Monday, August 17, 2009

What we havin' for dinner?

Fresh snow peas and haricot verts

That was the question from H today when I got him up from his wonderfully long afternoon nap...3 hours, a mother's dream!

His sister, on the other hand, is a punk and only slept about 1 1/2 hours.

When my brother was little, he would ask my mother what we were having for dinner immediately after breakfast, sometimes while we were eating breakfast. It was if he had to plan the rest of his day based on what her answer was.

I could never figure out why he cared. The kid was a legend among the picky eaters, and he has been paid back in recent years. Neither of his sons eats voluntarily. A2 has been known to come dangerously close to inciting violence at the dinner table. I know because I witnessed it.

Snow peas in ice bath

I will never forget when I was visiting them and A2 asked the greatest question of all time, "Who picked this dinner?" My sister-in-law, in her continuing effort to appease her picky eaters, had instituted the system that allowed each family member to pick a meal they wanted on a given night. Unfortunately, on this night, A2 was not pleased with the choice. Obviously, the choice had been made by some other family member.

Roasting red peppers

The dinner that night was Chicken Pot Pie. A2 has a problem with various foods touching. The casserole concept as a whole runs counter to everything he holds dear. Thus his objection. I thought my normally patient sister-in-law was going to go across the table at him.

So, this afternoon when I went to get H out of bed, and he asked me, "What we havin' for dinner?", it just cracked me up. He has no intention of eating it, why would he care what we were having? He is my brother all over again and I am reminded of my brother as a child every day.

Tonight we are having Roasted Chicken with Pesto and Dijon with Pasta Salad with Roasted Red Pepper Dressing.

The finished product. I replaced the peas with haricot verts, just because those
are much more acceptable to the picky eaters here.

H ate yogurt and drew on his face, arms and hands with markers. He then announced, "Yo ho, yo ho, life is but a dream. Fast and curvy H's with no tails!" That is H-speak for, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me. Avast you scurvy dogs. Dead men tell no tales!"

Yo ho, yo ho, life is but a dream!

As a totally unrelated aside, this is what greets us when we come in the door. Isn't this gorgeous?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vertigo B Strikes Out

Mushroom Bourguinon

Last week I went to see Julie and Julia. If you like to cook or bake, go see this movie. It is such an interesting story and Meryl Streep is just a delight to watch.

I have always loved Julia Child. I remember watching her show, about a million years ago, on PBS with my mother. I don't think my mother ever tried any of her recipes, but she loved to watch her, both of us on the edge of our seats, never knowing what Julia would do or make next.

After seeing her brought to life again, I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be as adventurous and daring about eating as Julia was. Her enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace the unfamiliar was so contagious!

In this vein, I started poking around, looking for new recipes to try. I found this one on Smitten Kitchen's blog.

So, I did the leg work, assembled the ingredients (after a couple extra trips to the store to procure enough Portobellos...not the best at planning, it turns out). Did all the necessary cutting, chopping, etc. Followed the recipe exactly.

It looked gorgeous and smelled even better. Unfortunately, we are not mushroom people. Well, one of us is, but really this makes far too much for one person to eat easily. We may not be as adventurous as Julia, but I think she would be proud of us for being willing to try something new.

I can tell you, if you are a mushroom person (and in my opinion, you either are or you aren't) you will love this recipe. There is just no gray area on this issue.

The moral of the story: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

On the other hand, I decided I could no longer live my life without this cake also from Smitten Kitchen. So, on top of everything else I was juggling today, I made it as well. If you are into chocolate and peanut butter, go make this cake. If you aren't, I ask you, what in heaven's name is the matter with you?

I skipped the chocolate/peanut butter glaze that you can pour over the top. It just seemed like too much. In hindsight, I am glad I did. This is a super rich cake and super rich frosting. I can't imagine the jumbo jug of insulin I would need to compensate for the cake with the glaze!

Sure, I can deal with two needy children, one of whom can't stop bumping her head on every damn thing while whipping all this food up. No problem!

Notice the giant welt in the center of her forehead.

Her record in the ring for today: Furniture-2, Baby C-0.

She started off by smacking her forehead on the leg of the kitchen chair. The judges deemed that one a technical knock out. Decision goes to the chair.

To round out her day, she smacked her left temple/cheek bone on the headboard of the bed. Decision goes to the headboard.

Today, as a reward (yes, bribery does work) for being brave and getting his hair cut, H discovered the virtues of Rockem Sockem Robots. That classic toy is still a hit with the crazy kids. He and Mr. Smith were very loudly playing with them this afternoon. Just look at their faces, locked in fierce competition! Hilarious!

Check out the snazzy new hair cut!

And last but not least, Francesca, this one is for you! Sorry. I intended to post this one this week, but got sidetracked by something shiny! Enjoy, even if you can't get the smuggled veggies!

Pasta with Vegetables in Salsa Fresca

1 pound pasta (I used fortified penne, but the original recipe calls for fettucini)
2-3 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise paper thin (use the vegetable peeler to cut ribbons)
2-4 carrots, sliced lengthwise paper thin (also use vegetable peeler)
2-3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced peperoncini peppers (green, pickled in a jar, but optional. Gives a little zip to salad)
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. After about 8 minutes, add the zucchini and carrots; cook until the pasta is al dente and the vegetables are tender, 2-4 minutes longer.

2. Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, oil, cheese, minced pepper, garlic and ground pepper in a serving bowl. Drain the pasta and vegetables, then add to the sauce, tossing to coat.

I added the haricot verts, but you can use any vegetables you have/like.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Off the Road Again Part 3: The Final Insult

The River Road

As is always the case, all good things must come to an end. It was difficult to admit that our vacation was wrapping up and that we would have to caravan back to Maryland and then venture home. I was not terribly interested in getting back in the car with The Vomiter (H). I wanted to get back on a plane with H and Baby C even less!

The River Road

And so with heavy hearts, and de-vomited Dodge Nitro rental, we headed South.

Funny (or not so funny, depending on your perspective) Smith Family-Type things that happened on our trip:

1. Mr. Smith yelled at our children, while we were lost in Virginia, attempting to find our way to our Georgetown hotel, "For the love of God, shuuuut UUUUUPPPP!" I don't think Baby C has ever even heard him raise his voice, so she just about jumped out of her skin, and burst out crying. H was already completely fried from too much travel and not enough food, so he burst out crying. Nothing like a family trip to draw everyone closer together!

2. Mr. Smith (new to the Waverly area) was unaware of the fact that a portion of the famed River Road is a one-way road. As he drove the wrong way, the natives shouted at him as he drove past. Afraid of incurring the wrath of the locals on his return trip, he looped the really really long way around to get back home.

3. One of our 10 person caravan party ended up in this urgent care during our return trip. After much discussion, this person (who shall remain nameless, Vertigo B respects HIPAA around here, people!) ended up being taken by ambulance from this lovely Urgent Care Facility

to spend an all expenses-paid, fun-filled night in a hospital with a guest of their choice. These nice people even accept patients that just happen to be driving by and having a health crisis! At the end of the whole thing, despite the stress, extra driving and turmoil, everything is okay...not to worry. All 10 people participating in said caravan are intact and relatively healthy.

4. In Dulles airport, Baby C and I got on the wrong shuttle, almost taking us to the wrong terminal, thus almost missing our flight. Mr. Smith and H were standing outside screaming at us to get off the shuttle, I could not hear him and was already pretty pissed that we were so late AGAIN. We got off the stupid shuttle and sprinted to the right shuttle. As we were strolling clambering onto the correct shuttle, H's 1,234 foot long shoelaces (don't ask) got stuck in the super safe grate, immediately causing H to do a dramatic faceplant in front of the stroller that I am pushing at top speed. I almost ran him over in my haste to get on the right goddamn shuttle.

This is the only photo I could find. They are about the size of a smallish train car, but just as crappy in real life.

Dulles Airport has the stones to call these damn things "Mobile Lounges." It has made me hate the marketing people at Dulles. Looks nice and comfy doesn't it? Cuz it isn't. And the people were almost as hostile as a bunch of Southern Californians!

5. As we were checking our luggage, H spots a set of presidential toy cars for sale at the handy dandy airport gift shop. Of course, he completely ignores the fact that he already owns this particular gift item (courtesy of Aunt Michele, thank you). He flips out and chants through the luggage check-in, security fiasco line, and sprint to our gate, "I need Barack Obama's motorcade! I need Barack Obama's motorcade!" As we arrived at the gate, H really got going, throwing himself on the floor, and Mr. Smith encouraged me to ignore him. Mr. Smith and I had a micro spat about that, since it is impossible for me to ignore a short person following me around, yelling at me. Call me kooky, my ears just don't work that way.

TOY - Play Set - Air Force One

6. As we were exiting the stupid shuttle thingy, we had so much crap that we left the all-important diaper bag behind. A very long-suffering gentleman was kind enough to hand it to me as he gave me an exasperated look while exiting the stupid shuttle-thingy. For his kindness, he was rewarded by not only being on our flight, but he was further punished for his good deed by having to sit next to our loud cranky asses. That's right, MISERY is embroidered into our family crest, bitches!

7. Once we arrive at LAX, aka Hell on Earth, we were taking a Super Shuttle to our home. We waited for said shuttle. Since we had 8,371 bags, we reserved our own van. Immediately after the van pulls up, H launches into an epic tantrum, screaming, crying and chanting over and over again, "I wanna go home to Maryland! I wanna go home to Maryland and Pop Pop!" Because of the hysteria, the driver proceeds to break every California traffic law and get us home in record time (I am thinking, chiefly to get the little butthead out of the car). That would have been fine, if there had been ANY shock absorbers on the van. It was like riding in a Conestoga Wagon at about 85 mph.

8. H woke up at 2:30 the next morning. He was on Eastern Daylight Time and would not be negotiated with on the point of sleep. We got up. It was an incredibly long ugly day. Turns out, H is now juuuust tall enough to set off the burglar alarm. Not the little innocuous beeping of the door opening and closing. Nope, the actual 5-alarm siren that screams out the chimney. He set it off and Mr. Smith and I did not realize what the odd noise was until after the alarm company had called AND had alerted the police. At this point, I informed H that he would be going to jail for his crimes. He protested, so I made sure that he saw the friendly deputy and was exactly afraid enough to nip his one man crime spree in the bud (or butt as Mr. Boss used to say). It was all he could talk about for the rest of the long ass day.

9. Mr. Smith do you have anything else to add?

I am not sure what the moral of this story is. I guess I just hope you found it entertaining. I don't know, I feel a little better now, don't you?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Contraband Penne Primavera

This past weekend was pure perfection. Busy, but not hectic. Happy, with a minimum of crying, tantrums, and whining. H and Baby C were good too.

Aunt Maureen has been visiting us and she was kind enough to smuggle some Birney Farm contraband vegetables to our undisclosed location front door. We got a box heavy with luscious zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, potatoes and tomatoes. It was like winning the lottery. Turns out the post office doesn't bat an eye if a box you ship across the country is leaking dirt. Good thing, we would have all been in trouble. Also a good thing we were able to eat all the incriminating, yet delicious evidence!

Friday night I made homemade pepperoni pizza. I know, I know, it is easier to call and have one delivered, but the results are worth a little extra work. And really, how much extra work is it to throw the ingredients into the mixer with the dough hook and knead the heck out of it? It just requires you to start dinner a little earlier in the afternoon.

Pizza Crust Recipe

3 1/2 cups flour (I have even used 1 cup of whole wheat flour with 2 1/2 cups white flour)
2 Tablespoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix the ingredients together and knead until a nice ball forms. Oil the bowl and let it the dough rise for about one hour (or until doubled in size). Punch dough down and let until doubled again. Punch down and roll out to fit your pizza pan.

IMPORTANT: Drizzle and spread some olive oil on the crust before spreading sauce (it keeps the the crust from soaking up the sauce).

Add any sauce and any toppings that curl your toes.

Get your oven fired up to 500° and bake the pizza for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't get too dark on the bottom.

Then on Saturday, we all went to The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena (the land of Mr. Smith's birth). All the photography is courtesy of Mr. Smith, aspiring shutterbug.

Can I just say, what a lovely oasis. It is quiet and serene. There are several art exhibits in the different buildings, a variety of gardens, etc. If you haven't been and you are in the area, I highly recommend checking it out.

Sprinting through Shakespeare's Garden

Naturally, we were with the Little People, so we spent the majority of our time in The Children's Garden.

Entrance to the Children's Garden

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised. It is well thought out and perfect for even our disgruntled little girl. There are fountains, jumpy water and other kidcentric fun.

I can go in, I can go out

Whoops, only splashed himself

Vibrating water thingy, very popular

Baby C weighs her options

Our little Water Baby

IncrediBoy sprints (against the rules) through a flower bed

Caroline works on levitation

Baby C growling at a carved fish

On Sunday, Mr. Smith and I went to breakfast at The Original Pancake House. It is the only way we can have a meeting without being interrupted between 15 and 20 times each hour. Their Buttermilk Pancakes are to die for, I tell you, just die for. Light, fluffy, perfect vehicle for butter and syrup...all at a reasonable price. Find one near you and go.

We then hit Trader Joe's and found some wonderful bargains. By the way, try their frozen cheese and chili tamales, you will be so glad you did. Add some sour cream and salsa, then pick yourself up off the floor, and take the second bite. The Monkey also gives two thumbs up to the Joe's Diner Macaroni and Cheese.

After that, Pop Pop and Mr. Smith agreed to baby wrangle for a few hours while I went to see Julie and Julia with my mother and Aunt Maureen. Wonderful movie, eat before you go or you will end up devouring a seat cushion. I felt like some kind of heretic eating movie theater nachos while watching the movie! I may even have girl crush on Meryl Streep!

Sunday night we had a wonderful dinner at Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse. Wonderful steak, both children held it together until we were done with dinner.

And when I looked into the back seat, this is what I saw:

My darling children holding hands while we drove home from dinner.

All in all, I could not ask for anything more, so I won't!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Off the Road Again Part 2

As always, The Smith Family Players had an amazing adventure getting to Waverly. We flew from LAX to Dulles airport. We spent two funnish-filled days in Georgetown/D.C. area. I say "funnish" because it is not fun to spend two days in a hotel with two children under four. They are cute and all, but man oh man, are they MOODY!!

Natural History Museum, home of the epic tantrum.

Aren't these just about the cutest little hotdogs you have EVER seen? Courtesy, Johnny Rocket's Kids Menu.

As we made our way north, we were peppered with demands (Goldfish, and other "tasty snacks") and questions. "Are we there yet?" was, of course, the mantra of the day.

We stopped at this lovely rest area in LaPorte, Pennsylvania. And yes, they still have a telephone booth there. They like to rock it old school in PA.

Mr. Smith got to experience a rest stop bathroom with what could only be described a toilet seat with a hole in the ground. To quote my niece, A1, "Don't look down, Grammy!"

H was so happy to be out of his car seat that he ran around like a wild animal and then refused to get back in the car for about 10 minutes. Although the boy appears to be in fighting shape in this photo, immediately after these were taken, he announced, "My throat is bad" and proceeded to projectile vomit for the rest of our trip to Waverly. Once again, traveling with kids, always risky.

During our journey we passed St. Basil's Church in Dushore, PA that some of my ancestors helped construct. Absolutely beautiful with a ton of family history. There are legions of my relatives that were married, baptized and even eulogized in that church.

Yup, that is my Mr. Smith driving the Dodge Nitro. In the background is St. Basil's.

Mr. Smith was a little surprised by the number of Adult Bookstores in PA. He doesn't understand how long and lonely the winter can be. I thought it was hilarious that they have large parking lots to allow tractor trailer parking!

After a few brief, but necessary stops (change vomit-soaked clothes, procure Dramamine, paper towels and a few boo boo presents) we arrived in Waverly. It is not exactly like Brigadoon, it is there all the time. You don't have to wait for 100 years to pass. But it is beautiful and peaceful in a way that Southern California is not.

In the summer it is green and lush, instead of brown and dry and occasionally on fire. I have been traveling to this lovely place for decades. The pace is slower, the air is cleaner (in comparison to Orange County) in this spot. Despite the fact that the farm is directly across the road from train tracks, you will never get a sounder night's sleep.

My aunt and uncle got married as teenagers, had three children. As a young husband, my uncle Jim rebuilt the house (originally his grandmother's) after the devastating flooding of the Chemung River in 1972 (after hurricane Agnes dumped 20 inches of rain). His family has lived on the land for generations, farmed the land and sold the fruits of their labor.

The strawberries, cucumbers, sweet corn and potatoes are legendary. There is nothing to equal them in my mind.

Their produce is legend in the valley. My aunt still makes homemade strawberry jam, lots and lots and lots of jam. Here they are, lined up like rubies in her freezer. Delicious!

We gathered for a big, rambling, loud, Irish family reunion. My mother is one of five sisters, three were in attendance and in rare form.
Left to right: Patricia, Elizabeth and Maureen

The final count, 48 attendees on July 4th! Yikes.

The 3 sisters, their husbands, children and grandchildren

Uncle Frank made popcorn. Yup, that's his popcorn maker. He brought it with him!

Uncle Frank made lemonade, and Sno-Cones in preparation for his seaside snack stand of the future. The moment the Sno-Cone machine was unpacked, a long line formed.

If you make Sno-Cones, they will come!
Everyone loves Uncle Frank!

It occurred to me that they grow most of the ingredients for one of Emeril's best side dishes. Is called Maque Choux and I have made it several times for Thanksgiving. The thing to do is get yourself some of the corn that is only grown at Birney's farm. Cut the luscious kernels off the cob, make sure to capture every single one and get that corn milk! Don't waste a single drop! You can freeze it or you can make it right away. Either way you won't be sorry. It is a lovely alternative to creamed corn.

All in all it was a lovely week. We had a wonderful time. I got to show off my babies and my husband. There was no drama, no lawsuit for a whole week, no lawyers. It was pure bliss!

Thank you to Maureen and Jim for their hospitality that appears to know no bounds. You made our stay so wonderful and so special. Thank you for opening your home to all of us.

In the next installment: the journey home. Holy Moses, was that a trip!