Monday, May 9, 2011

Healthy Husband, Happy Me

A few weeks ago, my husband had his yearly health screening at work. He's one of the healthiest people I've ever known. He rarely gets sick and doesn't have any "vices" to speak of unless you count the occasional apple pie. Still, he has a fondness for eggs cooked in butter. I use olive oil when I make eggs, but when he does it, he stubbornly sticks to butter. I was afraid it was beginning to stick to his arteries. So many people who are robustly healthy in their teens and twenties have a "ten feet tall and bullet-proof" mentality as their unhealthy habits haven't yet caught up to them. As Josh just turned thirty last year, I've asked him to consider making some small changes. He already does much better than the average American male. He gave up pop (soda to my East Coast friends) at age 23, weaned himself off of sweet tea, drinks green tea at work all day and avoids red meat except on rare occasions and eats a largely Mediterranean-style diet. He's perfectly happy eating red beans and rice and quinoa and black bean burritos. He does have a couple of things that worry me- the butter and using artificial creamer in his coffee. He still prefers that over coconut milk or even organic milk. All in all, though, I can't complain. So, I should've known my gentle teasing ("nagging" according to him) would come back to bite me when I got a phone call one afternoon and Josh (too) innocently asked me if I wanted to hear the results of his health screening. I eagerly said, "of course!" and he launched into a dizzying list of terms and numbers. Total Cholesterol: 100, HDL 39, TC/HDL Ratio- N.A. because it was so low it couldn't be calculated! LDL- N.A.- too low to calculate. Triglycerides- 68 , Glucose- 81 Systolic blood pressure-119, Diastolic- 73 Translation: VERY, VERY healthy. He let it sink in for a few minutes and then proceeded to smirk over the phone. I could FEEL him smirking. He asked me if I was happy ( duh) and then told me he was going to celebrate with a triple-bacon cheeseburger between two glazed donuts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Chocolate Bunny Dilemma

Our kids don't usually specifically ask for items during traditional "gift" holidays like Christmas and Easter. I think the main reason is that we stress the REAL reason for the holidays and not the consumer-driven aspects of them. We still get them a little something and have some fun with it, but they've never made a point to ask for anything.
A few days ago, though, Goober and I were talking and Easter came up. He got a wistful look on his face and shared that he'd like to have a chocolate bunny in his Easter basket like other kids get. In the past, we've filled their eggs with small toys, dried fruit, little crackers and a little bit of peanut/tree-nut free candy. They have never gotten the requisite chocolate bunnies because I have never found one that isn't nut-contaminated. Since we don't have cable and they're home-schooled, they're not as influenced by society as other kids, and don't really know what IS "normal" from a materialistic consumer standpoint- which was fine with us! I had wondered, however, if that would change as they got older and more observant.
I've been thinking on it for a few days and went to a website that specializes in nut-free chocolates. I got to the chocolate bunnies and almost fell out of my chair. A five-ounce bunny STARTS at $8.95 and the ten-ounce starts at $14.95. With shipping, the 10 oz. would be $22. Now, I love my kids to death, but $22 for a chocolate bunny?! Don't think so. For that price, I wouldn't let my kid eat it, I'd have it appraised, insured, frame it, and hang it on the wall.
As I sat there wondering how they're still in business, I started thinking... "it's just molded chocolate, if I just had a mold and a few bags of Hershey's milk chocolate chips, I could do it myself for a fraction of the cost...". I checked Amazon for molds and sure enough, a 5 oz. bunny mold runs about $2. Now we're talking. I also saw one for those little chocolate eggs- the pastel foil-wrapped ones? I went ahead and got that one, too. It should arrive in the next day or so and I plan to do one mold a night until I have one for each child and a little handful of eggs for each of them. That will make up the bulk of their candy as we're not fans of letting them have a ton of sugar, but I'm sure that having "real chocolate bunnies" in their baskets, they won't even notice the lack of jelly beans.

Monday, February 28, 2011

There IS Hope for Terminally Picky Children!

Our middle child Crash has always been unbelievably picky. If it wasn't meat, bread or junk, he just plain wasn't interested. It wasn't because we indulged him, he just made his likes and dislikes very well known and very often, as soon as we'd sit down to dinner, he'd ask to be excused to bed. No whining, no pouting, just very matter-of-factly asked to go to bed rather than eat. We knew he'd eat if he was hungry and weren't going to cater to him. He hasn't starved to death and he's got one of the strongest immune systems I've ever seen in a kid despite sucking his fingers from the time he was a baby and being a classically DIRTY boy- maybe it's BECAUSE of that... anyway... .
Our firstborn, Goober, was a whole different story. He was full-term after an uneventful pregnancy and for all intents and purposes, healthy. Right from the get-go, though, we struggled with a lot of issues. Food allergies, head-to-toe eczema and INSANE fussiness because of the food allergies, thrush... . It was a rough go. After the dust settled and he was ready to begin solid food, though, I was determined to do it right. I was "crunchy" before it was cool ( read: weird). I cloth-diapered, breastfed and made my own baby food. I used to love going to the farmer's market bright and early on Saturday mornings with my husband and shopping for produce. I'd bring home our finds and steam, puree' and freeze his baby food in ice cube trays. If it could be processed down for a baby, I used it. I am absolutely convinced this early exposure to healthy food is what fueled Goober's love of all things vegetable. There is NOTHING he won't eat and enjoy. We once attended a birthday party for our little neighbor girl when he was three. Because of Goober's allergies, he couldn't have the cake and ice cream, but all the other mothers watched in total fascination as he happily chowed down on a bowl of raw broccoli from the veggie tray and then asked for more. We have never had a problem getting Goober to eat "what's good for you". If he finds out something is good for him, he's even more excited to eat it.
I think where we went wrong with Crash was when he came along, my husband begged me to rely on store-bought baby food to save time. Sleep-deprived, I was all for it. I still insisted on buying organic baby food whenever possible, but the variety was much, much less. Crash had a much more traditional introduction to food than Goober. We continued in this way with Princess, who arrived eighteen months after Crash. She does much better about trying new foods, but she's laid-back and eager to please.
As I said before, we've never catered to our kids, if they didn't want to eat what was served, they didn't eat. We changed our policies a bit a few years ago after learning of some friends who have a "No-thank-you" bite rule. The kids have to take at least one ( real) bite of everything on their plate before they can be excused. It was pretty rough at first and we had some show-downs. I think the record for sitting at the table until a bite was taken was at least an hour. He even threw up once. Not because of the taste, it was more from all the pent-up anxiety. After that, though, things began to slowly improve. The child who would only voluntarily eat raw carrot sticks and mashed potatoes previously was now eating roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower, broccoli, cooked carrots and even a couple of green beans. Now, miracle of miracles, he actually asks for raw red onion on his sandwiches and will even happily eat spinach in soup. I know tastes change as people get older, but I honestly never held out much hope for Crash. I really didn't. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you have a picky eater, don't give up. Most importantly, whatever you do, don't cater to their preferences. They don't know what they will like and not like. The only thing in their way is preconceived ideas of "yucky". If you cater to them, they will never branch out and explore new foods on their own. Require them to at least try new foods. What we found with Crash was that, over time, as he got over that fact that he was eating a vegetable, it made room for him to find out that he did actually like onions and spinach and brussels sprouts and he's actually developed a taste for them. I am so glad we kept at it!
Here's a recipe for Crash's new favorite soup. I make a version very similar to this with chicken for my husband when he gets sick ( I add cayenne pepper for congestion) and without chicken the rest of the time. The shiitake's are meaty enough. I also omit the mirin and add a little lime juice. I made it for myself one day with veggie broth and the ingredients I had on hand because I was craving it and all the kids begged to try some. It didn't surprise me that Goober and Princess liked and ate it. What did was the way Crash's eyes lit up and he exclaimed, "I LOVE this soup- can you make it again tonight?". He then proceeded to eat a big spoonful brimming with spinach and garlic chunks. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I added it to our meal rotation :).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Garlic and honey

Well, four out of the five of us are sick. It's that time of year. So, last night, I broke out the garlic and honey.
As I've noted before, I was very fortunate to have grown up with four grandmothers. Each one had her own "flavor" and way about her. Two of them were very into natural healing. My great-grandmother kept her own tiny herb garden outside in her tiny apartment garden ( it was BEAUTIFUL). Among the roses were clumps of spearmint and chamomile and other herbs, I'm sure, but those are the ones I remember the most. She would dry them and keep them in old Gerber baby food jars left over from 30 plus years of caring for grand-children and great-grandchildren. I remember whenever one of us would have an upset stomach, she'd break out the peppermint and once, when I was sick, she had me lie on the floor, poured an oil that she had to have made herself in her hands, rubbed them together to warm them and rubbed my back. It really did work. I fell asleep and woke up feeling better.
Another grandmother was my Grandpa's second wife, Maggie. She had bookshelves full of natural healing books and booklets and knew exactly what to use for what ailment. Once when we were sick at her house ( I woke up early one morning, leaned over and barfed on my poor sister. If I remember correctly, she returned the favor. Our poor grandma...), she broke out the ginger tea. It took a bit, but it began working and our rebellious stomachs settled down.
She knew which "weeds" ( plantain and a couple of others) in the yard to grab when we'd wandered into the stinging nettle on the creek bank. She'd crush and roll them in her hands and put them on our burning skin and it would work very well. I used to sit and pore over her books, soaking up as much as I could. I'm sure I've forgotten some, but one I saw over and over that made a huge impression on me was fresh chopped garlic in honey for coughs, colds and flu.
My kids are rarely sick, and when they are, it tends to be mild, but I'm pretty preemptive when I hear them start to cough or sniffle. I make sure to use organic garlic because conventional is irradiated and rendered worthless. It must be organic. The rub about garlic is, the finer you chop it, the hotter it is. My two younger kids can't handle swallowing big slices of it suspended in honey, yet, so I chop it fine in my food processor for them and mix it with honey and lemon juice. Goober actually LOVES it, Princess tolerates it okay, but Crash? Oh, the DRAMA!!! It takes my husband's "no nonsense" tone and me working quickly to get it in. Then, there's getting him to swallow it. *Sigh* Fortunately, he only gets sick about once a year. It WORKS, too. If they're really congested, I break out the ginger and either chop that up and put it into the garlic-honey mixture, or brew it into a tea. For the younger two, dumping everything in together works the best, but Goober actually likes it in a tea with honey. There's nothing that kid won't try ( and most likely actually *like*).
A friend of mine here introduced me to elderberry syrup. It's made by steeping dried elderberries, ginger and cinnamon in water for a bit, straining it and mixing with honey to create a syrup. It'll keep about a week in the fridge. It's VERY good for fighting colds and flu by working with the immune system. I'm actually getting ready to make some as I'm feeling pretty terrible. The kids are already perkier after their dose of garlic last night ( they'll get more before bed tonight) and are actually outside playing in the snow. That's the beauty of most tried and true natural cures- it's almost impossible to overdose on them, and whatever your body doesn't need passes harmlessly through. I'll take them any day over concoctions created in labs with most of the bottle covered in warnings and caveats. The only warning I could see with garlic is, "you're gonna stink. Have some courtesy and stand at least four feet away from people when you speak to them. " ;)

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I had planned to make tamales the day before Christmas Eve., but didn't get to it because I got a brand-new Kitchen-Aid mixer for Christmas and spent the entire day feverishly baking cookies for our neighbors to keep with tradition. Totally pulled it off, too, thanks to my new toy :).

As I had all the ingredients, I just needed to wait for a day when I could do it- like when my husband would be home to be with the kids while I worked. Ta-da! New Year's Day!
I braised the meat in the oven for hours yesterday while I did other things in the kitchen. Last night before bed, I shredded it and stuck it in the fridge for today.
Right before I began, I thought, "hmmm, tamales aren't something everyone knows how to make, maybe I'll just take pictures along the way so I can explain it".
Sooooo... here goes!
Veteran tamale makers will tell you that you need at least two days to make your tamales. They aren't kidding. I did it in one day once and that was ALL I did. By the time I was done, I was too tired to even enjoy my efforts. So... definitely plan on doing it over the course of a couple of days.
I've also experimented with several different methods of cooking the meat for the filling. I've finally decided on a long, slow braise in the oven. Sort of the Ron Popeil school of tamale-making. "Fix it and forget it". I typically use chicken. You can use whatever. Beef, pork, chicken... . My great-grandmother always used pork and I remember them being incredible, but my husband prefers chicken, so, chicken it is.
First, a list of ingredients:
*2 1/2 lb.s boneless pork butt, trimmed of all but a little fat
*six large chicken breasts ( I almost always find the bone-in on sale, so I use those)
fresh garlic cloves ( about one and a half heads)

*Mexican oregano ( hard to find, but worth it)
*cumin ( very common, not hard to find at all. I've recently discovered a roasted cumin by
McCormick that has a great smoky flavor)
*garlic powder
*chili powder
*salt ( I use sea salt)
*black pepper
*dried corn husks ( hard to find around here. I've found them at Wegman's, but they don't seem to know where to put them and keep moving them around. Usually in produce UNDER a display)
*Masa harina flour. NOT cornmeal. I used to use Maseca brand, but all I can find around here is Goya. I'm pretty brand-loyal ( Maseca is what my grandmother used), but the Goya works just fine. Since I don't have a source for fresh masa dough locally, I mix the dough from the masa harina. It's what my grandmother did, so it's good enough for me, but I've heard if you can get it, the fresh is *much* better.
*dried peppers- all I can find around here are the ancho. They're super-mild and don't give any heat, just flavor. My grandmother used to bring back her dried peppers from Chicago when she would go on a yearly trip. I still don't know what they were, but she used to warn me to not even get near them while she cut and seeded them. I touched one once. My fingers burned for a day. Her tamales had *great* heat and flavor. I have to supplement the heat with Cholula hot sauce.
*lard, vegetable shortening, butter, or a mixture of any of the three. My grandmother used lard. I *know* that's why mine don't taste quite like hers, but I don't use it. I usually use vegetable shortening, but I ran short this time and had to sub butter for half the fat- it added a nice flavor and softness, I was pleasantly surprised.
*chicken broth
First, I place the meat in half of a roasting pan and cover with spices and garlic cloves. I can't give measurements. I don't measure. I just eyeball it and know what we like. We like flavor. Lots and lots of flavor.
After that, I cover the meat over with chicken broth, cover with foil, stick it in a 300 degree oven and let it go until it's cooked through and falling apart. I check and turn the meat a couple of times to make sure it doesn't dry out. When it's done, I let it cool in the oven until I can handle it and then I quickly shred it and add the peppers. Since they are dry, they need to be de-stemmed, de-seeded and reconstituted in hot water ( I do it in a pan on the stove).

When they are soft, I dump them, soaking water and all into a blender and puree' them. It's okay if a couple of seeds get in, they won't hurt anything. Whatever you do, ignore the impulse to be dumb and sniff the puree. The peppers might not be very hot, but I can promise the steam will clear your sinuses no problem. I'm sure you can guess how I know this. This then gets added to the shredded meat and mixed in.

Then, it goes into the fridge overnight. It not only splits up the work, but the flavor deepens while the meat sits.
The next day, the husks need to be soaked in warm water. They will float, so they have to be weighted down.

I let them soak for at least a couple of hours to make them nice and pliable.
When I'm getting ready to use them, I dump out the soaking water and stand them on end to drain- otherwise, rolling the tamales will be a drippy, soggy, unpleasant task.
To prepare the masa, I measure out six cups of the Masa Harina, four cups of warm chicken broth, one and a half cups of shortening/lard/butter and about a tablespoon of salt and add garlic powder, cumin, chili powder and a little black pepper ( again, I eyeball it. The goal is to give the dough some more flavor). It all gets mixed with an electric mixer (more liquid may need to be added- the flour soaks up liquid like a sponge). The goal is to beat lots of air into the dough. You can't overmix. When mixed, it should be a spreading consistency of about peanut butter.
Now is the time to assemble whatever you'll use to steam the tamales. I used to have an actual tamale steaming pot my husband bought me at a Mexican food products store in Indy, but since it was such a nice, big pot, it got used as the stock pot I *didn't* have (often) and I eventually wore out. I loved it, though.
One can easily be rigged out of a large pot or stock pot. I used my canner, an overturned glass loaf pan and a couple of balls of aluminum foil on which to place the rack the tamales will sit on.
Like this:

Add water to just under the rack ( the tamales are cooked by steaming, not by the water itself. If they come into contact with water, they'll be ruined). I like to place some extra husks on the rack to offer splash protection from the water. Turn the heat to high to get the water boiling and prepare to assemble the tamales. You'll need your masa dough, the meat filling, the soaked corn husks and a nice, large spatula of some sort for spreading. A butter knife works fine. Something larger would be nice to cover more area quickly, but if that's all you've got, it works.
Begin by spreading a thin layer of masa dough on one side of the corn husk in about halfway.
Then, spread a thin strip of filling, roll the tamal so that dough meets dough and the filling is nestled inside. Continue rolling all the way over and then tuck the bottom under ( I always see pictures of beautiful tamales tied with a strip of corn husk. It's cute, and makes a nice presentation in a magazine, but it's A. time consuming and B. totally unnecessary. They'll sit upright in the steamer on the edge of the fold and the dough will hold its shape). The only time I tie my tamales is when I'm doing more than one kind and I need to be able to tell them apart.

Keep going until you've used up either all your husks, all your dough, all your filling, etc. Any leftover filling could be frozen for later use, or it would be good the next day in homemade tortillas or on nachos :). The ones you see with ties on them in the picture are mine. I made some vegetarian tamales with black beans and cilantro-lime rice left over from our nacho bar last night.

Once you've got all your tamales rolled, you can turn down the burner to med-low ( to a simmer), and place all your tamales into the steamer, standing upright, like this:

Then, I like to cover them with a layer of corn husks ( there are always some that are torn, too small or otherwise unusable) to help trap the steam inside to cook them and then cover them with a lid. Ideally, I like to steam them for two hours. Check the water from time to time. If the pot goes dry, you. will. know. it. I have never smelled anything like the smell of a scorched pot with burnt tamale water. Ever. It's a smell you don't soon forget and one time will be enough to make sure you remember to check your water level. When the two hours are up, take one out, let it sit for about five minutes and carefully unroll. If the dough is firm and comes away from the husk, it is ready. This is the "test" tamale ( sort of like the first pancake) and usually goes to the cook, but since they're usually meat tamales and I don't eat meat ( insert My Big Fat Greek Wedding quote here: "he don't eat no MEAT?!?!"), it goes to whoever happens to be hanging around. Usually my husband :).

My grandmother served her tamales with beans and rice ( real Mexican rice, not that horrid stuff in a box. I don't know how anyone eats that stuff! ). Since beans take forever and a day to soak here ( I think it's the minerals in our well water) and my husband doesn't really care for them, I don't often do the beans. I LOVE them, but it's a lot of hassle for just me, so... I'll just share the rice recipe ( which I double) :
3 TBSP vegetable oil
1 c. uncooked long-grain rice ( my grandmother SWORE you had to use Uncle Ben's converted rice in the orange box. I tried several times with cheaper brands- it just does. not. work. unless you have the Uncle Ben's converted. Fork over the money for it or you'll end up with a gluey, disgusting mess.
2 tsp. chopped, fresh garlic
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt ( I use sea salt) and black pepper to taste
1/4 c. chopped onion
1.2 c. tomato sauce
2 C. chicken broth
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: This is one of those times you need everything pre-measured and at the ready. It goes quickly and rice only takes a few seconds to burn while you're messing around trying to find the chicken broth.
Heat the oil in a large skillet ( I use my cast iron) over med. high heat and add rice. The goal here is to coat the rice with the oil, toasting it to a nice, golden color. If you look and listen closely, you'll notice some of the grains popping and puffing up, almost like popcorn- this is good:

When most of the rice is puffed up and golden, add the chopped onion, turn the heat down a bit and cook until soft. While onion is cooking, sprinkle with the cumin and garlic powder. Then, stir in black pepper, tomato sauce and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Oh, while I'm in this vein, I also documented making taco meat and guacamole yesterday ( we had a nacho bar for dinner last night on New Year's). First, taco meat does not come from an envelope. It's so simple and cheap to make, there's no reason to ever use "taco seasoning".
First, brown about a pound of meat ( I used ground turkey last night). Then, add one small onion, chopped. Cook until the onion is soft. Add cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder and either chopped garlic or garlic powder to taste. Simple, easy and it tastes WAY better.

Now, guacamole. I have seen so many recipes for guacamole. Made traditionally, it's actually pretty healthy for you. How many condiments are actually healthy for you?? Made the way most people do, it's a crime against avocados. There is no reason to ever foul guacamole with sour cream or :::shudder::: mayonnaise.
All you need are a few simple ingredients:
ripe avocados ( they're usually a deep purple as opposed to the green of unripe)
fresh lime juice ( I couldn't find any when I was at the grocery store- I'm guessing all the alchies got to them first for their New Year's celebrations)
salt and pepper to taste
a handful of fresh cilantro, rinsed and chopped ( hit and miss in the grocery stores. Usually placed next to the fresh parsley. They look similar, so read the tags carefully. If you can't find fresh, don't substitute dried. It has NO flavor at all. Some larger grocery stores carry frozen herbs in tubes- it's worth a look.
fresh chopped garlic or garlic powder
about two TBSP chopped, fresh onion
optional: fresh chopped tomato or jalepeno
If your avocados are nice and ripe, mashing them with a fork will do. If not ( mine weren't totally ripe), you can run them through a food processor on pulse. You want some chunks of avocado left, you don't want it pureed.
Basically, make it according to taste. We prefer lots of cilantro, garlic and lime juice.
We LOVE guacamole in this house and look for reasons to make it :).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Creating Our Own Traditions

When I was a child, I was blessed to have four grandmothers and a grandpa still living. Every grandmother had her own "flavor" and style. They were the glue that held our families together.
Lots of grandparents meant lots of wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. I have SUCH amazing memories of our family and relatives packed into each of their houses, laughing and cutting up. It was so cheerful and comforting.
My great-grandmother was from Mexico. She was a wonderful cook and spent so much time in her tiny little kitchenette creating amazing food for the people she loved. I can get close, but I don't think I'll ever be able to re-create her food exactly. Still, my husband appreciates my efforts very much :). She lived in a retirement community of buildings containing individual apartments. She had a tiny little one-bedroom apartment but found a way to pack us all in and around her table. Tamales, fideo, beans and rice ( and Tang! lol) were our Christmas feast at her house. She'd almost always have Mexican wedding cakes, an apple pie or a yellow cake from scratch for dessert. She did it all herself. All we had to do was show up with lots of hugs.
My grandmother Campbell ( her daughter and my paternal grandmother) has her own style as a result of her Mexican culinary roots and the influence of her mother-in-law who was from Kentucky and made lots of traditional Southern style dishes. The blending of the two styles is absolutely out of this world and I've never found anything even close anywhere. I remember ham with her own unique spice, a dish made with cabbage and sausage, the most amazing coleslaw ever ( her mother-in-law's recipe), and an out-of-this-world warm applesauce spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, brown sugar and butter. Everyone would bring their own contributions, but her food was always the star.
My grandma Mitchell (maternal grandmother) was a second or third generation Hoosier and her style was solidly Midwest- baked ham, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, rolls and the requisite carry-in side dishes. Very "Wonder Bread" ;).
My Papaw and Grandma Margaret ( my dad's step-mom) lived on a farm and their two blended families made for the most amazing spread you can imagine. Easily over twenty-five people on Christmas. My grandma would prepare the turkey, and I think ham and one or two sides- along with a card table loaded with "appetizers"- cheeseball and crackers, vegetable tray, etc. , and everyone else would bring one or two carry-in dishes and a dessert contribution. It was a spread that spanned the main table, the side-board, a card table and sometimes flowing back into the kitchen. We have some amazing cooks in our family, and as kids, we could pack it away! I remember seeing male relatives sprawled out all over the furniture snoring while we kids would waddle outside to run it off ( eighteen acres of room to run!) and the women stood around and talked.
The common thread through all was the comfort, security, coziness and cheerfulness.
I only have my grandmother Campbell and Grandma Margaret now, and with three grandparents gone, our extended family has scattered to the winds. Add that to the fact that we've moved two states away and don't drive home for Christmas because of the threat of bad weather ( btdt- not doing it again) and it's a given that my children won't get to experience the Christmases that I did. It weighs heavily on my mind and heart. For the last couple of years, we've been trying to work out our own traditions to give our kids wonderful memories and a heritage of their own to pass down. I've been trying to figure out how to blend elements of all the different "flavors" into Christmas for my kids and adding some of our own.
We're slowly getting there.
I've been conflicted as to which direction to take for Christmas dinner- Mexican or "Traditional" and I think I've come to a solution this year.
Christmas EVE breakfast will be a wonderful breakfast my great-grandmother used to make for us- a mixture of chorizo, potatoes and eggs served with a side of beans and fresh corn tortillas (I'm pretty sure they serve it in Heaven. I've been a vegetarian since I was 14 and it tempts me)
Christmas Eve dinner will be tamales, beans, rice, fideo and yellow cake with chocolate frosting- I might even serve Tang to drink ;).
Cinnamon rolls and "breakfast casserole" have come to be expected on Christmas morning. I have a hard time giving my kids "dessert" for breakfast, so cinnamon rolls are reserved for Christmas ;).
Christmas Dinner will be a gut-busting compilation of all my favorite traditional dishes- a little bit of my grandparents and extended family shared with my husband and children.
I'm thinking cheeseball and crackers, veggie tray, ham, scalloped potatoes, corn bread casserole, green bean casserole, baked beans, cole slaw, rolls, deviled eggs, warm applesauce, iced tea, spiced cider and of course, apple and pumpkin pie.
We've even begun a tradition for New Year's Day entirely by accident. It's become a day for hunkering down as a family and just "being". We'll watch a Christmas movie or two for the last time, play games, have a "nacho bar" for lunch and spend a few hours goofing around outside.
The day after New Year's? We begin a culinary cleanse, lol.

They just don't make them like they used to...

It's become very obvious to me as of late how things just aren't made very well anymore.
Not too long ago, companies took pride in their products and made them to last and we appreciated things that lasted. Not anymore, though. Supercenters like Walmart sell cheap, poorly made products mass-produced in China. We've been conditioned to accept that things just don't last. When they break, we go out and buy another piece of junk to replace them and companies continue to profit off of junk they should be ashamed of. Well, I'm tired of it!
For the last eleven years, I've made do with hand mixers that generally cost around $10. They'd last about a year and a half and then we'd have to replace them- usually as I was trying to get something ready for a carry-in!! Well, about three months ago, my little cheapie broke and my sweet husband thought he'd do me a favor and replace it with one that cost about $30. It was manufactured by GE and came in a cute little case. I was surprised at how flimsy the beaters seemed, though. They weren't welded together, the tines of the beaters were just stuck ( and I think glued) into holes at the top. Sure enough, after only a couple of weeks of use, one of the beaters began coming apart on a regular basis. We were disappointed, but I would just stick them back in and keep going. My husband tried to fix it permanently for me, but they continued to give me problems. I finally gave up on using it after struggling through several batches of cookie dough last month.

For the time being, I'm mixing things for my family with my (clean!) hands, but it's really putting a kink in my usual Christmas baking for neighbors. I've decided no more junk! I'm going to skim ten dollars a week off our grocery budget until I have enough for a decent mixer.
Another kitchen tool that's really let me down lately was my can opener. Now, the one we had lasted me a good five years. I can't remember where I bought it or what it cost me, but it was a faithful little can opener. Fast forward to last week. It finally broke. I finished opening cans with a knife ( and miraculously avoided ending up in the ER with a finger on ice in a baggie) and called my husband at work to ask him to pick up another one on his way home. He did. A few days later, I went to open a couple of cans of tomatoes and it broke on the first one. The culprit? plastic gears in a metal can opener- what kind of sense does that make?! I bought another, slightly pricier one to replace THAT one. It skips, leaving little bridges of attached metal all around the can. I mean- really?!
I know the difference well-made products can make. About two years ago, my husband's former boss gave me some professional-grade chef's knives he'd bought himself and no longer used. It really opened my eyes. The knives I'd been using- that I thought were okay suddenly cut like butter knives to me. I have now made a personal vow to only give our business to companies that still take pride in their products and stand behind them.
We've always chosen carefully when buying large appliances. My husband pores over Consumer Reports, compares and reads reviews for hours and hours. It takes days and sometimes weeks to make a decision. The small appliances in our house need to work just as hard, so it only makes sense to choose them with just as much care. No more cheap junk! Viva la revolucion!!