Monday, September 28, 2009

Beauty and the Beef

Well, here she is folks. This is my beautiful table. After writing my previous post, I took a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond, to look for table cloths. Surprise! They just happened to have a few tables cloths on clearance up front. Of course, it took a bribe of M&M's to get my children to stop misbehaving while I was in the store. Alexander took a couple laps of the store (I forgot my leash, which he did wear at the grocery store in the morning, and was fine with it. I was making excuses all over the grocery store, but mom's kept telling me, "Oh you don't have to tell me, honey. I had one for my kid."). Kristiana screamed her head off for five minutes when I got inside the store. I do not know what her problem was. I couldn't leave I needed a new trash can and cooking string too badly. But, they both sat in the cart quietly after I bribed them with containers of mini-M&M's. I am seriously going to pay for my rewarding bad behavior someday. Anyway, back to my pretty table. I bought this table cloth, which is yellow, as well as second pastel green table cloth. I do not normally use table cloths, because they always get dirty and I never seem to be able to get them clean. The cat also sits on the table and messes everything up (watchout, kittty, you're about to get squirted with water right between the eyes). Further, I only had one table cloth before this point. But, after having some sort of "Come to Jesus" moment over setting the scene for holy family meals, I am converted. Now, I will be collecting table clothes, place mats and candles suitable for liturgical, meal celebration.

See the two figures in the middle. The one in the foreground is an angel holding a pineapple. It's a welcome angel, but in my family it represents my little brother who is now praying for all of us along with the angels. He brought the lore of the pineapple to our home. The other figure has it's arms crossed across it's heart. It's called "gracious," but it reminded my husband and I of how Byzantines pray. Crossing arms across your chest represents angel wings. Praying can be "gracious."

Bifteck Hache A La Layonnaise

Julia says, "Shock is the reaction of some Americans we have encountered who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers. They do eat them, and when sauced with any of the suggestions in the following recipes, the French hamburger is an excellent and relatively economical main course for an informal party."

Julia recommended buying the leanest ground beef for this dish, which is so, so funny, because then it is promptly drowned in a delicious butter and vermouth sauce. We have gone through a second pound of butter. Butter has officially been added to my weekly grocery list--so long as we are mastering the art of French cooking.

Andrew is the one who decided to make this entree and he prepared it all by himself. Of course it was the best burger ever. We may never go back to American-style burgers. Sure, we will partake at your every day, run of the mill barbeque, but I am not a huge fan of buns, so this is a great revelation. Bon Apetit!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Menu Planning and the Liturgical Year

As I have said before, I am doing a Catholic Mom’s book reading and Bible study at a nearby church. The focus of last week’s meeting was food preparation. There were lots of ideas for making the preparation process flow more smoothly and lots of tips on making food more central in bringing your family together to pray, share your hearts, and foster growth as Christians. One of the suggestions in the book was to make your table match the liturgical calendar in both settings (table cloths and candles) and in food. As Eastern Christians we already do this somewhat for major feasts, but to be honest we struggle to make our daily meals formal and holy.

In order to improve in this area of our lives I will be attempting to make our table setting more beautiful, to continue to plan meals, and to bring everyone together at the table for meals. By bringing everyone together at the table to share a meal, I hope that we can incorporate more Christian practices of reading Bible passages, saying prayers, and simply breaking bread together and conversing.

For a long time Alexander has insisted eating at the coffee table, because it is just his size and because he can convince us to turn on cartoons while he is eating. Recently, I have been placing his breakfast at the dining table and Praise be to God, Alex has not made a big deal of it is like he has in the past.

On Friday morning, the morning after our Mom’s Group meeting, I got up early and made everyone breakfast and placed it at the table and called everyone to breakfast. We don’t usually all eat breakfast at the same time. I usually make myself something before or after the kids and hubby. I’ll just eat fast while doing one of my other morning chores. Hubby just rushes about and either will eat what I make or just drink coffee and then come back to the house and eat something after his morning class. Needless to say, eating breakfast together was wonderful and is something I want to continue. Breakfast is the perfect meal to have together, because the kids are not grumpy and needy. I will try to not short change dinner either.

On to menu planning: below is this week’s menu for dinners (it’s a bad scan, click on it, it will get bigger), complete with liturgical feasts. The kids usually eat kid things--ravioli, sandwiches, etc. I have a picky eater. I have a calendar with the readings for the day, so we will attempt to do a short reading each day. My friend suggested reading from a picture Bible for the kids. I may try that. Although, our picture Bible is abridged (obviously), and it can be difficult getting the right message out of it.

Tuesday, we will go celebrate the feast of the Archangels at a friend’s house potlatch style. I think my Tuesday meal will transfer well.

…baby’s crying. That means no editing. (Your turn to post your menu, Eleri) Blessed cooking and homemaking to all!

Psalm 31

10 wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Claytonopolis This Week

Last Friday, I went to a JBF consignment sale. I bought a toddler leash for Alex. I said that I would never use a leash on my child, but I had a very terrifying moment in Sears in which he started running around and could not be contained. I could not see him or hear him. It was terrifying thinking that anyone could kidnap him and he would be gone forever. So I bought the leash to keep him close when in stores.

Saturday, we did what every other Wacoan does on a late Saturday afternoon. We went to Wal-mart. Alexander was in the cart behaving very well. About thirty minutes into our shopping trip Alex said, “I want to get out.” I told him that he couldn’t and he insisted. So I said,

“All right, but you have to wear the Elmo leash and stay close to Mommy. Okay?”

He was okay with this and excited that it had Elmo on it. I put it on him and looked at him. He did not look happy. I stepped a few feet away and said, “Come on, let’s go over there.” He did not move, he did not say anything, but he had the look of utter humiliation. His little brow was furled, his head hung low and the corners of his mouth were starting to turn down. I asked him what was wrong, and he said,

“Mom, I want to take it off.”

I answered, “No, you can’t because you will run away from mommy. But, if I take it off will you stay close to mommy?” He agreed that he would, and he did.

What a strange triumph. I did not know a 2 ¾ years old child could feel humiliated in such a way. I did not think that he could comprehend that this was something by which to be humiliated. He learned a valuable lesson—to stay close to mommy. I am going to keep the leash in my bag for the next time he feels like running away in a store. My feelings about baby leashes have not changed, but as a parent I can never say never. Baby leashes have their place.

On Sunday, Andrew and I made omelettes for dinner. I have attempted making omelettes before, but they have never turned out quite right. With the help of Julia Child, we both made very good omelettes. They were not perfect, but much better the previous attempts.

On Monday, I made basted herb chicken Provence style with a perfect garlic, wine, hollandaise sauce. It was the first time that my hollandaise has been perfect in every way imaginable. I did something very un-French to achieve this. I melted the butter in the microwave instead of the stove. Then I added the cooled wine reduction to the egg yolks, then I slowly added the butter to the yolks as I whisked. The result was the perfect –aise part of the sauce.

Alex did the dishes.

Tuesday, Alexander became a super hero. In the morning, I left the room and when I came back he had turned over the coffee table, then he roared. I asked him to get dressed. He speedily got naked and ran out the back door in to the open parking area. He had a huge smile of glee. He got to the car looked down at his naked body and his eyes got very big. It was the look of, “Holy crap I am naked and outside where everyone can see.” Then he ran back inside. I thought this was funny, because I ran around naked outside until I was five. Mom would have me get dressed and ten minutes after going outside, I was naked. What can I say? I was comfortable with myself.

Say a prayer for Aunt Amy and her family as she enters the breast cancer ranks.

No Ma'am - Kristiana's Game


Saturday, September 19, 2009

For Mature Audiences Only - Some Scenes of Food Sex

Au jour d’hui, filets de poisson poches au vin blanc avec béarnaise sauce et champignons sautés a la bourdelaise.

That was a mouthful (ha, ha, no pun intended). Translation – poached fish (mahi mahi) in white wine with buttery wine sauce and mushrooms sautéed with shallots, garlic and herbs. From the beginning of preparation to the end of cooking it took a total of 35 minutes. This meal would be very easy for any novice cook to tackle and would be very manageable for moms. But this meal more than anything was sex on a plate.

Tonight’s dinner was an impromptu dive into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Alexander woke up from his nap at 4:30 p.m. and he cried almost nonstop about one thing or another until we were finally fed up enough with him to put him back to bed at 7:30 p.m. We also put Kristiana to bed. As you can imagine it was a bit mad around here until then, so we were not able to begin cooking dinner. When they were finally asleep we were ready to kick back and release. Andrew asked, “What’s for dinner? I’m starving.”

I thought about it and threw out, “Mahi Mahi.” It was on sale at the grocery store today. He asked,

“What else?”

We discussed it some more. It was a delectable meeting of the minds as we threw out ideas of dishes from MtAoFC. Finally we had come up with the meal presented above. We madly cooked. Andrew cooked the mushroom dish. I poached to fish and made the béarnaise sauce. We danced about the kitchen, chopping and mincing, seasoning and sautéing.

(I am so embarrassed to admit this...why am I posting this online.) The product of our tiny effort resulted in immediate food-gasms upon the first bite. We both let out enormous, guttural groans. The phone rang and we both looked at each other, like “Should we answer?” Andrew answered the phone, and we both looked at each other like we were doing something naughty. Each component went so well with each other. Each morsel melted into the palette.

Afterward, when we were cleaning up, I turned to Andrew and said, “I feel like I just cheated on you with another man.”

He quipped, “I feel like I just watched you cheat on me with another man.” Then Andrew turned on his heal, bounced to the door. “I am going to go smoke a cigarette and then go pick up a cappuccino.”

“Who cheated on who, Babe?” This is a bad precedence. This is becoming our Saturday night guilty pleasure. Further, we have used a pound of butter in one week. Strangely enough, we had both lost two pounds this week. And we had a lot of fun cooking together.

Bon Apetit!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Tackle Her

What are big brothers for if not for rough housing? This is the dulled version on soft sofa cushions. Usually, I catch him lovingly smashing his sister's face into the carpet followed by blood curdling screams of a scorned little sister. Alex really wishes she would just rough house back.

(On facebook

Mini Van of Glory

Yes, now we are in that category--Mini van owners. We had to be realistic. We needed another car. We think we will be having more children someday. This one just happened to be the right one. We are all pretty happy with this purchase. It's a 2005 Mazda MPV. Jealous? I know you are.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boeuf Bourgignon

---My first venture into Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The best description of the product is an exquisite stew.

This recipe was very labor intensive. I started by reading the recipe the night before and writing a grocery shopping list. First thing in the morning I was off to the grocery store. The damage for the ingredients was somewhere around $20 and it serves 6, which figures to about $3.33 per serving. So, it’s on the pricey end of a home cooked meal.

Later in the day when the children were down for naps I began prepping and cooking. By the time I started cooking I had read the recipe about seven times. It took that many times to simply comprehend all the tasks I had to complete. During the cooking I had to read the recipe a few more times. There were a lot of steps. After properly preparing the ingredients I had to sauté every thing in order to seal in the flavor.

Two hours later it was ready to go into the pot to simmer for four hours. Our friend of ours called to invite us for dinner. We had not seen her in a while so we accepted her gracious invitation. I turned down the temperature on the pot. Seven hours later (oops, too long), I had a somewhat overcooked, but still incredibly delicious stew. According to Julia, it will only be better tomorrow. I believe it. I tried it an hour after putting it into the refrigerator and it was fabulous.

Ten point scale ratings:

Degree of difficulty: 8

Degree of labor intensity: 8

Degree of Kitchen Carnage: 7.5

Likelihood of making it again: It’s complicated. At first I thought it felt like I might only try this on special occasions, but now that I am more familiar with the recipe and execution I feel I am may be able to accomplish it with more ease.

My Execution of this recipe: 5 - Yes, I made some substitutions. I didn't have a casserole large enough to fit the whole recipe, so I put it in my slow cooker and cooked it there instead the oven. There were too many veggies and not enough time, so I didn't saute the mushrooms. I used regular sliced bacon instead huge chunks. I used medium onion instead of small.

Degree of deliciousness: In comparison to you average "Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book" Stew MtAoFC Stew is a 10.

Notes: For mum’s with many kids running about, I think that this recipe could be done in stages—day one: shopping, day two: cutting, day three: cooking.

Did I mention once the beef made it into the pot for hours of stewing, what followed was an accidental nap with Kristiana. I never nap, but after all that work it just happened.

Next up, Coq a Vin.
Perfect day for cooking stew--Raining

Step One: Braised Onions

Step 18: Dry Beef with paper towels. (Who knew they had paper towels in 1961)

Step 21: Saute beef in almost smoking fat. Oops, mine actually smoked.

Step 22: Add to already sauteed bacon chunks

Step 25: chop veggies

Step 45: Add sauteed veggies to braised onions

Kitchen Carnage

Boeuf Bourgignon: Bon Apetit!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Children Need to See You Pray

Constantly my husband and I talk about how to do family prayer. With two small children it seems like madness every time we pray as a family. We think, what have we done wrong?

I started reading a book called “Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart” by Kimberly Hahn, with Waco Catholic Mom’s Group. I have never read anything by the Hahn’s before, but I have heard much about them. So far the book has been extremely easy to read and has lots of compact and precise wisdom from biblical passages.

Mrs. Hahn wrote about every homemaker needing the five “P’s,” which she learned from another homemaking book, “Living by a Mother’s Rule of Life,” by Holly Pierlot. The Mother’s Rule is in the following order by priority, “Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider.”

“Prayer (your relationship with God), Person (what you need to do to take care of yourself properly), Partner (your relationship with your partner), Parent (what you need to do to take care of your children), Provider (the things you do to care for the whole household).” Designed to be a checklist to make sure the Mother is doing her job well.

The first thing that has stuck in my head is “Prayer.” I read about how other mothers and homemakers pray, and realized that a lot of women just pray while they go about their daily chores and duties, and let it permeate their day. As we should, “pray without ceasing.” As I read about other mothers’ prayer tactics it occurred to me, the children need to see you pray.

We learn best by example and if the children do not see and hear us pray daily, how are they to learn the habit themselves? Kimberly Hahn wrote about ways in which mother’s managed to make time for prayer—one mother sat in the kitchen with her apron over her head and her children knew not to disturb her. It may not be feasible to get everyone together at one time to pray together and what about time for personal prayer. So mum should just go ahead and pray. If the family joins in great; if the children start interrupting personal prayer, stop and tell them what you are doing, or find a safe place for them to be and continue praying.

I am glad I read this and I have made it my goal to pray in front of the children, even when it is personal prayer. I pray often in my heart throughout the day. Alex and I pray together before he goes to bed and then he prays again with Andrew after I leave. He likes one on one praying. But our children do not see us pray other than at church or before meals. I think it is important to simply do it and let them see you do it.

I read about all of this a couple of weeks ago and still have not achieved my goal of praying in front of the children at least once a day. But, I set the time to do it after dinner. I have decided that is a bad time, because by the time dinner is through someone is always crying. Tonight when I get home I am going to rush in and drop everything and pray right away and then begin making dinner. I hope to make it a habit. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Can a Cook Book Change a Person’s Life?

A couple of year’s ago my mum sent me a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Mum was really excited about it and I thought it was cool. I looked inside it and felt dizzy. The book had many intricate recipes and they were organized by genre, i.e. poultry, eggs, deserts, and so forth. “But wait! How do I make a meal of this? And why would I need to know how to bone a duck?” I fancy myself a good cook, but I am a thirty minute cook. If I cannot throw it together in that time, familial disasters occur. I also could not figure out which dishes go together.

One evening I came home and said to my husband, “I think we need more sauces in our lives. Sauces make everything taste better!” So I opened up MtAoFC, found a sauce, and proceeded to make it. I am pretty sure that I did not read all the instructions and I probably did not have all the ingredients, because that is typical Renee. I am the queen of substitutions. Even if I plan a meal, my mood will change during the week and I will have to make do with what I have (it’s a working mom thing). Needless to say, my sauce turned out mediocre and I didn’t go there again.

Flash forward to a month ago, Andrew said that he was going to start making some dinners. I had a meltdown. I should have been happy my husband wanted to cook and help out. In my head, he was saying to me that he did not like my cooking and he was tired of it. The man who is a self-professed bad cook wants to replace me! In his head, he was thinking that the children are going through an exceptionally clingy phase and I should make dinner so they can spend some time with their mother.

Andrew is not a cook. In fact, he has never made me a meal that did not come out of a box. But he said, “I want to do this right.” He knew we had MtAoFC, because I had told him that the cook book in the movie, “Ratatouille” was a play on MtAoFC and I showed it to him. He is a fan of that movie and the T.V. show, “Top Chef,” and he appreciates fine cuisine. Andrew went to the cupboard and pulled out the cook book. The next day he went to the store bought a bounty of fresh ingredients and made the finest steak with a lovely sauce and sautéed mushrooms. It was not exactly a “meal” per se, since it had no sides. But, I did not care. The steak was so delicious I could not think about anything else.

A couple of days ago, I saw the movie Julie/Julia (warning you have to be a big fan of fine food to enjoy this movie). It was such a lovely movie. The main character Julie speaks of how Julia Childs’ cook book MtAoFC saved her, and indeed it did. But could this cook book save others? It saved this woman because she gained the writing career out of it that she so desired. It saved her in other ways as well. Julie got to know herself. She showed her true colors through cooking.

Last night, I sautéed mushrooms, onions, and green bell peppers. But before I did, Andrew stopped me and said, “Read what Julia says about sautéing,” and he opened the page in the book. Initially I thought, “How dare he tell me how to sauté? I know how to sauté.” But, I figured I was not in a position to argue. He had already made a perfect gourmet meal and Julia Childs’ is an expert. I read it. I did NOT know how to sauté. I followed Julia’s instructions and it was a revelation. I made something that did not just taste good (my usual saute). It tasted beautiful. It tasted like heaven.

I feel like a new woman. Can a cook book change a person’s life? Indeed. I think Andrew and I are happier people now for having made fine French food--food that tasted like heaven bathed in butter. I think I would like to set a resolution to make one meal out of MtAoFC every week. No pressure--It's not an ultimatum. It's just a goal.

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (check your local library) and make one recipe, and follow it to the letter. When you do, you will feel different about food, yourself, the world--something. You will feel triumphant. “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” --Henry Miller

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I am sure our own family’s struggles are small. Last Friday as I left the grocery store, I saw an old man holding the hands of two toddlers—one looked to be 2 ½ years old and the other looked to be 1 ½ years old and they both had big smiles. The boys were tugging on the old man’s hand trying to get him to move faster. They had no clothes on and no shoes on and they were walking on very hot asphalt, and they both had on natty old diapers that looked like they had been wearing for two days. I immediately thought. I need to drop these groceries, pick up these little boys, and take them inside the store to spare their feet. I thought, “I need to ask the man if he needed me to buy clothes, shoes and diapers for them.” My arms were full of groceries, milk, eggs, fruit. I had very little time drive home put my groceries in the fridge and drive to the other side of town to meet Andrew for an important meeting, and I was already running late. I passed on by, and thought surely someone else will feel as I and help this man. I went on about my business.

OF COURSE, I felt horrible leaving them behind. As soon as I reached Andrew I told him what I had seen. Andrew told me I had done a bad thing. I said, “I know.” Andrew would have stopped. He would have simply apologized to me for being late and said that it was important to help these people. And I would have forgiven him recognizing the importance of his good act.

For the next day or so, the scene replayed in my mind over and over. I knew I had done wrong. I confessed, but I have yet to perform my penance. In my head, I think I have made my penance grander than intended. Perhaps no one else stepped up to help the man and boys. And in this day and age it is likely no one did. It was I who was supposed to step up and I passed them by.

I am sure my troubles are small. In fact, I am sure that they are not large enough, because those who suffer greatly also have much empathy and often give a lot. Don’t be like me! Don’t let my shame be your shame as well. Stop next time you see someone who looks like they need help. No matter what you are doing, no errand, or jug of milk, is so important to not help a fellow human in need. . “'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:40).


I am looking forward to the day when all have to do when I go to bed is sleep. I am so tired. Even though I am exhausted, I truly do cherish my nighttime parenting of baby Kristiana, and the 11:00 p.m. snuggle Alexander and I had last night. It is so strange that the punishment is worth it to have children. If I had known that this was what my parents were going through when we were kids, I might have been a lot nicer and forgiving toward them.

For the past few weeks…month…year…two and three quarters years…I have felt like Andrew and I are zombies—very little sleep, working hard. The kids still have not quite recovered from the junk they had a week and a half ago. They gave it to us via baby slobber and dirty little boy hands. Andrew and I sort of muscled through the last two weekends.

I fear the winter cold and flu season. School started back last Wednesday. Half of one whole elementary school is already out with Swine flu. There is still no flu vaccine and I fear for Alexander’s asthma. I know we are going to have to go through the Swine flu in our house. It is inevitable. Blessed Theotokos, pray for us.

Andrew’s tonsils are giving out on him. He was at the emergency room last Saturday with a very bad tonsil infection. Andrew's not one to complain about pain, so when he said he needed to see a doctor, I said go to the emergency room, don't wait until Monday. I am so glad he went. His infection could have been fatal by Monday. He got some antibiotics and is feeling better. Hopefully, at some point this year, his doctor will decide to remove them.

I have "the coughs." Krisitiana has the same thing plus pink eye (nice, great, excellent *sarcasm*). It's a drainage tickle. It's very bad in the night. I get to take a little cough medicine, which sort of helps. Kristiana just nurses all night. I am okay with her nursing, because it's better than listening to her cough all night. I can sleep through her nursing. So we're just trudging through it.