19 October 2014

crack cake

I was flipping through pinterest the other night, sitting outside my kids bedroom, silently pleading them to sleep. As usual, most of my pins were drooly recipes that I will likely never make, but dream about frequently. But then I found this recipe for "crack cake" and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

So the next day, the girls and I loaded up and set out to buy what we needed. Disclaimer: I am not usually one to use so many boxes of prefab ingredients, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. This is not healthy, or gluten free or any kind of whole food. This is straight up guilty pleasure.

I adapted it just a little and the verdict was in: it was good. The kids liked it, it had just enough spice to feel like fall, and I shared half of it with friends because otherwise, I definitely would've eaten the entire thing, bit by bit. 

So, if the fall baking bug has bitten, this is definitely one to try. With a caramel-y glaze that hardens just enough to give it a bite, you'll be addicted. So make sure you have someone to share it with. They'll love you forever.

Here's what you'll need:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 box of instant vanilla pudding mix
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup white wine

Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease a bundt pan. 
Mix all ingredients on medium speed in your mixer and pour into the prepared pan. 
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until knife comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare your glaze.
You'll need:
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup of wine

Melt all the ingredients together until bubbly and sugar is dissolved.

When you pull the cake from the oven, poke holes evenly around the cake with the knife and pour the glaze over while still hot. Allow to cool completely.
Turn cake gently onto your favorite cake stand and enjoy!

17 October 2014

my grandma

September was a hard month. I spent ten days sitting in hospice with my grandma as she said goodbye to us all. I held her hand, smoothed her hair, whispered prayers in her ear. I sang to her and told her funny little memories and sat in silence, or in tears. I laid my head at the foot of her bed, I laughed at the funny things she said when she could manage words. I slept on the floor and read quietly in the corner. I gave her sips of water on a sponge, I watched my family say their goodbyes and hug her and kiss her forehead every night, wondering if tonight would be the night she leaves us.

My grandma was a force. I have hesitated sharing about her here because I'm not sure my heart can take putting it to words. I'm not even sure I want to share all the things that I hold so dear to me where she is concerned. She was and is my kindred spirit in so many ways, and that feels private.

But it also feels wrong to not mention her here, in my little space. She has read what I wrote since the moment I put pen to paper. She kept every email I sent her when I traveled and gave them to me a few years ago, bound in a book, to remember. She always expressed pride and encouragement in her quiet way, and I never doubted that she was one of my greatest advocates.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. Weeks and months at a time from birth. Every summer I would stay with them in their little condo. I'd make commercials on their giant video camera, I'd help her stir the spaghetti, and watch her paint her nails. I'll always think of her when I eat cantaloupe and sourdough toast with butter and honey, because that's what we ate every single morning. I'll remember sitting on their back patio, her listening to me describe every detail of a movie I'd seen. Taking walks under the California palm trees every evening, trips to the beach, and the time she hiked to the top of Battle Mountain in San Diego with me to watch the sunrise. My grandma didn't hike.

I'll remember painting t-shirts with her and making mop dolls and stenciling stationary. That she taught me how to make chocolate crinkle cookies and fudge and roasted potatoes and the day we decided together that homemade spaghetti sauce is far superior to a jar. That she let me sleep on an air mattress in their room whenever I visited, even though she'd gone to the the trouble of setting up a lovely guest room for me to stay in. I'll never forget the summer she read The Secret Garden to me every night before bed, or that she is the person who taught me to pray. 

My heart is still so broken over the loss of her. There are days I forget that she's gone and then it hits me so swiftly and squarely in the chest, it takes my breath away. The other day I called my grandpa to check in and it went to voicemail. And there was her voice as if nothing was different, as if she'd be there to call me back.

Yes, she was a force. Quiet strength. No nonsense. Beautiful until the end. She taught me, by who she was, to take pride in who I am, to take care in the details. To care for others. To enjoy life.

Thank you, Grams. I don't know if I said it enough, but I am so grateful for you. I miss you with my whole heart.

14 October 2014

little things with great love

"I want my kids to know and believe that they can change the world. That it doesn’t take grand acts, or doing the impossible. But that we can make little decisions every day that pour love into our communities and into the world..."

I'm sharing today at The Root Collective: read more here.

19 August 2014

chicken sausage vegetable skillet

Is anyone else completely over cooking this summer? My kids have been eating sandwiches for basically every meal because my brain is done. I stare blankly into the refrigerator every night at 5pm and am like, "I don't even know."
But last night, as I pulled out the ingredients for quesadillas for the third time in a week, a little inspiration struck. I grabbed some of the veggies I'd just stocked up on, the chicken sausage that's become a staple around here, and set to it.
And you guys, it was so good and so easy. Seriously, done in 15 minutes kind of easy.

And maybe the best part was the versatility! Once it was all cooked up, my kids ate it in quesadillas, and my husband and I had it with rice. You could mix it with quinoa, eat it with flat bread, or toss it with pasta. And, completely by accident, it's dairy free and gluten free, so almost anyone could come over and have dinner with you.
It's also totally healthy: low fat, full of nutrients. I mean, I could go on, but basically: make it, eat it, share it, the end.
Here's how.

Chicken Sausage Vegetable Skillet
serves 4ish
4 chicken sausage links, chopped (current favorite: sweet basil pesto from TJ's)
1 medium onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
squeeze of fresh lime
salt to taste

Coat skillet or pan with cooking spray and add sausage, vegetables and beans.
Cook over medium-high heat until everything is cooked, but veggies still have some bite to them, about 8-10 minutes.
Add in cumin, chili powder, garlic and lime juice and cook 1-2 minutes more.

Serve as desired. Quesadillas, burritos, with rice or quinoa, or tossed with pasta.
For a little extra love, add cheese or sour cream and avocado.

12 August 2014

say this, not that

As a family of seven with kids of all different shades, we get a lot of questions and commentary. I have learned to find the humor in a lot of it, let most of it roll off my back, and move on. But some things still get under my skin a little. Not because I don't see the (mostly) innocent intent behind it, but because my kids are growing up and are hyper-aware of every single conversation that they are privy to. 

Can I shield them from everything that comes their way? No. Does this open up family dialogue a little? Yes. Do I feel like they should have to hear these questions and comments and observations at every turn? Really not. So, here are some helpful hints for etiquette with strangers you encounter who don't have families that look like your own.

"You've got your hands full."
Heard by parents the world over that have 1-10 children in a public setting. It's an innocent enough comment, but chances are the person on the receiving end has heard it approximately four thousand times. My son has even started to roll his eyes at this one. Best response I've heard from an instagram friend, "yep, we bring the party." Jim Gaffigan, who has five of his own, has said this is like saying to someone in a wheelchair, "I bet you don't do a lot of dancing!"
So what can you say instead?

"What a beautiful family!"
"You look like you're doing an amazing job!"
"Raising kids is hard work, but you look like you're great at it."
Even if none of the above is true, because maybe the person you're talking to is looking a little harried, frazzled and fried, it is far better to give a word of encouragement than one of pity. In my opinion.

"So, which ones are yours?"
We have heard this a shocking number of times. My gracious husband always replies, "they all are." It's not that we don't understand what you're asking, but seriously. My kids can hear you and whether you think so or not, that stuff sinks in. So, let's just recognize that they are all, in fact, ours. Blood doesn't make you family. My husband is just as much a part of my family as the children I've birthed, right? Because we are married, signed some papers, declared it to the world, and it is so. Think of adoption like that. My adopted kids are my kids, 100%. I don't want them to ever think anything different, to feel less a part of our family because strangers keep pointing out that they aren't my "real" kids. They're my real kids. Imagine me asking someone if all their kids have the same father while we're standing in the grocery store line. Awkward.
So, what can you say instead?

"What a beautiful family!"
"You are all so blessed."
And my favorite, said to us by a stranger at a restaurant, "Look at the rainbow of babies! What a beautiful sight."

"Do you run a daycare?"
"Are you hosting a birthday party?"
"Are you a nanny?"
All of these are really funny to me and I don't care that much if people ask them. Just don't follow it up with one of the above questions. How should you follow it up?

"What a beautiful family!"
Do you see where I'm going with this?

Let's be encouragers, cheerleaders, advocates for one another. 
And if not for each other, then for our children and for the kids of others. 
Because really, family - whatever it may look like - is a beautiful thing.