and cashew nut paste. Reduce heat to low and cook until the chicken is tender, 5-7 minutes. Stir until the sauce thickens. Add the butter,  salt, and cayenne pepper, and mix well. Garnish with fresh cilantro if desired.

Prep. time: 15 minutes plus marinating time
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2-4


Monthly Miles Memo #56

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:58 pm

My dear Miles,

The latest thing your dad and I have been fretting about is what to do with you for kindergarten next year.  The school you go to now, Willowwind, goes through sixth grade.  You love it there, and we’ve been very happy with it as well.  In a world of unlimited finances, we’d have you stay there.  But it’s a private school, and it’s looking like you’ll probably want to go to college, plus you’ve got that brother who’s going to want an education, too.   The Iowa City public schools are very good, so right now we’re leaning toward sending you to our neighborhood school.  If it doesn’t work out well, we always have Willowwind as a possibility.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I spent most of a day substitute teaching Spanish there last week, and I’m going to do another day this week.  I’d never had the opportunity to see you in an academic environment before, at least not more than peeking through the window for a few minutes before your school day ends.  Miles, I was so, so impressed with you.  I’m sure a part of it is that you’re one of the older kids in your class now, and you’re well-accustomed to your classroom rules.  But even so, you were spot-on.  You had good manners, raising your hand to speak.  You were brave and eager to participate.  You got the answers to the tough questions right.

Photo by Gary Clarke

One of the bigger reasons your dad and I were considering keeping you at Willowwind is that it’s very small and very personalized.  It’s a really great school for kids who need a little extra attention and encouragement.  We always knew you were a bright kid.  That’s never been an issue.  We were a little concerned, though, that your personality might be a touch gentle for the wild world of public school.  I don’t think you spoke to another child for the first six months of preschool.

When I accepted the substitute teaching job, I was nervous, mostly because it would involve leaving Tobin with a care provider for part of a day.  Little did I know, that opportunity would relieve one of the biggest worries that’s been plaguing me. Will public school trample over Miles and break his spirit?  But no:  you conducted yourself so well in school that I have no doubt you’ll thrive in public kindergarten.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Plus, you want us to have five more babies (all named Thornando, ala George Foreman, I guess).  I don’t think that’s going to happy, but if you want to maintain any hope for any Thornando(s), we’ll need to keep our education costs low for the time being.

You’re excited for Halloween.  You’ve decided you want to be Spider-man, which your friend Theo is also planning to be.   I don’t know if that was a deciding factor or not, but it makes me a little sad that you won’t have one of your wildly creative home-made costumes this year.  It was always fun making them together, going to the fabric store to pick out green fabric for your green dog costume or purple fabric for your purple monster costume.  I guess we could try to make a Spider-man costume, but something tells me twenty bucks and a trip to Target would be a lot less painful for everyone.

Your favorite afternoon activity these days is a trip to the Museum of Natural History.  You like the giant sloth, of course, but what you like best is roaming around the Mammal Hall and Bird Hall.  You like playing hide and seek in all the little corners, and you like the interactive elements.  You make up storylines for us to follow, most of which involve us being detectives on a quest for the Screen Machine (aka a little touch-screen computer with bird calls).

You still love frozen yogurt, especially with cookie dough bites and M&Ms on top.  You’ve decided noodles and lemonade are the hot new flavor combination, even better than cookies and milk.  You have finally, finally started eating snack at school.  This is a good step toward kindergarten, when you’ll have to eat lunch at school every day.  We’re going to have to do some practice runs with a packed lunch, I think.

Last night we were at the playground, and we saw a dad with his 16-month-old daughter.  You had a great time chatting with him, comparing his daughter’s skills and development with your brother’s.  I could tell you were proud of all the things he can do.  You should be.  You taught him most of it.  You get a little possessive of things sometimes, but overall, you treat Tobin very kindly.  This is becoming more difficult as his grip grows stronger and he gets handfuls of your hair.  Still, you’re always happy when he wakes up from a nap because you get to see him again.  He’s always happy to see you too.

Photo by Denny Crall

Picking you up from school is the best part of my day.  I love watching you step out of your classroom, confident and happy, glad to see me but not clinging or crying.  You’re the kind of kid other parents can point to as a positive example.  I don’t know if they actually do that, because it’s not the kind of thing that comes up in conversation, but I imagine they do.

I love you, Little Scoop.  You’re becoming exactly the person I know you can be.

Photo by Gary Clarke





Dinner out but in

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:33 pm

Going out to dinner is supposed to be the easy option, right?  No shopping, no cooking, no cleanup.  But sometimes when there are little kids involved, it’s actually harder than staying at home.  I can only deal with so many restaurants with kids’ menus, you know (certain places not withstanding)?

So, sometimes on the weekends I make a nice dinner, the goal of which is to have a restaurant-like experience (wine, at least two courses) but in the low-stress environment of my 0wn house.  That’s what we did tonight.

I picked up a couple of New York strips at ye olde Hy-Vee and marinated them in a simple paste made of garden garlic and rosemary, kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Denny grilled them to a nice medium-rare, and we topped them with compound butter made with salted butter, parmigiano reggiano, paprika, and Sriracha.  On the side was baguette and some easy frozen vegetables.

We drank what I shall call ghetto sangría*.  I have an actual sangría recipe I love, but for tonight I just couldn’t see myself drinking much red wine.  Denny and I had a lovely date night at the classiest joint in Ames last weekend, and we got sangría from their bar that was unorthodox but good.  Tonight’s beverage was inspired by that.  It was lemonade, peach schnapps, a splash of amaretto, (here comes the ghetto part) one of Miles’s juice boxes, and some boxed red wine that claims Wine Enthusiast wasn’t embarrassed to discuss it.

Miles helped me make creme brulée, which is chilling right now in preparation for sugar toasting.


*I’m wearing an Obama t-shirt right now, plus I’ve had a couple of glasses of it already, so I feel like I can get away with saying that.



To hayve or hayve not

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:33 pm

Tobin was doing something squirrelly.

A:  Tobin, I need you to behave.

M:  He thinks he’s being hayve.

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