Meatless Monday: Simple Sauces

These two sauces have very few ingredients, but are incredibly versatile. The pesto is better during the summer, when we have fresh-from-the-herb-garden basil, but can be made any time of year.

RPM’s Marinara Sauce

Extra virgin olive oil
Five cloves garlic, diced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
28 oz. can tomato sauce
Handful of basil leaves, chopped
Optional herbs/spices: 1/2 tsp. oregano, 1/4-1/2 tsp. chili pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Heat oil over medium heat. Add diced garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
2. Add crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, stirring.
3. Add herbs and spices.
4. Let simmer over low to medium low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes. Turn heat off, and let sit another 30 minutes to hour to meld flavors.

Serve over your favorite pasta, with cheese. Or use in recipes that call for marinara or tomato sauce, such as eggplant Parmesan, lasagna, “chicken” Parmesan, etc. The sauce also freezes very well.

RPM’s Pesto Sauce

Four to five cloves garlic
1/3 to 1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup to 1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup loosely packed basil
Pinch of salt
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese and basil in a mini-food processor.
2. Pulse ingredients, adding olive oil until sauce has a thick liquid-like consistancy. Try not to make it too runny.
3. Toss with your favorite pasta.

I’m sorry the amounts here aren’t very exact. This is definitely a “to taste” recipe. Here at Casa di RPM, we like it with lots of garlic and basil. Vary accordingly.

I also to like to use the pesto when I am entertaining. When fish eaters are guests, I put it over salmon — one of DearDR’s favorite dishes. It’s so easy: Just preheat your oven to 350 degrees; spoon 1/2 inch pesto over salmon filets; cover and cook (in greased Pyrex or casserole dish) for 30 minutes. I get rave reviews about this one everytime.

Merry Christmas

“There were shepherds in that locality, living in the fields and keeping watch by turns over their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them…, and they were very much afraid. The angel said to them, ‘You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you — tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people. The day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord. Let this be a sign to you: in a manager you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.’ Suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.'”
Luke 2: 8-14

Below is a version of my favorite Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night.” Those nice boys of Il Divo do a lovely job.

Photo Friday: A Day Late

Yes, Virginia, it is really Saturday.

I’ve been reading a number of blogs from the NaBloPoMo days. Some people manage to take some really nice pictures and post them. Now, I enjoy taking pictures, and I do love the world of digital photography. But I am not the experts that these people are. I have a little point-and-shoot; I don’t photoshop much — I can remove red eye if hard pressed. And crop.

Anyway, the point is: I decided to see what my little point-and-shoot could do. I experimented with some extreme closeups; I bracketed to see if they worked better with or without the flash.

This is from the centerpiece I had on the dining room table for DearDR’s party. I received quite a number of compliments on this exceedingly simple decoration.

It’s a large white decorative bowl filled with Christmas ball ornaments. I came up with the idea all by myself. I had meant to hang the balls from the curtain rod in the front room, on lines of differing lengths. But I never got around to that. The fallback was very pretty, though.

With a flash.

No flash.

Flash, but too close.

No flash. Definitely too close.

I’ll have to experiment a little more (aren’t you lucky?). I can see that the flash adds shadow and depth in some cases. But I guess I can’t get too close because my camera can’t focus.


So it occurred to me for the first time tonight that it is entirely possible that Monkey (never mind Bun) doesn’t actually know about Santa Claus. She knows who Santa is, culturally; when she sees a picture of Santa, she exclaims, “Santa!” We have a couple of Christmas DVDs (notably, “The Year Without Santa Claus” with the Heat Meiser and… what was his name? Ice Meister? Snow Meister? I don’t recall at this point).

But I don’t think I’ve ever gone through the whole, “Santa Claus is this guy who makes toys up in the North Pole — well, actually, his ELVES make the toys — and then he flies around on Christmas Eve delivering them to all the good boys and girls.” As Wikipedia puts it, “the mythical gift giver”. The fat, jolly guy dressed in red. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

She knows about St. Nicholas, and Mary, and (of course) Baby Jesus.

In her life, then, Santa Claus is just some guy whose imagery shows up around Christmas. She has never been to visit Santa, to tell him what she wants; we haven’t written a letter to Santa. He is neither an icon of wish fulfillment or a creepy Big Brother figure who knows when she’s naughty or nice.

I haven’t deeply examined this, but obviously I’m primarily motivated by my desire to keep the birth of Jesus in the forefront. And I’m not a grinch; Monkey and Bun are going to get plenty of loot, some from us (and labeled as from Mom & Dad, not Santa), more from grandparents and other relatives.

What to do? Should I introduce the myth of Santa to her? How? Should I use Santa as a motivator to be good, as so many people do this time of year? Should I wait another year? I have my own mixed feelings about the whole Santa-myth and secular “holiday” time as it is.

At the same time, I don’t want Monkey to be the kid in kindergarten telling all the other kids that there is no Santa Claus.

Meatless Monday: Another Holiday Side Dish

I know that if you look at the date on the post you will think I posted this Tuesday, but I tell you now: it is 8:45 p.m., Monday. So date be damned, it’s still Meatless Monday.

This is another favorite of mine; I actually haven’t made it for quite a while. I plan to bring cookies and hor d’oerves to my sister-in-law’s for Christmas (leftovers from the party — everything is frozen), but I may make and bring this dish, too. It’s incredibly easy.

Creamy Chickpea-Tahini Casserole

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. tahini
Dried basil (or other dried herbs) to taste
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Seasame seeds

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (I’m sorry; I don’t know the metric conversion.)

2. In a greased (I use some Pam) casserole dish, mix together rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, garlic, tahini and herbs. Cover, pop into oven and cook for 45 minutes.

3. Remove casserole and uncover. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Turn oven up to 400 degrees and cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered.

Some notes: The original recipe called for 6 cups of rice, but I discovered that is WAY too much rice. Unless you really, really like rice. I don’t actually use onion in this recipe, because DearDR doesn’t like onions that much, but it was in the OR, and it makes sense. You can add other stuff like capers or chopped kalamata olives (mmm, olives) to vary the taste.

Party Pooped

To the people who RSVP’ed that they were coming to my party yesterday and then didn’t show up: you stink. Except for those of you who had real excuses (the mom with a feverish baby; the people in Columbus, OH; the aunt that had to attend a funeral instead). If you decided not to come out because of a LITTLE SNOW, I’m a bit pissed at you. I still love you and I hope you will continue to be our friends. But you’re wimps. I would post a stronger word — one that begins with P, has a U and two S’s in the middle, and ends with Y — but I try to keep this a family friendly place.

Fortunately, we found a church willing to take our leftover food (a 3-foot hoagie, a deli tray, and a cheese and pepperoni tray, enough to feed roughly 50 people), so you have allowed us to do a good deed. DearDR and I will have to kill the rest of this keg over the next few days, or hope that it keeps until Christmas Eve (although I’m only having about 12 people that night, and the majority of them don’t drink beer). Also, I have hor d’oevres and cookies to see us through the new year. And my wine cellar has expanded quite a bit because you didn’t show up to drink through it.

You missed a really, really good time. Everyone had a lot of fun, sitting, talking, laughing our asses off. It is true that Monkey decided to blow chunks all over the place at one point, but it was definitely because she was overstimulated. Frankly, you may have done Monkey a favor by not coming. At one point, she walked into the bathroom and closed the door to sing a few songs by herself. To say that she was unhappy with the hurricane of children (well-behaved, but still whirling dervishes) that tore through her toys would be understating the case.

So, boo on you. We had a good time without you. And the food rocked. The cookies rocked harder. But the company and the celebration of DearDR’s achievements topped it all.

If you came, thank you. We loved having you. Granted, we will avoid hosting another party again until summer time, when using the yard will be an option. Even then, given our record up here, it’ll probably rain enough to drown whales.

Now, I must go. Because my children insisted on getting up at 5:42 a.m. Maybe to see if people were still here. (Nonna, Pap-pap, Aunt K and Buddy, were, incidentally.) But I am going to sleep on the couch during the Steelers game. And eat some cheese cubes.

See You, Raise You

This started at Rockstar Mommy. Cynical Dad raised the stakes.

And tonight, kids, I’m going all in.

Number of Christmas trees erected at the Casa di RPM: 0
Number of Christmas trees that will be erected this year: 0
Number of lights on the house: 0
Number of times per mile while we are in the car Monkey says, “Look at all the lights!”: 42
Number of Christmas cards mailed: 0
Number of cards that will be mailed: 0
Number of cookies baked (or to be baked, by me): 0

(Are you seeing a trend? It gets better!)

Number of times in public my children get asked, “What is Santa going to bring you this year?”: 36
Number of times my children have gone to see Santa (or will): 0
Number of presents wrapped: 0

(I do have to say, I am almost done Christmas shopping. Not only that, DearDR is almost done shopping because of my efforts. The only person for whom DearDR needs to buy presents is ME. Do you need a list, honey?)

Number of presents each person in my household will receive: 3
Number of presents I still have to buy for Bun: 2
Number of presents I still have to buy for DearDR: 2
Number of presents I still have to buy for Monkey: 0 (She was easy this year. In part because of this; again, from Chag at Cynical Dad.) (I do too read other blogs.)

Here’s where I raise the stakes.

Number of parties we are hosting at Casa di RPM this year (including Christmas Eve): 2
Days until the first party, an Open House to celebrate DearDR’s license: 2
Number of people expected to come to Open House: 100
Number of rooms actually ready for Open House: 2, if I don’t use the kitchen from today until Saturday. So, 1.
Number of rooms in my house that will probably get some use that weekend: 7
Number of rooms in my house (not counting the basement): 9
Number of children in the household who projectile vomited in two rooms tonight: 1 (Bun)
Number of patches of baking soda and/or fabric cleaner in those two rooms: 6

I had Monkey’s third birthday party here last month. Next month, I will probably have Bun’s first birthday party here, too. It’s a good thing I’m married to this guy.

(I am going to add briefly here: I am not a Scrooge or a Grinch or any of that. I do like Christmas, because of what it represents spiritually, i.e. the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior. But this is not that post, so I’m not going to say anymore at this point.)

Edited to add: Make that 4 rooms in which Bun has vomited. This time, we just changed the sheets in the pack n’ play, and we made it to the sink to make room number 4.

Number of stuffed animals that need to be cleaned of Bun’s vomit: 3
Number of shirts I have had to change because of Bun’s vomit: 3

Number of children who proceeded to stuff cotton batting up her nose when she should have been sleeping: 1 (Monkey)
Number of parents it took to get cotton out of Monkey’s nose: 2
Number of parents at Case di RPM who are having nervous breakdowns: 2
Approximate number of hours I will sleep tonight: 2

It’s Official: Bun Leaves Babyhood

Bun has been taking tentative steps without holding onto anything since the end of October. Then she started walking (and jumping and dancing) on her knees. I thought she was going to stick with that for awhile.

But, no. This week she has been walking up and down, from room to room. She walks very carefully, but very well. Her balance is amazing for a new toddler; today she was walking around the kitchen with a blue plastic mixing bowl in her right hand. She walks around things on the floor. She bends down and stands back up.

She’s toddling, therefore, she’s a toddler.

I am sad, a little. Although, I love to watch her walk. She babbles at me — at anyone — incessantly, but she isn’t saying words. She waves hello and good-bye; she tries to use utensils at meal time. (She’s got the idea, but not the coordination.) I keep trying to teach her some baby signs, but so far it’s been no go.

To me, Bun always seemed to do things in leaps. It seemed to take forever for her to turn herself over. Then I wondered when she was going to figure out how to feed herself finger foods. Crawling, too, seemed to take a long time, and the pincher grip, and so on.

And now she is walking, and pointing, and eating by herself, and trying to use crayons (still trying to eat them, too). And climbing! That girl (girl?!) climbs anything she can. Even at the side of the tub at bath time, she lifts her leg as if she could just swing it on over the side.

I think about my two girls, and how, after Gabriel, they have healed me in different ways. Monkey gave me back the faith I needed; not faith in God, but faith in myself, my ability to have a child, my ability to give my husband a child. That last part may sound weird, but part of the after-loss of Gabriel was fear that I wouldn’t be able to make my husband a daddy, which he was so looking forward to. (Gabriel made him a father; Monkey made him a daddy — I believe I’ve said that before.) To this day, Monkey is very much her daddy’s child.

And Bun. Bun was unexpected. Bun gave us some anxiety. In the end, though, Bun is so the child of my heart. As Monkey is her father’s, Bun is mine. I love them both equally (of course), just in different ways. Monkey proved something to me — probably something to everyone. Bun just is. She didn’t have to prove a dang thing.

Bun will be a year old in less than a month. I’ve seen it coming for awhile. I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon.

Meatless Monday: Lentil Soup

When DearDR and I started dating, he was quite the independent guy. He had his own place, he did his own laundry, cooked his own meals, etc. (I could point out that he lived in the top floor apartment in his uncle’s house, not very far from where he grew up, and that, in addition to allegedly working on his Ph.D., he worked in his family’s restaurant. But that is incidental to the point.)

He was not put off by the fact that I was a vegetarian; his sister had been one since she was a teenager, so it was a lifestyle with which he was familiar.

A few weeks into our relationship, we went with a bunch of my friends to Cook Forest. We all slept in the same cabin, and everyone brought food, and we sat around a campfire and drank a lot. (This annual tradition continues to this day; we missed last year because of Bun’s arrival.)

DearDR brought lentil soup. It was from a recipe he had written down on an index card. Could be something his sister gave to him; could have been copied out of a magazine or cookbook.

After our marriage, I adapted it. When DearDR tried it, he said, “You make my lentil soup better than me.” I’m pretty proud of that.

RPM’s Lentil Soup

Four cloves garlic, chopped
Four celery stalks, chopped
Four carrots, sliced
Olive oil
One bag (approximately three cups) of brown lentils
Four cups vegetable stock
Three cups water
Ground pepper

1. (You know the drill:) In a large soup pot, saute the garlic in oil. Add celery and carrots; cover and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Rinse and sort through lentils. Add to garlic, celery and carrots. Stir to coat in oil.
3. Add vegetable stock and water. Add pepper to taste.
4. Cook for four to five hours; if needed, add more liquid.

Serve with crusty bread and butter, and salad. Sprinkle soup with parmesean cheese. I don’t add salt because I don’t want it to be too salty for people; if someone wants salt, he or she can add it.

Let’s Please Stop Talking about the Terrible Twos

It’s misleading. Yes, 2 is difficult. The kid is learning that he or she is separate, establishing his or her own identity, and blah, blah, blah. Because after 2 comes 3, and by 3, they are talking in complete sentences, usually the same sentences over and over again. Also, negotiations begin. Or as much negotiating as a 3-year-old can muster anyway.

“Can I play with my princess tea set? Can we go outside? Can I have some candy? How about now? Now? Soon? How about now?”

“When Bun takes her nap, because the pieces are too small. No, Monkey, honey, it’s snowing/raining/11 degrees outside. No, you only get candy when you go on the potty. No, no, not now, no. No.”

Lately, Monkey and I are really butting heads. Along with the frustrating and messy world of potty training, Monkey has decided that not napping during her naps is no longer rebellion enough. She has to destroy her room if left alone in it while awake during the day. Also, very often, she has to poop in her diaper even though I sat her on the toilet for 15 minutes before nap time.

Let me define “destroy” her room before you think I am exaggerating. The other day, Monkey single-handedly dismantled her bed. Covers off, pillows and stuffed animals strewn, fitted sheet wadded up in the corner, and mattress on its side on the floor. Oh, and she had knocked over her lamp. Usually, the worst she does is empty her sock drawer, stuffing them behind her headboard. The other day (not bed-dismantling day), she added Bun’s diapers to the mix.

Talk about escalation.

Then there is the whole “negotiation” thing. Between Monkey’s new-found … uh, let’s call it “independence”, the weather, and a teething Bun, things have been difficult around here for me lately. (Oh, and let’s just throw in Christmas time madness, party-planning insanity, and financial worries. Just to remember it’s not just about the kids. Sexual tension, too. Yipee.)

DearDR clearly sees how things are going. He sat down with me the other day, and conducted a bit of an interview.

“What are Monkey’s strengths?” he asked. He was putting on the professional hat for a little bit, and I let him, because really, where the heck else could I turn at 10 o’clock at night with a beer in hand?

Well, Monkey is extremely articulate. When she decides what she wants, she can ask for it clearly. She is smart, funny and creative. She can actually occupy herself, by herself, for quite an impressive amount of time for a 3-year-old. She loves to read. She’s good with Bun — when she wants to be.

“Okay, what are her weaknesses?”

She’s impulsive. She flits from thing to thing very quickly when she’s not absorbed. She’s very willful.

In other words, and I pointed this out, her weakness is that she’s 3 years old.

Okay, then, her weaknesses, to this point, are things that she will outgrow. (Yes, you don’t have to point out that I am going to be in a similar position with Monkey in 10 to 12 years. Only this time, relatively speaking, she’s be a creature of reason, as well! Oh, joy.)

But I was surprised by my response regarding her weaknesses.

I guess what needs to be examined are MY weaknesses. Why, aside from the fact that she is my child and we are together nearly all the time, does she so easily get under my skin? Is it simply the aforementioned things? Is it my own impatience? High expectations? Desire to do something besides sit in a room with two children (clean the kitchen, do laundry, read a book uninterrupted, earn money)?

Monkey is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing. She is “testing the boundaries”. She pushes us (DearDR is not immune, he just gets it less because he gets to leave the house); she checks our reactions, she pushes some more. She starts to find out what “too far” means, and its consequences.

Truth is, I admire her. She is figuring it out. Truth is, I admire DearDR and me, too, because we give consequences (time outs, usually, or not getting what she wants). We are fair-minded parents who understand that boundaries are necessary.

Because setting boundaries now, and keeping them, makes Monkey feel safe. Frustrated, of course, at times (it’s not easy for us all the time, either), but, ultimately safe. And if we can make her feel safe now, I hope it follows we can make her feel safe later, as her boundaries expand out in the world. Someday, she will be setting her own boundaries. I know we can’t keep her absolutely and totally safe. But if we are her safe place, then she will have someplace to go — someplace to come — when she discovers… well, what lies outside of the boundries. And I don’t mean the crazy, truly deadly and dangerous things (necessarily), but even the pain that friends can inflict. (Especially girl friends.)

I’m going on a bit here, and I admit to not completely knowing my point. I guess it’s the fact that Monkey is doing her “job” and we are doing ours, as parents.

And that’s something to be proud of, both ways. Raising kids is incredible, and at times incredibly hard. And you know what? We’re all doing all right.