Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sort-of Cincinnati Chili Recipe

I'm going through a "bored with my menu" phase.  Couple that with a "no refined sugar" experiment with my eating habits this week, and creativity finally made an appearance in my kitchen.  The result:  something that bears a vague resemblance to Cincinnati-style chili.

Now, this isn't REAL Cincinnati chili (which involves adding unusual spices to the chili, like cinnamon, allspice, Worcestershire sauce, and/or chocolate, then piling the chili on top of fresh pasta, and topping the whole thing with diced onions, cheddar cheese, and crushed oyster crackers).  But it may be a distant cousin.  However you look at it, it was still mighty tasty.  So here's my recipe, before I forget what I did:

Laurel's Sort-of Cincinnati Style Chili

1 lb. thin sliced stir fry beef (any lean, tender beef would be fine), 
   cut into 1/2 inch bites
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 cup salsa (I used a chipotle salsa)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 tsp. Victoria Taylor's Smoky Paprika Chipotle Seasoning (includes chipotle, 
    paprika, mesquite flavoring, oregano, garlic, chili peppers, and salt)  (I'd 
   substitute 1 tsp. chipotle, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp. oregano, and 1 tsp. 
   chili powder, since there's no guarantee you'll be able to find the spice 
   blend locally - I got mine from T. J. Maxx) 
1 lb. pasta (I used radiatore, also called pasta nuggets, but you can use 
   whatever you like best)
1 cup (or so) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
plain Greek yogurt OR sour cream

Lightly brown the meat in the canola oil in a large skillet or dutch oven.  When the meat is half done, add the onion and garlic, and saute until the onion is translucent.  Add the pepper to taste.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients and bring to a slow boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.   In a separate pot cook the pasta. Served the chili on top of the pasta.  Top the chili with shredded cheddar and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Serves 4-5

Sorry, no picture tonight - I'll try to remember to get one tomorrow when I have the leftover chili for lunch.

Monday, July 23, 2012


SG mowing - something we haven't had to do for a while, due to the drought.  This picture is a couple months old.

Some days I despair of Safety Guy developing the self-awareness to enable him to deal with other people in a reasonable fashion.  I'm not after perfection (good grief, none of us are perfect), but some days I wonder when (not if) someone will clock him for his confrontational comments or rudeness.  But, there are other times (not days, more like moments) where he shows a flash of awareness that gives me hope.  I've seen more flashes of that self-awareness lately.  A comment yesterday that he could tell his sister was in a bad mood, and he didn't say anything to get her more wound up.  A remark last night that "those of us with Aspergers" find some social things hard to handle.  (It's rare that he applies the Aspie label to himself in conversation.)  The hug he gave me last week, out of the blue.

I'm struggling a little with his teen years so far.  He's so close to being a young adult, yet so far away from having the social skills he'll need for the long run.  He's acquiring those skills at a somewhat slower pace than other boys his age, but mostly within the lower range of the variation I've seen in boys in his age group.  Working in the school has done this for me:  I've got a much better handle on what is "normal" for his age, and what I can expect as he gets older.

I'm grateful that he'll talk to me about personal stuff, emotional stuff, relationship stuff.  I try to give him good advice, and use stories from my own life to help him get his mind around social situations.  His father does the same thing with him.  Social stories, indeed.  Although we have to self-censor a bit, since he has a sharp memory for details, and enjoys bringing up old stories to discuss them again.  Don't tell him a story about an incident in your life that you don't want repeated in public someday!

We talk a lot, especially later in the evening.  I can almost set my watch by Safety Guy.  As soon as his sister is in bed, he'll come down and start talking to me about whatever is on his mind.  Could be his latest interests (this week it's a show called "Solved:  Extreme Forensics," and also an old favorite, "Top Gear").  Could be something he's nervous about (lately it's going back to school, which doesn't happen for another 6 weeks or so, but he's already starting to perseverate on it).  It may be something exciting coming up (a visit with my youngest sister and her family, where he'll get to see his newest cousin for the first time, is on his mind a lot now).  We talk and talk and talk.  I'm glad he doesn't shut us out of his life, and we've gotten used to how he often wears his emotions and thoughts on his sleeve.

Oh Lord, give us wisdom!  Safety Guy is going to need a lot more than we have on hand for the next decade or so.  The Princess, too, needs a lot of understanding.  There are days I despair of HER self-awareness too.  The tween years and the teen years are going to be a rough ride with her, I think.  Heaven help us all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Micro Whine, Macro Gratefulness

I'm sagging and dragging today, but I did a third workout for the week this morning.  It was a tough one.  My little whine is that my hands are still bothering me, although not as much as earlier in the week, and I ache all over.  It's a day where my body feels closer to 83 than 43.  Advil is my friend, and a wrist brace made sleeping much better last night.  I'm really, really grateful that my friend Melissa, who works out with me (and who's also general manager of the gym where I work out) gave me a post-workout workover to unkink my shoulders and arms.  That kind of hard massage can be painful as it happens, but very effective in the long run.  Ice, ibuprofen, and I'm on my way again.  Thanks, Melissa!

An unknown daylily I bought from my sister's neighbor in NC a couple years ago.  This one often throws polytepal flowers (flowers with extra petals and sepals).  I wish I knew the variety, it's a stunner.  I'm grateful for such beauty in my garden.
More to be grateful for:  the Princess is interested in sewing (she goes hot/cold on various projects all the time, so this is just the latest interest).  She's done some before.  She's like my Mom, who cycled through various hobbies through my childhood and young adult years.  Some hobbies came back around again with some regularity (knitting, crocheting, latch hook rugs, and making clothes), while other were a flash in the pan (macrame, make-it bake-it window decorations, jazzercise).  I'm not sure if this is our fourth or fifth journey into the land of sewing, but it's our most successful so far.  Yesterday she made two pillows - one plain, and one patchwork - and a simple purse with a cross-body strap.  Today she's starting a patchwork tote bag.  I don't know if we'll finish it tonight, but it's coming along really well.  I suggested that her next project involve making a simple dress.  I'm not a great seamstress, but I can help her do simple things.  Hopefully she'll continue to enjoy this hobby.  If she wants to do more complex things, she can ask either of her grandmothers, who are both excellent seamstresses.

One of my seedlings, a nice creamy flower with a green eye.  I've toyed with the idea of naming it after my daughter, or my grandmother.  They both have "Pearl" as a middle name, and my Grandma went by Pearl her whole life.
And still more to be grateful for:  Safety Guy gave me an unsolicited hug yesterday!  That kind of display of affection is rare from him, so it was sweet.  He went through a typical young man thing for a couple years where he didn't want ANY physical affection from us in public, and rarely in private.  The past year he's come back around to enjoying the occasional hug.  Even sweeter:  while he was calling me from camp, he told me, "I love you," very quietly at the end of the conversation, so his camping buddies couldn't overhear his soft side.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Random Wednesday

High summer, the grass is brown and crispy, and the cicadas are humming.  I'm keeping the kids busy with their various activities, and trying to keep the garden alive.  I'm still drawing and even sewing a little (I've listed four more teddy bears in my shop).  I'm still working out, and trying to be smart about what I eat, and I'm keeping a food log at the suggestion of a good friend, which has been helpful for me.  It's been good to have time to work on house stuff and still go to the pool when we want to.  Here are some highlights from the past week:

Safety Guy spent a long week at Boy Scout Camp.  He earned three merit badges and is most of the way through a fourth (he got Fishing, Woodcarving, and Leatherworking, and almost finished Nature).  He had some ups and downs with homesickness, but did pretty well over all.  He was thrilled to catch his first fish, but had a mishap while woodcarving that left a nice deep cut across his palm.  I guess if you're going to injure yourself, a camp full of Boy Scouts, Scout Masters, and a Nurse is the best place to be.  He's mostly healed up now and none the worse for wear.  His Dad spent a few days at Scout Camp too, as a volunteer with his troop, so they got some good guy bonding time. 

Princess Yakyak had her first horseback riding lesson last week.  It was love at first sight with her beginner horse, Cody, and she's a natural in the saddle (according to her instructor, not just her mother).  She can't wait for her next lesson, and she's already talking about showing horses in the future, and owning a stable of her own.  I can see this going on for a looooong time, but it's a great activity for her and I'm all for it.  I had lessons for a year or so at her age, and loved it.  I remember being horse crazy and dreaming of owning my own stable.  Princess Yakyak says that when she has her own stable, she'll keep a horse for me so we can ride together.  I kind of hope we get to do that, actually.

The back deck.  Dry, dry, dry!
It's been a struggle to keep the garden in reasonable shape this year.  On the plus side, the weeding  hasn't been too bad.  On the negative, I've had to target watering to the beds that need it the most, since we're several inches below the rain we usually have for the past couple months.  We've seen rain go by on the radar quite a few times, just north of us or well south of us.  We got quite the light show last night, but nary a drop of rain.  We seem to be in a dry island in the weather pattern in CNY right now.  And we're not even officially "drought stricken" like many places in the U.S., but as we drive we can see the lack of rain taking a toll on local crops.  It was 97 in the shade here yesterday, but is a much more moderate 83 today.

My grapes are fruiting like CRAZY.   They obviously love the heat.  The variety is 'Reliance,' a red seedless for fresh eating.
 I'm having a lot of trouble with my hands this week, due to carpal tunnel syndrome.  I've had flareups of that for many years, never very prolonged or severe.  This week, though, has been the worst episode ever.  If it hasn't eased off by the end of the week, I'll be talking with my doctor, although frankly most of what they'll suggest is over-the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, wrist splints at night, ice packs, and moderating what I do with my hands.  I think what triggered this was heaving a medicine ball around at my fitness class on Monday, because it was after that things went downhill for my hands.  I may have to modify that exercise (which was new to me, and actually a lot of fun to do with a partner).  I ached yesterday, but it was very disconcerting to wake up early today in so much pain, and with so much swelling, numbness, tingling and weakness in my hands.  I'll be icing my wrists today and being careful.  (Well, as careful as I can with laundry and house chores to do.)

My sister Kelly has started a blog featuring her recipes.  She's a good writer, and she is a wonderful cook.  If you have a moment, please stop by and check out her blog.  It's Kelly Ann's Cooking.  I need to try her Sweet Potato Breakfast Casserole SOON.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Daylily Heaven

The front of our house, this week.  Daylilies!
While it's been a real scorcher of a summer so far, hot and dry here as in so much of the U.S., I have to say my daylilies are doing fantastic.  Both the established named varieties and my seedlings are putting on quite a show.  I have had to water them, which I've done in the evenings to minimize water waste due to evaporation.  One good soaking for each bed each week.  I've been rewarded with a glorious display.  The garden is finally starting to look a bit like I envisioned when we moved in three summers ago.

Above is one of my seedlings.  I call it 'Dixie Highway,' although I haven't registered it yet.  It's my favorite seedling (so far!).

This is 'G. Willikers.'  It looks great in cooler weather, when this picture was taken a couple weeks ago on a cool morning.  In full, hot sun it tends to fade badly by afternoon.  It's very prolific, though - buds galore, and it sets pods like crazy.

This is 'Jambalaya,' one of my favorites for pattern.  It's another that performs best when the weather is a little cooler, but it's been blooming nonstop for a couple weeks now.  I can't fault it for trying, although it fades a little in extreme heat.

Another of my seedlings, from the old house (probably sown in 2007).  I call it 'Oye Como Va.'  It seems to shrug off the heat pretty well, and it's a VERY sturdy plant, with scapes like tree trunks.

'Dominic' forming a wonderful clump, left, and a single bloom, right.  It's such a deep, saturated blood red in the full sun, it's amazing.  It's tall, too - about 30" - and stands above the rest in the back row of plants.  In the sunset light it glows.

An assortment of daylilies by the wall.  'Bela Lugosi' is dark violet, up front, then 'Jambalaya' and what I think is 'Bahama Butterscotch.'  'Bela Lugosi' fits in with the warm colors better than I thought it would (I thought it would be a little darker when I planted it).  It's certainly eye-catching, and laughs at the heat - no fading at all.

Another of my seedlings - 'Foolish Heart,' unregistered.  It's not a perfect flower (the sepals are a bit narrow compared to the petals), but I like the color and ruffling.  It was slow to get its mature growth, but now it's really robust and blooming heavily.  This daylily taught me to wait a few years before tossing a plant that seems weak even if the flower is promising.  Weaklings sometimes just need time and a different location to thrive.

I don't remember this seedling blooming last year (not all bloom their second summer after sowing), so it's a new one for me.  It has nice, deep color, and a fine dark eye.  I'll be excited to see how it performs next summer, when it's more mature.  I'll have to think of a name for it if I decide to keep it.  I was hoping to get a couple nice, dark reds or crimsons from the seeds I sowed, so I'm really happy with this one.

This is 'Cousin Charles,' a huge, intense crimson flower (red shading toward dark violet).  It's a standout in the bed by the deck in the back yard.
It's a big plant, and a massive flower (some almost 8" across).

This was actually the first seedling that I decided to keep, sown in 2006 (I think - it may have been 2005) at the old house.  Oddly enough, I haven't named it yet.  I should - it just improves with age.  It's sturdy, has nice foliage and strong scapes, blooms generously, and is a lovely bloom with good form.  Unusually for gardens farther north, the heavy ruffled edge of the bloom opens reliably and without fuss even when it's cooler in the morning.  This has been a hot summer, so it's been stunning every day.  It needs a special name, preferably after a classic rock song (like my other seedlings so far).  'Take It Easy'?  'Ventura Highway'?  'Sister Golden Hair'?  I'm in an Eagles/America frame of mind for this one.  Or maybe 'Going To Carolina' after the James Taylor song.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wild Blue Yonder

Well, we sent Safety Guy off to Boy Scout camp yesterday.  It was a bittersweet sendoff, since he had a huge meltdown in the process of getting ready.  While walking the parental tightrope of offering independence to him while trying to give him the best chance of success, I screwed up.  He wanted to pack all of his own stuff.  In spite of my better judgment, I took a look in his duffel and realized he had packed a completely inadequate amount of clothing.  He'll be gone for six days; he had enough clothes for 2-3 days.  I should have just let him be stinky and dirty.  By adding socks and stuff to his bag, I precipitated a big meltdown.


It was very discouraging, and I was angry with myself much more than with him for his harsh words and yelling at his father and I.  And to his credit, Safety Guy did apologize to me later on when he'd cooled down.  I owe him an apology too, the next time we talk.  (Ah, the magic of cell phones, reaching out even from the Adirondacks and Scout Camp.) 

So my husband drove him up to Camp Russell, and I spent the day with the Princess.  Later that evening we got an unhappy call from Safety Guy.  He was upset, and wanted us to come get him from camp.  He'd had a panic attack over the swimming test and couldn't do it, and he was distraught at having to spend the entire week at camp, out of his comfort zone.  I talked him down to some semblance of calm, while making sure he knew that us picking him up was NOT going to happen.  He was up there; we're down here.  Our conversation went something like this:

(I don't want to be here!  I want to be home!  Why did I decide to do this?!  I just want my normal routine back.)  You decided to do this months ago, and camp is paid for.  We're not driving back up there, and we know you can do this.  Give it a chance, you'll find good things to enjoy.  You'll have your routine back soon.

(I can't believe I panicked at the swim test, and I didn't think they'd understand.)  You can try again for the swimming test.  All you can do is your best, and move on no matter what the result is.  If you need to choose another badge to work on, why don't you look for a history-related one - you're really good with history.  Remember you did Indian Lore last year?  (Uh huh.) 

Remember the fun you had last year? (Yeah.  I remember that someone stole my money, too.) Yes, but if you keep your money ON you in your wallet, that's not likely to happen again.  (Okay.)

Do they still have the rock wall? (I think so.)  Remember that you enjoyed that last year?  (Yes!)

What are you doing tonight? (Sleeping!  Oh, and a campfire.) 

Can I send anything up to you with your Dad when he comes to camp later in the week?  (Drinks, or money for drinks at the camp store, please.  And I'd like to get some camping stuff at the store, if there's any extra money.)  

What if I send up a treat for you and your friends too?  (That would be cool.)  

And so he moved on from the drama and frustration, and was calm and ready to take on the campfire activities that evening.  I really, really hope he has a good day today.  I hope he passes the swimming test, which he has to do if he's to be able to work on his Rowing badge.  I hope he has more positive than negative experiences this week.

The house is strangely quiet without him here.  No random questions, no car-wreck noises, no fire alarms, no "Top Gear" or "Dukes of Hazzard" going in the background.  (No sibling infighting - I wouldn't be human if I didn't enjoy the lack of that.)  He'll be back Saturday, though, and life as "normal" as possible in our family will resume.

I hope he has a good week.  Tomorrow I need to make some peanut butter chip cookies to send to camp.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Big Apple

 The Lake in Central park, looking southeast from the rocks at Hernshead.

Well, we're back from New York City, and we enjoyed our getaway.  It was good to do something completely different from our regular routine, although the hustle, crowds and noise were a bit trying for us, especially for Safety Guy and my husband.  We had a couple "meltdown moments" along the way, but by and large we got to see some neat things and have some fun.

Looking south from the Empire State Building.  
I was surprised to see how huge the new WTC complex is now.

The first night there we decided to go up the Empire State Building, and walk by Times Square - both at the request of the kids.  Going up the Empire State Building was fun (and the wait was amazingly short - we got up to the top in about half an hour, far less of a wait than the last time we were there).  Oddly enough, my husband and I seem to have reversed our tolerances regarding heights.  It used to be that he was very blase of them, and I was nervous and hung back by the inside walls, but this time it was the opposite.  He was more cautious, and I went right up to the edge and looked over.  Strange.  Times Square was gaudy and noisy, a real eyesore, and the kids both decided that they didn't care if they never saw it again.  (Smart kids.)

 Looking east from the hotel terrace - the American Museum of Natural History 
is the red sandstone building with copper turrets, and Central Park is just beyond it.

We stayed at the On The Ave Hotel at 77th and Broadway.  It was very nice.  We upgraded to a bigger room, and we are SO glad we did.  Two queen beds, plus a seating area with a couch and love seat - the room to spread out was worth every penny.  The hotel was a bit worn around the edges, but spotlessly clean and with very friendly, helpful staff.  My husband was especially taken with the bathroom:  floor to ceiling black and white marble, with a shower big enough to host a party in.  I enjoyed the rooftop terrace, which was divided into a handful of private seating areas so you could feel alone even in the city.  The hotel was in a pleasant, family-oriented neighborhood.  (High rent, of course, but that's Manhattan near the park for you.)

 Princess Yakyak on the rocks at Hernshead, by the Lake, Central Park.

The second day, July 4th, we did a lot of walking.  We went to Central Park in the morning, and it was strangely quiet.  I think many people were off work and sleeping in because of the holiday.  We wandered around the lake, near the Ladies' Pavilion and Hernshead.  The kids climbed on the rocks, and I got some great photos.  We even saw a red eared slider turtle digging a hole to lay her eggs.  Then we headed for the American Museum of Natural History.

Oh, my!  We really, really enjoyed going to the AMNH.  I am so grateful that our kids actually like going to museums.  We spent hours there, browsing through the cultural exhibits from around the world, and the various habitat-themed areas, before making our way to the fourth floor to see the dinosaurs and other fossils.  Princess Yakyak's jaw dropped more than once at the fossils.  Even Safety Guy, who's not usually very "into" fossils, was impressed.  He was more excited about the cultural artifacts, taking video and photos with his iPod.  I could have spent hours looking at the artifacts, textiles and pottery from ancient cultures.  I wish I'd taken pictures of the Japanese netsuke (small ivory or wood carvings, very detailed and whimsical).  Then there was the museum gift shop - all three floors of it.  Princess Yakyak was delighted, and spent quite a while picking out just the right souvenir.  She ended up with a carved stone turtle as big as her hand.  I bought myself a Christmas ornament - an enameled, jointed goldfish.  I buy an ornament on each vacation we take.

Sunset from the hotel terrace.

The evening of the Fourth, we decided to split up.  Princess Yakyak and I were not that thrilled about seeing the fireworks from midtown.  It turned out that the terrace of the hotel faced north, and the fireworks were to the south.  I didn't have any desire to go stand in the crowds of the world, and neither did PYY, so Tech Guy and Safety Guy went to the fireworks (watching from down around 50th Ave.).  The Princess and I decided to walk around the neighborhood around our hotel and make another foray into Central Park.  Many stores had closed early because of the holiday, so shopping was a bust, but we enjoyed the park again.  We took more pictures, and stopped at a local market on the way home for a treat.  It was hotter than hot in the city all three days, in the low 90s, and we were wringing wet with sweat by the time we got back to the hotel.  We showered and cooled off, then spent some time watching the sunset from the terrace.  It was great to spend time with my girl.  We heard the fireworks while watching TV (I was drawing, too), and later the guys came back tired but pleased.

 The stern of a large wooden canoe, 
made by the Haida people of Northwestern North America.
I love their graphic black/red/white designs.

The last day was simple - just getting up, cleaning up, and heading home.  We were starting to suffer from too much togetherness, although Safety Guy was just as happy to ride the subway and the Metro in reverse again.  We made it home without any serious meltdowns (thanks to a couple judicious stops, and a bag of M&Ms I pulled out of my purse half an hour before we got home, when things started to go south in a big way with the kids - it's amazing what a good distraction candy can be).

 I was surprised at how easily I was able to manage in the city.  It didn't make me nervous or uptight, and I realized that if I had to live in a major metro area that I could do it and even enjoy it more than I thought.  But I still also realized that I need the green space, and the SPACE, afforded by living in the country.  The rooftop gardens we could see were pleasant, but they were just little oases of green in the concrete anthill.  My favorite part of New York City was Central Park.  Sure, I love museums, and I could probably spend a weekend in NYC every so often and never get tired of looking at the art and architecture, concerts and exhibits there.  But to live in the general NY metro area?  I hope I don't ever have to. 

Right:  Safety Guy on the rocks at Hernshead. -->

Monday, July 2, 2012

Anticipation and Apprehension

Well, we're getting ready for our first family mini-vacation in over three years:  we're going down to New York City for the 4th of July.  We've wanted to take the kids to NYC for quite a while, but we waited until we thought they were old enough to really enjoy it (and not need our eyes on them every minute of the day, although we'll probably do that out of habit anyhow).  The kids are beyond excited about this trip, even though it's just for two nights.  Safety Guy has been talking about this adventure to anyone who will listen (or even just hold still for 30 seconds) for the past two weeks.

We went back and forth over the timing of this trip, due to Safety Guy's Aspergers.  After all, what could be wrong with taking a young man with social needs, sensory issues, auditory sensitivity and a reliance on schedules on a trip to the Big Apple over the Fourth of July?  But my brilliant husband suggested we get a hotel within sight of the fireworks, where we could watch the celebration from the top floor observation deck and not have to mingle with the millions along the waterfront.  So, that's the plan.  Now, we all know what can happen to good plans, so I'm hoping that this trip goes mostly as we expect it will:  the first night, go up the Empire State Building and then see Times Square, on the Fourth, go for a morning walk in Central Park, then spend the afternoon at the Museum of Natural History, and the evening for the fireworks.  The last morning we might try to get down to the 9/11 Memorial before heading home.

Safety Guy is the most excited about the transportation element:  trains, subways, traffic jams.  He was stuck on the travel timetable last night, so I looked up the train schedule so he'd have an idea how long we'd have to wait for a train, and how long the ride would be into Grand Central.  It's going to be a long day of travel.  The part of the trip I'm least looking forward to?  The car part, where the kids are in close proximity to each other for waaayyy to long.  I still feel like I'm planning for a trip with toddlers:  distractions, snacks, books, games, drinks, anything to keep them from each others' throats and off their father's nerves.

I hope we make some good memories, with a minimum of drama and friction.  Can I get an amen?