ReadyMom will be undergoing a makeover in the coming days (hopefully not weeks!). Through writing on RM I've discovered what I'd really like to focus on (and I hope my readers will agree) is food. And not just any kind of food--adventurous, fun tasty dishes and desserts that will make even picky kids willing to try something new. Think your kids would never eat squid? Bread it, fry it, they'll down the whole plate. Do they gag at whole grains? Sneak wheat germ into their cookies, muffins and even spaghetti sauce. Desserts getting stale? Add something unique like cream puff swans or chocolate bread pudding. It's all coming soon at MyKidsEatSquid.com. I'll be posting more details soon!
I don’t know if I admire or pity parents who let their kids stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Frankly, about 9:30pm, I just tell my kids, “close enough,” and have them head to bed. It’s not that I’m a party pooper—well, maybe it is—but the kids don’t really care whether it’s midnight or ten as long as they get to stay up a little later. And my kids get a bad case of the crankies (and yeah, maybe I do too) if they stay up too late, so I keep to a decent bedtime, even on New Year’s Eve.
That’s not to say I don’t celebrate the passing of another year with my kids. We love to hang out with friends, play games and watch movies. This year, I’m even putting my kids in charge of a few of the drinks to share with friends. I have a drink for each of my kids to mix up. For the youngest, it’s something really simple—a pitcher and a big spoon is all the equipment she’ll need. My middle child can handle something a bit more complex, so she’ll get to break out the mixer. And my oldest, she’ll need to taste-test her concoction to get it just right. So if you’re looking to get your kids more involved in the New Year’s Eve preparations, why not let them mix up one of these three drinks. I’ve listed them from easiest to hardest. Tell me which one was your favorite!
Easy Sparkling Fruit Drink Ingredients: 3 to 4, 8-ounce cans fruit drink (my favorite is the Jumex kind, Strawberry & pineapple make an excellent combo) 1 2-liter bottle seltzer water (NOT tonic water) Frozen fruit, optional
Directions: In a large pitcher (preferably plastic) mix the fruit drinks and the seltzer. Let your child use a wooden spoon to mix. To add a decorative twist (and so that the drink doesn’t get watered down) I use whole, frozen fruit as ice cubes. You can have your child put a couple of fruit pieces in each cup.
Purple Paradise Ingredients: 1 half gallon heavy cream or whipping cream 1 carton purple, seedless grapes (NOT red grapes) *Other fruit can be substituted
Directions: A good neighbor made this drink for me once and my youngest child has requested it ever since. The only ingredients are fresh fruit and cream—what’s not to like?! She purchased the large, purple grapes at Sam’s Club, but if you can’t find them, no worries. Any fruit will do, even a combination. You can even throw ice cubes into the blender if you want the drink icy and thick. Personally, the intense purple color is unusual—not to mention tasty, so I highly recommend the grapes. You can toss ‘em in whole. Also, thin the drink with some regular milk for a lighter taste. If you like your drinks a little sweeter, you might even need to add a bit of sugar.
Better-than-Pina-Colada Ingredients: 2 cans coconut milk 1 10-ounce bag frozen strawberries (or fresh!) 1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks honey (about 2 Tablespoons) cinnamon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)
Directions: My husband came back from a business trip and described this amazing drink he’d had. He asked the waiter for the ingredients so we could try it at home. The waiter mentioned it’s a traditional Argentine drink. I have no idea of the drink’s origins, just that the unusual combination of coconut milk, cinnamon, honey and fruit is a hit with my kids. (You can use light coconut milk too.) All of the ingredients listed are really up to your taste preferences—not a real pineapple fan? Don’t add ‘em. Love cinnamon? Add plenty. Want a chunkier mixture? Add more strawberries. The final combination is amazing and surprisingly satisfying. Put all the ingredients in a sturdy blender and give it a whirl. Tweak the honey and cinnamon at the end.
I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. I know, I know, knocking resolutions at this time of year is a bit like saying "Bah, humbug," at Christmastime. But it seems that the idea of "resolutions" have become commercialized in much the same way the big red guy has overtaken December. Don’t believe me? Just check out the ads in your local newspaper Sunday—tell me if every grocery store ad doesn’t feature Lean Cuisine on the first page, on sale, with something along the lines of “Eat healthier in 2010” in bold letters. It’s almost like Kroger is telling me my New Year’s resolutions better be to lose weight, exercise more and take a daily vitamin. Sure, all good ideas, but do you ever keep a resolution that’s handed to you in the Sunday paper? Me neither. Instead, I like to make gradual, doable changes in my every day life versus trying to change everything, all at once…starting January 1.
So this year I’ve resolved to not make any New Year’s resolutions. Anyone else care to join me?
If you’re looking for something easy and yummy on Christmas morning or for a special breakfast any time over the holidays—here you go. Yeasted waffles offer a more complex, rich flavor than your standard mix-it-and-cook-it variety. This will take some planning ahead on your part, but it’s easy work. The results are something between a funnel cake at the amusement park and a quality Belgian waffle. (I’ve tweaked this from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.) This is what we’ll be having Christmas morning, how about you?
Ingredients: ½ teaspoon instant yeast 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup whole wheat flour 1 Tablespoon sugar ½ teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled 2 eggs 1 Tablespoon wheat germ (opt) Zest of one orange or lemon (opt)
Directions: The night before the big breakfast mix up your dry ingredients and then whisk in the milk and butter. A few lumps are just fine. Cover and place at room temperature. Yes, ROOM temperature for at least 8 hours.
The next morning: Heat your waffle iron. Crack the eggs carefully adding the yolks to the overnight mixture and putting the whites in a separate bowl. Whip the egg whites until they become stiff and then gently fold them into the other batter. Slowly fold in the zest, if desired or dried blueberries or any other dried fruit.
Serve right away with syrup and a dusting of powered sugar.
I ruined Santa Claus for my oldest when she was just five. I was a newbie parent at that point. I remember vividly driving in the car with my daughter strapped in her booster seat in the back when she asked, “Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?” I debated in my mind what to say. I kept thinking that for a five-year-old the idea of some large, furry animal coming into your house and leaving you a basket—even if it was full of goodies—had to be scary. It conjured up all sorts of horrifying amusement park clowns for me. So I spilled. “Well…the Easter Bunny is something fun that mom and dad do for kids.” Proud of myself for such a simple—yet loving and age appropriate answer—I kept driving.
Then came the follow-up. “So, if the Easter Bunny isn’t real what about Santa?” It never occurred to me that my daughter might link the two. Large, furry bunny—large, furry old guy. I shoulda figured. Stumbling through an answer, I mentioned something about, If you don’t believe then you won’t get any presents, or something similarly terrible, confusing and stupid.
With my other two children I haven’t made the same mistake when it comes to the Santa question. I just smile, and say, “What do you think?” When the time is right, they seem to just know and understand the whole magic that comes with keeping the Santa idea going. Turns out what parents have sensed for years has some scientific merit. That’s right—the Santa myth we sometimes feel guilty about perpetuating—is a part of a child’s normal, healthy cognitive development. Tied in to developing empathy and a host of other emotions, a strong sense of imagination (Santa included) can help children become caring, well-rounded adults. Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t do Santa at your house you’re some sort of bad parent. Not at all. Just that parents can feel good about keeping Santa alive and well--whether you want to justify it with some sort of scientific study, or you just enjoy embracing Santa as much as your kids do.
Raise of hands—who thinks they can’t make bread? Don’t worry, no one’s watching. Admit it, the thought of using yeast in baked goods scares you almost as much as the upcoming SpongeBob marathon on Nickelodeon.
I once thought I couldn’t make bread either—turns out, it is all about the recipe. My good friend Melissa made this bread for me when she invited my family over for dinner one night. “I wish I could make bread like this,” I told her. “You should try this recipe. It’s really easy,” she said. Sure it is, I thought sarcastically. I didn’t believe her at all. Still, I dutifully copied down the recipe fully intending to throw it away once I got home but instead decided to give it a try. I’ve been making loaves at least once a week ever since.
And the best part about making this bread is it’s a stress reliever. Seriously, follow me on this: Once the dough is mixed, you have to (or rather, get to) punch it down every 10 minutes. My middle child calls it “beater” bread. Now I’m no food science expert, so I’ve no idea why the punching makes this bread so good (probably has something to do with the two tablespoons of yeast in it), but I can tell you it does do wonders for the bread and your psyche. Give it a try—even my brother-in-law made perfect loaves the first time with this recipe.
Ready for your house to smell like baking bread over the holidays? It’s good to the last crumb (if you can find one!).
Ingredients 2 ½ cups warm water 2 Tablespoons sugar 1 Tablespoon salt 2 Tablespoons oil 6 cups flour 2 Tablespoons yeast
Directions Fill a measuring cup with the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for three to five minutes (bubbles should form, letting you know that the yeast is active). There are a couple different ways to mix up the dough. Sometimes, I beat half the flour with the wet ingredients with my handheld mixer. The dough will get a little unruly after you add the full 6 cups and you’ll spend more time kneading, but the end result is still perfect. Lately, I’ve been using my food processor to mix up the dough. If you have a large upright mixer, that will work well too. In a large bowl, or the food processor bowl, add six cups of flour and the salt. Mix. Add the oil to the wet ingredients and then gradually pour in the yeasted liquid to the flour (again, if you’re using a handheld mixer you should only use half the flour at first, then add in the rest until the mixer won’t mix any longer). Pull the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and briefly knead until smooth. Place the dough into a large, oiled mixing bowl (I spray mine with cooking spray) and cover with a slightly moist kitchen towel.
Now, for the fun part! For the next 50 minutes, you’re going to punch down the dough every 10 minutes (so, four punching rounds). Set a timer at each ten minutes then punch away--you may need to dust your fist with flour. After the last punching session, let the dough rise for 10 minutes. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and separate it into two balls (or three, or four, depending on the size of loaf you want). Let the dough rest for about five minutes before kneading it and rolling it out to a thick rectangle (about one-inch), then roll up the loaf tightly as you would a jelly roll. Place the loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with the kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes (I once forgot about the bread rising and it went for nearly 90 minutes without any problems). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
By the time I turned ten, I no longer believed in Santa Claus or red-nosed reindeer--but I did believe in holiday magic because I knew that Christmas trees could fly.
Christmas came early for our family in 1985. In the holiday rush, my mom decided to forego our family tradition of taking whole family to retrieve the perfect tree in favor of dad taking the two youngest girls, my sister and me, to find whatever was left over. No measuring to ensure the ideal height or endlessly circling the tree to find one without any unsightly gaps. That year we walked with dad right to the section with the red tags marked “6-foot trees, strong, short needles.” We didn’t care if it was Evergreen or Douglas Fir, just that it didn’t shed too much on the carpet when we forgot to water it.
It took two minutes for dad to decide on a tree, my sister and I complaining the whole time that we were freezing. It was two weeks into December and we were both in our preteens, which meant buying a Christmas tree had long ago lost its appeal.
We went to the same tree lot every year. The lot would appear a few days after Thanksgiving with little white lights all round it. The staff was always eager to sell the tree, but customer service stopped there. They didn’t even attempt to help you put it on your car—or secure it. Dad wouldn’t have accepted help anyway. “Let me just get this on top,” dad said, struggling through grunts, cracking tree branches and scratching paint as he hoisted, or rather dragged the tree onto the top of the car. For dad there was no need to put tarp on the top of the car to put the tree on, just like there was no need to put gloves on your hands—“It’s not snowing.”
With the tree on top, my dad got in the car. I lost the race to say, “Shotgun” first, so I had to sit in the back of the car. Dad rolled down my sister’s window and mine. “Kayla, you grab the front part, Kris, you’ve got the back,” dad said as he turned the key and started the engine.
“You’re not going to put ropes on?” my sister asked in disbelief. She already had been dragged into Christmas tree buying duty and now she was going to have to embarrass herself further by hanging out the car holding the tree. Me, I’d gotten used to dad’s logic. It seemed like a waste of time to rope the tree down to the car, I mean wouldn’t gravity kick in and hold it down? I was no physics brainchild.
I hung dutifully out the back window not giving a second thought to our ridiculous scene. One twelve-year-old hanging out the front window, gloveless, clinging to the top branches of an evergreen and an ten-year-old on the other side stretching out the back window holding the fuller parts of the tree. Come to think out it, I’m glad I lost the Shotgun race—it was much easier to hold the back of the tree instead of the front.
We’d made it less than a mile before our tree blew off the side of the car. Dad wasn’t angry—not even irritated. He stopped the car just past the median in the middle of the road, put the hazard lights on and headed across two lanes of traffic holding out one hand. The cars stopped for him as he dragged the tree back to our station wagon and hoisted it on yet again, scuffing up more paint as it went and leaving a path of broken branches.
Our house lay a few miles away in quiet neighborhood, but dad didn’t bother with the route with the small hill—it took longer. Instead, we headed right up the big hill, past the middle school, while our tree headed down. This time dad pulled into one of the hill’s side streets and headed back into the street, hand outstretched. No anger or irritation. By this time, my sister was refusing to hold the tree so dad stepped in and drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other out the window of the car. I switched sides to balance our tree on top of the car. It was getting harder to find a decent-sized branch to hold onto on the bottom of the tree but I wrapped my fingers around a few needles and hoped we’d make it home soon. Dad must have had a better grip on it than my sister and we made it home without anymore flights by our well-traveled tree. (I think it also had to do with dad driving slower once one hand was stuck out the window.)
When we got home my sister rolled her eyes as she stepped out of the car, “Dad, we should have used ropes. I’m not doing that again.” My dad said nothing. He carried the tree into the house like a fisherman carries in a prized trout. At this point, I was coming to understand that the pride in his smile came not from the tree, which was now missing branches and shedding to the point of balding. Dad was proud that he was right—he didn’t need ropes, just faith that the laws of nature didn’t apply to him. And that he could run fast enough to catch a flying Christmas tree.