September 24, 2010

Parent Develpment # 1: The Witching Hour and Movies

Let me describe to you the scene at my house at five o' clock in the afternoon: the boys are hungry.  Climbing up pantry shelves, dropping chocolate chips on the floor,  gummy vitamins are being passed around,  yeast strewn all over (its empty package abandoned on the kitchen counter), popcorn starts popping in the microwave and raisins, chips, frozen blueberries and mochi balls are are being pulled from the freezer and floated around to all the kids in the yard as well.  In short, it's mayhem. This is the witching hour. 

PRE-SITUATION: GET CONTROL.  Send the neighbor kids on home to dinner.  Bring all of my own kids inside.  Wash hands, clean-up.

SITUATION # 1: I need to buy some time to make dinner.   Snacks in this situation are not an option.  It would fill them up enough so they wouldn't eat dinner, but leave them starving as soon as dinner has been cleared up and put away.

SOLUTION # 1: Redirect the children to an apple, orange, banana or carrot.  Look at it as an amuse bouche.  It wets their palate, but does not fill them up. Ok, so it is a snack, but a healthy one.  It buys you time.

Now I've decided to do chicken tenders and homemade potato chips.  Won't take long, maybe twenty or thirty minutes.  This is when I turn around from taking stock of the fridge and see Soda, my three-year-old who is still in the hunter-gatherer phase, squatting on the floor eating from a bag of fortune cookies he found from the counter top array.

SITUATION # 2: The kids are still hungry.


The movie is something you fight within yourself everyday.  There are the brain development studies; there is your personal ideology that America's problems today are a direct result of moving too far from how it was on the farm (Philo Farnsworth notwithstanding, no TVs on the farm);  there is lethargy and obesity and laziness AKA the "couch potato" syndrome to worry about.  You must therefore use the movie sparingly and use discernment in choosing.

So to rate a movie for your children ask yourself these questions:
 Yes = thumbs up
1) Is it educational on some level? 
2) Does it have music?
3) Is the animation tasteful on an artistic level?

Yes = thumbs down
1) Is it dumb?

That pretty much sums it up.  Use movies only when you absolutely need to--to prep dinner last minute, have an intense conversation with a drop-in friend, or write that novel you've been meaning to.  The danger of overuse with the old movie solution is that the novelty of it might wear off.... Then again, knowing my kids, it may not.  Good luck.  Choose wisely.

*GF Chicken Tenders and Homemade Potato Chips coming soon

September 23, 2010


So I decide to take the boys on this, the first day of Fall, on a field trip to the apple orchards of Oak Glen.  Temperature: 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  Car: Honda Pilot.  Car Music: The Beach Boys (of course). Goal: WE WILL HAVE FUN!

We drive out of the city, to the mountains.  Such a gorgeous day.

 We arrive at Riley's Farm a little after noon.  I reminisce to the boys: "12 years ago, at this very farm, your dad (the Knight) and I came and picked raspberries.  It was one of the best days of my life and we are going to do the very same thing."

The Horseman sets up the picnic blanket.  Me: "This grass is the same grass dad and  I sat after picking raspberries."  Boys: "I need a drink / There's bugs / Can I go to the restroom?"  I tell myself: I WILL HAVE FUN!

We sit down and eat the lovely picnic lunch I had prepared.  My big guy finishes in ten seconds flat. "Can we go home now?" he asks.

"But we've come to pick raspberries," I say.  "And apples," he responds.  "Yes, yes and apples."  WE MIGHT HAVE FUN!

And we start pickin'.  Me: "These are the same raspberries Dad and I picked!"

the Big Guy gets "bored."

The Horseman mysteriously disappears.

They're dropping like flies, but Soda, he's into it.  It's just he and I picking raspberries.  Me lifting the branches: "Soda, look, the mother lode!"  and him eager to pick the dark pink ones, the "squishy" ones going into his mouth.  We are having fun.  Better than that, we are making a memory together.  One now that he'll never forget. Me: are we having fun yet?

I start to relax.  The bigger boys are fine traipsing through the fenced-in orchards.  "Everyone has fun in their own way," I tell myself.  A little country experience for my city boys.  Fresh air, stretched out blue skies over the chaparral and oak hills. Seeing where their fruit comes from and in what season. They are learning just by being here, I tell myself.  They are making their own memories, too.

A breeze rustles up the vines and I look around as everything blurs in the breeze.  In the enchantment of the moment my mind goes back to over a decade ago when I was picking raspberries with my soon to be Knight, the thrill of knowing he was watching me, but pretending not to notice, the care-free freedom of being up there with him, before responsibility, before diapers and pee in gatorade bottles, before the permanent dark circles under my eyes...

This is Horseman crying at the top of his lungs from somewhere yonder in the orchard.  "A bee stung my eye, a bee stung my eye, a bee stung my eye..."  This is why I have permanent dark circles under my eyes.  I calm him down and say, "Let's try to have fun..."

He remedies the situation.

A bee had not really stung his eye.

But he feels more comfortable in the midst of all that wild with a buffer.  Between his eyes and the wild.

After two and half hours in the orchards, we've picked two cartons full of raspberries and a large bag of gala and senshu apples, had a picnic visited the restroom three times and had an incident with a bee. Did we have fun?   The Big Guy is already in the car, seat belt on, ready to go.  "Yeah Mom," he says in between mouthfuls of raspberries. ""We had fun, let's go home now."

September 22, 2010

Tacquito Night with Spanish Rice

Photo by Stephanie Ghiya
At the dinner table, as pertaining to the ritual of dinner, I have tried--for the sake of my future daughter-in-laws--to instill some rule of law.  Forks, knives, napkins.  Namely: MANNERS.  But in order to pull off these fledgling lessons in etiquette, I have to time things just right.  Before I call the dudes in for dinner, the meal, drinks and table have to be ready to go, because, as many of us witnessed in 10th grade English, boys left unto themselves can descend into a Lord of the Flies situation faster than you can text SOS to your husband!

Which brings us to tonight's post.  Tacquito Night is not only tasty, gluten-free and a good use of leftover roast chicken but it means FINGER FOODS!  And as long as my dudes wait for The Good Food Fairy to sit down to the table and a word of grace (as well as keep their feet off the table and out of their food), I don't have to sweat it.

 Take out that left over roast chicken before it joins the ranks of the Lords of the Flies and ...

 Shred it.  Ahhh.  Much nicer.  Set it aside.  Now we'll start the Spanish Rice.

Pour about a tablespoon of Canola oil (or any oil with a high burning point, so not olive) into a large skillet.  Preheat the oil until it shows a shimmer when you tip it in the pan.

Measure out 4 cups of non-msg chicken broth,

Pour the stock into a saucepan and crank on the burner to High.

Now here is your tomato sauce and El Pato or spicy tomato sauce.  Here is where you control the spice for your household.  I use about 1/2 can of each.  You can opt for more spicy (2/3 or even 3/4!! can of El Pato to 1/3 or 1/4!! can of tomato sauce) or less spicy (2/3 can of tom. sauce to 1/3 can of El Pato).  Everything's simpatico as long as the portions from both cans equals one can.  Add the tomato sauce and El Pato to the sauce pan with chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

Add two cups of rice to the oil. 

Stir to coat the rice with the oil. 

Brown the rice.  Some rice grains will be white, some golden and some brown.  Stir and watch.  Stir and watch.

When the Chicken Broth has come to a simmer or in this case a boil,

add the liquid to the rice.  Beware of the steam backlash.  Be careful if your pan is hot like this to only pour a little bit of the chicken stock liquid at a time so you don't get a steam burn.

Put the lid on and lower the heat to LOW.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Now back to tacquitos...

Add Canola oil to a small skillet, about 1/3 inch deep.  Turn on the burner to Medium heat and preheat  oil.

You will need corn tortillas.  I just love reading such a pure, simple, preservative-free list of ingredients.

Here's the front view...

We need to soften the tortillas and make them roll-able by...

by sliding them into the warm oil, one-by-one.

Let them bathe in the oil between 5 and 10 seconds--just until the tortilla is limp and pliable. 

Remove the tortillas to a platter lined with paper towels.  These will need to cool a bit before you can handle them so turn off the heat under your oil.

To the shredded chicken, add a teaspoon of cumin and ...

a teaspoon of salt. Toss it all up.

Get ready to roll!

Put a large pinch of shredded chicken on one end of the tortilla.

Roll it...

Roll it up, then

Set it aside on your platter or a plate until you've made two per adult and big kids and one per little kid.  Preheat your skillet of oil for three to five minutes over medium heat.

Arrange the tacquitos in your skillet snugly.

Check the rice.  It should be fluffy and beautiful.  Turn off the heat and put the lid back on for a few minutes to rehydrate the rice that got stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Turn the tacquitos a quarter turn after five to seven minutes.  Check and make sure the side coming out of the oil is golden and at the level of crunchiness your heart desires.

Remove the tacquitos to your platter lined with fresh paper towels.  

Give the rice a stir and serve it all up with whatever you fancy (or happened to have in the cupboards): guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, black beans, refried beans, diced tomatoes, etc.  Enjoy a wistful, manners-policing-free Tacquito Night!

*Gluten Free option

 Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
  • 2 - 3 c. shredded chicken
  • 1      t.  cumin         
  • 1      t.  salt
  • 8 - 12   corn tortillas
  •             canola oil
  1. Shred your left over roast chicken and reserve in a bowl.   Add a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon of salt to the shredded chicken and toss until combined.
  2. In a 10 inch skillet, preheat a 1/3 inch of canola oil for five minutes over medium heat.
  3. Soften corn tortillas by gently sliding them into the preheated oil, one-by-one, for 5-10 seconds or until very pliable.  Then lay the tortillas aside on a large, paper towel lined plate and let cool.  Turn off the heat under the oil.
  4. When tortillas are cool enough to handle, preheat the same skillet of oil for three to five minutes over medium heat.  Put a large pinch of chicken on one end of a tortilla and roll into a tacquito.  Set tacquito carefully in the oil against one side of the skillet.  Repeat with the other tortillas, lining the tacquitos up snugly against each other so they do not unroll. 
  5. After 5 to 7 minutes, give the tacquito a quarter turn cooking all sides until they are crunchy and golden.
  6. Remove to a platter lined with fresh paper towels.
*Gluten Free Option
 Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
  • 2 c. long grain white rice
  • 4 c. no-msg chicken broth 
  • 1/2 can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 can El Pato sauce
  • 1 T. Canola oil
  1. Heat canola oil in a large skillet until shimmery.  Add rice.
  2. Stir rice to coat with oil and let rice brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. While rice is browning, bring chicken broth, tomato sauce and El Pato to a low simmer.
  4. Add chicken broth liquid to browned rice and make sure the liquid is at a simmer.  Cover the skillet with lid and turn heat down to low for twenty minutes.
  5. After twenty minutes, check rice.  It should be soft, puffed and fluffy.  Turn off the heat and cover with lid for five minutes to rehydrate rice stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Serving ideas: 1) guacamole, black beans or refried beans, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, pico de gallo.

September 20, 2010

The Journey

The Good Food Fairy wasn't always the "Good" Food fairy.  Becoming a mother--learning how to nurture children--was a learning process.  I thought, "When the baby comes out and is in my arms, then I will know what to do."  Well, he came out and I loved him, but I had no idea what to do!  It was a process, becoming acquainted with my new baby, learning what he needed and how he needed it.  Learning how to make him comfortable and feel loved and safe.  It never dawned on me that different bodies, like different cars, may require different foods or fuel for optimal functioning. 

Each child has taught me something different and it was my oldest son, almost 11 years-old now, my "Hummingbird" that taught me how to be a mother.  He taught me about child development milestones and gross motor skills, he taught me about patience and built up my physical endurance and he taught me about food.

He was a very good baby, EXTREMELY active, desired to be outdoors, would light up with people and was very smart.  I had nicknamed him Boonie.  Around 8 months old, when we were living in Italy, Boonie started shaking his head back and forth in a funny, repeated way.  Six months later, he started putting his ear directly on the speaker of musical toys and wasn't talking.  By 24 months, my Boonie was not talking still and was playing with toys in a repetitive, odd fashion.  He also liked turning the lights on and off.  I talked to two doctors about it and brought up autism, but they both said that boys talk late and that he was too social of a baby for autism.

That was October and in December, my husband and I were volunteering in the nursery one Sunday and I saw that my little guy wasn't doing what the other kids were doing.  He was wandering around the table at snack time taking raisins and goldfish off the other children's napkins instead of sitting down to their little table and he didn't sit and listen to the nursery leader when she gathered the children for songs and stories.  The next day I talked to my son's babysitter and asked her if she had observed differences between him and the other children.  She told me yes.  "He doesn't go outside anymore," she said, "and he used to play outside all the time."  She also described how he had become focused on certain sound making toys or spinner toys and would play with them over and over and over. "What should I do?"  I asked  I am grateful to this day that she said what she said: "Have a consultation with you pediatrician.  There might not be anything to worry about, but you would hate for there to be something wrong and to have not addressed it and gotten him the help he needs."

By now, my husband was at USC law school and I was working at the School of Medicine there.  We had a new pediatrician at one of USC's facilities and she told us, "There may be something wrong, there may not, but lets start with a speech and language assessment and go from there."  So I did.  I took him to our appointment at Children's Hospital.  The lady speech pathologist played with him, talked with him and finally sat down to conference with me.  She said, "He does have a speech delay, but I also have observed some autistic-like behaviors and I am referring you to the Lanterman Regional Center for further assessment.

At this point, I knew my sweet boy was not developmentally on track, but knew that he had been fully present and connected with me, but a wall--a barrier--had subtly materialized between us, and  I wanted tools to help me help him get out from behind that barrier.  I didn't know if this constituted autism, but knowledge is power and I was learning. 

California has a Regional Center program for those with special needs.  Once you are diagnosed with special needs or disabilities you are in the Regional Center system and you are in for life.  They coordinate and provide all your services by vendoring with various providers until the child  reaches the age of 3 at which time the school district takes over payment for those services that pertain to the child's education (speech therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration, etc.).  The regional center continues to provide social therapies if still appropriate for that child.  My husband and I took my boy to the our assessment at the regional
center.  The lovely young psychologist had such a positive and pleasant air about her and immediately put me at ease.  Like the speech and language assessment, she played with Boonie using various toys, observed him playing, talked with him, gave him chalk and asked him to write a line on a small chalk board, etc. Then she sat down with us.  "I am giving him a diagnosis of mild autism," she said.  "I am making this diagnosis because he has behaviors that fall under the criteria for Autism:."  She explained what they were:  Communication impairment, sensory difficulties, and repetitive play primarily.  Like each professional before her that we had seen, she was very encouraging and optimistic.  She said, "I am giving him this diagnosis so that he can get services now, but things could change in one year, three years, five years.  When they reassess him at 6 years-old, they may say that he doesn't need an autism diagnosis anymore."  That gave me great hope.

That night I was on the phone with my mom.  She is an elementary school teacher in a low socioeconomic neighborhood.  She has seen it all: children who were drug babies, children with issues not assessed or children not advocated for.  She told me, "Just use the label for what you need it for, but treat Boonie like Boonie.  Do not treat him like a label.  I didn't raise you kids to be one thing or the other.  And he is just not that far off of a typical child."

So I quit my job and told my husband that we would have to make it work financially, because I needed to be at home to help our child.

To be cont'd...