Breakfast cookies, two ways

Anya and recently read this story, and it’s inspired us to up our garbage reduction game. Our town doesn’t offer much in the way of recycling, so we have decided to make a more concerted effort to generate less trash. I was really good about that before kids, but motherhood has filled my kitchen with all sorts of individually packaged stuff. So we are using reusable food boxes and thermoses to pack her lunch now. And I’m sending homemade granola bars.

I made granola bars a lot when Kai was younger. I wasn’t really into the lactation cookies I tried — too sweet — so I tossed the ingredients into granola bars. If I were making these for myself, I’d include wheat germ and nuts, but for Anya, simple is best.

The pumpkin chocolate chip bar recipe was chosen by Anya, and she certainly picked a yummy one! These were supposed to be granola bars, and I am cutting them into bars for her lunchbox, but they came out more like cookies — probably because I used quick-cooking oats. (It was all I had on hand. I made some other tweaks to the original recipe, too, based both on necessity and preference.) They remind me a lot of the “breakfast cookies” I ate while pregnant with Anya. So that’s what I’m calling them. Motherhood is largely PR.

Kai filched one from the plate of cooling bars on the stove and scarfed it down. “Mmm, Mommy,” he said around a mouthful of cookie. “Is good!” They are, too. I ate the two I set out for the photo (and yes, I do need new dishes) plus two more. Hey, they’re kid sized!

One more note: I used dark brown sugar because I had some I was trying to use up. I imagine light brown sugar would work just as well.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/4 cups quick oats
1 teaspoon Penzey’s Pie Spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground is best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
1⁄2 to 1 cup pumpkin puree, depending on your love of pumpkin
1⁄2 cup applesauce
1⁄4 cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a small baking dish (mine’s 7 x 9 inches, but 8 x 8 and 6 x 8 work too) and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir the oats, spices, and salt together. Set aside. In a large bowl, stir the brown sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in the oat mixture until the dry ingredients are moist. Stir in the chocolate chips. (For an extra chocolaty appearance, save a few and press them on top before baking.) Press the mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula or a sharp knife, cut into bars. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Oatmeal Cookie Bars

3 1/4 cups quick oats
1 tablespoon Penzey’s Cake Spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup applesauce
1⁄4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a small baking dish (mine’s 7 x 9 inches, but 8 x 8 and 6 x 8 work too) and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir the oats, spices, and salt together. Set aside. In a large bowl, stir the brown sugar, applesauce, honey, and vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in the oat mixture until the dry ingredients are moist. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula or a sharp knife, cut into bars. Remove from pan and let cool completely.



Putting down roots

The house I think of as my childhood home is the one we moved into when I was 6 years old. I remember feeling excited about the move — a new neighborhood, a bigger bedroom, a huge yard to play in. Nothing else in my life really changed; we were moving across town, so I still went to the same school and everything. I don’t remember feeling at all sad to leave the only home I’d ever known. Sure, I was a little lonely without my neighborhood friends that first summer, but I quickly made new friends. Life was good.

When I was 14, my family relocated from central Illinois to the Memphis area, and it shattered me. The loss of my childhood home, my friends, my school, my sense of belonging. I became severely depressed for a while. Abandoned my first true love, music. Developed some toxic relationships. A totally different animal, that move. Life was not good again for a very long time.

Being sensitive, then, to the effects a move can have on a young person, I vowed to stay in this house a very short time. I wanted my daughter to have a true childhood home, one in which she spent all of her remembered days. But things didn’t pan out that way, and now she’s nearly 7 and we’re still here, looking at houses.

Because she’s older now, I’ve talked with her about moving every step of the way, and have done my best to honor her wishes. She doesn’t want to change schools. She doesn’t want to live too far from her Mimi and Poppy. She wants a house with stairs and a yard with a swing set and a tree she can climb. I told her I will see what I can do.

The other night, we were talking about houses as a family. Moving in mentally to the houses we found online. R noted that we’d be leaving a hole in the yard here, as he wants to take the cherry tree I gave him. Anya wants to take the trees we’ve planted in the backyard over the past few Earth Days — an apple tree and a few little saplings from two 250k Tree Days. I told her I wasn’t sure we’d be able to bring them all; some of them may not survive the move. She burst into tears.

“We can plant new trees, baby,” I told her. “Any trees you want.”

“But I want my trees!” she said.

“They’ll have a much better chance of survival if we leave them here,” I explained gently.

“But I can’t see them if they’re here!” she wailed.

And I realized, then, that despite my best efforts, we did put down roots in this house.

When I was a child, for Earth Day one year each kid at my school received a tree to plant. A stubby little pine tree. We planted mine in the corner of our yard. I was so freaking proud of that tree. It was mine, at an age when nothing was really mine. It barely grew in the 6 or so years between its planting and our move to Tennessee, but I couldn’t bear to leave it behind, so my dad dug it up and brought it here in a bucket. Only we were renters for the first two years we lived here, so it stayed in the bucket. By the time he got around to planting it, the tree was weakened; it eventually died.

I was thinking of this while explaining to Anya why we may not be able to bring all of her trees. Thinking that of the two saplings we planted last year, one didn’t make it. It happens. And wishing, secretly, that we’d never planted those trees; I knew we weren’t going to stay in this house forever. I should have waited to plant trees. But the urge to do so, to set in the earth something that could outlive me, was too strong. The need to nurture something like that. The need to set down roots.

For too long, I’ve been that transplanted tree in a bucket. I never intended to stay here, so I avoided creating ties. This was all supposed to be temporary. But this coming November, I will have “temporarily” been here for 30 years. I have lived here more than twice as long as I lived in Illinois. So where am I really from, exactly?

I don’t know if we’ll find the house we’re looking for. And I don’t know if we’ll attempt to move all of the trees we’ve planted if we do. But I do know that we’ll be putting down firm roots wherever we end up next. It’s time.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

This recipe had both kids salivating at the oven door. “Smells good, Mama!” Kai said at least three times. Which is an automatic win in my book. But more importantly, it doesn’t get much easier than this. The hardest part is putting the mashed potatoes on top.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

1 can lentils, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 bag frozen peas and carrots (or, if you have an anti-carrot child, just peas)
1 tablespoon Mural of Flavor (from Penzey’s)
2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Stir together all ingredients but the mashed potatoes in a casserole dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top and smooth over. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly and the potatoes are beginning to brown.

If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning

(Which was, incidentally, the quote behind my MySpace URL, back when we all had MySpace pages.)

I like to think of myself as a healthy person. Not healthyish, as I was in my 20s and early 30s. I eat a balanced diet, exercise at least sometimes, don’t smoke or drink or overdo the caffeine. I brush twice a day. (And floss!) I get roughly 7 hours of sleep (most) nights. I always, always have a beverage at hand; I drink only tea (3 cups of green tea in the mornings, ginger later on) and water, plus V-8 or milk with meals. My labs, when the doctor has occasion to take labs, are all stellar. My blood pressure is low normal. My pulse is low.  My cholesterol is enviable. Allergies aside, I’m in better shape now than I was at 20.

There’s always room for improvement, though. I’m trying to cut down on the sugar, and am working to eliminate caffeine entirely. And…I hate fruit. Have always hated fruit. My “balanced diet” has historically involved the fruit in juice form, because the texture of almost all fruit makes me make the hnnngh face. But this year, I’ve been making a point to consume two servings of fruit flesh every day. (Usually apples/applesauce or a smoothie, because hnnngh.)

Then I discovered Ezekiel English muffins and bread, and added them to the menu to ward off the afternoon snackies. Breakfast: Greek yogurt, applesauce, and almonds; on warmer mornings, a smoothie. Lunch: a sprouted grain English muffin and a glass of vegetable juice. A home-cooked, healthy dinner. I could almost hear my halo humming.

One day recently, shortly after lunch (which was at 10 a.m. because I’d been up since 4), my stomach started to hurt. Then it hurt. The pain grew worse and worse as the day wore on. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand to be touched, and all attempts at alleviating the pressure from either the entrance or exit failed. I became convinced I had appendicitis. (It’s not been that long since my dad had a ruptured appendix.) I called my parents, and Dad took me to the ER while Mom watched the kids.

Long story (as ER visits often are) short, I did not have appendicitis. I had an impacted bowel.

“But I’m regular! I eat healthy! I eat loads of fiber! I’m so hydrated my pee is clear!” I protested. The x-ray did not care.

“So she’s full of sh*t?” Dad said to the doctor. (Dad and hubs have had a field day with this.)

“I will never live this down,” I told her.

“There’s where you put on those five pounds!” my husband said to me. What a pleasant thought.

I thought that the impaction was at least a recent one. The stomach bug Anya and I had in December had, I believed, cleaned me out entirely. Not so, said my GP at my follow-up visit. Where, despite all the medication the ER gave me, my doctor told me I’m still “full of it.” (His words. At least he managed to say it without laughing.) Based on my x-rays, he’s inclined to think I have had this problem for a while. Years, maybe. I probably just brought my symptoms to a head by all the recent fiber intake.

No good deed goes unpunished.

The medication for this predicament costs over $300. A month. I found a coupon online, but it’s only good for a year’s worth of medication. So I’m determined to fix the matter with diet. (After, of course, the medication clears the current crisis. Which it is. Violently.) So I’ve been reading nutrition facts and creating menus and buying groceries. Google is now autocompleting my every search request with “fiber content.”

As an additional kick in the teeth, I looked at my electronic health record a few days after the ER visit and noted that my x-ray also showed I have kidney stones. Plural.

So on top of whatever’s going on in my colon, I guess I’m not drinking enough water, either. FFS.

I have thus challenged myself to drink 88 oz of water per day. (I’m covering my bases because I’m still breastfeeding. The jury’s still out on whether nursing moms need more water; ordinarily I’d err on the side of thirst, but I never thought I’d have kidney stones.) While making my morning tea, I fill up my water bottle. One cup of tea, 22 ounces of water. Repeat twice. Plus a bottle in the afternoon. I haven’t noticed that I pee any more frequently because of this, so apparently I need that much water. (Didn’t fix my bowel problems, unfortunately. Because that would be too easy.)

An unexpected bonus: I’m no longer craving a fourth cup of green tea. Perhaps with time, my morning H2O routine will help me decaffeinate entirely. Which was a longer-range goal, but I’ll take it sooner rather than later.

My husband, whose healthy-habits halo isn’t quite as shiny as mine, has started taking fiber supplements since my diagnosis. And my little monkey-sees are drinking more water because I am. Mama has a water bottle, babies want one, too. So at least I’m being a good example, finally.

Cheese Spaetzle

Before winter leaves us for good (it will eventually, right?), here’s a yummy hygge recipe I stumbled across. My FIL gave us some packages of spaetzle (German noodles), which I’ve never had before. Meaning I had no idea how to fix them. The short noodles I sauteed with some herbs (which is yummy, btw). But the long ones sat in my pantry waiting for the right recipe.

This is the right recipe.

I had to tweak the original a bit based on the limitations of my pantry, my lack of a cast-iron skillet, and the amount of pasta in the package. Here’s my version. (My daughter turned her nose up at it. I ate her portion, too. It’s that good.)

Cheese Spaetzle

1 package (approx. 17 ounces) long spaetzle noodles
4 cups vegetable broth
 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded Havarti cheese
2 tablespoons dried chives 
2 tablespoons butter
Crispy fried onions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat the broth to a rolling boil and cook the spaetzle according to the package directions (mine said 12-13 minutes). Drain. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the drained spaetzle to the hot butter and cook until golden brown. Stir in the cheese, cream, and chives and stir until the cheese has melted. Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish and top with the fried onions. Bake at 400 degrees F for 5 minutes or until the onions are brown and crispy.

The next phase

I dreamed the other night that I had a miscarriage. It was so realistic, the dream. And also completely surreal, as dreams often are. Bloody and gory and graphic, and also full of non sequiturs and surprise plot twists. But mostly it was simple, and true, and sad.

I’m sure I had the dream because I watched the final episode in season 11 of the X-Files that evening. But it’s probably also relevant that I’ve become fairly certain I’m done being a reproducing woman. While I can’t say never at this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve lost both the will and the ability to have more children.

This is a new phase for me.

I started having periods when I was 4 months shy of my 14th birthday. I’ve been at this for 30 years. Granted, I wasn’t actively on the baby train that whole time, but pregnancy and motherhood were always on my radar. And horrible gynecological symptoms were pretty much always on deck. To be standing at the exit looking out at a life free from all of that feels…weird. Good. I loved being pregnant, and I love my children, and part of me is a little sad to draw a line under it and write off having more. But it’s also a release. From pain, from fear, from planning and calculating and worrying.

It occurs to me, thinking about it all, how very temporary everything is. I mean, this portion of my life hasn’t felt very temporary; at times, in relentless pain with no end on the horizon, I have despaired of how very long the reproductive years really are. But now, on the back side of it, it seems to have gone by in a blink.

Everything does.

Kai is so very three right now. The kids had their checkups the other day, and I decided to wrap up work early and treat them to a trip to the mall beforehand. Visit the Easter Bunny, ride the train, maybe get a cookie, ride the carousel, and take photos in the photo booth. Do the mall thang. But Kai crumpled in the face of the Easter Bunny and had a flailing-on-the-floor tantrum that had me wrestle-carrying him to the car. (While wearing 3-inch heels, because I am dumb. I don’t get to wear 3-inch heels until Kai is 4, and I know this. But sometimes I try anyway.) I was flabbergasted. He had been pumped up about Easter and the Easter Bunny since the helicopter egg drop the weekend before. He seemed excited, if a bit hesitant, to sit on the Bunny’s lap at Walmart the previous day. But he’s three. You roll with it.

Later, he told me he was afraid. “Scary bunny, Mommy,” he said, his eyes wide. “Creepy.” And you know, a grown man in a bunny suit is a little freaky.

The whole day drained me. The mall, the doctor, the errands, plus some other balls I had up in the air. I bit off more than I could chew, and things snowballed, and I ended the evening by collapsing in a chair watching Hulu and shushing the kids whenever they tried to talk to me. Anya stroked my hair. Kai fed me pocky and chips and gave me kisses. Anya usually cares for me when she sees that I’m stressed, but this is a new thing for Kai.

Three shall pass. Next year he will be 4, and will be excited about the Easter Bunny. Next year he won’t feel compelled to dump all the toys on the floor five minutes after I pick them up. Next year he will start school, and I will have time to work, tidy the house, jog, do yoga, have a phone conversation. Three is already passing. He’s growing, and learning, and doing more and more. Every day.

Next year, I won’t have babies anymore. Ever again.

It’s exciting and scary and sad, as changes often are.

So I’m indulging the threeness. If he doesn’t want to leave the house, we don’t have to leave the house. I can work around it. If he wants to grow his hair out, I can deal. (He’s looking rather Beatle-ish of late.) If he insists on scattering his toys all over the floor, so be it. If he doesn’t want a picture with the Bunny, he doesn’t have to take one. It’s temporary. All of this.

And it all goes by so damn fast.

Greek Yogurt Chip Dip

I’m trying hard not to be that mom. The kale-chips-and-hummus mom. The wheatgrass juice mom. The mom who makes their kids eat healthy snacks that taste worse than the box they came in, and ignore their kids’ pleas for Cheetos. The kids with moms like that end up with secret candy stashes and binge-eat fast food every chance they get. So though I’m a total control freak, I don’t want to be a food tyrant. But I’m also trying to teach my kids healthy eating because our family medical history stinks.

That goes double for me, because I’m at the age where things are going to start falling apart.

So I was eager to experiment with Penzey’s Chip & Dip seasoning. That stuff is amazing. I gave Kai some to dip his chips in, and he licked the plate clean. But sour cream is not exactly health food. Greek yogurt is a passable substitute — the texture is perfect, and the taste isn’t bad, but it’s a bit dry. It needs a smidge of sour cream.

Potato chips still aren’t great for you, but I don’t feel bad serving this as an occasional treat. And my kids like this way better than kale chips (which, tbh, they wouldn’t eat on a bet).

Greek Yogurt Chip Dip

3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Penzey’s Chip & Dip seasoning

Stir. Dip. Eat.