An Update: These Are the Days of Miracle and Wonder

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles. — Walt Whitman, Miracles

It is Sunday morning, and I am listening to the Paul Simon station on Pandora, always my go-to favorite. The Boy in the Bubble was just on (inspiring my title) and now a live version of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic is playing. The boys and Ed are at church, and I just finished concocting a spice rub for tonight’s dinner. Dog Teddy is at my feet, waiting for bacon to magically fall from the sky, as sometimes it does. Logan is happily away at school, most likely still asleep at 10 am. I am wearing Mom Mom’s apron, because I always do when I’m making a mess in the kitchen. We’re all in our places with sunshiney faces, and for the first time in many, many weeks, I am feeling myself again.

It has been a difficult fall for our family. We attended two funerals for two wonderful men lost way too soon; one from a tragic car accident, and one from ALS. Two wives left without beloved husbands, five children left without a father. So much unexplainable sadness shakes one’s faith in the universe sometimes, and it has surely shaken mine in ways seen and unseen. I rather enjoyed my easy breezy life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries world view, and it’s unsettling to have that disrupted.

When you’re in a Slump
You’re not in for much fun
Un-slumping yourself
Is not easily done. — Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

I have been earnestly reaching for people and things to bring me back from the slow hole I’ve been retreating into. My family, good friends, good books, good music, good food — thanks to all of you who, knowingly or unknowingly, have lifted me back up into the light. One thing I have learned is I need to tell all of the important people in my life just how important they are. I have not always been successful at this, but I’ll continue to try. Thank you for the small or large role you have played in enriching my world.

Aside from many exceptional people, here are a few things which have been making me happy.

1.) Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Oh, the profound beauty and wisdom of this book! It brilliantly paints all of the darkness and all of the light of an ordinary life. I had my reservations about HBO turning it into a miniseries, but it was truly one of the best adaptations of great literature I’ve ever seen. Frances McDormand is the perfect Olive. Check out the trailer here, then do yourself a favor and watch this if you haven’t.

And then as the little plane climbed higher and Olive saw spread out below them fields of bright and tender green in this morning sun, farther out the coastline, the ocean shiny and almost flat, tiny white wakes behind a few lobster boats–then Olive felt something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden surging greediness for life. She leaned forward, peering out the window: sweet pale clouds, the sky as blue as your hat, the new green of the fields, the broad expanse of water–seen from up here it all appeared wondrous, amazing. She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed. –Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

2.) Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan. I am a huge fan of former local girl Kelly Corrigan, and her latest memoir about mothers and daughters did not disappoint. It is a beautiful tribute to her mother, who once described her family by saying, “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” I grew up with a similar dynamic, and now that I’m a mother, I truly appreciate the not-always-glamorous job of the glue. This is a quick and easy read with surprising sweetness and depth.

3.) Annual limoncello making. This welcome holiday tradition takes a lot of vodka, a lot of sugar, a lot of lemons, and a lot of planning, but it’s always worth it. Yesterday I bottled our 2014 batch, and I can confirm it’s the best year ever. Like everything else, this production is always better with the help of a friend. Thanks, friend!

Finally, a recipe. Sorry, this is not much of a recipe, but I can vouch for its awesomeness.

Limoncello Martini
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce high quality limoncello
Shake with ice and pour into martini glass
Garnish with a twist

As always, thanks for reading. Slowly but surely, I will be back.

 

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Favorite Fall Cocktail

Ah, autumn! A season where otherwise sane Americans stick pumpkin in every blessed thing <insert Forest Gump voice>:

Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin tea, pumpkin beer, pumpkin vodka, pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin Pop Tarts, pumpkin cereal, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin M & Ms, pumpkin gum, pumpkin peanut butter, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin nuts, pumpkin chips, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin ice cream…Of course, pumpkin should usually be written as “pumpkin,” since frequently it’s pumpkin flavor and not real pumpkin being used.

Are you suffering from pumpkin fatigue? Has it become just a little too much of a good thing? If so, prepare for a delicious fall cocktail with not one single ounce of pumpkin or “pumpkin” in it. This is my favorite fall cocktail in the world, and I am resurrecting it from my archives to provide you with a delicious non-pumpkin alternative.

This drink was created by my incredibly fabulous friend Beth, cocktail genius and CEO of organic beverage company SIPP. I highly suggest you use SIPP Ginger Blossom soda if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some. It’s worth the effort and price, please believe me. However, you can also use a premium brand ginger ale with good results, too.

It has been almost twenty-one years since I’ve been a blushing bride, long before the days of wedding websites, Pinterest, and signature cocktails. I can only imagine how much fun I would have planning a wedding with all of today’s options available! The good people at Lover.ly approached me recently about sharing a favorite fall cocktail, and I was very happy to oblige. If you are looking for a wonderful wedding planning resource, I hope you will check them out.

Holiday Helper  (curious about the name? You can find the history of it here!)

1 oz. Vanilla Vodka

2 oz. Apple Cider

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 oz. of SIPP Ginger Blossom or other premium ginger ale

Combine vodka and apple cider in a cocktail shaker. Pour in glass. Top with sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, then splash of ginger ale. Garnish with apple, if desired. Cheers, friends!

Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad with a Side of Tears

Last week, versions of this recipe appeared twice in my Facebook feed from The Bitten Word and The Splendid Table, so I took it as a sign I needed to give it a try. Like most backyard gardeners, I have cucumbers coming out my ears this time of year. Luckily, my family (and coworkers — don’t get me started) love cucumbers, but after awhile, we tire of the usual preparation. I’m so glad that we tried this! I doubled the recipe for this dressing, used four regular (not English) cucumbers, and it was delicious.

cucsalad

Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad
inspired by Food Network Magazine, original recipe here

Ingredients:
2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 scallions, sliced
red pepper flakes, to taste
cilantro, if desired

Sprinkle cucumbers with one teaspoon kosher salt and let sit for ten minutes. Whisk together all other ingredients while cucumbers are sitting. Drain and rinse cucumbers. Add dressing. If using more than two cucumbers, double recipe.

Now, for the side of tears. Directions: Drop your first-born off at college. Come home. See his car in the driveway. See his favorite snacks on sale. See the dog waiting patiently for him by the door. See baby pictures on your screen saver. See his empty and abnormally clean room. Cry as needed. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Not unexpectedly, it has been hard for us. We absolutely, positively would not want things any other way than this. He is exactly where he needs to be, and we are fortunate that we can provide him with the opportunity which he has worked so hard to earn. Everything is as it should be. And yet…

When people ask me how I feel, it’s not easy to articulate. But I keep going back to Shel Silverstein’s (surprisingly divisive) children’s book, The Giving Tree. If you haven’t read it, you should. I can still hear myself reading it to my son:

And the tree was happy…but not really.

I get it, Giving Tree. I feel ya, girl.

givingtree

Whole Fruit Margarita

photo(6)

Greetings from Hatteras Island, North Carolina, where I am vacationing with my favorite two sister-wives and their families. You can read all about these awesome women in my New Year’s Eve post here. While some people might think vacationing with fifteen people might not be relaxing, you haven’t met us! We have managed to spend a harmonious week together and also squeezed in a decent amount of activities (sure, my “activity” might be beach reading and online shopping while others chose kayaking to a remote island, but there is no judgement here). Preparing meals for fifteen people is surprisingly less daunting than it sounds if you have good helpers, good music, and good cocktails. Okay, that’s not true, exactly. The good cocktails may lead one to say, ehh, let’s skip dinner and just eat appetizers and ice cream and dance all night. But you will press on and feed the children anyway, since you are a responsible adult plus six of the children don’t belong to you.


Warning: These go down very easy.

This is my favorite margarita in the world. Its beauty is in its simplicity. This is so flavorful, refreshing, and somewhat virtuous/healthy feeling since there are three pieces of whole fruit in each pitcher. Nature’s scurvy fighter with a kick! I never really liked margaritas until I discovered “better” grade tequila and not the crap I drank in college, so I would suggest springing for halfway decent tequila if possible. Cheap triple sec is fine, though.

This is a Vitamix recipe, so if you don’t have a Vitamix, be sure to use another heavy duty blender that can easily handle the fruit (seeds included) and the ice. My only modification from the original recipe is that I use less ice; they call for six cups of ice, which is overkill and cannot really fit in the blender anyway. It’s also very good with “only” five tablespoons of sugar instead of six. Each pitcher serves four to six, depending on your glass size and need for strong drink. Cheers!

ingredients

Whole Fruit Margarita

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 6 ounces (180 ml) tequila
  • 2 ounces (60 ml) Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
  • 1 orange, peeled, halved
  • 1 lime, peeled, halved
  • 1 lemon, peeled, halved
  • 6 Tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
  • Ice cubes

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
  2. Select Variable 1.
  3. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to Variable 10, then to High.
  4. Blend for 45 seconds, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades.
  5. Pour into salt-rimmed margarita glasses.

This recipe has been written for the Vitamix 5200 with Standard 64-ounce container. If you are using a different Vitamix machine or container size, you may need to make adjustments to the Variable Speed, processing time, and/or ingredient quantities.

margmodels

Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies

Well, hello there, friends! Long time no see, I know. I guarantee that I’ve missed you more than you’ve missed me, but this season of my life has not allowed for too much blogging. I will be back eventually, I promise, but in the meantime, I am trying to commit to a paltry one post a month minimum. And look, it’s July 31! Just made it under the wire. This confirms that if I had to earn my living writing, my family would starve.

We are having a great decent good enough summer, and I am trying to enjoy the best parts of it, especially after our brutal, therapy-inducing winter. My schedule usually allows me one or two weekdays at home with the kids, and I’ve been enjoying them so much. Today they wanted me to bake cookies, just like the good old days, and I was determined to use ingredients that did not require a trip to the store, just like the good old days.

When it comes to scouting out recipes, I tend to shoot first and ask questions later, and this was not an exception. Translation: Once I started this recipe, I realized that it is a MULTI-STEP PRODUCTION that involves A LOT OF WAITING. So basically today I did two things I always tell my kids not to do: waited until the last minute to complete a commitment (blogging) and didn’t bother to read all the directions before jumping in. Do as I say and not as I do, kids!

My children declared this the best cookie dough they’ve ever eaten, and I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, I cannot exactly advocate that unhealthy practice, but everyone gets to make her own choices (blah, blah, blah, salmonella). Truth be told, this would win a cookie dough contest. The secret is the Cornflake Crunch (see link below from Martha for directions). The cooking time is a source of some contention among commenters, and I did one batch at 13 minutes and one batch at 16 minutes. The 18 minutes stated might have turned the cookies totally black, so keep a careful eye starting around ten minutes. If you’re looking for a little something extra in your chocolate chip cookie (I hope that didn’t sound gross), this is a good one to try!

Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies from Christina Tosi’s “Momofuku Milk Bar” cookbook

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups Cornflake Crunch
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups mini marshmallows

  1. Cream together butter and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and add egg and vanilla; beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to low and add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix just until dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula.
  3. With the mixer on low, add cornflake crunch and chocolate chips; mix until just combined, 30 to 45 seconds. Add mini marshmallows and mix until just incorporated.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a 2 3/4-ounce ice-cream scoop or 1/3-cup measuring cup, portion dough out onto prepared baking sheet. Pat tops of cookie domes flat. Wrap baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 week. Do not bake cookies from room temperature or they will not hold their shape.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line additional baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
  6. Arrange chilled dough at least 4 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until puffed, cracked, spread, and browned on the edges, about 18 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheets.

cornflakes

Cornflake Crunch

batter

Best cookie dough EVER

cookies

Commencement Means Beginning

I have been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster ever since I wrote this last summer. It was therapeutic to share my crazies, and I did a decent job of bouncing back cheerily for the next several months. Then came the college application process, fraught with all kinds of unpleasantness, details of which I will spare. After that, a short period of relief, then back to sadness. At book club a couple months ago, I unexpectedly started crying while talking to the mom of another senior. Not just normal teary eyed stuff, actual boo-hoo-I-need-a-tissue-now crying. After that, I felt better for a good stretch, up until last week. I’m sure it’s pretty exhausting to be my friend these days.

Now with the new batch of commencement speeches being published online, I find myself weepy all over again. Happy and sad and proud and frustrated and worried and…well, just a bit of a mess. Did we do enough for my son? Did we do too much? It’s just so hard to know. We tried to give him all of the things he needed and some of the things he wanted. We tried to lead by example, model forgiveness, embrace natural consequences, love unconditionally…all of the standard things in our Good Parent contract. But was it enough?

One thing I will say with certainty is that we don’t regret a single dollar or single minute spent on family time. When I look back on the very brief eighteen years when he was just “mine,” I picture countless family dinners at the kitchen table, vacations to Vermont and occasionally more exotic places, long summer days spent at the pool and nights barbecuing. I picture sitting around the fire in the back yard, making sticky s’mores and playing Frisbee with the dog. I picture snowmobiling and snowman making and camping trips and long forced family marches through hot, buggy trails. I picture those countless hours and miles at lacrosse, soccer, basketball, ski slopes, swimming lessons, tennis lessons. I picture Monopoly games and checkers and Scrabble and Texas Hold ‘Em and seventeen Christmas mornings. All of those memories are silver and gold right now, and I only wished I gathered more of them while I could, just like every mother everywhere.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Back in the 1980s, almost every commencement speech began with, “Commencement means beginning.” We didn’t have Google back then, so we reached for the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Overplayed or not, it is a true statement, and one I try to keep in mind whenever I’m sad that it’s time soon for my arrow to fly. Best of luck to the class of 2014, and to all of the brave and stable bows sending them off into the world.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Today is Mother’s Day and also my son Nate’s thirteenth birthday. I am so lucky to have a mom and be a mom, and I’m happy to celebrate this day with my mom and Nate.

As per tradition, I will be baking Nate’s birthday cake today. When I searched this blog for “cake,” I was surprised but not completely shocked to see so many cakes come up. Since working full-time (just celebrated my one year anniversary, hooray for me!), my baking has pretty much been limited to birthday cakes these days, with the occasional PMS-induced batch of cookies and brownies thrown in. Nevertheless, there is one ingredient even the very part-time baker always needs to have on hand: real vanilla extract!

I’ve been making my own vanilla for several years now. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and if you bake more than a few times a year, it’s also economical. There is something extra special, too, when you use ingredients you’ve grown or created. And by extra special, I mean superior and a little braggy, let’s be honest.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Only two ingredients:
Vodka
Two whole vanilla beans, I used these

Instructions:
Thoroughly clean and sterilize any small glass jar, about 8 to 10 ounces. With a sharp knife, split the beans apart in two and place in jar. Cover with vodka. Shake. Keep in dark, cool place. Once a week, give it another good shake. In about one month, the vanilla is ready to use. Once your bottle starts getting low, replenish with more vodka and repeat process.

I think the pictures below illustrate the process pretty well, but please let me know if you need any clarification. Happy baking!

vanilla1vanilla2vanilla3vanilla4vanilla5

Dear New Mother of March 1996

Dear New Mother of March 1996,

This is your future self writing to you. First, congratulations! That was a rather impressive lightening-quick labor and delivery without so much as a single Tylenol. We won’t tell most people that you actually planned to have every drug allowable by the FDA, but nature had other plans for the birth of your first son. “Life not going as planned but still turning out okay anyway” will be a repeated theme for the next eighteen years. Best you learn this on Day One.

The first weeks will be a blur, and I’m not going to tell you to enjoy them. They are the hardest weeks full of fatigue, soreness and worry. It is your boot camp, and you must simply endure. It is not hard because you are doing it wrong, it is hard because that’s how it is. Accept all help that is offered, and ask for help if it isn’t. But maybe ease up on the worry a bit. Humans are resilient creatures from the get-go, and your worry holds no power. You will continue to relearn this lesson for the next eighteen years.

Try not to be an ass about your baby’s accomplishments. They are not your accomplishments and unless something is wrong, there is a very wide range of normal that in no way correlates to intelligence or character. In future years, you will cringe at the memory of responding to a neighbor innocently asking how the baby is. “Oh, he’s wonderful,” you’ll say. “He rolled over at six weeks and he’s not supposed to do that until at least four months!” Your neighbor doesn’t say it, but you’re sure she’s thinking, “Alert Harvard!” Aside from parents and grandparents, no one really cares about your baby’s milestone timeline. Trust me on this. Learn to zip it.

Value your friendships. People will come in and out of your life. Some will be a major lifeline. You will talk to your college friend five days a week, at least one hour each day. You will tackle all of life’s parenting challenges together with humor and sympathy and unconditional support, your families will drive seven hours to visit each other twice a year, but it will not be like that forever. One day, you will not talk at all, even though this is impossible to imagine. This is not due to a big falling-out or disagreement, but other circumstances beyond your control. Honor all the people that have helped you to become a better parent and a better person, and when it’s time, be prepared to let them go without malice or resentment. This will be hard.

Pay attention to the ordinary moments; these are the ones you will miss the most. The cute mispronunciations, the favorite threadbare shirt, the quirky food habits, the excitement over escalators and elevators, the love of yellow (lellow) cars, the glue-sodden homemade gifts and dandelion bouquets, the wiggly teeth, the Raffi songs, even Barney…you will miss all of these things. Years later, you will see other kids doing and saying those same things, and you will remember your own son. You’ll silently will their mothers to be patient and enjoy their kids more, but you’ll know most of them, like you, will just hurry through to the next moment.

Finally, accept the child you have. He is his own person with his own interests and his own agenda, not your chance at a childhood do-over. You will want to give him everything you didn’t have, but don’t. He is not you. Let his interests, passions and unique perspective guide you and open your eyes to more of the world. Stretch outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of mistakes or failure; use them as an opportunity to model grace. Prepare to be amazed at how much this little person will teach you everything you need to know. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, new mother.

Sincerely,

Mom of an Eighteen Year Old

Haiku for the Winter of Our Discontent

I have started and stopped so many posts this winter. Cooking has been a bust. My recipes these days are:

Ingredients
Doritos, preferably Buy 1, Get 1 Free

Directions:
Open bag. Consume.

This has been a very tough winter for many, especially in my area of the world. I have always loved winter, I have always defended winter when no one else did, and now I feel angry and betrayed. Winter is no longer my friend.

As a long-time fan of the haiku (short poems with syllables in 5-7-5 format), I decided to take pen to paper finger to iPhone 5s and work out my angst via haiku. I present to you Haiku for the Winter of Our Discontent:

Where is my black car?
Help, someone has stolen it
Wait, it’s this white one

School cancelled again
Clever principals “rapping”
Farewell sanity

More snow means fun snacks
Cake, cookies, brownies, not fruit
Yoga pants only

My spirit broken
Nothing is going as planned
Like Sochi toilets

Milk, bread, butter, eggs
Darn, what am I forgetting
Martini olives

Foyer of chaos
Scattered boots, jackets, wet clothes
One lost glove weeping

Graveyard of tree limbs
Preserved in icy landscape
Like dinosaur bones

More snow in forecast
Is this December or March?
Must be a sick joke

Cruel Mother Nature
Why have you forsaken me?
My tears have frozen

Would love to hear any of your contributions in the comments section. Spring will come eventually, and I will cook again. Below are actual unPhotoshopped pictures of my house, lest you think I’m being melodramatic.

Deck

TedSnow

Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

My real life and blogging friend Barb of Book Club Mom recently asked me to do a guest post book review, and I was honored to do so. I know Barb from years ago as a lacrosse mom, but despite logging in many games together, I never knew she was such an avid reader. If you like to read or are a fellow “book club mom,” you must check out Barb’s blog. She has some great suggestions, current and classic, as well as some wonderful creative writing and essays.

As luck/fate would have it, there is a rather eccentric customer who occasionally comes into the store and likes to offer me book suggestions. I wasn’t working on the day she last came in, but she insisted on writing down this title and passing it on to our security guard to give to me. I always feel compelled to at least read a sample of a book anyone thinks to suggest to me; it just seems like good manners. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is one of the best books I’ve read recently. To be honest, I didn’t have especially high hopes, but I’ve learned that sometimes great suggestions can come from unlikely sources.

You can find my review of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt right here at Book Club Mom. And if you ever have any good book suggestions for me, I’m all ears.

BookParty1

Sign Credit: Book Riot