Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stockup Sunday - Broccoli and Cheese Soup

Ok, please trust me and read on even though the word "broccoli" is in the post title.  My kids - all of them - LOVE this broccoli soup and so do I. 

Here's how I got started making it.  One fall a couple of years ago, we were visiting my cousin who has an organic vegetable farm.  The kids and I were out walking in the field, which was full of broccoli plants about to be disked under.  The boys thought it was so much fun picking broccoli side shoots that we ended up going home with bags of broccoli. While trying to figure out what to do with all this broccoli, I found a broccoli and cheese soup recipe on the Food Network web site.  I made it, and it was delicious, but I was scratching my head trying to figure out how to get the kids to eat it.  They were watching a movie in their room, when I said, "Boys, I made this really yummy creamy soup with CHEESE in it.  It's really CHEESY and it's SO GOOD."  I went on and on about the cheese, thinking they would go for that, but they didn't bat an eyelash.  Finally on my way out of their room, I mumbled something about broccoli.  They both jumped up and shouted, "Broccoli!?I?" {well why didn't you say so mom?} and ran into the kitchen to try it.  They each ate a whole bowl full and asked for more.  It was the weirdest thing I have ever experienced.

The recipe is very small, so I almost always double it.  I follow the recipe pretty closely with only a few small adjustments  First, I don't bother with the croutons shown in the original recipe.  Second, I just use salted butter and omit the salt.  Finally, if I make it in the summer, I used fresh broccoli and fresh thyme, but if I make it in the winter, I use frozen broccoli and dried thyme (reduce the amount when using dried).  Believe it or not, the fresh thyme makes a huge difference in flavor, but it's just too expensive at $2.99 a package to buy fresh in the winter.  In the summer, I have it in the garden.  The amount of cream (half and half works fine) and cheese can easily be reduced without ruining the soup.  You can blend the soup very smooth if your kids have food texture issues. 
The other interesting thing that I have discovered is that the kids actually like the soup better without the cream and cheese, so when I make it, they all eat a bowl before I stir in these last ingredients.  Dad doesn't eat it without offsetting all the broccoli with a little cream and cheese, so we add these before he eats any.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Travel Notes - Roatan Honduras

On our recent cruise, the first port of call was Roatan, Honduras.  Roatan is a small, beautiful island popular with scuba divers.  It has only recently become a cruise ship stop, so it's not as developed as other ports (a big plus in our book).

Cruise ships dock at Coxen Hole, which is a tiny town on the southwest side of the island.  Upon arrival in port, we joined up with some fellow cruisers for a van ride to West Bay beach, a spectacular and popular destination crowded with resorts ($27 per person, including snorkeling gear).  Our ride included a shy but lovable15-year old "guide."  Ultimately, it was more interesting to ask him about his life than about the sights.  He came from a large family (8 kids), loved soccer, had chickens, and dove for fish and lobster with his dad. He also told us about hunting iguana. Iguana try to escape the hunter by crawling in holes, but the hunting dogs dig them out.  The hunters kill them with a stick, not guns.  On a caribbean island, you would expect seafood to be the local delicacy, but according to our guide, it is iguana (which, of course "tastes like chicken").  I have to confess we ate conch, not iguana during our visit. 

On the way to the beach, we stopped to visit a small monkey sanctuary housed in a private residence.  Dan and I opted to wander the neighborhood, while some of our fellow passengers paid $5 to have monkeys crawl all over them (not our thing).  While Dan was off trying to photograph a goat in a nearby yard, I asked an Indian tourist in our group about the tropical fruit trees -- she identified cashew, mango, bread fruit, banana, and coconut trees for me.  However, the biggest shock to my tourist mind was the quiet fact that a hundred feet from our van, there were two women washing clothes by hand in a small stream flowing with brown water.  I have never felt more like an overprivileged American.

After another quick stop in the town of West End (everyone decided to forego shopping there), we arrived at West Bay beach.  I spent $17 (!!!) on sunscreen at a beach resort (it would have almost been worth the $25 to check a bag and bring my own) and $27 on a rashguard from a dive shop (yep, forgot to pack that), and then we were finally ready to snorkel.  We negotiated with an entrepreneurial boat owner ($40) to drive us out to a good snorkeling location (the blue channel).  As soon as we got in the water, the sun went behind the clouds.  There were a lot of fish, but nothing we haven't seen before.

After snorkeling, we enjoyed a snack of fried conch and nachos along with the local beer (Barena) at a beach restaurant called Foster's.  We were entertained watching another patron's leashed pet monkey jump around.

After eating, Dan swam out to a reef within sight from the beach.  He reported back that it was every bit as great as the one we had just paid to boat to.  We learned a few lessons in Roatan.  We should have spent far less money than we did (but maybe our money went to people who needed it more than we did).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Down Time is My Up Time

A seemingly long time ago, Dan and I used to take adventurous vacations.  We fished; we camped; we hiked national forests; we hiked rain forests; we ventured through Caracas street markets; we swam in biolumenescent bays... you get the picture.  Last week, we left the daily adventure we call "home" and went on a Caribbean cruise (just the two of us) where we did as little as possible, and it was the best.

There was some of this

a little of this

and a lot of this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lego Avalanche

Can anyone else relate to this?

It's wonderful to be blessed with a lot of hand-me-down toys, but it still scares me everytime I see all the Legos dumped out at once.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Little Teacher

Earlier this year, I asked Ehren, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  First he answered, "I want to be the person who catches the animals for zoos.  What is that called?"  I told him there really wasn't a name for that job, so he said, "Forget that then."  I continued, "Is there anything else you want to be?"  He thought for a minute and then said, "Well, maybe a teacher."  Now a few months later, I've been observing scenes like these.

"Anna, this is the word rideRide, do you see it?  And this word is..."

Then while skating with cousins, Ehren told me, "I want to teach Aurelia to skate."  While trying to hold up his 3-year old cousin who was on skates for the first time, he coached her, "Here, Aurelia.  Let me show you..."

I once heard an amazing speaker named Heidi Horak.  She was a special ed student who went on to become a special ed teacher.  Who knows?  Maybe teaching will be Ehren's calling.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's a lot better

Last week I met with the special education staff at the public school where Ehren and Christian go for speech therapy and social skills two hours a week. We planned for their upcoming three-year evaluation.  I didn't know this before, but children receiving special education services have to be evaluated every three years to determine if they are still eligible for services and if so, what services will they receive. 

This means we are approaching the three-year anniversary of the date we were told they were on the spectrum.  A lot has changed in three years.  If I could graph my emotions over that time period, they would look something like this:

If I could graph my view of Ehren and Christian's progress over the last three years, it would look something like this:

Even though this three-year evaluation has not even formally begun yet, I can tell you they will still be eligible for services.  But more importantly, I can also tell you that I did not feel bad {read dread} when I left this meeting, like I have in some times past.  It's not like I still can't feel bad {I can}, but right now, I'm so thankful for what Ehren and Christian are doing, and not so dread-filled about what they aren't doing.  It's a gift I hope I can savor for awhile.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stockup Sunday - Pasta Salad

If you're new to my blog, Stockup Sunday is one of my "working mom" tricks to make my week a little easier.  You can read more here.  Below is one of the things I made last Sunday.  I'm trying to think up a delicious, exotic-sounding name for it, so if you have any ideas, let me know :-)

1 lb pasta shells cooked and drained
1 handful of sun-dried tomatoes roughly chopped
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach roughly chopped
1 medium red onion chopped
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
1/4 diced salami
1/4 c sliced pickled hot peppers (any variety you like is fine)
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1 c italian dressing*

Toss all ingredients together and let stand at room temperature for an hour or so before eating or refrigerating.

* Italian Dressing - I use this recipe and keep the dry mix on hand in my pantry.

I like this recipe because it's easy, and it lets me use some of the things I preserved from my summer garden (the sun-dried tomatoes and pickled hot peppers).  You can do all the chopping while the pasta boils, then rinse the pasta and toss it all together.  Done in 15 minutes (even faster than Rachel Ray).

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Oh, you thought that was trash in our yard?  No, that's Ehren's rabbit trap.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Every Mother Knows

...the best toy in the whole wide world is a giant cardboard box.
And we have one.

The kids saw it and said, "We can make a club house!" 
and then, "Can we sleep in it too, Mom?"

Later I heard, "...and maybe we could use it as a fish house!" 
A pause, a thought, and then, "Well, maybe not."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Beauty Day, Eh?

 Look at this sunny.

Actually, I've got a whole pail full.

Hey, maybe I better give this a try.

Thanks, Grandpa!

 Get ready to be my dinner.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Going Green

The remains of one of my favorite salads.

1 bag of baby spinach
1 bag of mixed greens
1 cup craisins
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup candied almonds - see below
1 red onion sliced
dressing - see below

In a large bowl, toss greens with the amount of dressing desired.  Toss in 1/2 to 3/4 of the craisins, cheese and nuts.  Top salad with remaining craisins, nuts and cheese.

Candied Almonds
Start with about 3-4 tablespoons sugar and 1 cup nuts (use almonds, walnuts, pecans or whatever is on hand).  Add nuts and sugar to a pan over medium heat.  Stir constantly until sugar begins to melt and coat nuts.  Add more sugar as needed.  Once all the sugar has melted, remove from heat and set nuts on wax paper to cool.

1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dry mustard (you can substitute prepared mustard)
1/4 tsp almond extract
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2 cups oil (such as vegetable or canola)

Mix all ingredients except oil in a large jar with a lid.  Shake until well mixed.  Add oil and shake again.  This recipe makes a lot of dressing, so save some to be used later.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

One size does not fit all

Last week I heard a story on NPR about Asperger's Syndrome.  The experts argue about whether or not it should be classified as a mental disorder.  This doesn't surprise me because the autism spectrum is so broad.  Just where do you draw the line between where "normal" ends and "mental disorder" begins. 

Since we found out the boys were on the spectrum, I've met a lot of kids with autism. Now, almost three years later, I am starting to understand just how different each person on the autism spectrum is. It's not just the level of severity that can be different, but each kid can have such a different set of strengths and weaknesses.  Even my identical twins are not the same.  Ehren might not have perfect grammar or articulation but he is a very expressive speaker - no monotones there.  He cares about what peers think of him.  On the flip side, he is not a strong visual learner.  He doesn't enjoy reading.  Sometimes it frustrates him, and he just wants to quit.  Christian doesn't care much about impressing anyone.  He struggles a lot with remembering things he hears and with expressing himself verbally.  However, he has a completely amazing visual memory.  He can figure out how to put things together easily.  He loves reading.  He figures out new computer or video games before a lot of adults, and let's not forget that he was doing 50-piece puzzles when he was three.

Given the complexities I have seen in my own kids, it doesn't surprise me at all that there is controversy about how to define diagnoses on any part of the autism spectrum.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

First Grade Math

Do you know this song?

It's the doubles baby. Let's go.  Let's go.
It's the doubles baby, and we start with zero.

0 + 0 = 0 Oh!
1 + 1 = 2 Oooh!
2 + 2 = 4 More!
3 + 3 = 6 Kicks!
4 + 4 = 8 That's great!
5 + 5 = 10 Again!

Here's the part I hear most often:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Keep It For My Kids

Last night I was going through the boys' closet removing shirts they've outgrown.  Christian said, "What about the Thomas shirt?"  I said, "Right, good idea.  It's time to get rid of that one."  I flipped through the hangers until I found one of the most battered t-shirts in their closet.  It came to us as a hand-me-down and then was worn and worn and worn.  When I pulled it out, Christian said, "Keep it for my baby."  I said, "What?" and then thought for a minute and continued, "Do you mean you want to save this shirt for your kids?"  He said, "Yeah, keep it for my kids."

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve Fun

While the big girls toasted our Moscato, the little girls watched a princess movie, the men talked hockey,

and the boys played Chutes and Ladders... the first time I've witnessed them voluntarily get out a board game and play with just each other.