Saturday, December 20, 2014

Breathe. Believe. Begin.

I've been 40 years old for 12 whole days now. I'm feeling pretty fierce and fearless, especially after my last swim lesson. As some of you know, I began taking swim lessons about a month ago, to try to conquer my fear of deep water and become a better swimmer. I've swum in deep water before, but mostly with life vests or other safety floats to aid me. Yes, I can swim to save my life, but calm breathing and smooth strokes would surely get me farther than hyperventilation and doggy paddles.

On Wednesday night, I had my final swim lesson for the season. My crawl stroke form and side breathing have vastly improved since my first lesson. I can swim with my face completely in the water for three full exhales before I have to take a breath. More importantly, I swam a decent crawl stroke across the deepest part of the pool without the safety float. TWICE. And I totally didn't die! Victory in our time!

So what’s my next fear to conquer? Well, back in September, my friend Karinn asked me what kind of writing I really want to do. The last couple of freelance gigs involved video game writing, but it’s been a long while, and honestly, that’s not my passion. I was too shy back then to admit to her what my passion is, but last Monday, I finally said it aloud.

I want to write poetry. I want to have a book of poetry published. I want to hold it in my hands and turn the pages to read my words and hear my voice. I want to tell my story through my poetry, like Merle Collins or Jessica Hagedorn.

There, I said it. Poetry is my heart, my home. Some of my poems have even been published before, in college publications and small literary journals. I’m not a prolific poet, but I have more than enough to fill a manuscript. I have one such manuscript, in fact, full of notes from one of my writing professors, somewhere in my office.

Sweet! I already have a manuscript! Just get that sucker edited and published, right? Er, um, ah… First of all, a lot has happened in the 20 years since I put that manuscript together. It may not be the story I want to tell anymore.

Second of all, I AM SCARED. What am I so afraid of? It’s just words on a page, right? Yes, but no. It’s my heart, my home, my story. I am scared of sounding pretentious and precious and inauthentic. I am scared of hearing “No” from publishers, although that is the absolute worst that could happen, right? Right.

It was also the absolute worst that could happen when I was in college, but I wasn’t ready back then to accept “No”. I shelved the manuscript because I wasn’t okay with rejection. I’m still not that okay with it, but now I have lived enough life to know that if a rejected manuscript is the worst thing that could happen to me, then I have a really kickass life.

Where do I begin? Well, I guess I should dust off that manuscript and revisit that story. My 20-year-old self may still have something to say to me. Then I need to do my research on publishing and publishers and such. If anyone reading this blog has any insight on how all this works, please share. I need all the help I can get. Then I need to get over myself, woman up, and start writing and editing. So much to do.

When I first started this whole crazy business of conquering my fears one by one, I wanted a catchy, easy-to-remember mantra to help spur me on. And, naturally, I found my inspiration in a kids’ show. In an episode of Super Why, called Molly’s Dance Show, Princess Pea panics before her dance recital and bolts offstage when the curtains open. It is only after the Super Readers read Molly’s story that Princess Pea musters up enough courage to dance.

How? By saying to herself, “Breathe. Believe. Begin.” I need to believe. That’s going to be the toughest part. Believe in my story. Believe in my voice. Believe in myself.

My panic in the deep water was epic and dramatic (Try not to look so surprised, y’all.), even when I was wearing the safety float. But I said that mantra to myself every time I swam practice laps. I said it to myself when my swim instructor told me I had to swim across the deepest part of the pool without the safety float. I even said it to myself before I went onstage with my sisters for the hula competition.

And I’m going to say it to myself now, as I prepare to face what may be my biggest fear yet. I want to write poetry. I want to have a book of poetry published.

Breathe. Believe. Begin.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thankful

"And on this day we hope for / What we still can't see / It's up to us to be the change / And even though we all can still do more / There's so much to be thankful for"

Dusty was away in Edmonton for Thanksgiving Day, so we celebrated the Sunday before, with his dad. It was a really good visit. Dad was mellow and happy, watching Notre Dame basketball on TV with Dusty and enjoying the girls' shenanigans. He has been living in a nearby memory care senior home since August and he's had ups and downs. We just take each day as it comes and hope for the best. 

We all certainly enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast. Every year since moving back to the U.S., we have ordered a complete Thanksgiving dinner from Whole Foods, and it is always delicious. I think it's even tastier because I didn't have to spend an entire day cooking; just a couple of hours to heat everything up and bake a pecan pie. Mmm... pecan pie.

Cheers to our Thanksgiving feast!
On Thanksgiving, the girls and I had a Bed Day. We set up a cozy sleepover spot in the living room and lounged in our pajamas all day. We watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade (KISS was at the parade, y'all. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley lip-synching badly made me--and them--so sad.), a bunch of new episodes of Dora and Friends (decent show, actually), my favorite cooking show, Chopped, and a couple of great movies: Free Birds (enjoyable and surprisingly funny) and The Pirate Fairy (I loved this movie before, but ever since Hiddles started ruining my life, I love it even more). We ate turkey empanadas, read books to each other, did a little drawing and origami, played a few card and board games, napped. It was the best day ever.

I am thankful that I get to be their mama.
In other news, I will turn 40 on Monday. Forty. The New Twenty. 

On my 20th birthday, I wrote this in my journal: "I am just so happy right now. I'm doing well in school, my work is getting published and appreciated, I'm a great vice president (of the Filipino Cultural Association at University of Maryland), I'm comfortable with my circle of friends, and I have a fantastic boyfriend. What more could I want?" Rock on, 20-year-old Me!

On my 40th birthday, I will probably write something very similar in my journal, but now I have even more reasons to be happy and so much to be thankful for. My life kicks serious ass.

Birthdays are always huge for me, and right around this time every year, I always get contemplative about where I've been, where I am, where I hope to be. For my 39th Trip Around the Sun, I set forth my intentions to become a better version of myself, to give of myself to the Universe, and I think I've accomplished some of those goals. I'm going to spend the next week thinking about my intentions for my 40th.

One of the unwritten goals I had set for myself this year is to face some of my biggest fears on the way to Fearless Forty. Rocking the hula competition with my beloved sisters this summer was huge for me, and I decided to face my fear of deep water and become a better swimmer. On the night of my first swim lesson in nearly 25 years, I wrote: "I consider myself to have fairly big ovarios, but I confess: being in the deepest part of the pool really scared me. *breathe* Time to woman up for Wednesday's class. Onward and upward!"

I will be 40 years old next week. I am thankful that I still get to change and learn and grow. 


Thankful by Josh Groban 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Family Favorite: Lamb and Lentil Stew

Winter rode its horse through our town last week, bringing in its wake freezing temperatures and heavy rain. My thoughts naturally turned to comfort food and I decided to make hearty lamb and lentil stew, a recipe I first got from my buddy Dave back in 2007 when we worked together. I've changed it up a little since then (Dave's original version is more a soup than a stew), but it remains a family favorite. 

Whenever I make this meal, the girls demolish their bowls and sometimes come back for seconds. Often, when we are doing the "What are you thankful for today?" toast during this meal, one of the girls will say, "I am thankful for Mama's lamb and lentil stew." As any mama would tell you, that is HUGE.

You will notice below that this recipe takes about four hours of total prep and cook time, unlike most of our other family favorite recipes. Because it takes so long, I generally make a giant batch so we can have some for dinner and freeze the rest. This stew is seriously the best "emergency freezer meal" ever. EVER. 


Lamb and lentil and goodies oh my!

Lamb and Lentil Stew

Prep Time: ~20 minutes
Cook Time: ~4 hours 
Makes about five meals' worth of stew for 2 adults and 2 small kids

Ingredients
3 lamb shanks*, about 4 lbs. total
1 red onion, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 large carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
4 cups green lentils, rinsed and picked through
2 lbs. potatoes, cubed
2 quarts/liters beef stock
3 bay leaves
Dried or fresh thyme
Salt
Pepper

Directions
  1. Saute onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in oil until slightly soft. 
  2. Sear lamb shanks on all sides until brown. I push the sauteed veggies to the side and create a little hiphop circle in the middle for the lamb shanks to be seared in.
  3. Add beef stock, bay leaves, and generous amounts of thyme, salt, and pepper. 
  4. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 3-4 hours. 
  5. Take the shanks out of the pot and add potatoes and lentils to cook while you are separating the meat from the bones and gristle. Make sure the liquid is just covering the vegetables. 
  6. Separate the meat from the bones and the gristle. The meat should practically fall off the bone after all this time, but the gristle and fat need to go. You can use two forks to do the separation, but I just use my hands. This is the worst, most tedious part of the cooking process, but it is totally worth the effort. Gristle and fat in your stew is not good eats.
  7. Add the meat back into the pot and simmer until the potatoes and lentils are tender (about another 30 minutes).
  8. Serve with a warm, crusty baguette so you can sop up all the stew. YUM!
*You can use other cuts, but bone-in cuts give the best flavor. I get my lamb shanks from the butcher at my local Asian store. Whenever I do a roast lamb, I use lamb shanks, too.

      Monday, September 8, 2014

      Seven Days of Gratitude

      There are a lot of viral Internet challenges out there, and I've participated in a handful of them. A recent one really hit home for me, however, because it ties in nicely with our own daily family ritual. 

      Every evening, at dinnertime, we go around the table and say one thing that we are thankful or grateful for that day. We then raise our glasses for a toast to celebrate that no matter how bad a day might have been up to that point, we can always find one good thing that we are grateful for on that day. If nothing else, we can be grateful for the food in front of us and the loved ones around us. 

      Last week, my beloved Pinay Sagittarius Sista Mary invited me to take the 7-Day Gratitude Challenge on Facebook: Post three gratitude-worthy things every day for seven days.  I'm posting the full list here so I can remind myself that I often have more than one good thing I am grateful for every day. I might just challenge myself to repeat this exercise every once in a while, especially when things get hectic, because there should always be time to be grateful for a beautiful Life. 

      DAY 1: I am grateful for:
      1. Tala because she gives me at least one huge belly laugh every day.
      2. Diana because she asks me hard questions about Life and the Universe.
      3. Dusty because he still refuses to put up with my bullshit after 15 years.

      DAY 2: I am grateful for:
      1. My sister, Cecilia, because you are the heart of our family.
      2. My sisterfriends, because you are the family of my heart.
      3. My friends, because you make my heart feel super happy.

      DAY 3: I am grateful:
      1. That my kids attend an excellent school within walking distance.

      2. That my job includes making yummy (and often ridiculously cute) lunches that make my kids happy.
      3. That my mornings are once again my own. FREEEEEEEDOM!!! (Day 3 was the first day of school.)

      DAY 4: I am grateful for:
      1. My brother, Cesar, my dancefunkatronik neo-hippie Soul mate.
      2. My lunkhed bros, especially when there’s beer to drink and shit to shoot.
      3. My geek brethren, of all genders, because sometimes I just really need to talk about LotR, GoT, Star Wars, pirates, space cowboys, and superheroes… in haiku form.


      DAY 5: I am grateful for:
      1. Viral internet challenges that can be easily integrated with each other. (My friend Vadim had challenged me to quickly name 10 books/series that have stayed with me, for better or worse. My answers are below in #2.)
      2. These books/series that have stayed with me: The Red Tent; Pippi Longstocking; To Kill a Mockingbird; Lord of the Rings trilogy; The Golden Compass; Ender’s Game; Dogeaters; Einstein’s Dreams; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; The Time Traveler’s Wife.
      3. These poets who have burst open my Soul and expanded my mind: Maya Angelou, Merle Collins, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Jessica Hagedorn, Pablo Neruda, Kahlil Gibran, Rumi
      .


      DAY 6: I am grateful for:
      1. Millennium Cruise 1999 – This was the first big vacation Dusty and I went on together, a 7-day trip around the Caribbean. Up until we left for this trip, we were more like “friends with benefits”. By the end of the trip, we had mutually agreed that this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. With benefits.
      2. Europe Trip 2003 – This was our pre-honeymoon, when Dusty and I quit our jobs, sold our house, put our stuff in storage, and backpacked through Europe together for three months. If you ever need to know for sure whether or not you and your potential spouse would make a good team to build a life, go backpacking through Europe together for three months before you wed. Team Everman Forever!
      3. Family Cruise 2013 – This was a 4-day trip through the Caribbean that we went on with our nieces Becky, Bonnie, Shawna, Baylee, and their families. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity for the girls to get to know their cousins and for me and Dusty to spend quality time with his side of the family.


      DAY 7: I am grateful for:
      1. Music, because it makes me move, think, feel. It gets my toes tapping, my heart racing, my Soul longing. And when it is music sung in another language, it reminds me that we all sing about the same things, even if we use different words.
      2. Art, because it inspires, infuriates, enlightens, sometimes all at once. I’m especially grateful for art that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and it makes me look again, and keep looking, so that I may understand its message or meaning.
      3. Dance, because it is the closest I have ever come to flying. It makes my body, heart, and breath stronger. It connects me to the land of my birth, the islands that feel like home, or the places I have yet to visit.



      Tuesday, August 12, 2014

      Rest in peace, Robin Williams.



      I was 21 years old when I was diagnosed as being on the bipolar spectrum and prescribed Wellbutrin. I didn't want to take the medication; I was convinced that if I did, it would mean that I hadn't fought hard enough, as some family members said, to "stop being so sad all the time." It would mean admitting defeat to the darkness that had consumed me for months. It would mean I was officially Crazy.

      I remember sitting in my therapist's office about a week after the diagnosis, telling her that I didn't want to feel like I needed medication to stop being Crazy. She told me to stop calling myself that word. I was not crazy; I was ill and I needed help to get better. She said many creative people are on the bipolar spectrum, that they shared "one little spark of madness" that could either inspire a work of art or drive someone over the edge. I asked her to give me examples, expecting her to rattle off a list of long-dead artists.

      "Robin Williams is the most famous one," she replied. I was actually shocked, but I tried to hide it. She told me he was closer to the manic end of the spectrum, but that meant his depressive episodes are that much more severe. There were times when he could only work during a manic episode, then he would crash and burn for months afterward and spiral into drugs and alcohol. When he started taking medication every day, he seemed to be doing better.

      I'm not sure where my therapist got her information, or if it was all true, but somehow it made me feel better. I had loved Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy when I was a kid, and cherished memories of watching the show with my family. It was corny, but "Nanu, nanu!" was comedy gold at my house when I was little. Sure, it was comforting to hear that Mork from Ork and I were the same brand of Crazy, but I still didn't want to take medication. 

      "Why don't we start with just every day this week?" I don't know if I just wanted my therapist off my back, or if warm childhood memories trumped my stubbornness, but I thought, "Mork from Ork is doing it, so I will just start with every day this week." And I did take that little purple pill every day that week, as well as the next, and the next, for almost 10 years. And I felt better and better every day. Good, even.

      When Dusty and I decided to start a family, my doctor and I gradually weaned me off Wellbutrin, and I was a little worried about what would happen to me without it. I would read about Robin Williams's occasional stints in rehab, and I secretly wondered if he had gone off medication. But then after being absent from the scene for a while, and stumbling through a couple of duds, he would bounce back with Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting or Night at the Museum.

      Robin Williams gave me hope. He gave me an example of someone living with his personal demons in the best way he could. He was proof that people with our brand of Crazy could wrestle with the darkness and sometimes win. Clearly, it was a great struggle for him, but I believed he fought for every day of his life. If he could continue to do it, then I could, too. 

      But then he stopped. I didn't realize how much his life and now his death meant to me until now. I am going to cry a little more and then go hug my kids and my husband. 

      Thank you, Robin Williams, for sharing your one little spark of madness with us. More importantly, thank you for being the catalyst when I took my first steps toward wellness. I hope you have finally found your peace.

      Nanu, nanu, Mork from Ork.


      Monday, July 14, 2014

      Dear Girls: Do Something That Scares You

      Dear Tala and Diana,

      There are just three more sleeps until I leave for the George Na'ope Hula Festival in Sacramento. I'm really going to miss you two and Daddy. I'm sure you will all have a lot of fun playing video and board games, going to the park, and maybe even geocaching. I'm feeling excited to go to competition, but there's something else that I'm feeling. 

      I am scared. That's right: even grownups like Mama and Daddy get scared sometimes.

      I am scared because I have never done anything quite like this before. I have never entered a contest of physical skill and athleticism. I have never considered myself an athlete; the only team sport I ever played was badminton. Yup, I was on the badminton team in high school. Our only victory was won when the other team failed to show up. You are too young right now to realize why that might be funny, but all you need to know is that I have never before had the discipline, drive, or focus of an athlete. Yet here I am, about to dance in a hula competition with my sisters. 

      I have never pushed my body this hard. I only run when we're playing tag or racing each other. I only ride my bike once a year on July 4th when we all go to the downtown park for fireworks. I only jump to reach the monkey bars at the playground. I only swim far enough to catch you two in the pool or the lake. I only do push ups when Daddy dares me.

      Then I signed up for the competition team, and everything changed. You know that I have gone to hula classes three times a week, and then additional practice either solo or with my hula sisters up to four times a week. You also know that since January I've been waking up nearly every morning at 6:00 AM to do yoga and strength exercises. But you don't know that I have also spent hours practicing corrected "problem" moves over and over to get as close to perfect as possible. 

      It sounds like I've prepared well, right? This is kindof like when you prepare for a test or a music performance or saying the pledge at assembly. You just practice over and over until you get it right. But I'm still scared. 

      I am scared that I will turn my ankle going up the stage steps or fall off the stage during rehearsal, then all the work I did to make my body stronger will be for nothing. I am scared that I will get up on stage and blank out, forgetting the steps like I did when I danced solo in front of my kumu. I am scared that even after all the work I did, I will forget all my corrections and look like I haven't been working as hard as I have. I am scared that I will let my hula sisters, my kumu, my halau, and myself down. 

      So why did I join the competition team? If I'm so scared that all these bad things might happen, why am I doing this? If I've never done this before, why am I even trying? If there are so many scary things in the world, why am I encouraging you to face some of them?

      My darling girls, Daddy and I want to protect you like most parents want to protect their children. We generally don't want you to feel scared, especially if it's because of something that you can't control, like loud thunder or zombies. But we also want you to learn how to manage your own way in this world, and that includes figuring out how to move past feeling scared. It includes daring to do something you have never done, becoming someone you never thought you could be, reaching higher and further and deeper than you ever have so you can learn and change and grow.

      I joined the competition team to challenge myself. I know that I am already able to do a lot of things well, but I want to keep growing, changing, and learning. I have always preferred dancing kahiko, as I am more of a "power" dancer than a graceful one, and the ancient hula has more brisk and sudden movements. Well, for competition, the makuahine team is dancing 'auana, a more modern hula, which has really soft, flowing movements. So I've had to work harder to train myself to dance more gracefully. 

      Yes, I am scared that competition will not go exactly as I would like. But there are three things helping me to move past it. First, I know I have the love and support of Daddy, you two, our other family members, our friends, and my hula sisters. I am so thankful that you all are in my corner rooting for me and that helps me try my best no matter how scared I am. 

      Second, I know that I have worked hard to prepare for competition, and I will dance my heart out for all the people who are rooting for me, and for myself. It has not been easy, and I have often felt frustrated or tired, but I keep going because I said I would do this. I made a promise and I intend to keep it.

      Third, and most important, I know that I am strong enough and brave enough to do things that scare me. I have done lots of things that scared me, including giving birth to each of you by (mostly) natural means. I know that I can trust myself to figure out when things get too scary, dangerous, or hurtful and I can't (or shouldn't) go on. But if I don't push myself to do something I've never done before, then I will never know that I could. 

      So I challenge you in the same way I challenge myself: Do something that scares you. Trust that you are strong enough and brave enough. It can be something small, like when Tala asked the counter lady at Trader Joe's for another lollipop because her first one fell on the floor. It can be something big, like when Diana danced with her keiki hula sisters in front of 400 people during our halau's big ho'ike show last year. Both of those things were scary for both of you, in different ways, but you moved past feeling scared and you did it! Woohoo!

      As I make my last preparations to leave for Sacramento, I keep thinking back to this lyric from Sarah McLachlan's "Fumbling Toward Ecstasy", and I believe it's a good reminder to trust myself and keep going, growing, glowing.

      "All the fear has left me now / I'm not frightened anymore / It's my heart that pounds beneath my flesh / it's my mouth that pushes out this breath / And if I shed a tear I won't cage it / I won't fear love / And if I feel a rage I won't deny it / I won't fear love"

      Three more sleeps. Imua*!

      Love,
      Mama


      Hula Halau O' Leihuluonalani Sacramento 2014 Competition Team

      *"Imua!" means "Forward!" in Hawaiian.
        

      Wednesday, April 30, 2014

      Cooked Salmon Chirashi

      April has been a SUPER busy month, y'all. My parents came to visit during the girls' spring break, then I hosted a baby shower for one of my hula sisters, then Dusty and I designed a Gaudi-style project for Art is Awesome!, which I taught last week. In between, I have been training for a hula competition in July and helping to coordinate a silent auction fundraiser, plus trying to manage our household as usual. 

      Some nights have called for Costco chicken and whatever veggies we can scrounge up for dinner. But some nights, I manage to make something like this:
      Yes, my kids eat this dish and love it. I know. I'm stunned, too.
      This is my version of a cooked salmon chirashi. The Internet says that "chirashi" means "scattered" or "scattered sushi rice", and it can have a variety of toppings, including raw fish. The girls are too young yet to fully appreciate raw fish, so we will stick to cooked salmon for now.

      Before I get down to it, let me show you a couple of pictures that will be important as we talk about the recipe.


      This is a sushi rice mix recommended by one of my dearest hula sisters. I can't read any of the writing on it, so thank Goddess she pointed this out to me. If she hadn't, I would've had to figure out the correct ratios of vinegar to rice to furikake all by myself and that would've just ended in tears. (I'm just kidding. Sortof.) I found this mix in the spices and condiments aisle of my local Asian food store. 


      This is ikura, or salmon roe, but not the fresh kind that you get at a sushi restaurant. As you can see on the label, it's salted. I get this in the freezer section of the fish department at my local Asian food store. The girls LOVE salted ikura. One of their favorite snacks is crackers, goat cheese, and a spoonful of salted ikura on top. This is an optional component of the dish, but I highly recommend it.

      Ready to make Cookie-style chirashi? Let's rock!

      Cooked Salmon Chirashi

      Prep Time: ~30 minutes
      Cook Time: ~15 minutes
      Serves 2 adults, 2 small kids

      Ingredients
      3 cups cooked Jasmine rice
      sushi rice mix 
      1 medium carrot, julienned 
      1 tbsp. sesame oil
      4 eggs
      splash of milk
      salt
      black pepper
      non-stick cooking spray (We use canola.)
      1 lb. salmon filet, skin on
      1 tbsp. peanut oil
      juice of 1/2 lemon
      cooked, shelled edamame
      nori (seaweed), cut up into strips
      Ikura  (optional)

      Directions
      1. In a large mixing bowl, mix your cooked rice with the vinegar packet as directed on the sushi mix package. Set aside.
      2. Heat sesame oil in a skillet. Toss the carrot sticks into the skillet and saute until they are soft. Put the cooked carrots into a bowl and set aside.
      3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Spray the skillet from step 2 with non-stick cooking spray. Pour just enough of the egg mixture onto the skillet to coat the entire bottom. When the egg looks solid but not browned, turn the skillet over onto a cutting board. The skillet-shaped egg "omelet" should fall out onto the board. Repeat. 
      4. You should have two large, flat egg circles on your board. Cut the eggs into ribbon strips. Set aside.
      5. Generously season salmon filet with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. In same skillet from step 2 and 3, heat peanut oil. Place the salmon into the skillet skin side down. The skin should sizzle.
      6. While the salmon is cooking, shell your edamame if you haven't already. This would also be a good time to cut up your nori if you haven't already. The easiest way to cut nori sheets is with food-safe scissors.
      7. When the salmon looks halfway done (opaque and pink on the bottom, where the skin touches it, but not yet done at the top), turn the salmon over.
      8. Carefully slide the skin off the salmon with your spatula and maybe a knife. Place it beside the salmon so it can keep cooking and crisping up. 
      9. When the salmon is completely pink and opaque, turn the heat off and take the salmon out of the skillet. You may leave the skin on the skillet to keep crisping up off the residual heat. 
      10. Cut the salmon into four blocks, proportional to the size of the person consuming the block. I usually cube the salmon for the girls, too, but that is optional.
      11. When the skin seems crisp enough, take it out of the skillet and drain on a paper towel. You should be able to easily crack the skin into four pieces with your hands.
      12. Avengers Assemble! (Sorry, it had to be done.)
        1. Ladle the rice into the bottom of a bowl.
        2. Place the salmon in the middle of the bowl.
        3. Arrange the carrots, egg ribbons, and edamame around the salmon.
        4. (Optional) Using a teaspoon, scoop ikura on top of the salmon. 
        5. Sprinkle the nori and the contents of the furikake packet from the mix all over the top of the chirashi.
        6. Garnish with the salmon skin.
      13. Enjoy! Dusty usually has this with hot sake; I prefer a frosty beer. Mmm...

      Monday, March 31, 2014

      Family Favorite: Green Chile Soup

      Dusty and I don't force our girls to eat all their dinner; we encourage them through bribery. It used to be that if the girls joined the Clean Plate Club, they would get dessert right afterward, but that meant they were getting a giant sugar rush right before bedtime. Yeah... No. So now 1 clean plate = 1 treat coupon. 

      A treat coupon can be traded in for any treat starting after lunch the day after you earn the coupon. It's fascinating to watch how their asset management skills are developing. Tala will get a coupon and spend it as soon as she is able. Diana stockpiles her coupons and if she is not particularly fond of a dinner, she will ask to be excused so she can check on her coupon stash. If she has enough coupons to at least get a treat the next day, she decides not to finish dinner. This kid is going to build empires.

      Some weeks are better than others, and each girl earns three or more coupons. Some weeks are not so good, though, and on those weeks I try to make at least one dinner that I know for sure will help them each earn a coupon. One of those meals is green chile soup.

      Warm and yummy in my belly, like love in a bowl.

      I'm sure some of you New Mexicans out there are 47 kinds of upset right now because I called it "soup" and not "stew", but in this house we call a spade a spade and liquid meals soup. Or a smoothie. Or beer.

      Maybe I'll be forgiven if I tell you that I use freshly roasted pasilla chiles. YES WAY. I wish I had one of those awesome bingo-drum roasters that we see all over New Mexico in the autumn, but I don't, so I just broil my pasillas in the oven. It is a bit time-consuming, so I try to roast a bunch at a time and store the chile in the freezer. Here's what I do:

      Broil them in high heat until they blister like this. Using tongs, turn them frequently to get even blistering on all sides.
      Take them out of the oven and plunge them in an ice bath. 
      Peel the skins off and remove most of the seeds inside. I leave a few seeds for THE HOTNESS. YASSS!!

      There are three things you need to know about handling chiles:
      1) Wear gloves. Do not touch chiles with bare hands.
      2) Do not touch your eyes, mouth, or skin while you are handling chiles. The burn is hotter than the twin suns of Tattooine.
      3) Seriously, wear gloves. And if you're particularly sensitive, maybe wear protective glasses.
      Put the chiles in the food processor and wazz them up. Yes, I just totally made up that word.
      If you do not have the time nor the inclination to roast your own chiles, Trader Joe's makes a passable canned version. 

      Look how much prettier and yummier the freshly roasted chile is, though.
      All righty! Let's make some soup!

      Tuesday, March 25, 2014

      Three Taco Tuesdays!

      We LOVE tacos. They are easy, quick, cheap, and yummy. Sometimes we are major foodies, but sometimes we just gotta have tacos. And by "sometimes", I mean: every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday

      Do you know the strange history of Taco Tuesday? Surprisingly, it was not invented by college kids and/or stoners. 

      Here are our three Family Favorite Tacos. All of these recipes serve two adults and two small kids, so adjust accordingly. Generally, prep and cook time is about 30 minutes, but your mileage may vary, especially the first time you try any of these recipes.

      "MEAT" TACOS
      You can make these tacos with ground beef or turkey, but we've found that this is a cheaper, healthier alternative. 

      Ingredients
      1 package taco shells (usually about 10-12 shells)
      12 oz ground "meat alternative" (We like Trader Joe's brand.)
      2-3 tsp homemade taco seasoning (More if you like it spicy)
      1/4 cup water
      1 can refried beans
      1 avocado - peeled, cored, cubed
      1 roma tomato - seeded, chopped
      1 cup cheddar cheese blend (Again: Go Trader Joe's!)
      your favorite salsa

      Directions
      1. Heat taco shells according to package.
      2. Sprinkle seasoning onto ground "meat" in skillet and mix. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, then pour water into skillet. Mix thoroughly to create sauce and simmer for 5 more minutes.
      3. While "meat" is browning/simmering:
        1. Cook beans in second skillet over low-medium heat until warm.
        2. Prepare avocado, tomato, and cheese and put into bowls.
        3. Pour some of your favorite salsa into a bowl. (Sure! You can go ahead and dip a few tortilla chips in there while you wait for the "meat" to cook. I won't tell.) 
      4. When "meat" is done, put about 1 heaping spoonful each of "meat" and beans into the taco shells. Place 2-3 taco shells on each person's plate.
      5. Serve everything else in bowls for a build-your-own taco dinner. 

      FISH TACOS
      Our go-to taco fish is tilapia, but swai or basa are good alternates. I'm dying to try this recipe with barramundi, but it's one of the few dishes that the girls eat without fail, so I don't want to mess with what works. If you try this recipe with barramundi or some other fish not listed here, and it works for you, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

      Ingredients
      6 medium flour tortillas (burrito size) OR 10 small corn tortillas (taco size)
      12 oz white fish - cubed
      1 tsp homemade taco seasoning (More if you like it spicy)
      1 tbsp olive oil
      1 tsp lemon juice
      1 cup shredded cabbage (We like Napa cabbage best.)
      1 cup loosely packed cilantro
      1 avocado - peeled, cored, cubed
      1 roma tomato - seeded, chopped
      1/2 cup shredded carrot (optional)

      Sauce - Mix together all ingredients in a small bowl
      1 tsp taco seasoning (More if you like it spicy)
      1 tbsp cilantro stems - minced fine
      1 tsp mayonnaise
      1 tsp sour cream or Greek yogurt

      Directions
      1. Preheat oven to 200F. Place tortillas on a baking sheet. When you start the fish cooking, place the baking sheet in the oven. The tortillas and the fish should get done at roughly the same time.
      2. Mix fish, seasoning, lemon juice, and olive oil in a small bowl and let sit.
      3. Prep cabbage, cilantro, avocado, tomato, and carrot into bowls.
      4. Dump fish with all the juices and seasoning into a skillet that's been preheated for 5 minutes. (Put the tortillas in the oven as soon as you dump the fish into the skillet.) Cook fish on medium heat until it is opaque. Put cooked fish in a bowl.
      5. Place tortillas in a bread basket covered with a napkin to keep them moist. Serve everything else in bowls for a build-your-own taco dinner. Dusty and I like to smear the sauce onto the tortillas and build the taco from there. Yum!

      BREAKFAST TACOS
      We rarely have breakfast tacos as our Taco Tuesday meal, but we are due for our quarterly menu review next week, so things might change. 

      Ingredients
      6 medium flour tortillas (burrito size) OR 10 small corn tortillas (taco size)
      8-12 pieces of bacon or turkey bacon, cooked in the oven (YES WAY!)
      4 eggs
      splash of milk
      salt and pepper to taste
      1 avocado - peeled, cored, cubed (It's not a taco unless there's avocado! Hey, that almost rhymed!)
      your favorite salsa
      Tabasco sauce (totally optional)

      Directions
      1. Preheat oven to 400F. Place bacon strips onto the wire rack/baking sheet. Cook for 15-18 minutes until crisp and delicious.
      2. When the bacon is done, take it out of the oven and turn the heat down to 200F. Place the strips of bacon on a paper towel-lined plate.
      3. Place tortillas on a baking sheet. When you start the eggs cooking, place the baking sheet in the oven. The tortillas and the eggs should get done at roughly the same time. 
      4. Prep avocado and salsa into bowls. Place tortillas in a bread basket covered with a napkin to keep them moist.
      5. Whisk together eggs, milk, and salt and pepper. Pour mixture into skillet and make scrambled eggs. (Put the tortillas in the oven as soon as you dump the egg mixture into the skillet.)
      6. When the eggs are done, put everything on the table for a build-your-own taco dinner. Enjoy!
      Note: Bake your bacon. Seriously. It's easier and healthier than pan-frying. You don't even have to turn it! 


      Use a wire rack placed on a baking sheet. Easy-peasy. You are going to love baked bacon!

      Looks like I finished this post just in time to make fish tacos for dinner. Yay! Happy Taco Tuesday, y'all!


      Thursday, February 27, 2014

      How a Geeky Hippie Throws a Royal Tea Party

      Happy Birthday, A Jie!
      Today is my beloved sisterfriend Ling's birthday. Ling and I have been friends since 1996. She is the big sister I have always wanted, the calm in the eye of many of my storms. We started off as student and advisor during ECASU96, became roommates when we both moved to San Francisco in the early 2000s, got married within two weeks of each other in 2003, sadly moved away from each other for a few years, then reconnected in the Seattle area in 2010. Now our children are growing up together. 

      Our individual Venn diagrams awesomely intersect in arts/crafts, geekiness, hippie activism, and food, glorious food. Our mutual favorite is Indian food; Ling bought me my first cup of masala chai in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of SF almost 15 years ago. (If you have enjoyed my Mahinakama Masala Chai concoction, then you should thank Ling for getting me hooked on the stuff.) We are both sad, oh so sad, that our children do not share our fondness for this yummalicious cuisine. So every once in a while, we sneak off together for Indian food and leave the daddies to eat macaroni and cheese with the wee ones.

      Luckily, there is one meal that all the ladies can agree on: TEA PARTY! We all love little sandwiches and treats and tea. Well, the girls like "light tea", which is milk with a couple tablespoons of tea mixed in. Ling and I had talked about having a real tea party with our girls for so long--since Ling's 2013 birthday, in fact--and finally, five months later, I got it together.

      This is how a geeky hippie throws a royal tea party, y'all.

      A couple of weeks before the party, I sent this postcard to Lady Ling and her daughters, Duchess Nadiya and Countess Kalani, inviting them to tea. 
      Click for larger photo
      Astute Lord of The Rings fans will note that I named our tea party after a favorite hobbit meal. Ling and I love us some LoTR! Back in The Time Before Kids, we sat in line for every midnight premiere of the trilogy with our hubbies. I still remember sitting on blankets out in the chilly Bay Area winter air, knitting to pass the time until we could gaze upon our beloved Legolas. Good geeky times.

      Anyway, on the Elevensies Tea menu, we had:
      Click for larger photo
      - Mahinakama Masala Chai for Lady and Baroness
      - rooibos chai for the wee royals
      cucumber sandwiches
      - baked animal-shaped quesadillas
      - baked brie w/ strawberry jam on top
      - crackers w/ goat cheese & ikura
      - mini-vanilla cupcakes with vanilla, chocolate, and mango (OH YES) icing 
      - Trader Joe's scones (ran out of time to make them from scratch)
      - strawberries & fresh whipped cream

      On the morning of the party, I made the food and teas, then set the table, placing a few sprigs of fresh-cut lavender in a glass bottle. I used my "bitter divorcee" teacup and saucer set and fancy glass tea plates, all from thrift shops because I'm a big ol' hippie.

      Click for larger photo
      Hippie Hula Mama Tip: Always use thrift shop dishes for kiddie royal tea parties. They look and feel fancy, so the girls feel like they are having tea like real grownups, but if the dishes happened to go crashing to the floor, Baroness Cookie would not be put out. 

      Finally, the Lady, Duchess, and Countess arrived. All the wee royals were dressed in their finest princess dress-ups; tiaras optional. We all sat around the table and feasted. We drank our tea with our pinkies raised, of course, and used our very best manners.

      Cutest royal highnesses ever
      After the wee royals were done with their tea, they retreated to the basement playroom where they unleashed the energy they had been holding back during the tea party. Ling and I poured each other another cuppa, put up our feet, and filled up our plates again. We ate and chatted and ate and laughed. For such a tiny person, Ling has an enormous laugh. I am able to hear her laugh from across seven aisles at Target. 

      It was a lovely royal tea party. Bust out your calendar, A Jie! Let's make this an annual event!

      "And we'll never be roooyals (roooyals!)" We'll just have royal tea parties.



      Saturday, February 22, 2014

      Art is Awesome!: Calder Jungle Animal Mini-Stabiles

      As promised, here is Tala's class project. They happened to be learning about the jungle during the first week of February, so her teacher asked me to design a jungle-themed "Art is Awesome!" project. Mission accepted! 

      Part of the lesson on Alexander Calder was an excellent artist biography for kids called Sandy's Circus that I read to both Diana and Tala's classes. Although my Powerpoint presentations about the artists we study are short, sweet, and (I'd like to think) engaging, nothing fires up a kid's imagination quite like a good story. 

      Here's one of my favorite pages, which talks about how little Sandy Calder built cool things for his sister and friends out of what other people might consider junk. Awesome!
        

      Now let's talk about Calder Jungle Animal Mini-Stabiles. What's a stabile (STAY-bill)? It's an abstract sculpture, usually made out of wire or metal, that looks like a mobile but doesn't have any moving parts. Calder's stabiles are massive; one of his most famous stabiles is in Chicago's Daley Plaza. Our stabiles are mighty but mini.

      As I've mentioned, I tend to design a project for Diana's kindergarten class and just scale it down for Tala's preschool class. I found that previous projects weren't scaled down nearly enough; either the preschoolers needed a lot of help and guidance from the grownups in the room to complete the project or they lost interest and the projects ended up half- or hastily-completed. So, with this project, I scaled WAY down. 

      Click for larger photo
      Materials
      1. felt animal stickers
      2. beads o' many shapes in the colors of the rainbow
      3. letter beads (Thanks again, Betsy!)
      4. pipe cleaners in the approximate colors of the animals' tails (I cut these in half, making roughly 6"-long tails.)
      5. clothespins (which are apparently only sold in the art aisle, not the laundry aisle)
      6. Pencil (not shown)
      7. Scissors/X-acto knife (not shown) 
      8. Elmer's glue (not shown)
      Click for larger photo
      Prep Instructions
      1. Look at how adorable these felt animal stickers are!
      2. Cut off the felt animal's cute little tail. 
      3. Trace the outline of the clothespin on the back of the animal sticker.
      4. With an X-acto knife, cut the paper off just the bit you traced.
      5. Dot the surface of the exposed sticker with Elmer's glue. The stickers are sticky, but not sticky enough to securely hold a clothespin.
      6. Attach the clothespin to the sticker. Press firmly for a few seconds. Let dry.
      7. Attach the pipe cleaner by threading it through the hole of the clothespin and twisting twice. This will be the animal's new tail.
      8. Look below for the class instructions.
      Class Instructions
      1. Pick one bead of each of the colors of the rainbow. You can substitute pink for purple.
      2. Thread each bead onto the animal's tail.
      3. Find the first letter of your first name in the letter bead tray.
      4. Place that letter bead onto the end of your animal's tail.
      5. (Grownup) Twist the end of the pipe cleaner around the letter bead twice so it's "sealed".
      6. Bend the pipe cleaner in different directions so your animal tail displays a colorful beaded rainbow!
      Hello, Zebra. You are supercute and functional as a bookmark or memo-holder.
      There you have it! If you want to scale it up a notch, maybe for kindergarten or first- to second-grade, consider making the tails out of 24-gauge jewelry wire. Also consider attaching a thin magnetic strip onto the back of the clothespin so you can hang your stabile on the fridge as a memo holder. 

      Hello, Magneto Memo Lion. I want to hug you and pet you and love you and call you George.
      Finally, it seems crafting naturally leads to hoarding. This is now taking up space in my craft supply box:

      That's right. It's a tiny bag of tiny felt animal tails.
      Anyone have ideas on how I can use these? 

      Ooh! Ooh! I should start a web series called Craft Chopped! "Can you create an objet d'art using the wacky craft supplies hidden in your baskets before time runs out? You have 30 minutes to make something beautiful and/or useful with... tiny felt animal tails, a hot glue gun, a plastic headband, and duct tape. Time starts now!"