Name 5 Things: Looking Back at 2016

Have you ever played "Name 5 Things"? We do it on long car trips, trading questions and counting each other's responses—examples: "Name 5 rivers in Europe," "Name 5 British actresses," "Name 5 other words for blue." Today I'm applying it to this crazy year 2016.

Music I've heard that seems to be new:

I don't listen to the radio anymore, or go to clubs or shows, or read music blogs, so if new music filters through my workaday-mommyhood haze, it must be really good, right? (Or maybe really overplayed).
  1. Cheap Thrills, Sia (so catchy. SO CATCHY.)
  2. Hold Up, Beyonce (nice "Can't Get Used to Losing You" sample)
  3. Shut Up Kiss Me, Angel Olsen (great rollerskating video!)
  4. Kolmanskop, Will Healy (incredible orchestral composition I saw premiered at Juilliard in April, complete with a solo violinist on a high balcony and percussion imitating the sound of moving sand)
  5. Closer, The Chainsmokers (I'm not sure I like this song, but I hear it constantly)

Books I've read:

  1. Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee (trucking, river barges, coal trains, canoes, told in McPhee's wonderful prose)
  2. The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Farley Mowat (I re-read this to make sure it was really that funny. It was.)
  3. Swallows & Amazons series (1-4 so far), Arthur Ransome (sharing this with my children by reading aloud each night)
  4. Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere But Here, Angela Palm (memoir of growing up on the other side of the tracks--in this case a river--in Indiana)
  5. Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe (hilarious letters home from London nanny in the early 80s. Thanks KG!)

Races I ran:

  1. West River Trail Run (11 miles), 1:57
  2. Vegan Power 25K, 3:12
  3. Pisgah Mountain Trail Race 23k, 2:55
  4. Maple 5k, 0:24:23 (3rd female)
  5. Hamsterwheel 6-hour race 32 miles in 6:15 (2nd female)

Personal experiences:

  1. Singing lessons, ending with singing live at a jazz bar (I sang "Summertime" and was SO NERVOUS)
  2. Visiting Costa Rica, including ziplining over the rainforest
  3. Starting strength and conditioning class (trying to be fit more holistically, not just running)
  4. Starting therapy (I like it!)
  5. Unplugging from Facebook (mostly)

Family experiences:

  1. Beach vacation in Old Lyme, CT
  2. Old Sturbridge Village excursion on July 4
  3. Visiting friends in northern Vermont and lounging on the shore of Lake Champlain
  4. My daughter going to sleepaway camp for the first time
  5. Our 12th wedding anniversary (heart heart heart!)

What about your 2016--memorable experiences? New music I should know about? Leave a comment and let me know!

Kids Cook Night

I was innocently driving home from work one evening when the radio host quoted Robert A. Heinlein (it was the mellifluous and articulate Joan Holliday on The River WRSI out of Northampton, Massachusetts). Here's what she passed on from the wisdom of Heinlein:

"Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy."


A few days later I repeated the quote to my children. They said, "What does it mean?" I did not have a planned answer. But the answer turned out to be: "I need to give you opportunities to learn things for yourselves, instead of just doing those things for you. Like maybe I should let you use the kitchen to learn how to cook." And that is how Kids Cook was born.

We decided that every Friday (unless there's some special event), Mommy would stay out of the kitchen and try her best to Not Help. The kids are totally in charge, unless some rare thing needs a grownup like using a sharp knife or a hot stove.

It's been working very well! So far Kids Cook night has featured:
  • Pepperoni pizza with housemade crust
  • Pigs in a blanket (mini hot dogs with mustard, baked in crescent roll dough)
  • Loaded baked potatoes (with sour cream, oven-fried bacon, grated cheddar, etc.)
  • Fish, white rice, broccolini (cornmeal-crusted haddock, crisp-tender broccolini in olive oil with garlic)
  • Mac and cheese pot pie with bacon (from a Tasty recipe on Youtube, link below)

Here is a photo essay on the Mac & cheese pot pie. It was quite delicious, not as heavy/cheesy as it sounds! Along the way, the kids learned how to make mac & cheese from scratch.

The Tasty pot pie is basically mac and cheese placed in a small oven-proof container/bowl with more cheese and bacon, then topped with a round of pizza crust brushed with herbed butter. Bake!

Once baked, you loosen the crust at the edges and flip it all over. It resembles a deep-dish pizza full of macaroni.

We made two pot pies to serve a family of four, and had this much left over. Yummy! We got a particularly smoky type of bacon, and I think that helped cut through all the cheese and starch.

Kids cook becomes kids eat!

Notes: I plan things out the night before with my daughter, who is 10. I dictate ingredients and instructions to her, and she types them into a running document called "Kidsrecipes" that lives on the family laptop. The next day, she refers to what we wrote and gives out the instructions to her 6-year old sous-chef/brother. 

Another note: It is really hard to keep out of the way. Kids are fun when they cook! I also position use of the kitchen as being very special. This is in no way supposed to be a family chore. It is something we are letting them do as a learning experience and earned privilege. If I have to MAKE somebody cook, I will do it myself!!

Any kid-cooking tips or stories to share? How about kid-makeable recipe ideas?

Meatless Wonders

Once upon a time, in about 1991, I was a vegetarian. When I stopped, I was so relieved to be able to fill in that missing area on my plate... the protein part. During my vegetarian foray I had always been confused about how to get tasty, complete, and EASY protein into my diet. So much easier to fry up a sausage with my rice and greens, or to throw together a sandwich of cold cuts, or enjoy anything that contained bacon, than to always be figuring out alternatives.

However, I also love variety and trying new things. And I'm a firm believer in having meatless meals often, because meat is expensive. It's expensive in its use of the planet's resources, in the karmic hit it takes on your soul (DEATH!), and it's expensive in straight-up dollars. So I'm always looking for meatless alternatives. There are a lot of good ones on the market now that weren't around in 1991, and I'll review a few below.

There's one more thing. Maybe it's part of being a mother, maybe it's part of just being on this planet for an increasing number of years, but I'm having more and more trouble with the karma part of eating meat. If I don't know where this animal came from or how he or she was treated, I don't want to be involved with its--ack--consumption. It is a very visceral/gristly/grisly experience to EAT somebody else.

I do still eat meat. But nowadays I go for meatless options a lot of the time. I'll order the bean burger, the tofu, the mushroom ravioli. And at home, I've been trying out the following...

CLASSIC meat alternative—beans. Many of our Meatless Mondays are wraps with refried beans, avocado, cheese, lettuce, hot sauce, and salsa. I also make chili sometimes (here's my three-bean recipe—see below for what I do instead of ground beef or turkey), and a quinoa salad with great northern beans and crunchy celery.

Here are some of the meatless meats that I like. The "beefy crumble" from Beyond Meat is an undetectable replacement for ground meat in chili. It has the right texture to swap in. They recently completely changed their packaging--just look for "Beyond Meat" products in your grocer's freezer. 

My son (who is 6) introduced us to Gardein because he liked the look of their meatless sliders. They're soy based and not my thing, but he likes them. I do like their meatless meatballs--I'll pop 6-7 (half a bag, frozen) into a potful of warming pasta sauce, simmer, and serve with pasta and lots of cheese. The meatballs have nice fennel seeds and a pretty meaty texture.

Tofu, another vegetarian classic. I'm still making this Ginger-Sesame Baked Tofu that I posted back in 2009. So yummy.

Grain Meat meatloaf? Why not! Actually I probably won't get this again, but it was fun to try.

"Beyond Chicken" is my favorite meatless option right now. Another Beyond Meat product, this one is extruded and cut in such a way that it really has the look and grain of chicken strips. And since chicken doesn't taste like much, the bar is low for matching it with pea protein, etc. My kids call this "tricken." Which means it's working, I hope.

I've been using Beyond Chicken as a pizza topping—store-bought dough, alfredo sauce, Beyond Chicken, and then anything else that comes to mind: fresh or roasted red pepper, chopped tomato, kalamata olives, garlic, roasted artichoke hearts, arugula, radicchio, spinach... Sprinkle some parmesan on top and bake—it's delicious!

Have you tried any "meats" like Beyond Chicken or Meatless Meatballs? What about beans--any favorite uses you care to share? Does fake meat have advantages for you?