Friday, November 29, 2013

Sibling Shenanigans

I'm not quite sure how my large blue yoga ball became involved with cleaning up from dinner that night. While clumps of mashed potatoes and random forks still lay strewn about our kitchen table, the yoga ball, followed by all five of my children, tore through the house with deafening speed.

How would it end? Tears? Probably. Something broken? Maybe. With five kids I've certainly patched my share of drywall.

Thwump. Thwump.

Two hefty winter squash slid off the counter and onto the floor, barely missing someone's toes. Hmmmmmm... NOT cool. But neither squash nor toes were broken so after shrugging off some minor irritation from their mother, they resumed their mirthful brawl.

Our high ceilings and mostly bare walls echoed with recklessness and high-pitched squeals.

Then, tears. In the kufuffle I couldn't see how Halle ended up flat on her back, but with her knack for drama it looked bad...for about 30 seconds.

Back to the chase.

It wasn't long before there were more tears and I was peeling away the outer layers of four older siblings from the yoga ball. Lyla was smushed between all of them and the baseboard. From the safety of my arms she narrowed her eyes, shook her finger, and gave her siblings a severe tongue-lashing.

(Some days my number one goal is for the youngest two to survive the oldest three.)

My tolerance for sibling shenanigans has gradually enjoyed a little more wiggle room over thirteen years of parenting.

As I see my children building strong, resilient sibling relationships- ones they can depend on, the occasional drywall repair seems less important.

A sense of humor...and some good spackle help, too.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fall Leaf Creatures

The inevitable email I get from the kindergarten teacher asking parents to send in empty toilet paper rolls turns my stomach every time. Quite frankly, my youngest ones haven't exactly gotten wiping down to a hygienic science yet and I'm pretty sure it's the same story with all their happy-go-lucky cohorts. So while I'm all for recycling-bin crafts, I'll pass on giving anything from my kids' bathroom a second life. Yuck.

Instead, we use empty paper towel rolls, trimmed to size, for our fall leaf creatures. It's a huge event for Halle. She spends weeks collecting nature's whatnots- twigs, tiny hemlock cones, and "helicopters."

"Look, Mom! Look at what I found for our leaf creatures this year!"

The outside world steadily trickles through our front door, sometimes left to break down into a sort of organic litter on my desk.

We wait for a dry windy day to blow down lots of leaves that aren't quite crispy and still have lots of color left.

"'s a pretty red one! Look, there's a whole bunch of them over here!"

We gather more than enough and head back inside. Fall scatters across our kitchen table.

We sort. We try this leaf and then that one. We glue.

This year Halle lined up all the creatures. She studied them, then looked around for how she could round out the scene. She added leaves, stood back, then started stacking rocks in the foreground.

I sat there silently, impressed with how she thought about her composition.

Her eyes narrowed; it was clear she wasn't quite satisfied.

"I know!"

She reached for the unused empty paper towel rolls and placed them carefully in the background, adding depth.

If Halle's intuitive sense of composition someday lands her a chapter in "America's 50 Greatest Artists,"  I can expect at least a paragraph on the leaf creatures she made every year with her mom.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Marriage Equality

Quote of the Day:  This is the day that the Lord has caused to evolve. Let us rejoice. Pastor Andy Smith at the funeral of one of his colleagues Len Anderson, a man who lived through the Civil Rights movement, women being ordained as Lutheran ministers, and the ELCA vote to allow openly gay pastors to be ordained, and remain in the ministry. Pastor Len Anderson lived his life with an open mind and a caring heart. He showed us that the world is constantly evolving. Old beliefs and prejudices can disappear as we replace them with new ones that allow people to live out their lives the way God made them.

On August 1, 2013, the state of Minnesota saw its first legal same sex marriages. My friend Joey Halvorson captured many of the local weddings as a photographer. Her photo, and the stories of women I've met, inspired me to write an article for our local women's magazine, Her Voice. My article, "6 Brides" starts on p. 32. Our local UCC church celebrated a triple wedding last August for six brides who waited many years to become legally wed. I'd like to thank all the contributors to this article. You are all brave, strong, and inspiring. 

Photo by Joey Halvorson

Photo by Joey Halvorson

I spent many hours on this article interviewing wedding officiants, the brides, friends, and community members. Of course, the writing took some time, too, as I had to keep all that great information down to an 800 word article. The above photos are from a group interview that we held at our local coffee shop, The Coco Moon. We pushed two tables together to accommodate a powerhouse of women who wanted to share their stories with me and the readers of my blog and Her Voice. Joey's photo in the article will be displayed at the Minnesota Historical Society. 

Be strong and brave in who you are. Your courage will inspire others.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Describe a time when you felt called upon to do something brave.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanks-iversary

Fourteen years ago tonight I crawled into a hotel bed with my soon-to-be mother-in-law. I must have eventually made some sort of bargain with sleep to rush me into the next day. It would be the day after Thanksgiving- the day I would marry Wesley Johnson in the Seattle LDS temple.

November 26, 1999

Oh, how I treasure my friendship with Wes!

Today, I am especially grateful for our marriage covenants, personal revelation, and the gospel that binds us together.

I am grateful for my husband's kindness to me. He has ALWAYS treated me respectfully. He encourages me and supports me in my aspirations.

Neither of us is perfect and so tonight I am grateful that he has always been the first to apologize- whether or not he is wrong. I am grateful for forgiveness.

I am grateful for the opportunities to grow and mature together as we've recognized the Lord's tender mercies during difficult times.

I am grateful for my husband's faith and his desire to always do Heavenly Father's will, even when that requires some bending on his part.

His desire to understand ME rather than jam me into some preconceived ideal was perhaps one of the things that first drew me to Wes. I am grateful for his devotion to meeting my needs, often at the expense of meeting his own.

I am grateful for the five incredibly special children who have truly blessed our marriage and that everyday they see how much their parents are still completely in love with each other. 

Happy Anniversary, my dear friend, Wes. This Thanksgiving, as always, I am thankful for YOU.

I Heart My Subaru

Quote of the Day:  A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after. Peter DeVries

Car sickness is the feeling you get when the monthly payment is due. Author unknown, quotes found on

The car has become the secular sanctuary for the individual, his (her) shrine to the self, his (her) mobile Walden Pond. Edward McDonagh

Here I am driving my shiny new Subaru off the lot!

In The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, she asks the question, "What would you buy your artist if you weren't so stingy?" I thought I had given her all she needs. But, as the 2003 Dodge Caravan's odometer creeps up past 160,000 miles and the rust spreads like cancer, and the groaning old thing sounds like it's ready for retirement, I started looking for a newer road partner. I had no intention of buying something brand new. I had almost ruled out the Subaru because the dealership is in St. Cloud and I live an hour north of there. Still, it was a nice day, and we had some free time, so we jumped in the Biker Chef's Honda and went car shopping. After almost a week of research, driving around car lots, test-driving a Chevy Equinox, crunching numbers, and talking it over with family and friends, I felt fairly well informed. We told Dan, at the Subaru dealership, that we were looking for used. He said, "We have a screamin' deal on new Subarus." We looked. We took it for a ride. We crunched numbers. We said, "We need to ruminate," and went out for lunch. 

And, here she is parked in my driveway.
The t-shirt says, I heart my Subaru.

So, what sold me on the new Subaru? Number one is the gas mileage. The old van gets about 19 mpg, the Subaru around 30 mpg. We have verification on that from some very happy Subaru owners, who, btw, said they love their Subaru and wouldn't buy anything else. In fact, two of our friends are on their second Subaru. The other things I needed were enough room for my three cowboys, as The Biker Chef calls them. Three football player size teenage boys, and once in a while their older brother who might be visiting us from college. And, a huge factor in Minnesota is that it can handle ice and snow. That's what the Subaru is known for with its AWD system. It handled well, nice tight steering and brakes. I love the back-up camera. I've worried for years about backing out of my driveway, which is dark at night, and all the little kids that live around here. 

Alright, and it's a shiny, new, red car. I think my "cool factor" just went up with my kids. The middle son, who is just learning to drive, jumped in the driver's seat and seemed fairly confident. I named her Scarlet and she really sparkles in the sunlight. I think we'll have many grand adventures together!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Write about getting your first car, a new car, learning how to drive, or describe your dream vehicle.

Simple Tomato Sauce

I recently  came across this recipe again in Marcella Hazan's book, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."   For years, I have been a big fan of Marcella's.  I received this wonderful book as a gift when it first hit the shelves almost 20 years ago. In those days, newly married and to a Roman,  I was just discovering the joys of the Italian kitchen.   
Over the years, it's been a great reference book for all things in the Italian kitchen, from herbs to making pasta.  I must admit, that I had never made this pasta sauce before.  Was it the idea of butter and onion  merging in the sauce?  Perhaps it was because my mother always used carrot, celery and onion as a basis for her tomato sauces.  
It was not until Marcella's recent, untimely death, that made me re think this method.   I came across a video of Marcella, in what would be one of her final video's of her cooking in her kitchen with Mark Bittman (NY Times),  and her husband Victor, making this very sauce.  
 I began to rethink my logic as I pondered upon every step she took in her kitchen,  although very frail.  All her enthusiasm and still talking about simple, fresh,  ingredients.  It  gave her life and so much joy.  Today, it gave us all joy.
    Rest in Peace Marcella Hazan. 

One pound of pasta (I used penne)
5 tablespoons of butter (just cut from the stick of butter)
One whole onion (I used Italian sweet red onion.  Marcella suggests yellow)
Salt (2 teaspoons for your sauce, one plus 1/2 tablespoon for your pasta water.
2 cups of canned diced tomato's.   
1/2 cup red wine (my addition, as it cuts the acidity of the tomato's)
Method:  Into a pan large enough to accommodate your sauce, pour in your tomato's.
Add your butter and your split onion ( Onion will be discarded later)
When your sauce comes to a boil, add your wine.
Let it all reduce.  After about 45 minutes you will see the fat begin to separate from the pan and your sauce thicken.

Cook your pasta and toss with your sauce and plenty of Parmigiano cheese.  
It will be creamy and your  sauce will stick to your pasta.  I must admit, I will be making it again and again. 
Buon Appetito!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Brussel Sprouts (Italian style), Side dish, Contorno

Let me just say, right from the beginning,that the term,"Italian style," is over rated.   I am so happy to get that out of the way.   Most definetely, the term, is over used.   It should really read, in the "Style of an Italian"  in reference to this Cook.   There are  20 Regions of Italy, 103 Provinces,  each with their own cooking styles and methods.  Italian food is not typically covered in spices, another misconception, I am here to help correct. 
Brussel Sprouts, not native to Italy, is probably one of the most misunderstood vegetables here in the States. Grown as early as the 13th century, in Belguim, they are quite popular in Northern Europe. They are believed to have anti cancer properties, like Broccoli. 
 These tiny cabbages can be quite delicious when simply blanched, then sauted in garlic and pancetta.  The addition of wine removes the earthy taste and brings new life to a bland cabbage.  Hope you give it a try and don't forget to let me know in comments.  Buon Appetito!  
Special note:  For my Kosher and Vegetarian friends, please use Italian sweet onion in your saute instead.   It will not only be delicious but very colorful and inviting on your Dinner table.
Recipe (4-6 people), as a side dish.
1 pound Brussel sprouts, cleaned and blanched in salted water and set aside.
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic smashed, to be removed before serving.
4 slivers of pancetta sliced long and thin.  
 1/2 cup of dry white wine
Some fresh parsley for garnish
A skillet with a cover  
Clean by peeling away the outer leaves from the Brussel Sprouts and place in cold, salted water.  Drain and rinse.  Place on the stovetop with enough water to cover and bring to a boil.  Blanch for a good 5 minutes in boiling water.   Drain and set aside.   Heat your oil in your skillet and saute your pancetta and the color changes and is fragrant.  Add your  garlic until fragrant and slightly golden.  Split your Brussel Sprouts in half and add them to the pan.  Mix and coat.  Place the lid on the pan for a few minutes.   Remove the lid and carefully add your wine.   Let evaporate until just a film of oil is left in the pan.  This should all take about 5-7 minutes as your Brussel Sprouts have been pre cooked.   Do not put them in the pan Raw, as there flavor can be quite intense and take a long time to cook.   You don't want to loose any vitamin content.   Buon Appetito!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chicken Cacciatora in Bianco (White wine version), Hunters style chicken version 2

I have seen many versions, all through Italy of Chicken Alla Cacciatora.   "Alla Cacciatora" refers to Hunter's style chicken.  Men would go out with their dogs and rifle's, hunting birds and such..  Many would come back to a delicious meal, normally of freshly killed chicken, that was cleaned and prepared the night before.  What makes this so unique, is the addition of the vinegary capers. They give this dish a very nice finish.   Unlike Pollo alla pepperoni, chicken with baby peppers,  that uses chicken thighs or breasts, this version, uses a whole chicken, cut up into pieces.  This version, also calls for passing the chicken pieces in flour.   The dredging in flour, gives this sauce a delicious thickness. Homegrown chickens, raised in the backyard, is not as fatty as the store bought, American versions.  They are not laced with antibiotics and colorants.   You will want to have extra bread on hand to help clean your plate.  It's all delicious to me.  Buon Appetito.
This version is without tomato. Although one can add tomato to this dish if you like.  That is another version. 
Ingredients (4 people)
One 4-5 pound chicken, cup up into pieces.  Leave some of the fat on the chicken
2-3 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of pepper
Flour (about 1 cup), for dredging
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of white wine (for deglazing the pan)
 One tablespoon olive oil 
4-5 colorful pepper (medium), cut into slices. If you are using a jarred variety, be sure and drain them first.  Then slice them into thin slices. 
2-3 cloves of garlic (smashed, to be removed later if you like)
One large pan to accommodate your ingredients in a flat fashion.  
A lid for your pan
Salt and pepper your chicken pieces and dredge in flour.
Heat your vegetable oil in the pan.  
Brown your chicken on all sides.  Remove the chicken from the pan.  De glaze the pan with wine.  Let it reduce until all of your tiny pieces come off the bottom of the pan when scraped with a spoon. 
Let the liquid reduce until there is almost nothing left in the pan but about 1/4 cup.   Drain the liquid over the chicken and set aside.
Do not wash your pan!!!!
Place your tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and heat to medium.   Add your garlic and peppers, slivered, all at once.   Place a lid on the pan and keep for about 3 minutes or so.   You will notice your vegetables will be softening and your peppers and garlic, fragrant.   At this point, return your chicken, all of it's liquid to the pan.   Keep a watchful eye on it.  You don't want it to turn dry.  Lower the heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes.  Your liquid should thicken, but not stick.  If your chicken is sticking, your heat is to high.  Add a little water to the pan and turn your chicken over to coat.  When your chicken is almost done, place 2 tablespoon of capers into the pan.   Be sure to give the capers a rinse first under fresh water.  Salted capers or capers that are two vinegary can also over power this dish.  
Pour everything into a serving dish and serve with plenty of crusty bread.    A light, Pinot Noir is the perfect wine pairing for this dish.  
Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alfredo's Chocolate Pecan Tart

I just don't know what gets into my husband sometimes.   He has a sweet tooth, thanks to his Southern Mom.  So I am not surprised at all, when he, enthusiastically, wants to take part in cooking a dessert.  
We always had the luxury of the nearest bakery growing up.  Here in the Southern, United States, it's hard to believe, that this concept never caught on.  It's getting harder and harder to find anything fresh out of the kitchen anymore too.  People have gotten so busy, they just can't identify basic ingredients anymore.   If they only knew how easy it is to bake a tart.   They probably have the ingredients right in their own kitchen.  It can be our little secret. 

Ingredients:  2  large eggs or 3 medium
1/3 cup of white sugar
1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 cup, plus half cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons  mixing Bourbon.  It does not have to be expensive
4-5 oz of semisweet chocolate/ chopped
2 cups Pecans (halved)
One home made pie crust or store bought pie crust (with sugar added).
One 8 inch tart pan non stick tart pan with removable bottom
One baking sheet / lined with parchment
Preheat your oven to 325/bake/

Roll out your pastry dough and line your pan.  Place in refrigerator to set for up to 2 hours.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on low or just in a bowl with a wooden spoon, combine your eggs, sugar, extract, syrup and Bourbon.   Do not over mix.  You just want it combined.
Chop your chocolate.  Line your chocolate pieces in the bottom of your pie crust.  Carefully poor your mixture over your chocolate pieces.   Carefully place your Pecans  around your tart pan to make a rounded design of our choice.  Do not worry if they sink a little.  They will puff up some while your tart bakes.   As it cools, they will settle and be perfect.

Bake for 45-55 minutes.  Check at the 30 minute mark.  If your Pecans are browning, be sure and loosely cover with foil.  Let cool and carefully remove the ring from the pan.  It may take some work.  I let mine cool to much so I had to use a knife around the tart for some assistance.
Serve with a little Chantilly Bourbon cream
One cup whipping cream/ whipped in a mixer with a pinch of confectioners sugar,  until fluffy.  With the machine on, add a tablespoon of Bourbon.  
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top and a side of Bourbon. heheh
Buon Appetito 



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Cinderella at The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day:  The secret to humor is surprise. Aristotle

Words of wisdom, Aristotle. When I read that, I nodded, Yes! My kids think it's hilarious to catch me off guard, when I'm doing something noisy and mundane like drying my hair. They walk into the bathroom, and just as I turn off the dryer, they say, "Hi, Mom!" I shriek. The boys laughs. I check my blood pressure, and we all relive the moment doubled over with laughter.

That's what it's like to watch the comedy on stage at The Children's Theatre. We were invited to a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes tour of Cinderella (playing at CTC through Jan. 5, 2014) where we were treated to rehearsal of the clogging scene and the breakfast scene.

The clogging competition happens during the family party.

The boys and girls are trying to out-clog each other.

Then, Josephine steals the show as she kicks up her heals.

I noticed the technician checking the dancers' shoes.

The Director, Peter Brosius, pointed out that they had tiny microphones taped to the shoes so the audience could better hear the tapping.

It was fun to sit up front at be allowed to capture their facial expressions with my camera.

From the word, "Go," they were in character.

Victor Zupanc, music director extraordinaire, popped his head out of the pit.

Traci Allen as Cinderella, Dean Holt as Pearl, Autumn Ness as the Wicked Stepmother, and Reed Sigmund as Dorcas, four of the five company members at CTC. Gerald Drake is the fifth member of the company. He's been with The Children's theatre for 43 years. Traci Allen just came on board this year. Although we saw her in Lizzie Bright, Spring of 2012. The comedic play between these actors is amazing. How fun it must be to work with someone for years and to be able to so easily play off each other. 

Then, treat of all treats, we watched the breakfast scene with the nasty step-sisters and wicked step-mother. Cinderella is scurrying around at each command. Everything is choreographed to the second. Who knew that it takes hours of rehearsal to look so spontaneous and surprising?!

The director giving last minute notes.

Autumn Ness and Traci Allen, an adorable pair.

Autumn Ness working her magic!

She pulled Krista up for a bit on flirting during the rehearsal.

Pearl, giving Krista "the look."

The surprises kept us guessing, and laughing!

Look out, Lady Gaga, Virginia's got your house dress!

Lookin' lovely and makin' wishes.

Some playful interactions.

Dean Holt and Autumn Ness explaining how fun it is to have kids in the audience. 
Now, there are your surprises!

Traci Allen took a break from rehearsal and posed with the girls.

Children's Theatre Director Peter C. Brosius and Mary Aalgaard

Sherry Ward, PR for the Children's Theater, Mary Aalgaard and the girls.
Thanks for the inviting us to the show, and for the sneak peak and behind-the-scenes tour.
We had a blast!!!

Leah and Rebekah waiting for Cinderella.

Krista and the girls

The behind-the-scenes tour was a special blogger event. I feel so honored to be online media for the Children's Theatre, other metro theatres, and local events. What a great way to promote the arts and be part of many wonderful productions and events. Like Cinderella, we can all live the dream by stretching just a little further beyond our comfort zones and believing.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Describe one of your best days, ever!