Tonight we had sandwiches, cut into the shape of stars.  They were grilled extra sharp white cheddar cheese sandwiches, with finely chopped spinach inside, all on “whole grain” bread bought at Target, because there was no time to get any really good bread from the farmers market, and this was the only imperfect part of the whole meal, though it was barely noticeable.  Because the sandwiches were stars only in shape; the true unintended star was the dip/soup.  Composed of sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, parsley, cooked chickpeas, and a little sea salt, pepper, and bay leaf – simmered in just enough water to cover – then, and this being key, pureed in the Christmas Vitamix (as it shall hereto forth be known, for obvious reasons) to the consistency of velvet, it was first dipped into, then devoured with a spoon – poor grilled cheese sandwiches cast aside (you got that, right? GRILLED CHEESE. CAST ASIDE!) in favor of orange velvet soup, by okay let’s be honest the TRUE, BIGGEST star of the table who has been on this earth only 18 months but knows a good dip/soup when she tastes one.

The moral of this star-studded story is that kids like to dip, and when we act on this knowledge we sometimes stumble upon something too good to share the stage.

I know it doesn’t look like much, but 18-month olds’ tummies just don’t lie.

P.S. You might want to know that this meal comes together in 20 minutes – if, and I repeat, IF, your husband helps out with the child.

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When you become a mommy, you instantly love your baby more than yourself, or any other person or thing – or even any dream.  Yet while you gain a new identity – mommy – you also remain who you always were before you began changing diapers and sitting on the floor making a dolly talk for someone else’s entertainment – before you were wearing diapers and making a dolly talk for your own entertainment, even.  Me, I was born a writer.  Not a great one, but one who feels deeply, deeply called to write.

Now that I have a precious daughter who will always come first, I’ve finally understood that if I want to fulfill my own lifelong dream, I must consciously choose what comes second.  If I choose writing second, that means other things will have to wait.  Running, cooking, cleaning, corporate ladder climbing, shopping, showering, sleeping, relaxing, traveling, socializing, even time with my husband…it all has to come third, or else I will never, ever achieve my dream.  I decided I at least have to try.  Even if I am never published or no one likes my work, as long as I gave it a go and produce something I like, then I will have no regrets.

But let’s be real here – I am actually hoping to become famous.

I face obstacles.  I don’t even know what to write.  I’m tired of writing about food.  I mean, I love food, but don’t you think it’s become a little cliché?  What else is there to say about it?  Everyone’s talking about local, seasonal, organic, blah – as if it were their original idea!  They’ve described it in every term imaginable.  I guess it’s fine to still talk about food as it relates to real life, after all, I do love it, but I see myself talking about food in a much more down-to-earth way.  I don’t want to hear another word about plump, juicy, deeply red heirloom tomatoes with just the right balance of sweetness and acidity.  I want to read about the cherry tomato that Catherine bit into – then promptly spit out – so that its juice stained my t-shirt and its seeds stuck to her high chair tray as well as to places I’ve yet to discover them.  Oh, it wasn’t even a good tomato.  It was slightly shriveled, probably loaded with pesticides, and came from some hothouse in Florida.  No wonder she spit it out.

I could write about something really nice, a place I’d like to be.  Perhaps I could write about a girl who dwells in a little cottage on a rocky cliff overlooking the New England Atlantic.  Each morning, she sits at a wooden desk beside a window, and writes and writes over numerous cups of steaming earl gray.  When she can’t write anymore, she takes her dog out for a run on the beach below.  She picks up pastel-colored seashells along the way, then drops them clinking into a shallow crystal catch-all dish on the foyer table – where they look effortlessly charming.  At night, she chops vegetables for a simple soup and goes back to writing with a glass of red wine.  Other nights, she prepares a feast and invites friends over.  They sip brandy by the fire and converse long into the night.  Before she goes to bed, she braids her hair, puts on a pretty nightgown, and reads a little before dozing off, worry free, in a four-poster bed under a white down comforter.  I’m pretty sure she doesn’t own an iPhone or a Facebook account.

If this were my story, even with no brawny stranger to enter it, I guess it’d make me a romance novelist.  If it feels too perfect to be true, it lacks soul, and there’s absolutely no satisfaction in that – not for me.  Instead, maybe I’d write about a walk across the parking lot to Target at 7:59a.m.  It’s cold, dreary, and misting.  I’m carrying my 18-month old daughter on one hip.   Her face is crusted with boogers and oatmeal.  She’s wearing a pink beanie and a puffy jacket.  We’re going to get a cappuccino and stroll around under florescent lighting in search of q-tips and laundry detergent.  Getting these items back into our apartment will require two trips up the stairs, since we’ve also brought along a toy baby stroller bearing a white stuffed kitty.  By the time we make it back inside, I’ll have just enough energy to deposit the plastic Target bags on our foyer floor, and they, like the seashells in my dream, will also look effortless.  You wouldn’t know it, but these early morning walks with Catherine are the happiest part of my day.

Aside from the subject matter, yet to be determined, there’s something else to consider. Can I not care what you think?  Because in order to write well, I can’t. I’m not sure I’m capable of writing all the stupid things I need to write, in order to get to something halfway decent, with you watching.  Wait.  What is that you’re saying?  I’ve already written lots of stupid things here?  Oh, trust me, it gets way stupider.  Or then again, maybe it gets better.  In the past I’ve written with others’ perceived tastes cluttering up my mind, and the result is something that rings ever so slightly untrue.   So the reverse should be an improvement, right?   We’ll see.  I’m not sure if I should start an anonymous blog, keep a Word doc, or take my risks right here in front of God and everybody.

Do you know the feeling of having suddenly decided it’s worth it?  You just know.  That you’d rather be skinny than eat ice cream.  That you’d rather be alone forever, than stay in your current relationship.   That you’d rather be poor, than stay in your current job.  That you’d rather be happy than right.  That you’d rather be wrong than silent.  That you’d rather get lost than keep driving the same boring route every day.  That you have defined your priorities, and you know what to do.  It feels good, like steering a ship, one you’re qualified to steer, your ship.

What I’m doing tonight (actually writing) is important.  Even if it feels really small, it matters.

Speaking of really small things that matter.  Tonight, we all went out for tacos and margaritas at Pure.  Chris, Catherine, and I – plus our neighbor, the suave and svelte Dawud and his super fashionable novia Maria.  Chris and I sat back and let Dawud and Maria fuss with Catherine.  We were shameless and relieved.  We relaxed.  We sipped our margaritas.  We talked about grown-up things.

Speaking of small things that really, really matter.  We looked at Catherine, who was being particularly well-behaved.  She LOVES attention.  People.  To socialize.  So she ate her chips, her black beans, her rice, her fried fish, fished from Chris’s fish tacos.  Drank her water, tipped her head back, cocked it and smiled winningly at Dawud and Maria.

I talked to Maria, completely thirsty for girl talk.  I was so curious about her, and I couldn’t remember what exactly she did at her job and was scared to ask because I should know, but I really wanted to know everything about her.  I am starved for adult – and in particular female – conversation.

All in all, it was an amazing night out.  And we MUST make a habit of it!  I miss it, a lot!

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I see this blog morphing into a Little Fingers Food blog.  Ha – I just came up with that name as I wrote that sentence.  I wonder if that means I should start a new blog?  Anyway, these days I’m all about creating food that’s 1) delicious 2) healthy 3) easy 4) adorable – in that order.  I guess it’d be kind of similar to Weelicious, except I’m not a 6-feet tall model who’s friends with Gwyneth Paltrow.  But I pretend to be friends with Gwyneth – does that count?

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Anyway, this latest creation fits all of those categories perfectly. And it passed Catherine’s taste test – in fact, this might be the first time I’ve gotten her to eat eggs – so here we go. I’m going to provide the “recipe,” since it requires no measuring. I find writing down measurements really tedious.

Miniature wonton quiches

Preheat oven to 365 F.  Whisk 6 eggs and add S&P, cheese, caramelized onions, and any lightly-cooked veggie you like (I used broccoli).  Line an 8-muffin mini-muffin tray with store-bought wonton wrappers.  Fill each with egg mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until egg mixture is firm.  Watch brunch guests look impressed, or your kids stuff their faces.

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*I should note, if I attempted to come in from work on a weeknight and start steaming and chopping broccoli and caramelizing onions for these quiches, the battle would be half-lost.  Instead, the night before, after C went to bed, I took a few minutes to prep my veggies, making dinner the next night extra easy – an absolute necessity when I’m the only one home with a 1-year old on weeknights.

 

Has anyone else ever noticed that motherhood – well, at least the early years, since that’s all I can speak to – is filled with highs and lows that happen within seconds of each other?  One second your newborn is screaming her head off mercilessly in the backseat and you have to bite down on your hand to keep from screaming yourself.  The next you’re holding her, she’s sighing contented sighs between gulps of milk, and the two of you are happy, albeit on the side of the road.

Or like the other night, while I frantically sautéed some squash, one by one Catherine picked up her peas and released them from her outstretched hand to the floor, staring me down defiantly.  She banged her hands on the high chair tray.  She yelled at me impatiently.  If she’d had a whip she would have used it.  I don’t know what it is about crying and whining, but it’s got to be more effective than water torture.  She had me in tears.  And yet.  Moments later, she had her squash and was shoving it in her mouth appreciatively, all the while casting winning smiles in my direction.  And all was okay.  I made a drink and leaned against the counter, watching her fill her belly with good food.

Come to think of it, I guess it all depends on when Catherine decides to scream, and when she decides to stop.

Don’t think I don’t know how obsessive I sound 2 posts ago.  Gosh.  I’m fraught with anxiety.  Torn between audiences. But I’m not deleting the post, because I’ve got to let myself make mistakes on this blog.  Be honest about who I am, imperfections and all.  I’m going to write a lot of really, really bad stuff.

On another note – we’ve been eating lots of muffins around here.

Butternut squash muffins.  My favorite so far – truly delicious.

IMG_5693 IMG_5696 IMG_5710Blueberry coconut muffins.  These would be much better as pineapple coconut muffins…coconut muffins with chocolate chips?!

IMG_5774 IMG_5841Carrot muffins with dried pineapple.  Tasty but a bit dense – they were loaded with carrots so no wonder.

IMG_5851Fig bran muffins.  Good right out of the oven, but later, just okay.

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Everyone loves kale chips. Except me.
IMG_5739They’re easy. They’re cute. They taste like fried kale. I’d rather have it steamed with tahini. Or a potato chip.

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Chris liked them. Even Catherine liked them.

IMG_5751 IMG_5762I don’t think I’ll be making kale chips again soon.  On another note, have I mentioned I have a very silly, playful girl?

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Catherine’s school has a new catered lunch option. I’ve written this first paragraph several times now, trying not to sound annoyingly obsessive but by now, you all know that’s exactly what I am, right?  Or, maybe I’m just informed and want to inform others and that makes me annoying.  Either way, I’ve got to accept who I am and stop apologizing for it!  So let’s just stop pretending and get to it.

Naturally, I analyzed and scrutinized over the menu. Asked the caterer questions. Tasted samples. I really, really wanted it to work. Because if I don’t have to send Catherine with a lunch every day, that means less pressure, and more quality time together. I already stopped pumping last week, and not having to plan and prepare a lunch menu each week on top of working full time would leave room for more spontaneous weekend and weeknight fun. So – as I was saying, I assessed the menu, and here’s what I found.

Overall, I’m happy. The food tastes  good. It’s fresh and mostly homemade. And I specifically asked about the meat, which I was assured has zero antibiotics or added hormones.  I was not given the source of the meat.  The owner didn’t know and had to ask the “kitchen.”  So I plan to follow up on that.  But there are a few problems. There are no whole grains on the menu. Sure, the bread and pasta are called “whole grain,” but if you know how to read a nutrition label you know they’re actually highly processed and not really whole grain.  Surprisingly, it’s very difficult to find real whole grain bread at the supermarket.  I  buy it at the farmers market and freeze it.  Otherwise you’re left with the actual whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, oat groats, millet, hulled barley, etc and that’s really your most nutritious bet.

Also, the catered food isn’t organic.  Organic is an option, but they’ll only do it if parents request it across the board.  So Catherine would be potentially eating GMOs and pesticides for lunch 5 days a week.

Then, there’s a lack of quantity, variety, and quality of vegetables. In one month’s menu, I counted only 5 different types of vegetables. For example, peas, carrots, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. Which are great, but what about the thousands of other varieties of colorful, delicious vegetables out there? Don’t our growing babies deserve to be exposed to those to, if we can? Each meal only comes with 1, at most 2, vegetables.  Aso, a kids’ caterer should know that celery, cucumbers, and romaine lettuce have very little nutritional value. And for toddlers, they require a good bit of energy to actually eat. So they just don’t make sense or belong on a menu for 1-year olds.  Finally, I noticed the caterer is using “baby” carrots. These aren’t real baby carrots – they’re “cored” carrots.  Which means they loose the most nutritious part of the carrot.  Why not buy real carrots and get the nutrition of a real carrot??

The meals are very meat and cheese heavy. Most lunches contain a meat and cheese. The caterer could save money by serving more beans, which are healthier anyway.

Filler. Many lunches include highly processed, packaged items like craisins (raisins with red dye and sugar) veggie straws (these are chips with food dye to make them look like vegetables), and graham crackers (I love graham crackers, but for a 1-year old these should be an occasional treat or emergency snack, not an everyday lunch item). Not only are these are snacks, not lunch, but they have almost zero nutritional value.  A child’s stomach doesn’t hold much, and I don’t want mine child’s to be filled with empty calories if I can help it.  I’m ordering lunch – not junk food.

I agonized for weeks over this menu, because I wanted it to work, but couldn’t accept its inadequacies.  So I resigned myself to continue making Catherine’s lunches myself.  I decided I WOULD become the most genius, efficient lunch maker the world has ever seen.  I’d just MAKE IT HAPPEN.  I felt pretty determined.  Until I had a lightbulb moment.  A compromise.  I’d simply supplement and substitute.  Every week I’d take a look at the menu, cross off items and add my own.  Here’s an example.

Chicken taco salad with corn and tomatoes.  I add chopped raw red bell pepper (which C likes) and avocado (which she some days likes, most days doesn’t but I keep trying) from home.

Chicken salad sandwich, carrot salad, craisins.  Craisins get replaced with real dried fruit without added sugar and dye – or better yet, a vegetable, since she gets plenty of fruit for snacks.

Turkey burger sliders, veggie straws, and applesauce.  Veggie straws (glorified potato chips) get replaced with roasted sweet potatoes (which C eats like candy).  Packaged applesauce gets replaced with sauteed squash (C can eat an entire pan herself – this girls LOVES sauteed squash the way my momma taught me to make it). Now if you think I’m no fun for taking away the applesauce – I’m only doing it because she gets homemade applesauce with her cereal every morning, so she just doesn’t need a processed version for lunch.

Three cheese baked ziti, carrots, peas.  I’d probably leave this alone.

Cheese quesadilla, corn, pinto beans.  Well, it makes me happy that we’re finally seeing some beans.  But again, more cheese.  Cheese isn’t that good for us, it’s kind of a myth that kids need tons of cheese.  Ask any doctor or better yet Doctor of nutrition.  Ask the scientists at Harvard what they think.  I’m not making this stuff up.  Anyway. I’d add a vegetable to this. Maybe halved cherry tomatoes.

It isn’t that I take out all the fun stuff and leave Catherine with boring old healthy stuff.  I still give Catherine plenty of fun treats.  I make homemade cookies or muffins every week to send with her for snack time.  They’re easy to do and I love doing it.  I just make sure they have nutritional value by using whole grain flours like wheat, brown rice, and spelt,  minimally processed sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, and plenty of nuts, fruits, and even vegetables.  And believe me – there are plenty of days when Catherine eats far worse than graham crackers for dinner.  But these days are the exception, not the rule.

So I feel good about our compromise.  I’ve noticed she isn’t eating the food at school as well as she eats what I pack for her, which makes me a little nervous but not too nervous, because I’m still supplementing enough that I think it’ll be fine.

Oh – I also send her with snacks every day, rather than have her eat goldfish, instant pancakes, and other nutritionally void snacks every day, several times a day. I send her with things like berries, melon, whole grain crackers, homemade muffins and cookies, green smoothies, and yogurt. She breastfeeds in the morning, in the afternoon when I pick her up, and right before bed. For breakfast she’s still eating her magic multigrain cereal with fruit or sometimes a breakfast smoothie or, today, her first toast with Earth Balance butter, honey, and cinnamon (I cubed it and put it in her snack cup – perfect self-serve breakfast that allowed me to get dressed and made her super happy!).  For dinner I try to make up for the lack of whole grains at lunch by serving a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, with some sort of bean (usually tossed in a little soy sauce and a LOT of sesame seeds – delicious and high in calcium) and sauteed or roasted vegetables.

Next on my list…work on my own horrible sugar habits.  I take care with Catherine’s diet, I need to start taking better care of my own!

Also – I really need to start breaking this information down into more digestible (pun) pieces.  I do have a lot of good tips to share and it’d be easier for everyone if I’d dedicate a post to a real recipe – a healthy, yummy, easy, and best of all, FAST one.

I just had to write about the night we just had, so I don’t forget it.  Chris has been traveling a good bit lately, and he’s actually going to be gone almost the whole month of October.  So I’ve been thinking of fun things for Catherine and me to do, so life doesn’t get all monotonous and overly routine – or lonely.  Ever since Catherine’s school got a lunch caterer (with me still supplementing and substituting to make it healthy and yummy to my standards), we’ve had much more time in the afternoons to enjoy each other, and fit in a little spontaneity.  So in the afternoon at work, I got to thinking.  It’s been rainy, dreary, and a little chilly outside all day.  What can we do…bingo!  I had it.

I picked up Catherine from school and we headed straight to Whole Foods.  Boy, when we walked in was she excited!  Her reaction to all the gorgeous fruits and vegetables in the produce section? “Ooooooohh!!!!”  LOL!  I mean, don’t you feel the same way when you walk in Whole Foods?  hahahaha.  Anyway, so we pickedout a couple veggies to cook later in the week. Some corn and squash, two of her favs.  Then we headed to the buffet.

This girl was so hungry, she kept pointing and oohing and ahhing over the buffet selection.  We loaded up a container with buffalo- and chicken-fried tofu, chicken and rice, cooked chopped spinach, mac and cheese, and black eyed peas.  Oh, and their famous tofu chocolate pudding and a cinnamon roll for dessert.  Then we headed home, put on our pajamas, spread out blankets and pillows on the floor, put on The Velveteen Rabbit movie, and had a comfort feast and snuggle-fest.  We both could not possibly have been happier unless Dada had been there.  You could clearly see that Catherine was enjoying our night as much as I was.  She wriggling with excitement as I put spoonful after spoonful of mac and cheese with spinach hidden underneath it in her mouth.  Then she would turn around and look at the movie, then turn around and wriggle for another bite.  By the time she was done eating her belly was so full she looked like she was about to pop.  I mean, who could not love Whole Foods comfort food, a pallet on the floor, pjs, and The Velveteen Rabbit while the dreary rain comes down outside?

Loved this night with my girl.  Hope we have a million more like it!

This weekend we drove to New Albany for Lorene’s funeral.  Mrs. Mada Lorene Cox Belyeu passed away at 99 years old.  She was a kind, wonderful woman who lived through, as James pointed out at her funeral, the Great Depression, both World Wars, and countless other events that shaped our nation.  It’s amazing to think of one person living to see so much change…and probably so much lack thereof, come to think of it.  I only had the privilege of knowing her a few years, but I always thought very highly of her.  She was a kind and giving person, never seeming to put herself first, or put on airs.  But she had a vain streak, which was charmingly girly.  Everyone, especially Chris, made it clear to me that her cooking and  virtues were something to strive for.  I don’t think I’ll ever make cornbread or tomato soup as well as she did, and I know I won’t grow a tomato or cantaloupe that tastes better than her homegrown ones.

By the time I met Lorene, she was very hard of hearing.  If you wanted her to hear you, you had better assert yourself loud and clear.  Being reserved, I found this difficult at first so I missed out on conversations I could have had with her.  But eventually I found my “Lorene” voice and am thankful I did.  When Catherine and I went to Mississippi without Chris, we got to spend some extra time with Lorene.  We made breakfast together, looked through old photos, went to Walmart for some groceries.  Lorene mentioned she really wanted some new shoes and clothes.  But I had to get back to the house to breastfeed Catherine, who was still too little to be away from me for very long.  I planned to take her back to Walmart for a real shopping trip the next chance I got.  But Lorene fell and hurt herself, and we didn’t get another chance.

We spend Catherine’s first Christmas in Mississippi.  Since by then Lorene was living with James and Margaret, we got to spend more time with her than usual, though she couldn’t get around easily and so spent much of her time upstairs in her chair.  Catherine was just learning to sit up.  In the morning, I’d spread out a blanket and prop Catherine up with pillows and give her toys.  I’d sit in the chair next to Lorene and drink coffee and work on sewing Catherine’s Christmas stocking.  We didn’t talk too much but I figured she’d like some company and I enjoyed hers.

Lorene’s eyes were pale blue and she had very good hair, especially compared to most 99-year-old women – even though she was always critiquing it.  She never had children, but she had a husband named Carlton who died in the 80s, and a brother named Hunter who died in 2009 at age 100, I think.  When Hunter went into the nursing home, Lorene went with him to make sure he was taken good care of.  When he died, she went back home to live out her life.  Last year, she was still planting a garden.  One day as we sat in her kitchen watching her slather a ridiculous amount of Country Crock margarine on a “cathead” biscuit (these are the large frozen biscuits she liked, from Stokes), she told us how people always poked fun of her for eating so much butter.  “I’m 98,” she said.  “I guess it must be good for me.”

When Catherine is older, we’ll show her pictures and tell her stories about Lorene.  I think the biggest thing about Lorene is her sweetness.  I’ve heard she has a temper, too, though I was never close enough to her for her to show me that temper.  I wouldn’t expect anything less though.

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