Totally Awesome Asian Swiss Chard Salad

I love any salad that can be tossed with a cold cup of pasta for a hearty, fresh and easy meal either on-the-go or at home with kids. This Asian Swiss Chard salad recipe relies only on your basic knife skills and a quick assembly time, making it a versatile and vitamin-packed addition to your typical work lunch repertoire. The Brianna’s Home Style Ginger Mandarin dressing was on sale for $2.99 this week and is going to a fridge staple in our house as it packs a punch with its zingy creamy gingery flavor. This dish has potential for a great vegan Buddha bowl and can be combined with other key ingredients like avocado, sesame seeds, or nuts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup broccoli cole slaw
  • 1 cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced into half moons
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 1 yellow pepper, julienned
  • 1 bunch rainbow Chard, stemmed and roughly diced
  • 2 cups edamame
  • Chilled cooked pasta

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Yo-Yo Parenting

 It’s happened again. Another weekend gone by of overly-ambitious family planning, followed by self-doubt, and soon disappointment in the promises I can’t keep for myself. The weekend started with an inspirational vegan cooking class, and ended with me eating a skillet cookie with ice cream. 

My goals may seem simple: make my kids laugh, have a selfish moment, learn something new, remind my husband why we fell in love, have a boost of confidence, strive to do better, acknowledge I’m far from perfect. 

Some days start off being positive, but end up just feeling insurmountable. There really isn’t a word to encapsulate the bitterness you feel after a particularly rough day of parenting. It’s like the YoYo diet self-loathing effect, when one special moment of joy comes crashing down into pitiful pain the next, over and over into an endless vortex.

How does one value the little time you have to yourself when the weekends are no longer your own? How do you find inspiration when you live in a world of diaper checks? How do you find passion when your day is measured by Toddler-Time-Outs, or mental clarity when a sneaker has been thrown at your head, or laughter and joy when heads are turning because your family is “causing a scene” at a restaurant? How can you feel attractive when you only have five minutes to get dressed?

Case in point: this morning we were eager to get the kids out of the house at 9:00am, when my husband casually asked me if I needed to get dressed before we left. Then he started to put the kids shoes on. Not HOW MUCH time I needed, or if I needed a shower. We’ve simply progressed to IF I needed to put on clothes. I was in a sleep shirt, no bra, no makeup. Not sure if he noticed. New goal for next weekend – make eye contact with spouse in the morning.

I know our kids are young and energetic and this too shall pass. I’m getting sick of hearing that advice. My low point of the weekend was really when I got puked on and we learned that Everett is allergic to walnuts. BUT my highlight was when the kids dragged me outside today to do “water play” in 80 degree humidity when all I really wanted was to sit alone in private misery and read a book. And in the end, the joy on their faces from the simple act of being soaked in the mud with a hose pipe was nothing short of spectacular. This is the reminder of “living” I strive for each day. And even though I feel miserable and lost and so so tired right now … I know that’s okay, we are bound together by the brazen and the beautiful, and tomorrow is another day!

Daddy’s “selfish” moment trying to do yoga in the morning but getting discovered… 

Parents are Liars

When a parent is asked how their weekend was and they say “GREAT!” they are lying half the time. I know this because I did it this morning. Unless you are the patron saint of patience and kids screaming “NOOOOOO you DON’T say that to ME” and swiping punches in the air and throwing sharp objects at you then slamming doors for three days doesn’t bother you, and sleeping in is no longer a wish and dream, and meals aren’t avoided simply because you don’t want to clean up afterwards, then congratulations you are a parent.  Even the best of us with the best intentions get lost in a big way sometimes.

Last Friday my husband and I took a vacation day from work to take the kids to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We wanted to expose them to something new and exciting; tigers getting their belly scratched, clowns falling off ladders, eating salty popcorn, sitting in a big amphitheater watching motorcycles weave around each other in the metal sphere of doom. We had every intention of enjoying our big day off! We bought three tickets for the circus assuming Everett would happily sit on our lap. Five elephants came out on stage and then just as quickly disappeared before a ring leader in sequins sang a terrible song that didn’t stop for 10 minutes. Everett got antsy, and was happier running down the ramp in the abandoned concessions area away from the crowd while mommy pretended to be a tiger. Never mind that there were real tigers not 100 feet away that we had paid $50 to see. Asher was over-stimulated and thrown off by the lack of focus of the show. He wanted to sit in my lap and talk gibberish. He acted like he hadn’t slept in days, and it was only 10:00am. The popcorn made him insatiably thirty. A bottle of water cost $5 and the straw wasn’t long enough to stick out the bottle mouth. In the end we got use out of one ticket. For half the show. They both screamed at intermission that they were starving but they didn’t want to eat anything. As my husband left the theater carrying a screaming Asher in a fireman’s hold, I distracted Everett with airplanes in the sky as though that were part of the big show. And that was only Friday.

We recently signed up for Sitter City in search of a babysitter for sanity breaks and had scheduled the whole day on Saturday to be home for interviews. Two were a no-call no-show, and one cancelled at the last minute. By 2:00pm the house was a mess and I felt a vague sense of panic. We went out for an early dinner thinking getting out of the house would be key. A walk in the dark to a restaurant would be fun! Asher does not understand Daylight Savings. He’s 4. He was scared. “I CAN’T SEE ANYTHIIIIING!!” At dinner, everything was thrown on the ground; toys, food, crayons, my phone. We smiled embarrassedly at restaurant customers, but not too much so because we spend enough money at this restaurant for family date night. I chugged a martini, Robby choked down dinner, and we rushed home for another two painful hours of alternating moments of sheer joy followed by welting tears of unhappiness with two zombie children. At bedtime, we were speechless.

On Sunday, we actually spent a lovely morning with my husband’s family. The kids were flirty, joyful, conversational and sweet. They ate lunch nicely at the table, they engaged with the adults. We thought this was a good sign. We thought we would let them nap in the car while I did grocery shopping. That was a mistake. By the time 4:00pm rolled around and I started my cooking for the week, these two no-nap children and a husband who has been complaining of stomach pain for 2 weeks now were just gearing up for 4 hours of hell. Asher wanted every baby toy, Everett wanted to cling on my leg while I poured a steaming hot pot of water down the sink, no television show would satiate both children, the chocolate ice cream had melted in the box because it got left out of the freezer for too long since grocery shopping, so mommy had made an empty promise. I pulled a lasagna out of the oven while Everett ran for the open oven door with extended arms. The joint screaming of the kids got louder to a pitch range that I did not know existed to human ears.

In moments like this, you are lost. You wish you could just walk away. That you could hand a bad situation over to someone and scream HELP ME. But you can’t. There is no one. You have to push through. And then at 9:00pm when the house is finally quiet, you get your husband who fell asleep in your child’s room out of sheer desperation and exhaustion and you just go to bed. You are defeated. There is nothing left to say. In the morning, the kids will wake up refreshed and happy and clueless to reality. And you tell the teachers you had a great time at the circus and Asher proudly says he saw dinosaurs. Because that’s what you do.

You know how sometimes small tasks make you feel better because you can cross them off a list? This morning after I dropped off the kids at school I threw away a few boxes of garbage, I cut off  tags from new clothes, and I cleaned out the coat closet. And you know what? I am feeling better. I have my lunches ready for the week. And I actually can’t wait to see those damn kids again when I pick them up from school at 5:30pm. I love them so much, I lie. But only half the time.

the hug

Spaghetti with Lemon and Toasted Walnuts

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My worst nightmare? The kids going to bed happy and early. Why? Because it’s too good to be true. Zonking out dazed and speaking tongues inevitably means that someone will be jarred awake with night terrors in two hours. And that they’ll be up at 4:00am ready to start the day. Let’s go! But I guess I’m willing to take that risk tonight because my husband and I would like one hour together. Without children. One wondrous hour watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine so we can mock the overacting and the spectacularly absurd plot twists. Like Major Kira having O’Brien’s baby because it got zapped from Keiko’s body in some interstellar battle. Whatever.

Tonight we enjoyed this cold zesty zippy pasta dish with whole wheat spaghetti, spicy fresh chopped garlic and a fresh lemon, parsley olive oil marinade. It comes from Vegetarian Times and could easily be made vegan without the Parmesan cheese. This dish paired with a side salad will last us the work week and only cost about $10 – not bad for a healthy dish that even my 4 year old enjoyed!

SPAGHETTI WITH LEMON AND TOASTED WALNUTS
1 cup walnut halves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tsp. grated organic lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast walnuts on baking sheet 10 minutes. Cool, and coarsely chop. Whisk together cheese, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and pepper in large bowl. Cook pasta according to package directions. Add drained pasta to cheese mixture, and toss to combine. Stir in parsley and walnuts, and season with salt and more pepper.

Putta-A-Fork-In-It Puttanesca

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It’s been two months of major changes in our household: two new jobs, new school, potty training, no more baby bottles, toddler bed to queen size, new nanny, first airplane ride with the kids. Change is hard. So this weekend was the beginning of a recommitment to my mind and body, and therefore my family. On Friday I finally joined the gym and reactivated my Weight Watchers app, and today I spent a majority of the day solo parenting to give my husband – who is my soldier in the trenches of the night – a much deserved break. These things may seem so simple and even carefree to most people, but the truth is these tasks seem insurmountable when you’re in a lousy state of mind.

When the membership director asked me what my fitness goal was I joked “To get here.” But what IS my goal here? I have a few. To not loudly sigh in annoyance at 4:30am when the baby screams through the monitor, to not slam the fridge door a bit too hard just to make a point, to go to bed tired in a good way and wake up refreshed (that’s one’s crazy!) and most importantly to find a meaningful getaway that gets me out of the house in a bad moment and do something good for my body. I will tell you jumping into a pool for water aerobics while listening to Lord of the Dance made me smile! So I guess you could say my ultimate goal here is to improve my attitude.

The nice thing about Weight Watchers is that nothing is “off limits”, just unashamedly tracked. So I don’t mind sharing today’s recipe for a vegan Puttanesca that is out of this world.

PUTTA-FORK-IN-IT PUTTANESCA

1 box spaghetti, cooked al dente
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch basil
1 red onion, slivered into thin moon shapes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup capers, drained
6 garlic cloves, diced
Olive oil

Boil pasta “al dente” according to package instructions, typically 10 minutes. While cooking, add a dollop of olive oil and cook onions and garlic on medium high heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add capers and cook additional 2-3 minutes. Finally, throw in tomatoes, olives and basil and cook 5 more minutes. Add about 1/8 cup olive oil to pasta then mix in puttanesca topping. Salt and pepper to taste.

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A good night…

Bahamas Time, and Enchilada Casserole

BeansI haven’t been on a vacation since before my kids were born. Sure we’ve had a weeknight away here and there for sanity breaks, but my passport has sat untouched since 2008. Ever since eagerly planning for the family reunion in the Bahamas a few months ago, the word “vacation” has become a verb, noun and adjective in our household. A Holy Grail even. We’re going “On Vacation.” We put our pants on and acting like a good boy “To Vacation.” We are going to have a great “Vacation Day.” So naturally the trip had to start off with tears at the airport because mommy didn’t properly arrange for passports for the boys and after all that packing and planning and Asher screaming “I WANNA GO ON THE AIRPLANE WAAAAAH” in his Panama hat we ended up going home instead. Then mommy flew out for vacation with her overseas family while daddy stayed with the boys and applied for passports in Chicago for three days and never slept. But as most things that seem too perfect in the beginning go, the kinks and stress paid off in the end because it helped me value even more what we had gained at the end of the journey.

There is nothing like not knowing what time it is and, more poignantly, not caring what time it is. The Bahamas is a magical place frozen in time full of warm sea water, white squishy sand, coconut trees growing wild, and a general sense of peace and pleasure. Nestled into the quiet nook of Lyford Cay on the island of Nassau is a private little bay and a gorgeous villa where you can literally walk out your bedroom door and follow the manta rays that stalk the shore at dawn. Where tiny little hermit crabs are the same shade of white as the sand, and where night herons screech and dance amongst the palms. A place where the 1940’s polo-themed living room with no walls opens to a plantation style porch on one side and a peach travertine pillared courtyard that welcomes the Caribbean rain water on the other. Where the turquoise water is so shallow and calm that a baby can sit there for hours. Where toddlers develop a general sense adventure, jumping into swimming pools, wading through the Caribbean Sea, sleeping in a Queen size bed. Even one day in this island haven makes the effort with two young children worthwhile. Sigh.

Enchilada Casserole I was in the mood to continue to the fiesta when I returned home – hence today’s recipe for Enchilada Casserole. The bean salad from the recipes makes the perfect side dish for a BBQ or can be the stuffing for peppers or enchiladas, but I opted for the Enchilada Casserole because it is makes a hearty dish that you can serve with fresh avocado and cilantro. And margaritas.

ENCHILADA CASSEROLE
12 corn tortillas
3 zucchini, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 small can sliced black olives
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
30 oz can red enchilada sauce
1 bunch of cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large pan, add olive oil and fry the zucchini for 7 to 8 minutes on medium heat, until translucent. Stir in the chili powder and cumin, then mix in the corn, beans and olives. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange 6 corn tortillas on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Top with half the bean mixture then pour half the enchilada sauce over the mixture. Add another layer of 6 corn tortillas, then top with the remaining bean mixture. Pour remaining sauce evenly over the top layer. Top with cheese or soy cheese, then bake for 40 minutes.
beach

Child Safari and Bruschetta Pasta

bruschetta pastaBrunch for four turned into a child safari this past weekend as we hosted our first “adult” brunch in over a month – meaning, we made something with garlic and put out cloth napkins. As per our usual start to Sunday mornings, we began with a pot of strong coffee and Deadmau5. After herding our two boys to the table, we actually managed to eat food on plates, remain in our chairs and share complete stories for about seven blissful minutes. And then abruptly, there was more food was on the floor than on anybody’s plates as Asher announced he was DONE and Everett stubbornly stood up in his high chair after unbuckling his safety belt and my husband and I scrambled around alternatively picking up each child, wiping oily fingers, and placing them at enticing toy stations in hopes that they would entertain themselves for just a minute without choking on a Lego or making stabbing motions with their plastic Chefs knives from the toy kitchen. How dare we adults enjoy ourselves and sit on our butts when there is so much wreckage to be done?

And so, with an apologetic smile and a good-natured laugh, we respectfully invited our brunch guests to join us upstairs to play in Asher’s room. And thus began the two-hour process of slowly upturning and investigating every room of the house which included; playing in Asher’s circus tent while Everett took a nose dive into the empty bath down the hall, settling in small uncomfortable nooks in the hallway as the kids practiced walking backwards, watching in horror as Asher threw all our dirty laundry out of the hamper, playing catch with a bouncy ball in the master bedroom, changing several diapers in the middle of the floor, and nestling in the den to watch three episodes of “Batman”. And throughout the madness of it all, our very dear and very patient friends Adam and Alexia never politely excused themselves with an undertone of “… NEVER AGAIN…”

And so today I am grateful. Grateful for friends. Grateful for flexibility. Grateful for my husband who is willing to listen to our toddler scream all day long that he ONLY wants mommy, and grateful for pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company which makes it all worth while. So come join us for our next Child Safari brunch, or host your own with today’s simple recipe for Bruschetta Pasta!

BRUSCHETTA PASTA
1 pound of linguine pasta (my photo depicts angel hair)
1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes soaked in water for 15 minutes
4 large Roma tomatoes
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 cup medium green olives, pitted
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until blended but still chunky. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook 8 minutes. Drain well then combine with tomato mixture and toss until the pasts is coated. tomatoes