Drawing a Line in the Sand

This Thanksgiving holiday, I am grateful for all the advocates in my life, and for a being a better parent today than I was exactly one year ago because of them.

Throughout our 6-year old son’s life, he has had a series of physical and emotional delays. He was a late walker, suffered from continuous colds and fevers, and at age two narrowly survived a life-threatening bone infection. On the flipside, he was playful, smart, happy and creative. He spent hours building intricate Lego structures and writing funny, imaginative story books. But simple things, like putting on socks, often seemed insurmountable for him.

As he got older, his physical setbacks became more pronounced; he refused to sleep, refused to potty train, refused to go anywhere without the stroller. His obstinacy became more explosive, and even the smallest change in his routine would set him off. Soon we were the parents fireman-carrying our kicking and screaming child home after family outings, and were too scared to go to restaurants for fear of his outbursts. At first we blamed it on the terrible twos, then the terrible threes, but as he got older and the outbursts became more erratic and unmanageable, we became fraught.

One particularly rough morning after he started kindergarten at the age of 5, he punched me in the face then ran straight through heavy street traffic. I had just taken him on his first train ride to school and somehow he had convinced himself that we were going the wrong direction by looking at the train map. I had to restrain his body as he screamed “STUPID MOMMY!” while hitting me until we finally reached our stop and he ran from the turnstiles right into rush hour traffic. As I chased him in my high heels juggling a cup of coffee, heavy laptop bag, school backpack, and purse, I realized that I had grossly underestimated the severity and danger of this situation.

The least helpful thing people did at the time was label. He’s LAZY because he won’t play. He’s BAD because he won’t listen. He’s SPOILED because you had a nanny. He’s autistic because he’s different. And the worst label of all was in my own voice: BAD MOTHER. I travel for work and leave my husband alone with the children. Is it really worth it??

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I felt the lonely distress of a parent with a child with some kind of diasibility over these years. How many times we’ve woken up in the middle of the night wondering what people are thinking, feeling a sense of loss, alone, the unknown, or worse a loss of control. Years of psychological evaluations, possible diagnoses, therapists, babysitters, and doctors. Years of being a constant watchdog, apologizing. My heart was breaking. What values are we imparting on our son, and how are we still keeping our marriage together??

If you share these distresses of a difficult child, then you know that you cannot punish or discipline problems away. But as the parent, you will be shamed. Blamed. There will be long uncomfortable silences. Everybody will tell you to be better disciplinarians.

But what these outsiders don’t see are the many humbled moments we experienced as a parent in these desperate moments. The moments that told us what kind of discipline worked, and more importantly what didn’t. When we put him into his room, turned off the lights, shut the door and left him screaming in darkness for hours until he passed out on the floor, only to awake an hour later with night terrors that lasted 30 petrifying minutes. They didn’t see his room laid bare after we confiscated every Lego and removed his bed sheets, demanding an apology. But they also didn’t see the piles of sticker charts for good behavior that we had worked on over many, many months.

Exactly one year ago today, a school administrator sent me an email coolly stating that he had screamed so hard that he wet his pants and they had to have him sit on the bench in the hall alone for 15 minutes. We had a meeting with the principal and were informed that he had been kicked out of after care, indefinitely. His behavior would not be tolerated. My husband and I were devastated. They had drawn a line in the sand. What more could we do??

Fortunately, we did have some advocates during this difficult time. People who told us we had done everything right. That we were good parents. To keep going. That Asher was bright and wonderful and worth fighting for. And for those of you – I am ever so grateful. I tell this story because we listened to those voices and our lives are different today because of you.

This year, we made a drastic decision to move to a new neighborhood, buy/sell our house, enroll in a new public school, re-enroll in Kindergarten and have a fresh start with the fall. It’s now been one year since that very low moment labeling myself a bad mother, six months since we moved, and four months at his new school. And in these few months, his progress has been nothing short of astonishing.

He is inspired. His art teacher has inspired him to create intricate story books filled with rich color and text long into the night instead of watching TV.

He is confident. While he used to be aloof and uncomfortable climbing playground structures, now he gathers all his friends around him to learn a new “leaf game” that he has invented. He is popular.

He is proud. This morning, for the first time, he was able to put on a pair of winter gloves. Historically, we had resolved to just let his hands be cold to save the effort from another fight. But when his fingers easily slipped into place without any frustrations, he literally jumped for joy and chased me around the room with hands outstretched screaming “Freezer Boy!!”

He celebrates. Last month he had lunch with his school principal which he earned by being a star student. He talked about it for days and days and days. He felt special.

He is in control. His new school has given him tools to meet his sensory needs in the classroom to help regulate his own body. He has wobble chairs, weighted shoulder pads, snack time on demand. They allow him time to take preventative measures. Nobody is labeling him.

We still have our problems. He still needs a lot of coaxing to do little things like putting on socks. His first response to anything contrary is still anger, but his more deep-rooted frustrations have become more clearly defined so that we are now able to appropriately tackle the problems in a more positive, productive way. He puts himself to bed. MILESTONE!! He has excellent bathroom manners. It’s no longer daunting to pick him up from school because parents talk to me about parties and play dates. I realize, for the first time, he is happy. We are happy. That is a milestone.

Years of setbacks are slowly being erased. The truth is, he’s just a different boy. And he was born this way. Recently he was diagnosed with dyspraxia – a neurological disorder that results in impaired motor, memory, judgment, processing, and other cognitive skills. There is an enormous disparity with his intellectual abilities and his cognitive and motor skills which has been the root of all his frustrations. But to me it’s not a label. I know that both of my children will grow up to be attentive, clever, compassionate, empathetic, creative, confident contributors to society. We are going to give our two boys the tools they need to succeed like compassion and patience by demonstrating those behaviors in the home. Because we are good parents. 

And so, this year, I am grateful for patience, time, humor, and wine wine wine. I am grateful for the people who reminded me that I am a good parent, and for them I hope to do the same. Compassion and respect are universal truths. In fact they are the moral foregrounds by which our little enclave exists. And that is where I draw MY line in the sand.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Korean Vegetarian Bibimbap

For our 8th wedding anniversary this week my wonderful in-laws took our two rowdy boys for the night (THANK YOU Mark and Debra!!) and my darling hubby fretted about cooking me the perfect meal. Well guys. Lemme tell you. I have been wanting to make a healthy vegetarian Korean bibimbap for months now, and this. was. amazing.

 Traditionally bibimbap ingredients are served in a heated stone pot with plenty of oil, but we opted for a basic nonstick pan and just a tad of sesame oil where necessary to keep it light. The richness comes from the egg yolk that just melts like liquid gold over the dish after you cut it open. (My husband is the egg cooker in our house so he’ll need to write a guest blog post soon!) We roasted the tofu in the broiler instead of frying it in oil. The sweet jasmine rice also gets a light crispy golden bottom in the pan over low heat like a paella, and the veggies themselves only took a total of 10 minutes to prepare. All in all, from getting home at 6:00pm to sitting down to eat was about an hour. Not too bad… it probably helped that there were no children around to pull us in a million directions!


Korean Vegetarian Bibimbap

  • 2 cups cooked jasmine rice (preferably one day old – we cooked the night before)
  • 1/2 cucumber, julienned
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces firm tofu
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 5 cups spinach leaves
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • 2 egg
  • 1/2 sheet roasted seaweed (Korean-style kim or Japanese nori), cut into small strips with scissors

Sprinkle cucumbers with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water. Rinse and drain tofu. Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices and drain well. Place on a nonstick baking pan under broiler for about 15 minutes, turning very frequently. Heat a tablespoon of sesame oil in a pan. Add carrots and a pinch of salt and stir fry until cooked through. Remove from pan. Blanch spinach in a pot of salted boiling water, just until wilted and bright green. Plunge into ice water to stop cooking, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Mix in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon sesame oil, a pinch of salt, and a dash of sesame seeds. In a large iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of sesame oil and swirl to coat. Add the rice and pack it down evenly. Arrange the cucumber, tofu, carrot, and spinach on top. Place the fried egg on top and garnish with sesame seeds and seaweed. Once divided into individual bowls, cut open egg to allow yolk to cover rice. Mix and enjoy!

Perfect Panzanella 

After a very hectic two months of life upheaval, we are officially suburbanites now – and I absolutely love it! Never thought I would. I guess you never know where you’re headed in life until the opportunity practically hits you in the face and suddenly you’ve found it.

Well, to celebrate the family getting settled we hosted our first gathering for Father’s Day and I made one of my all time favorite dishes – Panzanella. I always forget how versatile and easy this dish really is. It’s perfect as a side dish for dinner or a main dish for lunch, and works for all seasons. It’s also easy to prep and have ready for a big crowd. The secret is the fresh herbs paired with those rich, juicy vine ripe tomatoes that balance with the acidity from a vinaigrette that gets soaked up by … wait for it, that highly addictive chunky, crusty, toasty bread. OMG!! This ones based on the Ina Garten recipe, except I used red wine vinegar instead of champagne vinegar and I also added a tad of parsley:


Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch thick moon shapes
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 15 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan on medium heat, then add the bread and salt; tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. 


Suburban deer… 

Three Bean Squash Chili

I’ve been making winter bean chili for years with the same tired ingredients. It was SO refreshing to enjoy a summer chili with white beans and butternut squash! The cornmeal added some mild thickness and texture to the broth. Surprisingly this was not a sweet dish,  and it paired perfectly with some white wine while sitting on the porch. Bam! Summer. 


Ingredients 

  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Add oil to pan and swirl to coat, with pan on medium heat. Add garlic and onion, cook 5 minutes. Stir in dry spices and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add bell peppers, broth, squash, and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cornmeal and beans; simmer 25 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with green onions.

Creamy Not-Chicken Wild Rice Soup

Soup in a bread bowl has been calling my name like a banshee at night lately. The problem is that most restaurants like Panera Bread use chicken stock or high-calorie heavy cream, even on some of their seeming vegetarian bowls like the lentil and quinoa stew. My dreams came true when I discovered this vegetarian reinvention of the classic winter dish Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup. It’s not vegan, but by eliminating the dairy altogether this could still be a very soul-satisfying dish.

  
The key ingredients here are real wild rice  for a flavorful, chewy bite (don’t give in to temptation and buy instant wild rice) and Beyond Chicken grilled strips – which I picked up at Target. The soft, meaty texture of the “chicken” pairs perfectly with the earthy mushrooms and thyme. But what really shines is the sour cream and flour base which makes a heavenly thick broth. 

Bread bowl not included in photo below …but it is coming soon!

  

CREAMY CHICKEN WILD RICE SOUP

1 tablespoon  olive oil
1 lb white or cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 packet Beyond Chicken, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cup vegetable broth
1 cup wild rice
3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 tabledpoon chopped fresh parsley
In a small sauce pot, combine 1 cup wild rice with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then cover and turndown to a simmer for 45 minutes. In the meantime, heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, carrots, chicken, and onion and cook, stirring often, until softened (5-7 minutes). Stir in thyme, flour, salt, and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and bring to a boil. When wild rice is done cooking, add to the broth and simmer additional 5-7 minutes. Then stir in sour cream and parsley.

Barley and Greens Bowl

  I wish I had taken a better picture, but alas I ate this dish so fast the photo staging just wasn’t happening. 


Whole grains are important sources of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are not found in refined or “enriched” grains. One serving of hulled barley is high in protein, low in calories, helps lower your cholesterol and even has 60% of your daily fiber requirement. It also contains iron (for those looking for non-meat sources if iron), and is very high in thiamin – which would have devastating neurological effects if not included in your daily intake. 
This barley and greens bowl is a great way to introduce barley into your diet. The grain and edamame combo are tossed in an Asian-style salad dressing, but the tangy lemon juice and salad greens topped with creamy avocado and tofu definitely takes it up a notch. The recipe stems from from Clean Green Eats by Candice Kumai. It’s simple, satisfying, healthy and clean. So eat away!

BARLEY AND GREENS BOWL

  • 1 1/2 cups pearl or hulled barley
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled organic edamame
  • 1 cups wild baby arugula
  • 1 cup baby kale
  • 2 blocks savory, baked, organic tofu (firm or extra firm), cut into cubes and cooked to your liking
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved and thinly sliced

For the dressing:

  • 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Combine the barley and the water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, oregano, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the slightly cooled barley and edamame to the bowl and toss to coat. Add the arugula and kale and toss gently to combine. To serve, top with tofu and avocado slices.

Chipotle Spinach Bean Stew

 With the recent turn in the weather, the craving for a hearty stew to offset the grey crisp chill of Chicago fall hit me hard this week. This recipe for one-pot Chipotle Spinach Bean Stew is a super alternative to the typical vegetarian bean chili. Heavy chunks of cooked spinach leaves folded into hearty barley and white beans are enhanced by the smoky chipotle tomato broth, and topped with a refreshing lime juice and cilantro garnish. The flavors marinate well overnight so it’s even better as leftovers!

CHIPOTLE SPINACH BEAN STEW
2 x 14oz oz cans small white beans
9 oz spinach leaves (one bag)
2 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup bulgur 
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 cups water 
1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 canned chipolte, diced with its juices added to broth 
Juice of 2 limes
1 bunch cilantro 
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, paprika and cumin and cook until golden and soft. Add diced tomatoes, bulgur, spinach and water. Add oregano and crushed chipolte. Bring to boil. Cook on medium heat until bulgur is cooked and liquid has thickened, anout 15 minutes. Rinse and drain the beans. Add to stew, combine and cook for another 5 mins or so until the beans are hot. Garnish with fresh lime juice squeeze and cilantro. 
Everett and Asher also had their first dentist and eye appointments this weekend to kick off the fall!