Friday, May 28, 2010

Stay-At-Home Mom

This morning I had a nice long hot shower. I even took the time to shave both legs. I got dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and then “got ready” for the day. “Get ready” in female speak means put on make-up and do your hair. This morning as I was going through the make-up portion of my beauty regimen (which I’ve never been very good at), I wondered if I had put enough on.

Ha! I remembered. Doesn’t matter! I’m not going to work today.

Then it was time to do my hair. I didn’t even bother to use the hand mirror and view the back of my head.

Who cares? I thought.

When I do go to work, I’m a substitute teacher in elementary school. I love subbing. It’s like playing school and it’s always my turn to be the teacher. This year I took on a couple of long-term jobs. I covered the maternity leaves of two different third grade teachers. I just finished the second one a few days ago. I loved both jobs. The classes were small and the kids were wonderful. We had a lot of fun together and hopefully I managed to actually teach them a few things.

But I’ve missed my freedom. And I’ve really fallen behind at home. How do all you real working women do it? Kent and the boys have been pitching in more than usual while I’ve been on these full-time jobs. I’ve been really glad for the extra help. Someone even changed a roll of toilet paper last week. He put it on backwards (paper coming from the back) and I haven’t even switched it around. And when they don’t fold the bath towels the right way (first in fourths, then in thirds and stacked in the same direction so that they look nice on the shelves), I’m just glad someone else folded them. And when they unload the dishwasher and put things away in the wrong place (even though they’ve lived here as long as I have), I don’t even care. These things usually drive me nuts.

I’ve been really lucky to have been able to stay at home with my kids during the past twenty-four years. (Twenty-four years? I’m kidding, right?) Actually, it’s been part luck and part sacrifice. We don’t have a ton of money, but it’s been enough. We’ve always had what we needed and then some. We’re not “stuff” people. I don’t even like stuff. (See March 12, 2010 post “Just get Rid of It!”) And fortunately we’re not expensive car people. (See February 15, 2010 post “Dream Car.”) We’ve got everything we want.

Well, almost everything. I covet my friend Judy’s oven. It has a gas cook top and a double oven – one regular and one convection. My oven door doesn’t close all the way. But it works fine. If I’m roasting a turkey or something, I duct tape the door shut so we can eat at a decent hour. But other than that, I can’t complain.

Except about the washing machine. We have a front-loading washer. I don’t like it. I feel like we’ve been walking around in dirty clothes for the past five years, but hey, nobody seems to notice.

Sometimes I feel bad for my husband who drives his little old pick-up everywhere he goes. He says he doesn’t mind, but he is a man. He probably secretly dreams of driving something with a little more paint on the hood.

If I had a real job, I’ve often thought, Kent could drive a little bit nicer car. If I had a real job, we could go ahead and finish the basement. If I had a real job, we could take another trip to Europe this year.

But if I had a real job, I wouldn’t have had time to make Joel French toast for breakfast this morning. (Mom, how come you never make me French toast or pancakes anymore?)If I had a real job, I wouldn’t have been able to baby-sit my neighbor’s one-year-old while she helped out in the kindergarten class today. And if I had a real job, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Florida for two weeks last month when my father had open-heart surgery.

Yes, I admit it. As the kids have gotten older, there’s a lot more down time. But I can fill a lot of it with substitute teaching and still have my freedom. I can always say no. No, I have an appointment today. No, I’m way behind on laundry. No, I want to make my son French toast for breakfast and then have time to do the dishes.

And I like being my own boss. I decide what I’m going to do each day. Bathrooms or laundry? Mopping or yard work? Reorganize closets or wash the car? Or maybe spend the day reading a good book or hiking in the canyon and catch up on everything later. I get to do what I want, when I want.

Some people think stay-at-home moms are oppressed. I felt much more oppressed as I worked fulltime. At home once again, I feel liberated. Another salary in the family couldn’t buy this kind of freedom.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rhubarb Season

It's rhubarb season. I love rhubarb. Raspberry rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, strawberry rhubarb jam. My mother makes a rhubarb sauce for ice cream. Yum. Rhubarb is expensive to buy in the grocery store, so for years I've been getting it from my father-in-law.  I finally planted some in the backyard last year but it died. Something ate it right out of the ground. It was a huge disappointment. I was really hoping to have my own supply. Did you know you can freeze it? (I shouldn't have told you because now you won't want to share your surplus with me.) Wash it and cut it up in 1/2 to 1 inch segments, toss it in a Ziplock freezer bag and put it in the freezer. I'm going to try again to grow my own. I'd love to be able to fill my freezer with it and make rhubarb desserts all year round. Just what I need...

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

(I never really measure when I make this. And you don't need to either. And if you don't have tapioca, you can use a tablespoon or so of cornstarch mixed into a little cold water for the thickener.)

4 cups rhubarb pieces (about ½ inch long)

4 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup sugar

Mix together in a large bowl and let stand for a little while.

3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

¼ teaspoon salt

Add to fruit and mix well. Pour fruit mixture into a 9 x 13 pan.

1 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup butter

1 cup oatmeal

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Mix together above ingredients, cutting in butter until mixture is evenly crumbly. Put on top of the fruit. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

I served this to a group of college students recently. Afterwards, one young man approached me.
"Okay, so what exactly is rhubarb?" he asked. "Because it looked like celery. I was a little nervous, but it was really good!"

 My father-in-law still talks about the rhubarb pie his grandmother used to make. Last summer I got the recipe from his sister and gave it a try. It was delicious. Since I never knew my husband's great-grandmother, I'm calling it after Aunt Marc.
Aunt Marc’s Rhubarb Pie

3 cups chopped rhubarb

1 cup sugar

2 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons flour

Mix egg yolks, butter, flour, and sugar. Add rhubarb and mix together. Put in a pie crust. (I like Marie Callender’s frozen pie crusts. I used to make my own. Not anymore.) Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350. Bake for 30 more minutes.

Whip egg whites with ¼ cup sugar and ¼ tsp. cream of tartar until stiff. Spread on baked pie and bake for 6 to 8 more minutes, until meringue is golden.

My neighbor, Beth, recently discovered a rhubarb pie recipe that has the egg whites folded right into the filling. Somehow it forms a delicious meringue-like top crust. She gave me a piece. Actually, she gave me four pieces, thinking I'd share with my family. I did. But it was hard.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I've been doing a lot of substitute teaching this year. Lately I've been on a long-term assignment in a third grade classroom. These particular kids absolutely love Band-aids. They want one every time they get a bump or a sratch. I finally had to explain to them my mother's rule about Band-aids and then strictly enforce it. It reminded me of this essay I wrote many years ago.

When I was a little girl, I stubbed my toes a lot. And like most kids, I skinned my elbows and knees frequently. The first thing I'd do after one of these mishaps was check for blood. If it was bleeding, I'd run right into the house and claim my Band-aid. My mother had a hard fast rule about Band-aids. There had to be blood in order to qualify for one.

Our cousin, Joy, would sometimes come and stay with us in the summer for a week at a time. She was older than we were. She had two months on my sister, who had nineteen months on me. And she had a knowledge of the world that amazed us. We'd follow her around for days, listening intently to her stories. We were fascinated. The things she had done and the places she'd been. Sometimes I'd be skeptical of the doings she'd relate to us, but then I'd remember the Band-aids. This was a girl who truly had daring.

We'd be out playing and Joy would  hurt herself somehow. She'd gather herself up and head into the house where she'd confidently help herself to the Band-aids, even when there was no blood at all. My sister and I would exchange nervous glances, wondering what our mother would do if she walked in. Joy would just prattle on while applying the Band-aids (one was usually not enough), exploiting her thorough knowledge of first aid the whole time. We told her often of our mother's rule about Band-aids, and I noticed that her "hurts" were usually located under a sleeve or a pant leg. At the end of the week, she'd return to her home wearing a boxful of Band-aids of assorted shapes and sizes, artfully concealed under her clothing. In time, one of us would qualify for a Band-aid and our mother would discover a box stuffed with empty wrappers.
"Who's been wasting the Band-aids?" she'd holler.
"Joy did it!" we'd cry, tearfully defending ourselves.

I remember buying my first box of Band-aids as a mom when our first child was about a year old. I had plans to strictly regulate them as my mother had before me. Surprisingly, I found this wasn't necessary as all of our children were born with an unnatural fear of Band-aids.

One time when our two oldest children were small, we were attending a play group at a neighbor's house. My daughter fell and cut her knee. It bled. She came to me, crying. I took her into the kitchen where I proceded to wet a paper towel and apply it to the wound. Concerned mothers gathered to express their regrets to Carolyn.
"Poor little thing," they cooed as she bawled.
"She'll be all right," I assured them, "as long a nobody says..."
I had been about the spell the word Band-aid when suddenly our hostess appeared, waving the unmentionable item in the air before us.
"The poor little darling needs a Band-aid!" she exclaimed. I braced myself for what I knew was to come. Carolyn quickly upgraded her crying to hysterics. Her baby brother chose that moment to toddle into the room and, hearing me try to explain (over the shrill screams of his sister) about my children's strange aversion to Band-aids, and seeing for himself the aforementioned accursed article, he too began to shriek uncontrollably. Of course this triggered a chain reaction and soon more babies and toddlers were joining the chorus. Feeling embarrassed that we had caused such chaos, and fearing that somehow we had come across as ungrateful for the offer of a Band-aid (and just wanting to get my screaming kids out of there), I hurriedly scooped up both kids and our diaper bag and headed for the front door. The other mothers were busy trying to calm all the children we had upset. I tried to shout my thanks and an apology to our hostess over all the noise, although I'm not sure she heard me. As I glanced over my shoulder on the way out, she was still standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, holding the Band-aid between thumb and forefinger, gazing at it with a bewildered look on her face.

My sister and I still sometimes discuss resentfully how Joy used to waste our Band-aids. I've still got that first box I bought when our daughter was small. Maybe I'll send it to Joy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pasta with Cauliflower Ragu

So I got home late last night from a two-week trip to Florida. I spent the day in recovery-mode. I wasn’t personally recovering from anything; I was helping the house to recover. The guys did a pretty admirable job while I was gone this time. My son Joel called me a few days ago to tell me that he had just used Formula 409 on the countertops. I was impressed. Last month I left town for a week and they never once washed the kitchen table. This time I even came home to clean bathrooms. Wow! But as any mother out there knows, what the guys call clean isn’t always what we call clean. I put on my favorite Jack Johnson CD and got to work. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon and I hadn’t yet made it to the grocery store. The guys had started out heating up things like frozen Buffalo wings and chimichangas from Costco for dinner, but as the days passed, they either ran out or got sick of it. They’d been surviving on cold cereal for several days. I needed to cook up a nice, healthy meal for them. I looked in the fridge. Not much, but there was a head of cauliflower I had bought before I left that still actually looked good. And earlier in the day, as I had been polishing furniture, I had picked up the latest Reader’s Digest and flipped through it. I had seen a recipe for Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu. I had been intrigued because it calls for the entire head of cauliflower, including the leaves, the core, and the stalks. Who knew you could eat the whole thing? We always have pasta on hand, and I had grated Parmesan in the freezer. Hmm… With just a few changes, I could make this work.

I did make it work, and it was delicious. (I didn’t tell them about the leaves, the core and the stalks.) Now it’s time to tackle the laundry.

Pasta with Cauliflower Ragu

1 medium cauliflower

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped small

1½ tsp chopped garlic

sea salt

1½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

a little more olive oil

Kosher salt

1 lb. penne pasta*

¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup coarse, fresh bread crumbs, sautéed in 1 T olive oil until golden**

1 tsp Italian seasoning***

Cut the cauliflower in half. Remove the leaves and cut out the core. Reserve the leaves and the core. Cut cauliflower into small florets, reserving the stalks. Chop up the core, the leaves and the stalks. Heat the ¼ cup olive oil in a large pan. Add the garlic, chopped onion, and the chopped core, leaves and stalks. Season with sea salt and cook over medium heat for about three minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for about twenty minutes. Add florets, crushed red pepper flakes and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then turn down heat to a medium simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for twenty to twenty-five minutes longer. In the meantime, heat water for pasta. Add Kosher salt to water. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve some of the water as you drain the pasta. When the cauliflower ragu is done, add some extra olive oil and season to taste with sea salt. Remove from heat. Add pasta and about ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the ragu. Stir (over low heat) to coat the pasta. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. Top with bread crumbs and serve.

*I cooked whole grain pasta for myself and white pasta for everybody else.

**I put a couple of slices of whole grain bread (don't tell) in the toaster and then crumbled them up. I heated 1 T olive oil in a skillet, added the bread crumbs and tossed them around until they were crispy.

***The original recipe called for minced fresh rosemary. I didn’t have any or I would have used it instead of the dried Italian seasoning.