Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Sleepless Night Truth

So I have two 'best friends'.  I think every girl probably does.  You know, the one you have from way back when you were just a kid, doing stupid things and thinking you were cool.  Then there is the one you made when you grew up, maybe you met at work or the gym or somewhere else.  The one who knows about your childhood, but wasn't there to experience it with you.  (And this doesnt even begin to cover family.) Yeah...I have one of each.  And I have to be honest, meeting a best friend's other best friend is very unnerving for me.  What if she hates me?  Shouldn't I be friends with my friend's friends?  Yes, I am 36, but still a little girl on the inside.  It recently happened that I met my other best friend's best friend and what a relief it was.  We fell in love and quickly made it Facebook official- we are now friends too! Yippee! 

Over dinner we explored topics that included: why we are awesome, recipes, our favorite wines, and kids.  I've thought about our 'kid' conversation over and over again since that time.  The statement was made "no one ever tells you how incredibly exhausting it will be- not just in the beginning, but for YEARS!" I guess that's true.  You know the early days will be rough, but what about the months and even years that follow?  We all know the moms who say their kids are sleeping through the night at 8 weeks.  Lies.  I mean, maybe their kid is some sort of miracle child, but I know way too many women who have gone sleepless for too long for me to believe it is ever that simple. 

I was always of the opinion that my children needed me in the middle of the night and 'crying it out' wasn't something I could let them do.  Turns out, that wasn't such a bad thing for them.  I recently read and reviewed the book, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character", which seemed to completely validate why I subjected myself to sleeping on the floor every night for months.  Author Paul Tough cited research that indicated cortisol levels of children, under one year of age, who are left to 'cry it out' are higher than desireable.  That means stress people...something I loathe as an adult and made me more than my fair share of sick in my lifetime.  Is that something I could consciously let my child experience at a time when rational thought or comprehension of the environment was out of her reach?  Nope.  So I slept in my own bed for a few hours, was awakened nearly every night for 9 months in the first year and dutifully lifted my sweet curly haired angel into my arms, often falling asleep with her in the rocking chair.  On nights when I stayed awake long enough to return her to her crib, she almost always woke the second I took my hands away from her.  At that point- so wrought with exhaustion I could barely stand; I laid a blanket on the ground, found a pillow, and cuddled her near me as we slept together on the floor. 

At about 16 months old, I had a short reprieve.  Both girls were sleeping all night and I stayed in my own bed.  At about 24 months the waking started all over again.  Both girls had begun to climb out of their cribs, a sure sign that toddler beds would become part of our lives. Que the sleepless nights.  Newly installed toddler beds meant two wobbly kids were free to scitter down the hallway immediately after bedtime and all throughout the night.  And they did. I quickly became a zombie once more and recreated my make shift bed on the floor.  One night Izzy would awaken, the next night it was Lily.  Many nights I laid on the floor, weeping with exhaustion, and held hands with both girls until they drifted back to sleep. 

In retrospect, I'm not sure I would've done anything differently.  They needed me.  They needed reassurance that I was there, they were safe, and they could count on me.  But, it did go on too long.  Worn thin and constantly sick (for a variety of reasons, some loosley related to my lack of sleep) along came a terrible ear infection that left me temporarily deaf in one ear.  That was my breaking point.  I couldn't do it anymore and I firmly believed that my 2.5 year olds were intellectual enough that I could tell them why I wouldn't continue getting up every night- I wasn't healthy and needed rest to be the best Mommy possible.  They got it- sortive.  With their brains still wired to be self-serving and impulsive, they continued to get up and try to rouse me.  They knew I needed to sleep, but they were 2.5, their ids were in full swing.  So, one night the husband and I decided we had to do something drastic.  We closed their bedroom door.  We did not lock it, they were not trapped.  But they did received a clear signal that they had to stay put.  I was just deaf enough that I couldn't hear their cries, and that was absolutely for the best.  The husband made multiple nightly checks on them to verbally assure of our presence and our love.  And thanks to my temporary deafness, I slept and was excused from the guilt that has plagued so many of my friends in a similar situation. In less than two weeks, we were all sleeping through the night and, ever since, waking is only from the occassional bad dream or growing pain.

But the guilt. It's a bitch.  As I've said before, today's woman is somehow wired to believe that she must do everything and do it perfectly.  But we can't, we must let go at some point and realize that we are not harming our children because we must occassionally choose ourselves.  To any of you who fear that you are a bad mom, because you choose your own health or your own needs, let me tell you that you- you are not bad.  You must take care of yourself and the line has got to be drawn somewhere. I continued to believe that my kids needed me. For a long time, at night, the hugs were sweeter. But I also believe that somewhere along the way, waking up at 2am and pulling me from sleep happened as a habit and not so much for consolation like it once had been.  When the reason was habit, it was time for the tide had to be turned. I had to teach them self-assurance was more than a hug from mommy.

I have no scientific evidence that 2-2.5 years old is the right time to teach that skill or that at the age of 2.5 all children are able to reason and rationalize about the needs of others.  I do believe it was the right time for my kids and family.  And I know many who had very similar struggles, at the same ages, that my kids did.  And to all of those who struggled I shared my story.  I told those friends that their kids would be fine. No, I told them their kids would be more than fine...they would be GREAT.  And to you? I say tell that little voice inside to get lost and remind yourself that you do love your kids excessively, tell that voice you are raising your children to be strong and to think and to empathize with others.  Remind yourself that self-assurance is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives. And please trust...they will thrive all the more for it and you will once again feel human after a few nights sleep.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recent Publication a MAJOR Success

If you knew me, you'd know how very much I LOVE to read...fiction.  I am always fascinated by different non-fiction topics, but reading non-fiction?  Most of the time I fall asleep before I ever begin. I sometimes marvel at the fact that I made it through college and graduate school; if it doesn't read like a "story" I lose interset.  But as I drove back to work one Monday afternoon for the twice monthly department meeting, I heard an author, Paul Tough, discussing his recent non-fiction book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. That was it, I was hooked.  As I pulled into the parking lot I KNEW I had to download the book immediately, lest I forget the name and the author and miss the opportunity to change my life.  Ok, maybe it wouldn't change my life, but everything I heard the author say sounded like what I have believed as a teacher, a parent, and as a person striving to regain my own health. 

Not only did the book address the adrenal system and the dangers of having your flight or fight response swithced on almost permanantely, but it also discussed how stressors from early life events can negatively affects student performance in school, later in life.  Author Paul Tough follows the paths of several students from low performing schools, in neighborhoods that would make most of us shudder.  He spends an entire chapter examining the success of a chess coach in a low income school and attirubites her teams' success to her blatant honesty.  He revists the success of a student from Chicago Public Schools who is, by all measures, a HUGE success story in her new role as college student at Western Illinois University. And Tough doesn't stop there.  He discusses character skills, character report cards (done the right way), and talks about the downfalls of placing too high a value on ACT and IQ scores. 

Honestly, I have never picked up and read a non-fiction book 'for fun'.  I read pretty much everything I was supposed to all the way through college and graduate school.  I occassionally find myself interested in an non-fiction news article, but always something brief.  This book was not brief, but it was intensly interesting.  I absolutely give this book 5 stars on a 5 star scale.  Anyone who: is curious about what makes a person successful, has children, wants children, works with children or even knows someone else's children- you must read this book.  And don't wait until you finish whatever is on your shelf or your Kindle at the moment.  Read it now.  Pull into a parking lot and download the book.  Use that smart phone to place a hold at your local library.  Make sure you have this book in hand by bedtime. What you read will change your life, or at the very least put a new perspective on what you thought you knew.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Little Crustless Quiche for me!

Eggs.  I love them.  As a kid I was under the impression that I hated them.  They were spongy, smelled bad, and looked weird. As an adult with a dietary plan that can be difficult to follow- they are the only reason I can have breakfast out with the family.  Admittedly, I still think 'over easy' is too drippy and slimey for me.  Poached, fried, basted and soft boiled...yuck.  I know, at 36, I should be well past issues of texture and I'm not.  But I did learn, in recent years, how protein packed and delightful a properly hard boiled egg could be.  Toss it in a salad, eat it sliced on a plate, mix it with some quinoia for an extra punch of protein.  Scrambled eggs in my asian noodles?  Absolutely. 

In the years since I realized I truly love the little oblong treasures, I would venture to say our family also became breakfast goer-outers. Back in the day my omlettes oozed with cheese, the metled strands never willing to neatly separate from the masses, leaving me struggling to eat like a lady (I should've taken the hint and given up on the dairy battle then and there!) I buttered up my English Muffin and devoured it all ravenously.  (And had the weight gain to prove it.) But beyond the casual diners we have so always enjoyed on Sunday mornings, we USED to bake a delightful, gluten filled, dairy rich quiche, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for dinner.  We usually cleaned the pie plate, rarely having a scant crumb for leftovers.  Not so anymore.  My days of calorie counting, dairy banning, and gluten refusing have left quiche all but a distant memory. Imagine my glee when I found, on Pinterest, a crustless and dairy free quiche?

What  delightful little meal it made.  With a couple of slices of bacon and a side of avocado I felt like I was eating at one of our favorite Sunday morning haunts, with only a fraction of the calories and with certainty that my meal was dairy and gluten free.  Was it hard, not at all.  Was it fast, not as quick as a standard (and perhaps boring) scrambled egg. Was it filling, yes actually it was.  And that little fact is one thing that shocked me most.  At only 138 calories per serving (I tallied a total of 8 servings and from the pan I used and this offered a substantial slice of quiche) it was every bit as satisfying as the calorie and gluten laden quiche's from the days of long ago.

I tried the recipe last night for dinner (isn't breakfast for dinner great fun for the family?) and ate some leftovers today for lunch.  Yum.  I did alter the flour/arrowroot volume. And the original recipe left eggs looking more fried than looking like a quiche.  I'm sure, if you like your eggs looking at you, it would taste divine. The original can be seen here. I present a modified version to you now and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Happy eating!

Crustless Quiche Delight
1 large or 2 medium sized squash and/or zucchini, spiral cut
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic butter
5 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ounce soft goat cheese
1 small onion, chopped
6-8 fresh basil leaves, sliced
4 large eggs
I used a Vertical Spiral Slicer (Google Affiliate Ad) from Sur La Table to slice the squash and/or zuchinni.  Toss the squash/zuchinni with 1 beaten egg and then with the brown rice flour, arrowroot powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and sea salt to create the 'crust' of this crustless quiche.  On the stove, heat and melt the butter, then add the crust mixture. (I used a fritatta pan, but a medium sized, oven safe, sautee pan would also work.)

Form and pat down the edges of the 'crust' to resemble that of a pie crust.  The underside of this crust will brown and the edges will become crisp, about 10 minutes over medium heat (checking it often to prevent burning).  Once the crust has set and browned, remove from heat and add remaining vegetables, garlic, and goat cheese- layering them on top of the crust.  Over that, pour remaining beaten eggs and place in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.  I check periodically and when the egg seems solid, I call it done. 

If I could eat spinach, I would add some.  In fact, I would use whatever favorite vegetables are in the fridge at the time I prepare this dish.  Whatever you like in a quiche would also fit brilliantly in this dish.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fruit Fly Trap Wanted: Inquire Within

I have a fruit fly problem.  It's a big one.  Yesterday I took the last batch of nectarines out of the fridge to ripen and the bastards came out of no where.  For anyone reading who may feel the need to explain their origins- please don't.  I find them disgusting and appalling and cringe at the site of one, or 10 which seems most often the case.  And no, my house is not filthy.  It may not be showhome perfect (which I have already told you I have accepted may NEVER be happen), but it is not dirty either.  I have come to the conclusion that the fruit fly invasion of 2012 is thanks to the prolific amounts of fruit consumed in my home on a weekly basis.  It wasn't until one of my best friends (also a big fruit consumer) shared that she is having the same problem that it hit me.  It's not filth, it's fruit.

In the past week, we consumed approxiamtely: 6 pounds of strawberries, 3 pounds of kiwi, 4 pounds of nectarines, 3 pounds of plums, 4 oranges, and a cantaloupe.  I sometimes think back to days, before kids, when I bought the sorts of fruit mentioned above.  They went untouched for days and often times rotted before I remembered they were there.  Not so anymore.  Once the girls were eating solid foods, fruit became a staple for them.  As picky as they both were (and one still is) fruit was something they never turned down.  But that didn't do much to increase my own fruit intake or that of the husband.  We plodded on with heavily breaded meals, vegetables cooked in sticks of butter, and plates full of pastas- albeit with a homemade sauce.

Then the doctor struck.  No gluten, no dairy, no spinach, and butter is ok- if you aren't trying like mad to lose weight (which I was and still am, sortive).  What did that leave me?  Fruits and vegetables.  Every possible combination of fruit has been used.  I chop up a bowl for breakfast everyday and recently started doing the same for the husband.  The girls graze freely from the glass containers that store nature's candy (plastic storage is pretty much banned in our house too) and eat a bowl in their lunches everyday at school.

The only remedy I have found for the fruitfly issue, short of ditching our massive consumption on a weekly basis (which isn't really an option) is the recipe below.  It smells a little, but that is why the bastards love it.  Soon, I think we are going to start composting.  I know there has to be a way to get it done indoors, I just haven't done the research quite yet.  Until then, I keep a supply of apple cider vinegar on hand.  You never know when you might need it for a recipe or employ it as to trap for fiendish fruit flies.

Fruit Fly Trap
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
8-10 pumps dish soap
Pour the apple cider vinegar into a disposable cup (what else are they good for?) along with the dish soap.  Turn the water up high to create high pressure and add to the disposable cup.  There should be a nice 'froth' looking very similar to beer.  Sit the cup near the location the fruitflies seem to favor most.  If all goes well, they will zoom over to investigate and get trapped in the bubbles, leaving them to sink to the bottom. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Selfish Chef and Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

Earlier this week, it hit me.  I am in love with food and may be slightly obsessed.  Ok, let me clarify.  It's the 'can't wait to try new recipes, will slave over dinner for hours, am constantly in search of ways to turn a kidney bean into something amazing, and eagerly pack my lunch for the next day using last night's leftovers' kind of obsessed.  I admit to it, I own it, let's move on.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I really love doing the shopping and cooking in our house.  It was on a Monday evening and the husband was trying to help me 'take a load off" by offering to do the shopping as he heads home from work.  I think I might have had a meltdown.  The thought of abandoning my beloved routine scared the crap out of me.  No more weekly trips to Costco for fruit and then Whole Foods for everything else?  You mean, not get my favorite zero calorie- stevia sweetened iced tea as a weekly treat for a shopping trip well done?  I froze, and saw my world spiraling out of control.  That, dear husband, is one burden I find myself unwilling to share. 

In an effort to be a good man he then offered to help make the meals.  More panic.  There may have been beads of sweat somewhere on my forehead as I envisioned a mass of crusted pots and pans, but even more terrifying- an abundant use of oils!  I tried to explain that this was one more task I just could not bare to part with. Bring home the occasional Mediterranean meal from the local Pita BBQ?  Sure, once in a while.  Regularly cook ornate meals using, potentially, up to a half cup of oil and who knows how much butter?  Too much for me to handle. 

I never knew until recently (and this may sound totally lame) that vegetables can be sauteed using water.  WHAT?  Who would do such a thing?  It seems unnatural!  Turns out it works really well and the onions still get translucent and carrots still become bright orange and tender. (Thanks "Forks Over Knives" for that life altering lesson!)

Given the husband's recent interest in all things Mediterranean  related,  I decided to dabble in making lentil soup.  The recipes I found didn't make me shout and holler in excitement at the ingredients...until I found one with saffron.  Mmmm.  Saffron.  Known by many as the most expensive (ounce for ounce) spice in the world.  The brightly colored, orangey-yellow stamens of the crocus, once soaked, give off an unmistakable perfume and release a flavor as rich as their price tag.  I knew I had to give this recipe a go.  The flavor was great, said the husband, but the texture was like water.  That problem was easily remedied by tossing about half of the lentils into the blender with a little liquid from the pot.  Twenty seconds of puree later, the thickness was more to his liking and resembled a cream soup, sans the cream (because, as you remember, dairy does evil and terrible things to the body!)

The one alteration I would like to make next time, but probably won't because of the blondes (aka my 6 year old daughters), is to kick up the spice factor just a bit.  I purposely made it mild in hopes they would try it.  They did, but the rest of the pot was a little too tame for my personal taste. If heat isn't your thing, then the recipe is probably perfect as is.  If spice is what you crave, add some garlic chili paste (you can find it on the aisle with Asian foods) until you hit your favorite level of fire.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup diced celery
2-4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
8-10 freshh basil leaves
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
pinch of saffron (a little goes a long way!)
1 cup lentils

 In a pot, combine carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, ginger root, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and basil leaves.  Sautee until the vegetables are transparent, using just enough water to keep the blend from sticking to the pan.

When the vegetables and spices have softened and produced a brilliant fragrance, add water, stock, saffron, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40-45 minutes. 

If you are happy with a brothy soup, feel free to stop here.  If you are looking for something a little more creamy, ladel the majority of lentils and a splash of liquid into the blender.  Puree for about 20 seconds and return to the rest of the recipe.  Stir and serve!  

As a rough estimate, this recipe should come out to about 70 calories per one cup serving. Worried about being hungry later?  Not a problem.  It is extremely filling and gives you the kick you need to keep going.