Good morning, heartache

My middle son is going through a phase which I am calling his “asshole phase.”  Please, hear me out on this.  He is a smart, social, funny and athletic kid and I love him dearly, but he is having a very difficult time understanding that “with great power comes great responsibility.”  As a parent who remembers high school as a time of not necessarily applying myself, I am empathetic to a certain extent, but when I consider the advantages he has compared to what was available to me, my indulgence of his laziness starts to dry up.  Time to figure it out, my friend.

Possessing the myriad of gifts and advantages he has, yet not using them, has prevented him from fully participating in sports this spring.  This should be his third year playing lacrosse, but instead of suiting up and getting on the field, he’s sitting on the bench because of academic probation.  I am so appreciative of the fact that there are academic requirements for extracurricular participation.  It prevents me from dropping the hammer and once again being the “bad cop.”

Today is the last day of his freshman year’s third academic quarter and he has failed to submit his outstanding work for the past 10 weeks of school.  Looks like he’ll continue to be a bench warmer rather than an active participant in his chosen spring sport.  C’est la vie.  It hurts my heart to see him not achieving all he is capable of, but at least I don’t have to worry about him getting hurt physically, right?

As the middle guy struggles with time management and fulfilling the expectations and responsibilities which come from growing up, my little guy is taking steps away from me.  This morning, as I parked my car to walk him into school, I noticed his friend walking down the block, solo.  I pointed out his buddy and asked Quinn if he wanted to walk into school with just his friend.  He quickly said yes and happily joined his classmate for an independent “big guys” walk to school.

I got back in my car, pleased that I would be uncharacteristically early for work.  Before I turned the key, though, I took a moment to watch my baby walking away from me and felt a squeeze around my heart.  He’s growing up soo fast!  I paused, thinking about how parenthood at times feels like a series of nearly physical exertions – sometimes we push from behind, other times pull from ahead.  As I drove away from the curb I glanced over at Quinn at the same moment he turned back to look at me.  We both smiled.

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Filed under Boys, moms, Schools

Down and dirty paella

DSC_0012Ever have one of those days when you’ve taken something out of the freezer to cook for dinner with an idea that becomes less appealing as the day goes on? Yeah, me, too. Earlier this week I took a pound of 16-20 shrimp and some thinly sliced chicken breasts out to thaw with a plan to make some sort of garlicky scampi with pasta. It sounded like just what I wanted at 6:00 a.m., but as the day progressed I reconsidered. I wanted something with more vegetables and some spice…

I did a quick search on epicurious using shrimp and chicken as my search terms and came up with a super simple recipe for paella that I knew would work, both in terms of ingredients on hand and Lilly boy preferences. In less than 30 minutes, dinner was ready to go in the oven and I was ready for a quick run. Not a bad Tuesday at all.

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I started with a chopped onion and a bag of frozen chopped peppers from my Field Goods service. Talk about easy – cut open the bag and toss it into the pan! When the veggies were softened, I removed them from the pan and sautéed the chicken, which I had cut into 1.5-2″ chunks, in the same deep pan. When the chicken was almost cooked through, using a slotted spoon, I removed it and put it aside.

Next, I placed about 3.5 cups of chicken broth (a combination of homemade and boxed) in the same pan and turned the heat up to high. When the broth was almost boiling, I threw in 1.5 cups of arborio rice along with about 1.5 t of smoked paprika. I turned the heat down to medium and stirred the rice every few minutes (while I changed into my running clothes) until it was al dente.

The final step was reincorporating the vegetables and chicken and adding the uncooked shrimp. I removed the pan from the heat, covered it and took off for my five mile loop. After returning home, I placed the covered pan in the oven at 300 degrees to warm through for about 10 minutes. Boom! A fast, tasty dinner which everyone enjoyed. If I had some saffron, I certainly would have used it, but I instead seasoned simply with salt and pepper to taste and spiced up my own portion with a delicious pepper jelly I had picked up in New Orleans.

This “recipe” is incredibly versatile – chorizo, leftover ham or chicken thighs could easily be swapped in for the protein choices I made. The flavor profile could be varied by adding beans and/or some hearty greens or trade the paprika for some fresh thyme or flat leaf parsley. Go crazy – it’s just dinner.

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Filed under Boys, Dinner, Food, Recipes, Uncategorized

Maple Weekend 2014

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing that “pancake” syrup was all there was to drown my pancakes in. Based upon my middle son’s recent query about “Why is the number one ingredient in maple syrup water?,” I have to think that more must be done to educate children about the difference between pancake syrup and genuine maple syrup. Maple Weekend 2014 provided the ideal opportunity for a little lesson on the genuine article vs. that water-based, artificially colored and flavored bastardization known as “pancake syrup.”

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Last weekend, on a damp and cold morning, Quinn and I headed out to Berne to see the trees from which our syrup comes. The drive was full of sights for us to observe – cows and horses, heaps of lingering snow, raging creeks, and to discuss and, in case you were wondering, that boy has no interest in living in the country. Definitely a city kid.

We arrived at Mountain Winds Maple Farm in the late morning. While we weren’t the only folks visiting, Randy made time to take us on a little tour. Our footwear choice (rubber boots) was validated by the squishy earth and we confidently headed towards the little pumping station. This was where the tubing, working with a vacuum pump, initially collected the surprisingly clear and remarkably not sweet sap.

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Randy explained that the yield has thus far this season been very low since we have not yet had a true thaw to encourage a free flow of sap. Fingers crossed, a few days later that he and the other syrup producers are seeing a more impressive run as the temperatures have somewhat moderated.

From this first collection point the sap is sent to be boiled down, changing the percentage of sugar from approximately 2% to a more familiar 60+%. The rich amber color also develops as the syrup is concentrated and caramelized.

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We were lucky enough to nab his last gallon of syrup and have stashed it away in the basement as back up for the gallon we’re currently enjoying. In the DelSo, I use 100% pure maple syrup, preferably extra dark. I buy this delicious liquid, 2-3 times a year, by the gallon. It’s an investment at approximately $55, but buying in bulk definitely makes sense for my household where we eat pancakes or waffles or French toast at least weekly. In addition to this standard use of maple syrup, I frequently find myself reaching for the syrup dispenser to add flavor to root vegetables and other savory items. Delicious!

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When it is time for some more amber sweetness, we have options other than hauling out to Berne. Randy vends at the Bethlehem Farmers’ Market and also distributes through Farmie Market. In addition to syrup and syrup related products (cotton candy, syrup straws, hard candies, etc), he also sells farm eggs and fresh chicken.

See you at Maple Weekend 2015!  Don’t forget your boots.

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Filed under Boys, breakfast, Events, Local, road trips, Spring, upstate New York

Longing for spring

As I’ve recently confessed, I love winter.  I like cashmere and wool and boots and colorful scarves and hats that hide hair mishaps. You know I am undaunted by cold temperatures and that I’m happy when there is deep, fresh snow.  Crockpot suppers, roasted root vegetables and hearty stews are some of my favorite (and simplest) meals to make.  Me and winter?  We’re good, but…
unnamed2I also like crisp cotton and exposed ankles and bare shoulders.   I’m tired of sleeping in leggings and long-sleeved t-shirts, on the ready for Jeter’s middle of the night “bathroom” breaks.  My flannels may welcome me with cozy warmth, but I’m ready for the cool comfort of high thread count cotton sheets.  I want to light the grill and sip a refreshing glass of rose’.  And then there’s my garden…
unnamed3Wardrobe, bed sheets and diet aside, I miss watching things grow.  After months of being frozen, the earth is ready to start coming to life again.  There are bunches and clusters of pale green shoots pushing out through the ground and I can’t wait to be reminded what is where in my postage stamp front garden.  I recognize the purplish red leaves of my tulips which have emerged and see the crocus preparing to take their turns – yellow first, followed by white then purple, but there are other beautiful promises which are less predictable.  Did the hyacinth take?  Are my daffodils naturalizing and filling in?  Will the lupine come back?
unnamedAfter a long season without obvious development, spring brings the assurance that there will be change and growth.  The quiet acceptance of winter yields to hopefulness and a sense that things will soon be different.  It’s time to see what comes next.

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Filed under Flowers, Gardens, musings, Observations, Spring, winter

Motherhood and The Silver Star

This is either the perfect book or the worst book to read when you’re dealing with an impossible mother-daughter situation.  You’ve been warned.

Are you familiar with Jeannette Walls?  Her first book, The Glass Castle related the story of her own childhood and was on the NYT’s bestseller list for 6 years.  It was a powerful story, but her tale complete with two dysfunctional parents and an extended family,  was certainly not one to which I really related.  I did admire, however, Jeannette’s survival instinct and her ability to propel herself forward through sheer determination and the desire for stability.  I understood that.

Her second work, Half Broke Horses, delved even deeper into her treasure chest of family history, merging reminiscences and imagination into a tale which brought her maternal grandmother’s colorful life to readers.  This book was clearly an artful blending of fiction and nonfiction, and Wall’s grandmother, Lily, an almost mythical character.  Her resourcefulness and tough as nails attitude make her an unforgettable narrator and woman.

This new book, though?  Well, it kicked my emotional ass.  Here’s how the blurb from the library catalog begins: “Two motherless sisters, Bean and Liz…” Mentally replacing “sisters” with “brother and sister,”  I immediately checked the book out.  Last weekend I tore through the novel’s 269 pages, stopping to catch my breath after this passage -

“Mom’s account of my dad had always left me hankering for more details, but she said she didn’t want to talk about him and we were both better off if we put him behind us.  Mom didn’t have a picture of him, and she wouldn’t tell me his name,  I’d always wondered what my dad had looked like.  I didn’t look like my mom.  Did I look like my dad?  Was he handsome?  Funny?  Smart?”

Oh my God.  How did Walls know exactly what that conversation sounded like?  Even more painfully, how did she know precisely what having that conversation felt like?  Jesus.

The passage though, that nearly broke (or maybe Half Broke me) was this -

“I think Mom believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.  Maybe she just needed someone to blame for the way everything turned out.”

Never before have I read anything which so clearly expressed my own experience with my mother.  Never, I said.  That was my own mother perfectly summed up in two sentences.  Mercy.

I guess maybe I don’t have to write that book now after all.

Screw the silver star.  Walls gets a gold one for this book.

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Filed under Books, family, moms, Recommendations, relationships

Sunday dinner out in the DelSo

One of the first images to enter my brain last Sunday morning came to me courtesy of an email from Living Social.  They were offering a deal for Yanni’s Too, a place known for its fried calamari, and the picture accompanying the sales pitch became my obsession and inspiration for the day.  Crispy looking golden brown rings and tentacles… I needed some, but had no desire to drive south and dine riverside.  I explored my options, beginning, and happily ending, in my own neighborhood – Nicole’s Restaurant.  All I had was a 5 mile run to get through first.

Run finished, I quickly called Nicole’s to make sure they still had tables seated at 8:00 on a Sunday.  I never want to be that person who comes in on a quiet night and keeps staff hanging around.  I was assured that they still were doing business and invited to please stop by.  On my arrival I was offered a nice deuce in the front and settled in with the menu and a basket of warm bread accompanied with good quality olive oil and an olive tapenade.
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I was hungry and went a little crazy ordering the fried calamari, the eggplant rollatini and an intriguing sounding Brussels sprouts Caesar salad.  After considering a bottle of wine, with the option to bring home what I didn’t finish, I talked myself down and went with a glass of chianti which satisfied me perfectly.

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The calamari was terrific. It was piping hot, crispy and not oily in the slightest.  The accompanying sauce was different and enjoyable, but I’m pretty simple and would have been equally pleased with a marinara sauce on the side.

eggplantThe eggplant was tender, completely devoid of bitterness and wonderfully smoky from the oozing cheese.  Again, the presentation is a little different with only some roasted red peppers topping the eggplant, rather than the more typical bath of red sauce.  Tasty.

ceasarThe salad was a unique spin on Caesar – a feat that is not easily accomplished, but I didn’t really taste the classic Caesar notes of garlic, cheese and anchovy as I had expected.  The anchovies were white which, in my opinion, gives a sharper, more vinegary taste.  I liked the salad more when I finished it up the next day as part of my lunch.  It seemed to have mellowed out a bit.

cheesecakeI wrapped things up with an indulgent slice of chocolate cheesecake – 5 miles, people.  I had just run 5 miles.  Belly full, $50 + tip lighter, I slept like a well fed baby.  Although I don’t get to Nicole’s often enough, it’s nice to know they continue to offer a consistently creative menu that never fails to provide comfort and quality.

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Filed under Albany, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, running, sunday

Counting by 7s

I just finished a wonderful novel, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It’s from the middle school library where I spend my mornings, but the unique voice of the main character transcends preadolescence in a distinctively refreshing way and I am completely in love with this book.  In honor of Willow Chance and her fondness for the number 7, I offer seven observations she made which struck me.

  1. “I have given in.  But that’s different from giving up.”
  2. “…says that nothing is for certain.  That is the truest statement I’ve ever heard.”
  3. “books = comfort”
  4. “Life, I now realize, is just one big trek across a minefield and you never know which step is going to blow you up.”
  5. “Maybe that happens when you’ve been through a lot.  All of your edges are worn off like sea glass.  Either that, or you shatter.”
  6. “It happens as most things do, in the smallest of ways.”
  7. “…is life so filled with random action that the very notion of caution is futile?”

In a world filled with stuff to read, this little gem stands out.  Read it.

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Filed under Books, favorites, Libraries, Recommendations