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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Crowd Pleaser Pasta

This meal is one of our family's absolute favorite pasta dishes. Well, more like mine and B Daddy's favorite pasta dish. Like I've said before, my kids have abominable taste in food. Their opinions will carry weight when they start liking pizza consistently and stop dipping their carrot sticks in ketchup.

It's ready in under 30 minutes, uses mostly staple ingredients and is a winner whatever the season.  Which means it's definitely in the Master Meal rotation. (If you struggle with meal planning for your family, check out this meal planning post...) It's also one of a handful of meals I take when people are sick or have just had a baby. If you've been the recipient of a meal calendar lately, you'll understand how nice it is to have something that's not a chicken dish brought to you.

Ready to cook? Let's get this party started. 

Start by browning your pork sausage and a chopped onion in a hot skillet (a huge hot skillet or dutch oven to be precise.) Once the onion is translucent, add the minced garlic and balsamic vinegar.

When your house starts smelling like a restaurant add the feta, dried herbs, chicken broth and spinach. Look at all that spinach!! This recipe suffers not from the addition of way too much spinach. This time I used a 5oz bag - but in the past I've used the big 9-11oz bags and it is just as delicious if not more so. More spinach = you are making health food.

Once the spinach starts to wilt, add the cooked pasta. You will be patting yourself on the back for choosing your largest skillet about now. Way to go you.

Serve to aforementioned ungrateful children with a side of crusty bread to soak up all the goodness of that sauce. Your spouse will be thrilled, so never you mind the children.

Crowd Pleaser Pasta - Serves a hungry 6
(we have been making this for over a decade, I do not know where the original recipe came from, my apologies!)

1/2 box bow tie pasta
1 lb mild or hot (we like mild) ground pork sausage
1 onion, chopped (I use yellow onions in pretty much everything)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
14.5 oz chicken broth
1 bag spinach (the size really doesn't matter! the more the merrier)
6 oz feta cheese
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano (you can sub Italian seasoning for both of these in a pinch)

1. Boil pasta according to package directions
2. Cook sausage and onion together in a LARGE skillet until onion is translucent.
3. Add garlic and balsamic vinegar, cook 2-3 minutes
4. Add chicken broth, spinach, dried herbs and feta cheese. Cook until spinach wilts.
5. Drain pasta, add to skillet and warm through. 

Serve with crusty bread! 

*This dish reheats like a dream and will keep (and get yummier by the day) 2-3 days in the fridge. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Because her owner was lazy and left the coop door open all the time.

Today our chickens are being formally evicted from our backyard coop and heading off to greener pastures.


Back in 2010 when I first dared to dream of chickens we knew there was a distinct possibility this day would come. We live on a hair less than 1/3 of an acre, which is the minimum lot size required to keep chickens in the city we live in. We figured we'd keep a low profile and beg forgiveness rather than ask permission of the neighbors. After all I thought, "who doesn't like fresh eggs?!"

Apparently someone.

With the craziness of having four kids (when in doubt, blame the children!) B Daddy and I have gotten a little lax lately with the whole "keeping-a-low-profile" thing. We usually let the girls out to free range while we are outside with the kids and there was one time about a month ago when we forgot to close the coop when we came in for lunch. And then there was the time we went to bed and forgot the coop door was open...and at 6:45am the next morning my next door neighbor rang my doorbell to tell me that the chickens were in her driveway. Whoops. There may have also been one occasion (ok or maybe two) where I got a text from a neighbor down the street letting me know she saw the chickens out.

....a low profile we have not kept.

Personally, I think catching a glimpse of our chickens pecking around the well-manicured lawns around us adds a ne sais quoi to the 'hood. It would seem at least one of our neighbors doesn't agree.

Two weeks ago a local code enforcement officer rang my doorbell (at 8am no less! We are a high priority) and politely informed me they'd received a complaint about our chickens and could he take a look at where they were kept? I knew right away it was the beginning of the end...

The next morning he showed up again (at 8am once again) and read aloud for me the city's official Poultry Ordinance - of which we were clearly in violation.


I'm bummed that we have to give up this little hobby that makes suburban living a little more interesting. I'm even more bummed that our neighbor called the City rather than come have a talk with us (I know, I know- confrontation is awkward! Maybe they could have just left us a note in the mailbox?) I would eagerly have begged forgiveness and tightened up my rein on the ladies.


Luckily for the ladies, we have great friends concerned about the plight of our hens and those friends have great friends who just so happen to adopt farm animals. And so today we are moving them off their little suburban habitat to a farm where they will free range on 13 acres under the watchful eye of a trained livestock dog. Yup, that's a thing.

They'll have goat friends and a few other chicken friends to play with and all of their egg-y goodness will go to feed a beautiful family of 7. It could be worse.

But I sure am going to miss our girls. And their beautiful eggs.

Oh and one of our neighbors who live on a lot just a hair over 1/3 of an acre just erected a coop last week. Home to six beautiful feathery friends.

Here's to keeping that je ne sais quoi alive!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On Going to the Pool

This post first appeared on Crazy Joy in 2012. As true today as it was back then. 

I hate taking my kids to the pool. As in, I. Hate. It. I know this makes me a terrible mother. Summertime is supposed to be about flip flops and chlorine and the faint whiff of sunscreen. I know. I KNOW.  But come on. If you have young kids of your own or have seen someone at the pool with toddler-age kids, you must be aware that the effort required by a mother to get to the pool is not in any way, shape or form equivalent to the pleasure received from being at the pool.

All around me my friends are proclaiming the glories of summer. Breathlessly anticipating time at the pool or God forbid, a trip to the beach.  What do these women know that I don't? The emperor has no clothes ladies. Pardon my French - but going to the pool sucks. Don't even get me started on the beach.

Last week I fell under the summertime spell and decided that a trip to the pool was just the thing we needed to break up the monotony. The pool opens at 11 - which meant preparatory activities began at 10. First up - the sunscreen dance. This is the part where you have to locate and strip down your children, hold them in one place and rub creamy white goo all over their tiny bodies so their tender skin doesn't fry under the withering sunshine. It's recommended to do this at least 20-30 minutes before sun exposure. My kids hate this part of pool-prep, so I'm always prepared for battle. Sunscreen makes kids slippery, so the more success you achieve, the harder this activity becomes. It's maddening.

Naturally I'm already dressed and ready to go - wearing the very latest in post-partum pool attire (wink wink) and having generously slathered myself in SPF 50 as well.  Of course I can't reach my back on my own, so I'm prepared to burn - anything for the children.

I also need to be sure to have plenty of snacks and drinks so that we can stay at the pool for longer than 45 minutes. Something nutritious and easily eaten without utensils, preferably not too sticky, crumbly or messy. Organic carrot sticks and homemade hummus would be ideal. I'll just pop that into my small, lightweight cooler with padded shoulder strap (I am after all, the only sherpa coming on this trek. Did we go over that part?)

At long last we arrive at the pool. I unbuckle car seats, grab my purse, diaper bag, slow-walking 18 month old and small, lightweight cooler and trek across the blazing asphalt towards that beacon of happiness - The Pool. I hand my passes to the teenage gatekeeper who interrogates me on the number and type of swim diapers I've brought with me before letting us pass.

Oh yes....The Swim Diaper. Nemesis of toddler mamas worldwide. Pool diapers are ridiculous. They are marketed as enabling your child to pee and/or do #2 while swimming in a public pool without contaminating the water. Yet I and every other mother know that putting a swim diaper on your child any sooner than one millisecond before your kid hits the water means they will pee instantly and a swim diaper can only handle one tiny little pee before it's rendered useless. And a #2?! Let's not even go there.

Back to our arrival - after a quick scan of the crowded deck, it is obvious that ONLY ONE LOUNGE CHAIR REMAINS. The kids make a break for it and we all squeeze together on the sun-scorched plastic slats to unload our gear. Out come towels, off with shoes, I pull on swim diapers, tug up suits and re-lather faces with sunscreen before giving the blessing to enter the water.

Are you still with me? This adventure has only just begun...

Inevitably, 5 minutes after the kids start swimming the whistle blows and it's time for adult swim. At 11am on a Tuesday morning we need to have Adult Swim? At the YMCA. Seriously? Every mother drags her kids out of the water and we all huddle at the fountain splash pad until the break is over.

Repeat the above scene twice- stopping to do the sunscreen dance at least one more time- and it is noon. Time for some food and a potty break. Trying to get Squirt's swim diaper (yes he's fully potty-trained, but again, the swim diaper is required by the teenagers at the gate) down off his bum and back up his pool-wet legs again is an exercise in patience and self-control. And what's that face Sweet B is making?? OH NO. Noooooooooooooooo. She's pooping. In the swim diaper. Awesome. Now I have to take both children and a diaper bag to the tiny pool bathroom stall, get a wet swim suit off my girl, continually admonish Squirt NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING, clean her hiney and get a fresh swim diaper on. Have we talked about the humidity levels in this tiny little poolside bathroom? On par with a rain forest.

Two hours into this performance I'm cooked, the kids are looking a little too-pink and I decide it's time to surrender. A mom with older kids might just throw towels at them and trek back to the car -but a toddler mom must prepare for nap time. I change the kids out of their swimsuits and of course - swim diapers - and put them back in regular clothes again. Never mind doing this for myself, I'll just deal with a wet butt in the car.

Mercifully we're home 15 minutes later. The tots have fallen asleep in the car, so I lug them off to their beds and collapse on the couch - my hair a tangled mess, my cover-up plastered against a lobster-red back. I pray for long naps and drift off to dreamland with the kids (never a given despite the morning's madness). 

And so dear friends if you call and invite me and my brood to the pool one of these days, please don't be offended if I decline. We'll be playing in the sprinkler for the rest of summer.

If you liked this post, subscribe and keep reading! Or just check out these posts for more of the same: Grocery Shopping With Three Little BearsDropping the Bomb

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