Thursday, January 14, 2016

Squirrel!

Nearly a year ago, barely settled into our one-year home in Knoxville, I was beginning the diligent search for our next home. A year before that, I had been doing the same thing. It's a much trickier prospect these days - these school days. No longer are the only concerns the proximity to base and the affordability of housing. No, these days, where our girls will go to school takes first place, closely followed (or perhaps tied) with how long of a commute Daddy will have to get to work. And maybe also tied with the size of the house? And what kind of yard it has? And whether or not it's pet-friendly? And the price tag? Wracking our brains over all of these things is a chore that I do not savor, especially when trying to make a relatively quick decision over something so important, in a city and state where we've never lived. Thank goodness for school websites and friends to poll. Still, it's a ball of stress we do not like to juggle.

While we had to make some compromises in this bustling metropolis, we have been happy with the girls' school and with the commute to work, mostly content with these four walls we call home, satisfied that our homework paid off, and relieved to not have to go through this headache again for at least another year or two.

And then, squirrel!

If you have a dog, you know what I mean by "squirrel!" You're walking along, enjoying the day, and then a squirrel crosses your path and your dog about breaks her leash trying to catch the crazy thing. Why? I dunno. It's there, I guess - isn't that reason enough?


For the past several days, I found myself stressed out over the squirrel that crossed our path. Another school. A magnet school. The girls' teachers both pulled me aside when I was at school volunteering, telling me about this opportunity, that the deadline for application packets is Friday. Test scores would be sent home this week. Was I interested? I don't know...

You see, we're happy with their school. They've attended three elementary schools in three years, and we were looking forward to not putting them through that transition again this year. We walk to school, and it's been lovely that when I go up there to volunteer or if one of the girls needs to be picked up early because she's sick or if it's less than 30 degrees out (because let's face it, I'm a Georgia girl), it's a one-minute drive.

Do we really want a 20-minute commute to school? Assuming there isn't traffic? When we're already pushing it to squeeze in time at the piano along with homework and some time to play in the afternoons?

But it's a magnet school. Wouldn't that be great? All of that higher-level thinking all day long? Spending their days alongside other cute little nerds?

Or would that actually mean even more homework and less time to just be kids? Do we really want our girls to be in a classroom full of kids who may be there because their parents are obsessed with their kids being in the "best" school? The applications are due Friday... forms to complete, work samples to collect, do we have time to get letters of recommendation from other adults outside of their school? Is this what we want?

Watch, watch, watch.... Chase, chase, chase... Do we even like squirrels?
No.

We are so blessed to have this "problem" to wrestle with - what to do with our brainiac children.

Some would consider it a no-brainer to send them to the magnet school if they have the opportunity to go there. But is this what we believe?

If our number one responsibility were to stimulate their brains to the max, then yes, that would be the place for them. But what about their emotional health? Their joy? Their peace? Their time with family? Their ability to play and just be kids?

In talking about our options last night, the words that came from Stephen's mouth that had the greatest impact were "worth it." Would it be worth it? To put the girls through changing schools again this year? To add the stress of a longer commute to school, more homework, less family time to our daily lives? If we're using the words "worth it," doesn't that say something in and of itself?

They are being challenged to learn and grow while being nurtured and making friends at their current school. They are happy. We are happy. What more do we want?

After staring this one down, we've decided to let it be. We're not interested in chasing squirrels. But sometimes, it's good to see one and think about it, just to remind yourself that you don't actually want one of those things, anyway.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Savory Pumpkin Pasta

Long before pumpkin everything was popular, long before you could buy pumpkin ravioli in the grocery store, I had a squadron commander's wife who LOVED to host our October spouses' coffee and LOVED to serve everything pumpkin to mark the occasion. Never before had any of us eaten pumpkin muffins, let alone pumpkin pasta - this was bizarre fare! And yet, it was delicious fare... I asked for her recipe for the pumpkin pasta, which was a Martha Stewart concoction involving cutting up and roasting pie pumpkins - well worth the work, if you have no other option, but a few years later I found a recipe for creamy pumpkin pasta using canned pumpkin puree - much more my style on most days. Combining the best of both recipes, I came up with the following, and it's been a fall favorite ever since.

 

Savory Pumpkin Pasta
Serves 4. (I often cut this recipe in half.)
  • 1 lb. pasta (penne, farfalle, rigatoni, or campanelle are my favorites for this)
  • 8 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 ½ c. chicken stock
  • 1 15 oz. can pure pumpkin puree
  • ¼ tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. dried thyme or 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • pinch dried sage
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain pasta and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add sliced onion to the bacon drippings in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until sweet and golden-brown.  Turn down the heat to low, discard excess bacon grease, and add to the pan with the onions: chicken stock, pumpkin puree, and herbs and spices.  Stir until sauce is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in heavy cream.  Add pasta to the sauce, and toss to coat.
  4. Serve pasta topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and bacon pieces.



Friday, October 23, 2015

Easy Beer Bread (and 3 Soups to Go with It!)

I love this recipe! And as much as I love Southern Living, the picture they have with this recipe is terrible and not particularly appetizing. So I'm posting this a) to share a delicious homemade bread recipe and 2) {as Paul Reiser used to number his points on Mad About You} to post some more accurate pictures with my stash of online recipes.

This bread recipe comes together quickly, requires few ingredients, makes your house smell amazing, and the buttery crust is a hit with young and old alike. I make this most often to go with soups that pair well with a dense, yeasty bread (see soup recipes below).


Easy Beer Bread
  • 3 c. self-rising flour (or you can substitute 3 c. all-purpose flour + 3 3/4 tsp. baking powder + 3/8 tsp. salt)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 12-oz. bottle of beer (I recommend a mild ale or lager--stay away from IPAs, stouts, etc.)
  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar. (For cheesy bread, you can add shredded cheddar cheese to the dry mixture.) Pour in beer and mix well.
Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan, and bake for 45 minutes.
Drizzle melted butter over the top of the bread and bake an additional 10 minutes.

You should probably let it cool before slicing, but we can never wait that long.
http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sweet-beer-bread-0



Crock Pot Tomato-Basil Parmesan Soup 
http://www.365daysofcrockpot.com/2009/03/day-56-slow-cooker-crock-pot-tomato.html

Hard Rock Cafe Baked Potato Soup 
My dear friend, Melanie, made this for a baby shower she co-hosted for me, and this recipe has been a favorite ever since. I recommend 1 tsp. of salt instead of 1 1/2, and as Melanie suggested, prep/chop all the ingredients before you start cooking.
http://www.food.com/recipe/hard-rock-cafe-baked-potato-soup-25332

Broccoli-Cheese Soup
I know that processed cheese is not real food, but once in a while I can't resist.
A teacher-friend of mine shared this Weight Watchers recipe with me once upon a time, when I was teaching school. I like to use a bag of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots; mild Rotel; and I puree it before adding the Velveeta.
http://www.food.com/recipe/weight-watchers-broccoli-cheese-soup-2-pts-per-cup-210757