Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hannah Montana and Thomas the Tank Engine wish you a happy Halloween

Our pumpkin brigade

Guess how much sugar I've had?

"Mom, what's for dinner?"

Monday, October 29, 2007
I Don't Like Candy Corn

We've been watching a lot of this in our house lately.

We, and my we I mean ME, thought it was cute. At first. Then I told the kids that I liked the song, and by like I meant I found it mildly amusing, because I am the only one in our house who doesn't like candy corn.

The kids find this facet of my personality troubling, as if it was a long-harbored secret that has only recently been brought out into the open. After every viewing they ask me "Really, mom? You don't like it?" Then they keep at it. "Well, why not? It's reaaaallllly yummy. You should try it! Are you sure you're not joking?"

It is actually cute when they shake their heads in disbelief that their own mother wouldn't like candy corn, a confection that sends them into a euphoric sugar buzz, that I would write off a good portion of Halloween loot just because it is waxy.

Well, the joke's on them because while they are savoring their candy corn, I'll be dipping into their treat bags for Goldberg's Peanut Chews (which are now just called Peanut Chews because the Goldberg's sold out to Just Born Candy Co.), Mary Janes and O'Henrys.

What'll you be dipping into your kid's bags for on Halloween night?

Sunday, October 28, 2007
Greek Therapy
So last night, we dropped the kids off at Nana and Grandpa's and headed out to a Greek restaurant in Astoria, Queens. Hello, Greek food. I love you! As soon as we got in the car, I immediately said "I miss the kids." There was eye rolling and a comment of "just drive!" As much as we really, really needed Saturday night out, I still missed them. Anyhoo.....

I searched this week for a place we could go that wouldn't break the bank, was out of our neighborhood and not touristy at all. I wanted a place that you would go time and again if you lived near it, but make a point of returning to if you moved to another town. I hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Agnanti. You are a keeper!

The restaurant isn't on the main strip. It's tucked away near Astoria park, with no other storefronts near it.
We looked in on the kitchen from the street as we walked to the door. That to me, is important. If you're willing to let me look at the kitchen, chances are it's going to be clean and food that falls to the floor will go to the rubbish bin rather than your plate. That was the first sign this was a good place. The second was the number of Greek people eating there. The third was the fact that nearly every table from the time we sat down until we left almost two hours later, was filled with families, people on dates and friends out for a good meal.

We ordered lots of smaller dishes from the menu, instead of a salad and entree like the boring married people we usually are. So, we tried bourek, which is puff pastry filled with ground meat, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and herb croquettes, saganaki, a baked cheese dish that has the consistency of melted mozzarella, the nuttiness of swiss and the bite of feta. Then there was tzatziki, lovely garlicky tzatziki, made with real, thick, Greek-style yogurt. With all this food and wine, and an unrushed atmosphere, we had hot-married conversations about real estate! Flood insurance! And property taxes! I tell you, I nearly took my husband, right there on the table.

We talked about possibilities when we finally own a home, which we hope will be sometime in the next year or two and why cape-style homes just don't work for me. We talked about Sophie, and how proud we were to hear from her teacher that she is nearly a year ahead of where she should be in her reading and that she works very hard in class and is a joy to teach. We talked about Harry, train-crazy, adorable Harry.

In short, we talked. About things. In a complete way that we don't often get to do because one of us is usually rushing off somewhere or trying to get something done or the kids need help with something or they are fighting over the remote control.

It was simply lovely.

And for those of you wondering about a little brother or sister in yesterday's comments, you'll just have to wait and see, won't you?

Saturday, October 27, 2007
Yesterday the kids had not one but two Halloween parties. The first, at school, ended up being held indoors because of rain. This in and of itself isn't a problem but our school? It isn't exactly the coolest place temperature-wise and once you get a couple of hundred kids running around in an enclosed space it gets even hotter. Al Gore? I think I have an alternative energy source for you: kids, running around in polyester costumes, hopped up on decorate-your-own sugar cookies.

The PTA had some very cute games for the kids, including pumpkin bowling. You set up butternut squash in typical bowling formation and then knock them over with a stemless pumpkin bowling ball. Harry was particularly good at this and he loved hurling pumpkins through the air. It took out a lot of his frustrations over not being able to bring his entire Thomas train set with him to the party.

The second party we attended was for Girl Scouts. This one involved a lot of shrieking and dancing by girls from ages 5-15. At one point, John seemed a little overwhelmed by all the frenetic activity and he asked "Is it always this disorganized? Is this all Girl Scouts is? This is all they do?" Then one of the leaders got all the kids in a circle, had them say the Girl Scout Promise, the Girl Scout Law and the Pledge of Allegiance. I was impressed that the girls could go from 60-0 mph in such a short time, especially when they are in a sugar-fueled high.

Both kids were exhausted by the end of the night, as was I. But the Halloween fun isn't over!

Tonight, we are dropping the kids off at my dad's house. They will have a sleep over and when they wake up on Sunday they will go to another Halloween party. John and I are going out for dinner then we will have a night of sleep uninterrupted by a two year old boy's night terrors and maybe even sleep in late since our six year old won't be up at the crack of dawn watching Cartoon Network. We will have food, in a restaurant, I will eat it hot, because I won't have to cut anyone's dinner up into small pieces first. I will have wine, but not whine, I will eat slowly without reminding the kids to "eat, already!" I will have wine. Oh, and did I mention the sleep?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Merry Christmas!
It seems I am off the hook for bringing a baked good for the school's Halloween event. I would do a little jig except I'm still supposed to bring the decorations. Have you ever tried to find decorations right before a holiday? You can't, and do you know why? Because all holidays are over before they even start.

So, Halloween? Done. Over. Yes, I know it hasn't actually even happened yet, but in the retail world, where most of us sadly live, it is over and Christmas is upon us. Thanksgiving, the red-headed step child of holidays, so cruelly wedged between the Festival of Sugar and the Feast of Plastic Toys and Scented Bath Gel, has a small showing on a shelf behind the last of the Halloween costumes and gore make up, totally outnumbered by the ubiquitous icicle lights and inflatable snowmen.

But I digress.

Any ideas where I can still get inexpensive decorations for the schoolyard? Think flat cardboard cutouts in the shapes of pumpkins, witches, ghosts and black cats. Also need streamers, cob webbing, etc.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Back at Work
And not a moment too soon! Finally I get a break from relaxing, catching up on daytime TV, napping, chatting on the phone with friends, not rushing anywhere and all the other leisurely activities that ate up my time last week. Whew! I don't know how much more of that I could have taken.

This week we are going to prepare for Halloween-a-palooza. Friday there is a Halloween party at school and immediately following there is another party at Girl Scouts. From 4pm to 9pm the kids will be running around in costume getting hopped up on Halloween-themed candy.

I volunteered to donate a baked good for the school to sell at the party along with decorations. Last week, with gobs of time on my hand, it seemed like a good idea. Now? Not so much but I really like the PTA President so I'm happy to help out. I'm thinking of dipping mini pretzels into chocolate, then rolling in orange colored sprinkles. Cute, festive, semi healthy, no baking and not all that difficult. I think. I hope. We'll see. Do they even sell only orange sprinkles?

No real news on the Culinary Expedition except that last night, I made mashed butternut squash. I add butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. It's like mashed sweet potatoes and yummy. Sophie wouldn't eat hers but when one piece of her turkey fell into the squash, she balked at eating it. I told her "Lick it off, then you can eat the turkey." She fell for it! She totally licked off the squash and didn't realize that this meant she actually ate some of it. Sucker.

Harry-boy, on the other hand, told me he didn't like squash. In a rare departure from his usually irrational 2 year old nature, I asked if he'd ever eaten squash. "No," said. (Which isn't true but whatever.)

"Try it, then. You might like it!" And, just like that, he ate the squash. He didn't scream. Or make the "angry eyes" that he makes when I serve something that isn't a chicken nugget or a french fry. He just picked up his spoon and tried it. He only ate the one spoonful but he ate it. D'you hear me, people? He ate it. Without tears. I think this experiment is working!

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Sho the dentisht put theshe thingsh on my teetsh......
It takes a great deal of effort to not sound like that when I speak. So much so that I actually refrain from talking. I also now refrain from eating, because my teeth ache when I bite down, and that's if, and only if, I can manage to wrangle these plastic torture devices called trays off my teeth. Once the nibbling is over, it's back to the bathroom to floss and brush, then the trays go back on for several more hours of alignment. And the tiny anchors? Not so tiny! I'm not supposed to notice they are there. Guess what? Noticing them! A lot!

One of the problems is that my teeth are so tightly spaced together they had to use a piece of sand paper floss to free up some space for tooth movement. Flossing. With sand paper. Metal sand paper. That was the point when I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Alas, that was also the point of no return.

I wondered if my dentist hated me because of the sand paper dental floss. I wondered what I had ever done to her. Then she told me to not be surprised if I drop a couple of pounds because of the whole tray removal/eating/brushing/tray insertion cycle. Many people stop snacking because its too much of a hassle to go through all that for a couple of pretzels. Straight teeth and a smaller butt? Methinks I could get used to these things afterall.

P.S. This post marks my 200th entry to this blog. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Wednesday Miscellany
Yesterday, I did end up having lunch at Nathan's with my neighbor Nancy. Sorry, Marilyn! We'll get you next time. It was very last minute but oh so worth it. Grilled hot dogs, Coney Island ocean air, fries with the PERFECT amount of cheese and bacon. Then a quick pop into Williams candy store to buy a treat for the kids that won't undo thousands of dollars in dental work all the while listening to Nancy tell me stories about her family. We wondered if we should make a winter trip out for lunch one day and except my cholesterol levels, I see no reason not to.
Remember way back in December when the dentist offered a free consultation for Invisalign? Apparently, I am a good candidate. So, at 3pm today, I'm off to have them installed. I'm not sure that's the right word for it....attached, maybe? They put these tiny little anchors on your teeth and the trays snap onto them. So, for a minimum of 20 hours a day (preferably more), for the next 64 weeks, I'll be wearing the trays, which will gently move my teeth into orthodontic alignment.
This story was on the news this morning. A snake. In plumbing. Yeesh. Stories like this give me the creeps.

Once, John and I saw a similar news report. It was a long time ago and after the story aired, John asked me what I would if I found myself in that situation.

"Isn't it obvious?" I replied. "We'd have to move."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
More Expedition News
Alas, no Nathan's hot dog lunch yesterday. The grocery shopping took the better part of the morning and by the time it was lunch, well, it just sort of fell by the wayside. I had a respectable lunch with low-fat tortillas, black beans, cheese, salsa and chipotle sauce. Just as yummy. Alright, not really but it was still good. Marilyn, I might go me your number!

So yesterday, I decided to try roasted cauliflower. Have you ever had it? I'd never tried it before until recently, in our office cafeteria of all places. I was convinced to throw it into my salad after hearing Alli over at the Cleaner Plate Club talk about it. It is all the rage at work now and people have been known to just get a sandwich if they can't get the roasted goods for their salad. Yes, it's that good!

If you like cauliflower, but think it doesn't pack much of a flavor punch, then turn on your oven to 450 or 475, grab a roasting pan and prepare yourself for a really good, really easy side dish. It might be good for Thanksgiving if you like lots of veggies with your bird.
For $2.99, I bought this:

A great big head of cauliflower!

I cut it up, tossed with olive oil, kosher salt and a quick grind of black pepper.

Roasted it in the oven until it was tender, but not too mushy. Here's what it looks like:

That's a bad picture but roasting brings out an intense flavor that's almost sweet and he burnt bits were the best part. I couldn't stop eating it. I served it with london broil brushed with worcestershire sauce, which the kids don't like on their burgers. Apparently, when you brush it on london broil, it makes "the best steak ever!" Or so says Sophie. She didn't care for the cauliflower, neither did Harry but they scarfed down the steak. So, we are 2.5 - 2 in the Culinary Expedition. As always, we remain optimistic.

Monday, October 15, 2007
Stealth Vacation
Today I got up at my regular time. Showered, dressed, fed the kids, got them off to the sitter and school. The kids think I'm slaving away at the job. Except I'm not. I'm home, listening to the stereo a little too loudly, eating a grilled ham and cheese for breakfast, blogging, surfing the net and getting a list ready for the grocery store. And the grocery store is the only "must do" thing today and that's only because we're out of milk.

Oh, I also have to call the DA in my identity theft case.

Today I will also try to talk my neighbor Nancy into sneaking away to Nathan's in Coney Island for a hot dog lunch and fries topped with cheese and bacon. My arteries will be begging for mercy by week's end.

Sunday, October 14, 2007
What a Way to Start a Vacation
Rather than everyone put in for vacation right at the end of the year, we were asked to use our vacation days sooner rather than later, which means I'm taking this week off. I'm not telling the kids because then they'll have me taking them all over god's green earth or having playdates with every kids in the neighborhood, every single afternoon and as much as like having playdates sometimes you just need to veg out on the couch, drink too much coffee and read. Or watch Oprah or some equally annoying show that makes me grateful to be working outside the home. Yay me.

All day Friday I was looking forward to going home, reading a book on the subway and starting my vacation. I discovered at my usual point of transfer that my train was "delayed," which happens every Friday night. It isn't a big deal, it means I get back on the train I was just on, take it one more stop and transfer for the other train that runs on my line. This is relatively easy, but can be a little confusing because you have to go upstairs, walk to the other side of the station and back downstairs. If the train you want to take is pulling in while you're still on the other side, you have little to no chance of making it.

I was rushing to try and give it a shot, following behind a man who was hell bent on getting on that train but when it came time to go back down the stairs, there was a young woman standing on the steps, oblivious to the log jam she was creating by just standing there during rush hour, listening to her ipod. This, in and of itself is annoying, even more so when you want to make that train, on a Friday evening at the end of a long week.

I heard the hell-bent man scream "Hold that train! Hold that train!" and I recognized him from my block, mainly because he is usually drunk and staggering home. Then the train doors closed and he yelled "F*CK!" at the top of his lungs.

Right after he yelled "F*CK!" he passed Little Miss Standing There and when he reached the bottom of the stairs he turned around to face her and began to call her a "worthless piece of sh*t!" and a "f*cking b*tch." Oh, I almost forgot. He also called her a "c*nt whore." But she can't hear him because she's listening to her ipod. So he's screaming at her, she's oblivious to the screaming and the doors to the train have magically opened again. Except now he's blocking the bottom of the stairs so no one else can get by. When he realized the doors were open, they closed with the impeccable timing the MTA possesses and the verbal abuse starts all over again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Aha! I Knew It Wasn't My Cooking
Both of my children's grandmothers love to tell us that almost everything our kids do or like is directly inherited from them. "Sophie's into breathing? So am I! She gets that from her nana!" "Harry blinks? Our side of the family is BIG on blinking."

Well, nana, your day has come. Researchers at University College London are on to you and I am not ashamed to say that some of my children's pickiness is from you. Well, and from me, too. Being a picky eater could be genetic, as reported in today's New York Times, along with this companion article with tips on how to deal with this genetic disorder, anomaly, neophobic issue. Now that it's out in the open, I feel much better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Adventures in Pork Roast
Our local supermarket offered whole loins of pork for a ridiculously low price over the weekend. I was able to pick one up for under $14. I cut it into two smaller roasts and eight 1" thick chops. I should get at least six suppers out of it.

Last night's supper was glazed loin of pork and is part of the Culinary Expedition of Fall 2007.

This is a very easy recipe, which I adapted from someone else's recipe that called for apple preserves and chili powder. If memory serves, she adapted hers from yet another recipe.

Here's what you do: grate ginger and onion into a bowl. Crush a garlic clove or two into the bowl. Stir in about a half a cup of apricot or peach preserves. Heat the preserves in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove slightly (or don't, it's entirely up to you. Heating just makes it a little easier to spread the glaze). Taste and adjust seasonings (I usually have to end up adding more ginger. Just do it to your liking). If it seems too sweet, try adding cider vinegar or lemon juice.

Salt and pepper the meat on both sides. Brush a little of the glaze over the meat and roast in a 375 degree oven. Continue basting with the glaze as the pork cooks, about 20 minutes per pound. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, take it out of the oven. The roast will continue to cook a little, bringing it to the safe 170 degree temperature. Don't touch it for at least 20 minutes. (I mean it! All the juices will run out of it and it'll be dry). Once you've let it rest, slice and serve. We ate it with jasmine rice and steamed broccoli.

So, what was the result? Well, I went very easy on the ginger, onion and garlic, thinking the kids would have an easier time eating it if it was more on the sweet rather than pungent side. They ate it! Sophie had me cut tiny bit of fat off but she actually ate it. I thought she wouldn't because she asked if the pork was once a pig when we were in line at the grocery store. Harry devoured his but part of this was due to the fact that I went very easy on the snacks in the afternoon and had them running around the park for a good portion of the day. Regardless, they ate it. This trek was a success. With a record of 2-2, the crew remains optimistic.

Sunday, October 7, 2007
What We've Been Up To These Past Few Days
The past few days have been jammed with all sorts of busy.

First, there was the trip I took with Harry and his Grandpa to visit Steamtown out in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I thought, while driving out, that this trip would give me much needed time with my boy. Time to share new adventures, have fun and bond more as mother and son. This, folks, is what happens when your car radio still does not work. You have time to hallucinate.

We arrived at Grandpa's Pennsylvania outpost, had a snack, freshened up and stretched our legs. We loaded the car seat into Grandpa's car and took the scenic route out to Scranton, along Route 6. Some of the towns we passed were old coal mining towns, with run-down Main Streets as proof of the hard times that came when the mines shut down.

Finally, we arrived in Scranton and Harry, who'd been asleep, woke up and was instantly in groggy awe of the steam trains. We bought our tickets and started walking along the tracks, looking at the engines and Harry goes into "what's this?" mode. "Mommy, what's this?" he asked repeatedly while pointing to various parts of the train. I have no idea what most of them are. Sure, I know the wheels, the whistle, the cow catcher. But all the valves and stuff? No idea, and Harry was got pretty testy with me about it. Like "duh, mom! How many times have you read Thomas the Tank Engine books to me? You ought to know this stuff."

The highlight of the day was getting to ride in coaches pulled by a real steam locomotive. Harry watched the driver shovel coal into the firebox in preparation for another trip up the tracks, then we heard the conductor yell "All aboard!" While we were riding in the coach, Harry fired another barrage of "Mommy, what's that?" questions as we passed lots of stuff out on the tracks.

The grand finale was watching the railroad men put the engine in the roundhouse using an historic turntable. While we were waiting for the railroad men to do this, we had lots of time to climb into some old engines and play another round of "Mommy, what this?" along with a new game of "Look at me!" as he touched each and every knob, dial and handle inside.

I think the only person who had a better time than Harry was my dad, who finally got to take his grandson out to see and talk all things trains. Curiously, my dad was not subjected to the game of "Look at me!" but was able to deftly answer some 4,671 of the "What's that?" questions.

We walked through the museum for a bit, just to get out of the 87 degree heat. (It's October. We are supposed to be wearing sweaters, not shorts!) Part of the exhibit is dedicated to hobby railroading and they showed all sorts of model trains. One of the display cases showed an older model of Thomas the tank engine and Harry was instantly hooked on this part of the museum. He also asked 463 times why he couldn't play with Thomas, which was cruelly kept in a glass case. "Please, can I play with Thomas?" he whispered to me the next morning. "Please can I play with Thomas behind the glass?" He then asked "Can we go see the trains again today?" When I explained to him that we couldn't, that we needed to go home to New York, he said "Please can we go Tuesday?" Tuesday apparently is the magical day. For what, I know not.


Yesterday was our church's Oktoberfest. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year and benefits an orphanage in the Middle East. We serve a homemade German dinner complete with bier and dessert. This is also the one day a year I get to start the day thinking I was born to own a restaurant and end the day thankful I have desk job that shelters me from the general public.

We sold a record 160 dinners. I served food, bussed tables, danced a little bit, and helped set up and breakdown tables. John was stationed at the grill but helped serve when it was my time to eat. Sophie and Harry ran around with some of the other kids. I worried that they might walk off or get into trouble but the only thing they did was play and have fun. For seven straight hours. (They didn't eat the wurst, so I'm 1-3 on the Expedition thus far.)

I like the hospitality of doing this fundraiser. It is pretty fulfilling work. I didn't mind helping those with canes or walkers over to their tables so they didn't drop their food, or making a platter to go so someone could take a meal to a friend or relative that couldn't make it for one reason or another. I did mind the people that came and complained about various things, as if we were running a for-profit restaurant. Most of the people were very nice, but some really had the ability to get under your skin. A well-timed thank-you for their support of a worthy cause-orphans!-usually cut their complaints down.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Unscheduled 2nd Attempt of Expedition Falls Flat
For two days one of the Natives has repeatedly asked for oatmeal. This morning the crew prepared for him a small bowl of oats, sweetened with sugar and fortified with milk and a small pat of butter. The Native cheered excitedly upon hearing that the oatmeal was ready for him only to melt into a puddle of tears upon seeing it. This oatmeal is apparently NOT what the subject had in mind when he requested oatmeal.

One of the crew was able to get him to eat a tiny spoonful when she deftly fed it to him while he rubbed his eyes and made a dramatic "Noooooooo" sound. More dramatic fake gagging and crying ensued.

Lesson learned: the kid doesn't like oatmeal.