Saturday, May 30, 2009

Here's how to handle the paparazzi!

Baby C knows how to dodge those pesky photogs. Engage in a little peek-a-boo and they will give up!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Primavera for the masses

I am definitely in a pasta kind of mood these days. There is just something about a nice pasta dish that can be served hot or cold that beckons to me when the temperature and the season start to heat up.

Yesterday we spent the day being punished by the Disney Gods. They lure you to their "resort", beat you over the head with their sadistic, outrageously loud music, characters and rides. Then, for the final insult, they chuck you on a tram and dump you in a parking garage with little chance of locating your car.

My favorite part of the day, however, was the moment when I was admonished by a hyper-vigilant "cast member" wearing canvas overalls with screen-printed ants on them, for changing my son's clothes. She stood next to me, never making eye contact and informed me that, "morally, it would be much better for the child if I did not change his clothes around other people."

Yup, that kid really looks like he is in danger of being morally compromised. I am not sure how much they pay adults to wander around, dictating morals while wearing canvas overalls with little ants screen-printed all over them, but I am sure it isn't enough. It certainly is not enough for her to be telling me about morality, not when she is employed by the likes of the House of Mouse. Not by a long shot, Missy. I will get my morals from ANY other source, not from you, thankyouverymuch!

Luckily, Mr. Smith was able to talk me down before I slapped her.

Obviously, Baby C has her misgivings about the morality police, stationed throughout The House of Mouse.

But, I digress. Back to the recipe for today.

I am completely on an artichoke heart kick right now, so my apologies if you are not feeling the artichoke love.

I wanted to make dinner, but really was completely fried for the experience of going to the House of Mouse with two children under four. It was the equivalent of working a trade show floor for a full week, pain-wise.

Here is what I threw together last night:

12 oz. box of Rotini (you know, those little corkscrew-looking things. I like to use the fortified or whole wheat, tastes the same, but gives you a little something extra in your pasta)

1 bunch of broccoli

1 can artichoke hearts, drained

1 dozen sweet grape tomatoes, cut in half

finely diced pepperoncini peppers (to taste, depending on how spicy you are feeling)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

1 clove of garlic finely minced

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Please, please, please don't overcook the pasta. It will make me sad if you eat mushy noodles. There is no greater cooking crime, so please don't be a noodle hater.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, get to choppin' broccoli and draining the artichoke hearts, cutting up tomatoes, etc.

When pasta is about half cooked, I throw the broccoli in the cook with the noodles (saves on clean up and time).

Now you need to mix up the "sauce." Get a nice pasta bowl, add the olive oil, parmesan, chopped peppers, garlic, salt and pepper and tomatoes. Mix well.

Drain the pasta and broccoli when cooked.

Add the pasta and broccoli to the sauce mixture and toss well.

Go ahead and stuff your little face. You will be so happy you did! Feel free to add the vegetables you like. It is Spring, so there are plenty of great options available to you now.

I served this pasta dish with these breadsticks (that are to die for!). I threw 2 teaspoons of dry Italian Seasoning and 2 teaspoons of garlic powder in the dough. Just lovely for the starch loving heart!

Go forth and cook some pasta, people!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tomato Artichoke Pasta

Things around here are still kind of crazy, but they seem to have reached a more manageable level of crazy. Does that even make sense?

I guess, once reach a certain point, you just kind of get used to it. You learn to give in to it a little more and stop fighting so hard. Fighting it is pretty useless since the stuff is going to happen whether you fight or not, might as well take it easy and not get to bent out of shape about it.

For now, The Sad House is gone. It does, however, seem to be sticky, so that could change at any moment. Some day, I will explain that further, but for now, that is all I can offer.

In the meantime, I will be cooking again. It is time for me to find comfort where comfort has always been.

We are planning a trip, a Smith Family trip, which should give us tons of new material. If you would like to see what happens when the Smith Family takes it one the road, go here to be entertained by our tale of woe. Six months later, it is hilarious, even to us.

Turns out we like the notion of travel much more than the reality. The Smith Family does not travel well, so you have that to look forward to this summer!

This is a recipe that was discovered by Grammy in Parade Magazine (you know the insert in your Sunday paper, if you are still rocking old school, like we are and get a Sunday paper) of all places.

Very zesty and simple. A nice alternative to regular red sauce. Also, if you pair it with a nice salad and you use fortified pasta, you have a complete meal.

12 oz. can oil-marinated artichoke hearts (I used artichokes in water and then used olive oil for the sauce)
1 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2 28-oz. cans plum tomatoes, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Cooked pasta (pick a shape that you like, I used penne) 12 oz. box

Drain the artichokes, reserving the oil, and halve them lengthwise.

Place 3 tablespoons of the artichoke oil marinade in a heavy pot. NOTE: I used water-packed artichoke hearts. We have an aversion to things packed in oil around here. It is messy, kind of icky and quite frankly, not terribly healthy. Okay, mostly because it is kind of icky and that oil is nearly impossible to rinse out of the sink.

Add the onions, and stir over low heat for 10 minutes, adding the garlic during the last 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes.

Add the reserved artichoke hearts with the remaining oil marinade and stir while simmering for 20 minutes. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasonings. Serve in shallow bowl over cooked pasta.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Recipe for Disaster...

This evening, Mr. Smith and I were discussing our upcoming family excursion. Suddenly, I was filled with that old sense of complete panic. What just a damn minute, this has all happened before!

Then I remembered. We have, in fact, tried traveling (just over night) with the H and Baby C. Mr. Smith considers this one of my greatest hits so I wanted to share it with all of you.

Here is the Smith fan-damn-ly in ALL their glory. Say a little prayer that you aren't in the room next to us any time soon.

Grammy and Pop Pop wanted to have the rugs cleaned. So, we decided to try a mini vacation at Disneyland. We thought it would be a fun little getaway. We could not have been more wrong. A warning: this is long. It took me a long time to write it, but it seemed so much longer when we were living it. Read it at your own risk!

December 3, 2008 approximately 11:57 am - The Smith family arrives at Hotel Hell. We were dropping off Mr. Smith’s car and then planning on heading to Disneyland for the day. When we arrive, we discover that they are resurfacing the parking lot and we will have to park 1/4 mile from the front of the stupid hotel and lug all our belongings to our room.

12:15 pm - We arrive at Disneyland.

1:33 pm - We have lunch.

4:57 pm - We decide to cut our losses and leave the park.

5:17 pm - We get into our room.

6:18 pm - The room is destroyed.

6:30 pm - Baby C goes to bed under extreme duress since we have no swing. Yes, she still sleeps the swing. I know, I know.

7:15 pm - We have dinner.

8:00 pm - I make the mistake of opening the sofa bed for The H and he proceeds to jump on it for the next 15 minutes while I yell at him to stop.

8:30 pm - I end up laying down with him on The Most Uncomfortable Sofa Bed in All of Humanity. The H finally goes to sleep, turns out he snores.

9:00 pm - I very quietly (not really) get out of The Most Uncomfortable Sofa Bed in All of Humanity and sneak into our bed. I am almost crippled due to the wafer thin mattress on The Most Uncomfortable Sofa Bed in All of Humanity.

10:40 pm - Baby C wakes up screaming. I am somehow able to nurse her and get her to go back to sleep briefly.

December 4, 2008 approximately 2:18 am - Baby C wakes up crying. I try to nurse her, but this time, no dice. She just escalates to full on screaming.

2:41 am - The H wakes up and has no interest in sleeping.

2:46 am - I decide to take our wailing infant daughter to the car. I figure if the car gets carjacked, they will take the baby and I will be able to get some damn sleep. While I am hoping someone steals her, I fall asleep for about 5 minutes. Then, as I sit in the car listening to her cry, I look back up at the hotel and see one lone light on in the entire place. It is our room. I pine for the luxury of a bed. I briefly toy with the idea of driving home and leaving her in her swing and returning to Anaheim.

3:34 am - Mr. Smith sends me a text message to let me know that our son is still awake and watching Monsters, Inc. on his DVD player.

3:40 am - Baby C and I return to the room. I try once again to put her down. She starts crying immediately. I take both children into the living room. Leaving Mr. Smith to get some sleep in the bedroom.

4:10 am - The lovely people in the room next us pound on the wall to alert us to the fact that our daughter is screaming, crying and hysterical. I am pleased that these generous folks are so kind. We had all failed to notice that someone in our party was inconsolable. I immediately start having revenge fantasies. These vary from breaking into their room and leaving Baby C with them, to knocking on their door and punching them in the face. I am not generally a violent person, but seriously folks. It is not like we had the TV turned up too loud or were partying!

4:15 am - The H informs me that he is hungry and wants food. I am lucky enough to find some Cheerios in the diaper bag and I have some milk left from his dinner the night before. Thankfully, I was smart enough to bring some bowls and spoons. I am also able to find some freeze dried peaches in my bag. He inhales the peaches and immediately demands more. I don’t have any and inform him of that fact. He flips his lid, throws himself on the floor and starts screaming and crying.

4:36 am - Baby C finally goes to sleep with me holding her. The H is still asking for more peaches. I find freeze dried pineapple and banana in the bag. When I offer this, he demands pineapple juice. I, of course, have none. Once again, screaming, crying, throws himself on the floor. Baby C wakes up, immediately starts screaming and crying. Somehow, Mr. Smith manages to sleep through all of this.

6:20 am - Mr. Smith emerges from bedroom.

8:00 am - We can finally order breakfast. Baby C falls asleep. The entire hotel breathes a sigh of relief.

8:25 am - We get breakfast.

8:27 am - Baby C wakes up screaming. She is getting two teeth. She now has 4 bottom teeth and no sign of top teeth. I am not sure what to make of this. She kind of looks like an old lady with no upper plate. To add to the drama she also has diaper rash, diarrhea and some weird rash on her cheeks. Her brother is also having diarrhea. In less than two hours, I have changed 5, count them, 5 poopy diapers!!!

8:45 am - Mr. Smith takes Baby C and is able to get her fall asleep on his chest.

9:40 am - Baby C wakes up screaming and crying.

10:30 am - I am ready to throw in the towel. We are defeated. These children have ground us into a fine powder. We decide that we need to go home, wet rugs or not.

11:30 am - After four trips to the car, we are finally able to vacate the scene of the crime. We get on the elevator, relieved to finally be headed home. As we are exiting the elevator in the lobby, I accidentally hip check The H slamming his head into the metal door. He immediately bursts into tears, a welt instantly appears on his right temple and he collapses onto the floor of the hotel lobby in sobs. Mr. Smith takes Baby C and all the other crap I was carrying. I sit down on the floor of the lobby (a small hostile crowd looks at us in complete disgust) and attempt to console him. Luckily, I have a stash of Matchbox cars for just such an occasion. I got out of this mess by offering him two new cars. Cold comfort for a head injury.

11:45 am - Finally driving back home. Back to the swing. Back to a schedule for these children. Back to free access to pineapple juice. Back to sleep. Before I even pull onto the freeway, before we are speeding home on the 5 South, they are both in comas in their respective car seats, sound asleep. I don’t turn on the radio, I just drive home in silence. I enjoy the occasional sleepy sigh that emanates from the back seat. I think about driving all the way to San Diego just to savor the quiet that is the inside of the car, but instantly realize I would run out of gas or fall asleep while driving.

12:30 pm - We arrive home. Baby C wakes up as soon as I turn the car off. H wakes up as Mr. Smith attempts to lift him from the car. He is upset and confused. I take him upstairs, removing his shoes and socks as I walk. I change his diaper and try to put him in the crib without putting his shorts on. He starts sobbing because he wants his clothes on. I put his shorts back on and he collapses onto the mattress. He is asleep before I can leave the room. He sleeps for 3 hours.

12:35 pm - Baby C goes to sleep in her swing. I hurry downstairs and eat quickly. Hoping to catch a nap before someone wakes up again.

1:40 pm - Baby C wakes up crying yet again. She finally goes to bed at 5:30 pm.

7:40 pm - The H is finally in bed, after much negotiating, book reading, discussion about the finer points of Toy Story, etc.

8:10 pm - I fall into bed, and hope, hope, hope that everyone (including me) sleeps through the night...and they do!

This is what we are walking into by traveling again with these children. I am trying to be brave, but they scare the hell out of me!

Friday, May 22, 2009

My cup runneth over...

All you lovely people just make me want to weep with gratitude.

Thank you so much for your kind words and your thoughts and your prayers. We are (keep your fingers crossed) starting to see some tiny pin pricks of light at the end of a very long tunnel.

The last two years have been harrowing for us. It has really tested us in so many ways.

I feel that we have passed what ever this test has been. We have not broken up, lost our children, harmed anyone, or gotten down in mud with these animals. We have maintained our dignity, when others have not. This has come at an extremely high price for both of us.

However, we still have each other, we have our beautiful, healthy, happy children, we have a business that is thriving. We have a roof over our heads, food in the kitchen and a place to lay our heads each night. So many people don't even have those simple things.

My parents (pictured above on their wedding day, some 43 years ago) have stepped into a breech left my the other set of would be grandparents. They have done so willingly, with unfailing generosity and support. Mr. Smith and I will never be able to sufficiently thank them for everything they have done for us. I will owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for the rest of my life...I am more than glad to repay it with anything my meager means will allow.

I think the most amazing thing to me though has been the supportive emails and comments from this blog. Total strangers stopping by, leaving a little line of support. Just amazing. None of you know me. We have never laid eyes on each other. Yet you have reached out to me.

I have never in my life experienced anything like it. You all make my heart swell and my eyes fill with happy tears that are now spilling down my cheeks.

An experience like this could make you lose faith in people. And, I will admit, on many days, I have hated this life and the world and many people in it. I have felt that no one cared, that we were so alone out here, fighting to keep our heads above water, felt helpless and hopeless. But you people, you wonderful internet bloggers, tweeters, writers, you keep me afloat.

You are total strangers, but I will always be thankful to you as well. You have warmed my heart on some of the coldest days of my life.

So, enough wallowing in the self-pity. I will be getting back to cooking and getting away from venting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where did I go?

Oh the stories I could tell! Over the few weeks, it has been crazy around here. We had Grammy's birthday, we had a cancer diagnosis after it was cured, we have had much drama with The Sad House, we have had even more drama about The Lawyer's Fee-Generating Lawsuit (fittingly just before Mother's Day...thanks to my MIL and the big bad scary abusive law firm...way to go!), and last but so very not least, Baby C is now a year old.

I also was heavily involved with a project concerning my beloved and recently departed Papa Doty. During the archeological dig that is his home, his World War II journals were unearthed. To describe them as chilling, moving, amazing, beautiful would be selling them short.

If you are feeling curious, and would like to read them, they are here and here.

During all of this, turmoil, angst, busy-ness, I have been fretting about my neglect of vertigobcooks. I have been trying desperately to come up with a post. I have about a half dozen half-written, half-hearted posts, but not a single one has been right.

Truth be told, I have been fretting about many many things...for about two years. In that short space of time we have gotten sued (by my Mother-in-Law...Happy Mother's Day!), found out we were having Baby C, gone bankrupt (I don't recommend it), lost my grandfather, had a cancer scare, had countless stress-related medical problems, lost a house, got a house back, paid far too much money to lawyers that failed to get results, kept a business going in this economy and a bunch of other stuff that got lost along the way for obvious reasons.

Last week the notion of anti-depressants was floated by our therapist. For now, I (after much discussion and thought with Mr. Smith) have decided to ride this out. I am hoping that this will pass and that it will not become necessary to take them, but none of us know what the future holds. Our situation may get worse or our situation may get better.

In the meantime, we are seeking comfort where we can find it. Naturally, food provides comfort and heaven knows, I (we) need it now.

We will just have to wait and see and that is the hardest part.

For now, I choose to focus on these two little faces. They will make me laugh, will make me smile, will brighten my day when I need it brightened. The caption for this photo comes from Mr. Smith, "No drooling on the piano!"

I rediscovered this gem the other day. It is one of those that you can whip up after dinner, or have for an after school snack, or just because you need some chocolate to tide you over while you wait for the next disaster to sweep over you.

No Bakes

1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp. cocoa
2/3 cup peanut butter
3-3 1/2 cups quick oats
2 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, sugar, milk and cocoa in a medium sauce pan. Heat until boiling. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add peanut butter, oats and vanilla. Once mixture is thoroughly blended, drop by teaspoonful (or tablespoonful, if you are feeling ambitious or particularly in need of comfort) onto wax paper or parchment paper.

Allow to set, if you can. I keep them in a plastic storage container in the fridge, but what you do with them at this point is entirely up to you. They are pretty tasty, even while still warm, comforting too!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

This photo kind of says it all. Three generations together. This photo was taken in early August of 1966. The family had gathered for my christening. I was a few days old and obviously not too thrilled about it.

That is my poor exhausted mother on the left and my beautiful little Irish Grandma Doty on the right holding me, the screaming object of their affection.

Mother's Day can be a little sad around here. Grandma Doty left us almost 13 years ago. She fell down the stairs, hit her head and a few days later was gone. It was that fast. Anything but simple. I am not quite sure that we have fully accepted it to this day.

I feel her spirit almost every single day. She was a nurturer extraordinaire. She raised five daughters, helped raise grandchildren, and dozens of other people's children. For decades she ran the most lovingly firm daycare center from her home.

She was tough, but so loving. She taught some children to crawl, she taught others to accept the little boy that wanted to wear a dress all day, she taught us all what we needed to learn when we needed to learn it.

She was tiny, but formidable, Irish to her marrow.

Recently I found her Yellow Layer Cake recipe. It is in her handwriting (Palmer method and perfect). The handwriting I remember seeing in her weekly letters to my mother when I was growing up. She would keep us informed on the weather, and all the news from the neighborhood.

For a period of time, she has a Barbie pink felt tip marker that she used to write just about everything. I love it because it was so completely out of character. Too flashy for someone as below the radar as Mary tried to be, but use it she did. Every so often we will unearth an old note or recipe jotted down in that raucous splash of color. It makes me laugh every single time.

I think about the chain that goes back farther than any of us know, much farther than those three generations on that couch in 1966. Now it extends into the future with my daughter. All of these things, these recipes, these photos, these memories, will be passed down to her now too. Like a string of pearls, priceless pearls.