Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mud Pies

Mud Pies My ten-year-old daughter loves to play in the mud. Literally. Play In. The. Mud. Yes, I made mud pies when I was ten. I stirred dirt with water in toy dishes with my cousin, Ivy, and we let them bake in the sun. We got our hands dirty, but we washed them and I don't remember making a huge mess. Sure, we built forts with cushions under the dining room table, and I once melted a plastic spoon in a pot heating up beanie weenies, but that's typical kid stuff. Rolling in the mud like Piglet is just weird. Then again, I don't have a typical child. I have a hyperactive, impulsive, slightly autistic child, and I think the mud play is evidence of the slightly autistic part, the sensory seeking part. Some parents might not care about the mud play much, but I was brought up to stay reasonably clean. I was the quiet, bookish child who was allowed to climb on the climbing tower in the backyard because climbing was supposed to be good for me. I believe in letting children be children, so as a parent I delight in the honest, sweaty dirt that comes with healthy play. Children are washable. I do not, however, relish the idea of wiping muddy footprints off my floors several times a day. Like Aunt Helen, my cousin, Ivy's mother, I'm inclined to lay down the law--either come inside or stay outside. I'm not having the screen door banging every five minutes. Next time you come inside, you stay. (Inevitably I'd have to use the bathroom five minutes after this announcement.) I can take a deep breath and resist the temptation to shake my head and mutter to myself, "That child just ain't right," as my grandmother would have done. Of course, "that child ain't right," and she has a DSM code to prove it. If she needs to roll in the mud, let her roll in the mud. It won't hurt her. However, she will absolutely not make extra work for me, if I can help it. The tracks of water and mud on the kitchen and mudroom floors resulting from her handiwork outside pushed me over the edge. My thoughts went from, "The kitchen floor needs washing when I find the time," to "That floor is getting washed tonight and that child will participate." If she plays in the mud, she needs to learn how to clean it up. I told her it wasn't a punishment. Washing the floor is a skill she needs to build. My older daughter, too. But if she makes a mess today, she cleans it up today. So there we were. She has a sore knee from falling off her bike, so she moaned and complained about that. I have learned from my experiences of introducing my children to manual labor that you cannot work effectively sitting on your bottom, either sitting up straight or lounging on one elbow. Few sights are more irritating to me as a parent than to see my children doing yard work in the same pose they recline to watch television. Turns me into a screeching witch. So it was, "Off your bottom," and "On your knees," and "No complaining," for about 40 minutes. The child washed my kitchen floor. My efforts made the experience effective, but she washed. She didn't want to. She complained about her knee, said it was boring, and wanted to quit. Lots of work is boring. If you don't want your grown up job to be boring, you'd better pay attention in class. Even that won't let you off the hook of the tedious parts of the job. Still, she got the floor dirty, so she made it clean. I'm looking forward to a summer filled with good, healthy mud play. By next fall, both of my girls will know how to wash a floor by hand.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Slug Walked into a Beer

It seems so idyllic to plant an organic vegetable garden in the spring and harvest your own produce for salads, spaghetti sauce, and gazpacho. Getting in touch with the earth, feeling the warm, gritty soil between your fingers, inhaling the green earthy scent of growing things feels almost like paradise. Which is why I forget to weed and water the garden in the mornings, especially when it's raining. I'm letting nature take care of itself, right? It was working for me until my husband asked our teenage daughter to harvest some lettuce for a salad. She returned empty-handed within minutes, complaining that there were slugs all over the lettuce leaves. Slugs are not idyllic. I was unable to restrain a comment about the extra protein slugs would provide in the salad, particularly when steamed and dipped in a garlic butter sauce, but thought did make my stomach tremble. After using her smart, teenage brain, my daughter decided to cope with the slug problem using chopsticks. The sight of her heading out to the backyard to dislodge slugs from our salad with a pair of chopsticks stirred both me and my husband into action. True to form, my husband intended to harvest the lettuce himself. I, being an incurable planner, chose to tackle the problem armed with an old, plastic bowl and a bottle of beer. Everyone knows that slugs love beer. The sight of the slug perched on the underside of a lettuce leaf was impressive. I didn't think lettuce leaves would be strong enough to hold a slug. I wanted to surmise that lettuce is stronger than I thought, but I decided it was more likely the strength of the slug slime that kept the beast sticking to the plant. I shook it off and my husband harvested the salad, while I buried the bowl and poured in the beer. My daughter, not begin legally old enough to use alcoholic beverages as pesticide in an organic garden, simply watched. Did it work? Being afflicted with a cold, I didn't check my slug trap until two days later. Okay, so I was also afflicted with nausea at the thought of retrieving a bowl filled with drowned slugs. Still, I found only one slug floating in the bowl muddy beer. I tossed the contents of the bowl, slug and all, into the bushes nearby, reflecting gloomily on the appeal of bagged, pre-washed lettuce. Sometimes you can feel too close to your food source.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

We Scream for Ice Cream

My husband and I bought an ice cream maker attachment to our Kitchen Aid Mixer as an anniversary gift to ourselves. So naughty. We figure the family that makes ice cream together stays together, and we bought it to make ice cream for our daughter. We're making ice cream for her because it's the only way she's going to get any ice cream other than Alden's Vanilla. Alden's vanilla ice cream seems to be the only ice cream on the planet that is not sweetened with corn syrup. Corn syrup (and other nasty additives, such as artificial colors and flavors and preservatives) send my daughter's brain into rapid orbit around distant galaxies so that she cannot sit still, keep her attention focused on any subject for more than a second, or maintain anything resembling age-appropriate behavior. Since I'm not interested in parenting a toddler tall enough to look me in the eye, I do my best to feed her pure and natural foods. In order to make ice cream from scratch, first you need one hard-working, generous husband, four gallons of motivation, and a cup of patience. You also need half-and-half, egg yolks (what can I do with the egg whites?), sugar, whipping cream, homemade vanilla extract made by the above-mentioned hard-working, generous husband, and salt. Then you heat the half-and-half, mix the egg yolks and sugar, and begin to gradually add the warmed half-and-half. When the half-and-half runs down the side of your saucepan, you tell yourself, "Gradually be damned," and dump the rest into the egg yolk and sugar mixture. It should still turn out, right? After mixing the egg yolks, sugar, and half-and-half, you'll need to transfer it back into the saucepan to heat until bubbles form around the edge and it starts to steam. I'm already lost by this point. Any time I have to dump my mixture from the pot to the mixing bowl and back to the pot, I look for something easier to make. I personally don't need ice cream that badly. But if you have more moral courage than I do, you'll pour the confounded mixture in a large bowl, add the whipping cream, vanilla, and salt, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If you haven't managed to shrink wrap yourself with the plastic wrap by this point as I would have done, you can put the bowl in the fridge to chill for at least eight hours. Cliffhanger: Will it turn out to be ice cream or will the sudden addition of warm half-and-half to the egg yolk and sugar mixture ruin the whole business? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What's for Dinner?

Whenever I wonder what's for dinner, I feel a slight panic fluttering around my middle. The later in the day I pose that question to myself, the greater the panic. It's a combination of having picky children and gargantuan reluctance to prepare anything more taxing than canned soup with a peanut butter sandwich. At the risk of sounding like a slacker mom, I have practically zero interest in cooking on most days. Adding to my angst are two packages of buy-one-get-one-free chicken thighs that were too cheap to pass up. So, what do I do? My favorite way to prepare chicken is to braise it--that is to brown it, remove it from the skillet in order to brown vegetables like onions and garlic, and herbs and seasonings. All I have to do after that is pour enough water or broth over to barely cover it and then simmer it until it's done. I like cooking dishes that require little preparation up front and can finish largely unattended. This is why my family is tired of chicken stew. Still, I figure if I perfect my technique I can come up with easy dishes I can prepare with little fuss, leaving me plenty of time to do other things. With a little inspiration and planning, my meals can practically cook themselves, right? So I made this dish--a teriyaki-like variation on Chicken Surprise--in which I browned the pieces, sauteed the garlic, added a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and the zest and juice of one lemon, and pour 3/4 cup of water over it. The chicken pieces were not swimming in the deep end the way they do when I cook them in the slow-cooker. They were healthy, full-grown chicken pieces sitting in the baby pool. I wanted to submerge them, but the memories of countless bland chicken stews flashed across my mind. I let my chicken thighs go wading. While the chicken cooked, I started a pot of brown rice. Brown rice is supposed to be healthy, but the real reason I cook it is that I'm sadistic mom who lives for feeding her family unappetizing food. When the chicken was done, I went to battle with it to separate the skin and bones from the meat with a pair of kitchen scissors and a table fork. That I am still a carnivore after years preparing meat is a testament to my moral weakness. I really do despise cooking meat of any kind. But in the end, I had dinner ready--delicious Chicken and Rice Teriyaki Surprise. The only problem: what's for dinner tonight.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Joys of Parenthood

I had no idea that as a parent, I would spend so much creative energy devising painful punishments for my children. Oh, I forgot, I'm supposed to call it discipline. No matter, I can still add "prison matron" to my list of professional titles as a working mom. My almost ten-year-old is grounded, sentenced to 10 days of solitary confinement in her room. We let her out for meals, bathroom breaks, school, and lessons in housecleaning. Yet she continues to be disobedient, disrespectful, and defiant. She refuses to take responsibility for her actions, insisting that "everyone is so mean." My patience is worn to a frazzle, and I've gone from, "Oh, do you need me to take away your new American Girl doll for a few days?" in a gentle, let-me-keep-my-temper voice to screaming, "I've HAD it! You've gone way TOO FAR!" I can tell myself that I'm going through a "testing phase," that my daughter is growing and learning some tough life lessons, but what I'm really wondering is how I can knock some sense into that hard head of hers. Right now, I'm thinking that one of the answers is repetition, repetition, repetition. I can do some deep breathing and call upon the Law of Karma. Whatever you dish out comes right back to you. You give out ugly, ugly is what you get right back in your face. You have to face the consequences of your actions. I figure it I say it often enough, even when my daughter claps her hands over her ears, eventually it will sink in. Much of parenthood involves manufacturing consequences (no TV for a week!) but with a little creativity, a mommy can allow the natural consequences to unfold. Coat, backpack, socks, shoes, and child can sit on the porch while mommy locks the front door and heads to the bus stop. Plates can be whisked away in the face of a glaring lack of table manners. Mommy just has to be creative and think on her feet. On the bright side, perhaps my problem solving skills will become sharper as a result of all of this. After all, someone has to learn something. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.