Won Tons To Soothe Your Poor, Winter-Hardened Soul

You know you want these.


For my won ton soup recipe, check out my post at Bay Area Parent!


Of Cavities And Picky Eaters

The boy is the picky eater in our house. “I want macaroni and cheese for dinner!” he’ll proclaim, but when it is placed in front of him in all its day-glow orange glory, he’ll take one bite (maybe) then say “I’m done.”

Excuse me? Baking powder? A sphincter says what?!

It’s not like I’m putting overcooked brussels sprouts and canned ham in front of the kid. This is macaroni and cheese. The stuff of childhood. And I have to buy the blue box, because he refuses to eat the “natural” kind.

The orange stuff.

The orange stuff.

Meanwhile, the girl child has polished off her portion, has mowed through her sliced fruit, her sugar snap peas with hummus (one of her favorite snacks), and is munching on a slice of turkey breast.

“I eating Mama,” she’ll say. “I listening!”

“I know baby,” I’ll say, then turn back to the stone-faced 4-year-old. “You have to eat FIVE bites of macaroni and cheese. BIG ONES. And all your fruit.”

For those keeping score, five big bites is to compensate for him specifically requesting said macaroni and cheese. The fruit is to keep ze bowels moving. Because lordy, if he gets stopped up that’s a good THREE days of mineral oil and eventually stool softener to get things moving again.

TMI? Sorry. Welcome to my world.

So dinner is basically a Mexican standoff. A gunfight at noon. Whathaveyou. We sit and stare at each other until he eats. It is SO much fun. Oh, and he STILL doesn’t eat meat. It baffles the mind.

"You will eat your dinner!"

“You will eat your dinner!”

Meanwhile, his sister has cleaned her plate and gets to hop down and watch a movie of her choice. Even if it’s his turn to pick. And if he gets upset, usually she’ll say something along the lines of: “Just eat, Sean. You taking too long.”

But why the long, drawn-out process? Why not just say “fine” and let him be done? Well, Internet, I’ve tried that too. What happens then is that when its time to get into pajamas and get ready for bed: He’s starving. SO HUNGRY. But now my food is cold! I want cereal! With milk! But I’m still hungry! I don’t want to go to bed! and  WAAAAAAAAAAH.

So we struggle. Daily. And I fantasize about scientists creating a pill that gets him all his nutritional needs and fills his belly. But then I’d have to figure out a way to get him to eat it daily. (Back to square one.)

Meanwhile …

The shortcake has cavities. Yes, plural.  On her back molars. The dentist says part of it is because her mouth is so little and that her teeth are very close together.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, its because of the fruit snacks, raisins, and goldfish — all of which she loves — and all of which stick to the teeth and spread their sticky, sweet, cavity-inducing selves all over the enamel. As a result, I have hidden the rest of our fruit snacks and they won’t be making any more appearances. (Also? I got tired of the picky eater trying to fill himself up with these. Fruit snacks do not a meal make.)

Sugar-filled cavity bombs!

Mmmmm … sugar-filled cavity bombs!

I’ve replaced the kid-height snacks with Z bars, granola bars, boxes of raisins (they’re healthy, we just need to be more cognizant of how many she eats), applesauce packets, and snack-size bags of popcorn and “better” crackers. In the fridge, I’m going to make small bags of carrot sticks and sugar snap peas. So far, the girl is loving it. She ate 2 bags of popcorn (about 1/4 cup popped per bag) and a bag of crackers yesterday. The boy? Not so much. He survived on blueberry shredded wheat. Which is fine by me, because hell0 — FIBER.

We took her to the pediatric dentist on Friday for her fillings. Yes, we. Because of the medication they give the kids, two adults are required to be there to ensure nothing bad happens to the kid on the drive home. Like falling asleep and flopping forward and cutting off their air supply and dying. Seriously. So … I wasn’t worried AT ALL.

First off, the girl handled the whole thing like a pro. The only time she cried was after the procedure was over and the dentist turned her movie off before the song was over. That caused sobbing. But aside from that? She was a boss.

And I’ve got the slideshow to prove it.

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And a video. To show just how loopy she was. (BTW, she didn’t lose her footing. She straight up almost fell over.)

Financial Reality Bites

In 1 month, my daughter will turn 1.

Look how tiny she was! It seemed like she didn't open her eyes for a week.

First of all, it’s hard to believe that she’s almost 1 already. My mind boggles. Second, this means I have to plan and execute a family party.

This makes me twitch. It really does. I understand now, why my mother was always so stressed out about our birthday parties as kids. I totally get it now Mom, and I am so, SO sorry I requested anything. EVER. You should have just ordered pizza and called it a night.

My family does the dinner thing. Which as an adult is fine. But when you plan a dinner party for kids? Good lord. The last one was dinner at a restaurant. I totally get why they did it: No cleanup, nothing to haul back and forth, NO DISHES. But the kids? I think I got through 2 courses of the Chinese banquet before I was constantly outside, running around, changing diapers, and taming meltdowns. Meanwhile, waiters are running around with vats of magma-hot soup, sizzling rice dishes, and pots of hot tea.

Needless to say, it was not a relaxing experience for me. (But what IS after you have kids?)

Since my house is entirely too small to house everyone inside for a winter birthday party, we will be traveling to San Jose for Allie’s 1st, to my grandma’s house. Also known as the house with the ridiculously soft orange carpet.

To make my life easier — like I did for the boy’s birthday, I looked into catering/take-out options. Since Allie loves pasta, I wanted to get take-out from a place I’ll call … Pasta Primadonna.

Now Pasta Primadonna is a chain restaurant with a separate catering wing. You cannot simply order party platters through your closest restaurant. Oh no. You have to call the catering section. This should have tipped me off right away.

Each party platter only serves 8 people. The party will have a maximum of 36 people. I wanted to order chicken parmigana and baked rigatoni. Simple, yes?

To my knowlege, pasta isn't made with unicorn horns and flaked 24k gold ...

Each platter of rigatoni and chicken parmigana? $65. EACH. That’s $8.125 per serving. For noodles and tomato sauce with mozzarella. I know people have to make a living, but holy bejeezus … $8+ for noodles and sauce?!

After my heart resumed beating, I tried crunching numbers.

The absolute lowest number I could work it to, which made me feel even more like Ebeneezer Scrooge, was $260 for 2 rigatoni trays and 2 chicken pargmigana trays (and to have them cut each 5 oz breast in half to make it go further.) On top of that, I’d need to make a salad, another veggie, and some bread.

I can’t do it.  I can’t spend THAT much money on pasta and sauce. On a meal that will be gone in an instant, never to be seen again. If it were prime rib, it would be different. But we’re talking about pasta and sauce.

“I can buy a box of pasta for $1 at the store,” I thought to myself.

Do you know what this means? It means I’m making her birthday dinner.

Damn it.

I have, however, worked out a plan to make it slightly less painful and stressful:

  1. I will be making lasagna rolls. This means 1 noodle = 1 serving. It also means that 1 box of noodles = 12 servings — well, 10 if you don’t use the broken ones. It also means that if you put a lasagna roll on a sheet of wax paper and pop it in your freezer on a sheet tray lined with wax paper, you can make it ahead.
  2. My grandmother has 2 ovens. Bless her heart. This means everything goes in at the same time and no worrying about getting x in by a certain time so it cooks.
  3. Disposable. Foil. Trays.
  4. Bagged lettuce + pre-cut veggies = salad.
  5. Meatballs + marinara = extra meat.
  6. Did I mention DISPOSABLE FOIL TRAYS?!
  7. Store-bought French and garlic bread.
  8. I’ll also make Parmesan roasted broccoli. Because it is tasty and fast.
  9. Cupcakes instead of cake, since my family prefers ice cream. (I bought a full sheet cake for Sean’s party last year and they didn’t even eat 25% of it and declined leftovers.)  AND I’ll order it from a San Jose bakery so I don’t have to transport it.
  10. Paper plates, plastic utensils and cups, and paper napkins.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!


Fact: I’ve given birth to two children in less than two years.
Fact: I love those two kids so much that it hurts sometimes.
Fact: They freaking ravaged my body.

I’m under no illusions: I wasn’t even close to being a supermodel before I was a mom. I’ve always been pudgy or portly or downright fat. I’m not going to get into the hows and whys of it, but there you go. But now? Lets just say I feel downright disgusting.

Pre-babies: My stomach, while not thin or cut by any means, was at least pretty flat. I had hips. I had shape and knew how to dress so I could at least pull off a polished look.

Post-babies: My stomach is paunchy. I have a paunch. I constantly look bloated. My stomach itself is puckered by surgery scars. Stretch marks streak down from my rib cage to panty line like lightning bolts. Lightning bolts on a beach ball. Or a zebra. Take your pick. (I’ll never, ever, wear a bikini.) My hips are nonexistent. My hair is falling out around the temples (standard for me after birth/surgery. It’ll take at least a year to look normal again.). My skin is freaking out and can’t decide if its going to be oily or scaly like a lizard. The bags under my eyes are so dark they look like bruises.

People, I am the definition of a hot mess. And I’m not going to take it anymore.

I joined Weight Watchers about a month ago, and I’ve almost lost 10 pounds. I’m doing the online only program, because the thought of finding the time to squeeze in a meeting every week made me break out into hives. Plus, I don’t like meetings. I don’t like stepping onto a scale in front of anyone else. And I don’t like sitting in a room full of strangers talking about swimsuit season. I don’t do group therapy. At least not that way.

I’ve told my parents, and my dad has been super-duper supportive in his wonderful, non-annoying way. He told me that was great and that he knew I could do it and then he shut up about it. (Lovely man!) He’ll listen to my updates when I want to give them, but never pries. He did, however, tell me I looked really good the last time I saw him, which gave me the warm fuzzies.

Also supportive? The Hubbs. As in “we’re in this together” supportive. The Weight Watchers food tracker bugs the crap out of him, so he’s kinda piggy backing off me, but we’ve got solidarity going on, which totally helps.

I don’t have a magic number as a goal. I’m going more for “being less than XXX lbs” and “feeling good about myself.” But: I also have another goal: The Dress.

I ordered this last week and got it Saturday afternoon. (Because who has time to go to a store and try clothes on? Not me! At least not until the yard monkeys are asleep.) Anyway, when I saw this dress I saw sophistication. Glamour. Elegance. Someone who is put together. Something I would LOVE to be able to pull off. Something I could wear to a wedding and for a special night out with the Hubbs.

I bought it in my pre-pregnancy size. And technically it fit. Which is to say, it zipped without busting the seams or the zipper. (Also: If not for the nearly 10 pounds lost already, I would have had no hope of fitting into this, so progress!) From the bust up, it was gorgeous. My skin looked luminous in it. Length-wise? Slamming. But the stomach-area … I looked five months pregnant. If I invested in a good pair of Spanx I could probably knock that down to three or four months pregnant.

I do not want to look that way anymore. I loved being pregnant and I loved my belly when my children were in there because it wasn’t me. It was the child. That little life. But now I look like I’ve got a deflated basketball attached to my torso. Its not flattering to say the least.

So my short-term goal is this: Fit — and look good — in this dress by October, when the Hubbs and I are leaving the kiddos with their grandparents (and uncle) so we can go to a wedding.

Don’t wish me luck — wish me perseverance. 

Counting It Down And More Randomness

Do you remember your senior year of high school? How about how you just could not focus the last oh … month of school because you had a major case of Senioritis?

That’s kind of how the Hubbs and I are feeling right now. I’m 39 weeks pregnant. A mere 12 days from my due date — not that this baby will arrive on time. My hospital bag is packed. Our plans for who will watch Sean have been set. I’ve written and printed out Sean’s operating instructions (and emergency instructions) for said babysitters, because I’m a geek and that’s how I roll. With all the important stuff taken care of, we’ve pretty much lost steam with everything else. That stuff takes concentration. It requires you to focus for more than five minutes at a time.

I don’t have that in me right now.

For example, I actually made dinner last night. And when I say “I made dinner” I mean that I didn’t just pop something into the microwave/oven from the fridge/freezer like I have for the past … oh … month? I made steamed artichokes, cauliflower au gratin, and NY strip steaks.

For a normal person, that isn’t so hard:

  1. You trim the artichokes, throw them in a pot with about 4 inches of water and let them steam for a good 40 minutes. Done.
  2. For the cauliflower? I used a small head of cauliflower — you cut it up, steam it for 10 minutes (I have a handy-dandy microwave steamer), and treat them like mashed potatoes: mash, add some cream/half and half, sour cream, salt and pepper. Dump the mix into a oven-safe dish and top with cheddar cheese, and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and toasted. (I bake it in my toaster oven. I have mad love for that appliance.) Hubbs adds bacon bits to his after the fact, so its kind of like a baked potato.
  3. The steaks are the easiest: Salt and pepper on both sides and cook in a hot pan with olive oil and a smidge of unsalted butter until you’ve got a good crust on both sides. Let rest, with a foil cover, for 10 minutes before serving. 

The cauliflower acts as the potatoes in this meal, so you’re actually eating TWO real vegetables with it.

So again, not a difficult meal. But I was seriously exhausted after making it. It will be so nice to not have to nap before making dinner again …

In honor of Sean, this is what we’ll be bringing the Peanut home in:

Tiny socks!

And since its December and cold, she’ll also be covered in blankets and (likely) a sweater.

And since its been awhile, some random Sean moments:

He likes to push buttons on phones. Especially “redial”.

After about 20 pictures, I got this look. Hello attitude.

One of his favorite toys: Every side has different activities.

But the world’s best toy? A mylar balloon. So happy!

Thanksgiving, Lazy Style

Two days before Thanksgiving I went to the doctor for my weekly appointment. Although my blood pressure had gone down (a good thing), she wanted me to stay on modified bed rest. And then she asked me about my turkey day plans.

I hadn’t made any, because my family does dinner at my grandmother’s house in San Jose every year. Its the one time each year that my aunts from Hawaii come to town. My dad has six brothers and sisters, and I’ve got a boatload of cousins. Its kind of a big thing. But with me being 9 months pregnant and on bed rest … a 2-hour round trip wasn’t sounding relaxing or restful.

My doctor agreed. In fact, her response to my family’s tradition/plan was: You know, Whole Foods makes a FABULOUS turkey dinner. Translation: You’re an idiot and you’re not going.

My family totally understood, and one aunt promised to swing by the house on Black Friday to drop off leftovers. But that still left the actual turkey day itself: What were we going to do?

Enter Trader Joe’s. Damn, but I love that store. Did you know that the clerks will let you test the cookies before you buy them? And that at the sample counter, they keep a stash of cookies for little kids to try? Or that they don’t care if your kid eats a banana while you shop? (Some of the checkers know us and will either offer to toss the peel or give us a plastic bag to put the remainder in before they even start unloading the cart.)

But did you know that they do a riff on turkey dinners? That they sell a 1/2 turkey that you just throw in the oven for an hour? That they sell frozen mashed potatoes that actually have a GOOD texture when you microwave them to life? That although their brussels sprouts au gratin looks like a hot mess, it is actually DELICIOUS beyond belief? Or that their carton of ready-made turkey gravy is one of the best I’ve had? And even though I’m not a stuffing person, their sausage and sage stuffing? Good stuff. It even had cranberries in it.

The sides spent about 4 minutes each in the microwave before serving. The turkey spent an hour in the oven before I got to carve it. The portions were perfect — enough that the Hubbs and I could gorge in Turkey Day fashion yet still have just enough left over for soup. And although we didn’t cut into the pumpkin cheesecake until last night? That sucker was TASTY.

All that food and the only things we actually had to wash were the oven pan, our plates, silverware, and the mug with the gravy in it. Everything else went in the recycling bin.

All in all? It was a quiet and tasty turkey day. And although I missed seeing the rest of my family, it was really nice to just relax at home all day.

Paralyzing Inadequacy And Birthday Cakes

The Monkey is turning 1 next month, and I’m already in shock. How can he possibly be a year old already? Where did the time go? I never realized it would fly by so fast. That he would grow so much and have so much personality and vivacity and life. That I would love him more today than the day he was born, when my heart melted and oozed tiny unicorns and candy canes at the sight of him.

One year old. You know what this means, don’t you? It means we have to have a party. Check that: PARTIES, because my family has always done a family-only party. And since most of those family members haven’t seen the house we bought two years ago … we have to clean. And since we bought the house as a foreclosure — despite the fact that the back yard looked like a scene from “Where The Wild Things Are” — we’ve had to do some major yard work. Including paying others to do some of it. And since my family is ginormous and the house is not (it would implode if we tried to squeeze everyone in there at the same time), we’ve had to buy some outdoor furniture. And since one fence decided to fall down during the last winter storm, we — and thankfully our neighbors — are paying to fix it.

Are you feeling that vibe? That this is spiraling out of control? That next, the damn party is going to ask for a glass of milk? And a napkin? And a toothbrush?

You are so not using my toothbrush. Just sayin’.

So we’ve mostly been focused on the front and back yards. And when I say “we”, I mean the Hubbs. He’s been mowing and weed whacking and pulling up roots like his life depends on it. I’ve been in charge of “the help.” I hired an arborist to remove a bunch of tree branches, stumps, knobby things (don’t ask), debris, and to level off the stumps of two mulberry trees we removed this winter. (Note: NEVER plant a mulberry tree. They grow 20+ feet A SEASON and have to be cut down to nubs each spring. They’re insane.) I’m also in charge of interviewing and choosing fence people. (Almost done.)

And since the fence people also do retaining walls — and ours is falling down — its insanely tempting to have it redone. As in, bring in your tractor, remove a ton of dirt and push that bad boy BACK 4 feet so we have more yard and not just a landing strip of cement. But since that costs around $5K (debris removal and new wall), its not happening right now.

Add those costs to the necessities of having people over: Additional banquet tables, chairs, and shade structures to keep the sun off them, and its adding up. FAST. A lot of these things are one-time purchases. After this party, we’ll always have the tables and chairs so future parties won’t be so expensive. I get that. But it doesn’t stop me from trying to pinch pennies elsewhere, which is why I’m CONSIDERING making the birthday cakes myself.
I called around the a couple of local bakeries and grocery stores and it turns out that Safeway had the best deal for a 1/2 sheet cake: $31.99. Yes. $32 for flour and sugar and a Sesame Street theme to feed 40 people. And so my mind wanders.

I have like 6 boxes of cake mix in my pantry that I got on sale for $1 each. I know how to make a sugar frosting — I’ve got a stand mixer, so I’m pretty sure the fancier frosting wouldn’t be too hard to do. So all I’d have to do is buy food coloring, raspberry preserve for the filling, some decorating tip things, and some figurines, then decorate it myself. MUCH cheaper, right?

I consider myself a pretty good cook: My steak with reduced red wine and shallot sauce? Heavenly. I roast a succulent and juicy chicken with perfectly crispy skin. Hubbs BEGS me to make him green beans. My homemade french bread gets devoured within minutes of pulling it out of the oven.
So why am I deathly afraid of frosting and decorating cake for a 1-year-old who won’t know the difference anyway? For starters: I’ve only done it once. It was a round cake and I made a cream cheese frosting (it was delish) and spread it around. No big deal, and no decorating. But decorating it? And finding the TIME to bake and decorate it? Its enough to make me twitch.
Looking on the Internet is no help: You’ve got these Suzy Homemakers making three-tier cakes with colored marzipan bases for their kid’s first birthday. Just look at those! How can I not feel inadequate when my version was MAYBE the top layer of the Elmo cake to the left? And that’s if I was feeling ambitious.
The fact that I was even considering a Safeway cake — a sheet cake no less, with no tiers or streamers or dancing girls baked inside — makes me feel cheap and shameful. Well, maybe just cheap, because I’m not willing to shell out a bunch of money for something the Monkey will only remember because there’s a picture of it.
And then there’s the fear: IF I make these two cakes, will I have set the bar too high? Will I have to do it every year once setting the precedent? (More importantly, will Hubbs expect me to do it every year to save us $64?)   

What would you do? (And if you’re a master baker/cake decorator, why haven’t you volunteered to do this for me yet?)