please don’t unfriend me.

So, a couple of things.  My apologies to my two, maybe three readers who are so kind to follow this blog- this is my first post since January when I vowed to post at least once per week.  Yes, one-half year ago.  To this I will just say that outside of cyber space I am hugely reliable, so I am sure I have spoken with you on the telephone, had lunch a few times, and no doubt have a regular text thread happening with you as we speak, so thank you for sticking it out.  Also, this post comes at the end of a long, super fun weekend that I swore I would be exhausted from (it’s way past my bedtime) but, I drank a diet soda at 7pm and yep, wide awake.  Lame, I know.

I recently joined Facebook.  This is goes completely against my years-long stance on not joining Facebook.  Deep.  Sigh…

Here’s the thing about it, now that I have been on it a mere 30 days, give or take a few, it is all the things I suspected it would be and most of its aspects are exactly why I said I would never join.

It keeps me up past my bedtime and delays my morning routine. (Something may have happened while I was sleeping!)

It shares everything that everyone you Facebook Friend shares, posts, likes, and dislikes (maybe you can’t actually dislike something, as I said, I’m new).  What’s more?  If you tag someone, you become privy to all of their Facebook Friends’ likes, comments, blah, blah, blah even when they aren’t your Facebook Friend.

It suggests you Facebook Friend Facebook Friends of Facebook Friends. (Just read that slowly one more time.)

The people I am Facebook Friends with are my actual real friends and have been pretty much my whole life.  (This is where it is useful and fun for me-I like learning about what’s happening with faraway friends and family.)

You can unfriend your Facebook Friends by clicking, “unfriend”.  That’s just, ew.  Ew.  I mean, how many people have actually been hurt by Facebook Friends that they confused with actual friends who decided to “unfriend” them because they post too many cat pictures?  Or what about the people who are your actual friends but then after they become your Facebook Friend you see a side of them that is kind of unexpected, but unexpected in a strange and unsettling way? (FYI, this has yet to happen to me because I choose my Facebook Friends very carefully, much as in real life.)  I am thinking about the people who rely on a community of strangers to validate anything from a clothing choice to parenting styles, to belief systems.  Those folks who take social cues from people they have actually never been social with.  In my nearly 40 years I have seen friends come and go, all at the necessary times throughout my life- the friends who have “gone” aren’t my “unfriends”; rather they are just friends I used to know.  I would happily greet them in a chance meeting, or look forward to an impromptu reunion.  Imagine running into  someone you used a button on, and by clicking it you made them your “unfriend”.

My Facebook experience has been limited, I get that.  My social network is not as broad and sweeping as my handful of Facebook Friends and maybe I am just behind the curve on this one.   I mentioned before that it provides a real connection to actual friends you are limited to see in real-live person.  This is important.  This is real.  But for me, it is easy to make a distinction between the necessity of real human interaction with friends and the snippets of virtual moments that are shared through a photo memory, blog post, or news article.  I remember dial-up for goodness sake!  My children, however will/do live in a much different place, surrounded by virtual interactions and memory sharing.  As a family, we encourage lots of playtime with others, plenty of hand-written thank you’s and FaceTime calls with our long-distance friends and family.  We talk about the internet, how we are using it and what it means to do so.

No doubt, the instant gratification that comes with a “like” or a ” friend request” feels nice.  The reassurance that comes with a kissy-face emoji might make the difference between a good morning and a bad one.  But, for me, I think it will just suck when and if one of them are unfriended.

My Best Roast Chicken, etc..

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Behold, good looking AND good tasting

Happy New Year my friends!  I have been slacking on my blog posts and have just decided (like really, just now decided) to try and post once a week.  Of course, I am not banking on having something grand to share each time, but you can count on at least a recipe and/or some family updates.  Also expect a link or two to something I find interesting or funny on The Google too.  So, without more yada, yada, yada, I will go ahead and dive right in on my first post of 2015!

I don’t know about others but for most of my adult life since I have been cooking, I have been trying to master the Roast Chicken.  Now, the Roast Chicken appears simple.  After all, it is a chicken for goodness sake and simply roasted.  However, you and I (you being the person who roasts chickens) both know that it is never as easy as it appears.  You want a nicely browned skin, but not so brown that it indicates a dry breast.  You need to season it properly since what you have left is the flavor that underlies your pan drippings.  The pan drippings!!!  Yet another thing that makes the Roast Chicken intimidating.  Fear not, for if you’ve given up on the Roast Chicken I am hear to encourage you to try, try again.  This recipe might just renew your Roast Chicken confidence.

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Dress that sucker up!  For this recipe, I generously salt and pepper the cavity of the bird and then stuff it with sliced lemons and oranges, shallots, onions, garlic and fresh thyme.  If you have a citrus aversion, well…too bad!  It significantly enhances the flavor profile of the meat and gives your pan drippings that little extra something to elevate your gravy.  Trust me, you want the acid to balance the rich, velvety fatty gravy-it is pretty amazing.  Next, rub a little unsalted butter under the skin of the breasts and legs.  Now, you could go completely gonzo here and use truffle butter.  I know, I know, slow down Dena, but seriously my friends, it is divine.  Truffle butter is to the exterior of the bird what the citrus is to the inside – next level flavor and sophistication.  You will have one half each left of the lemon, orange, onion, and shallot.  You will also have a nice fat bulb of garlic.  All of these will serve as your roasting rack and keep your bird moist and flavorful.

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Your pan drippings might look like this.  Lots of melty onions and citrus and broth to make up your delicious sauce.  Ok, I will stop gushing-here is the recipe.

My Best Roast Chicken

1 whole roasting chicken, 3-4 pounds

1 lemon, quartered

1 orange, quartered

1 bulb of garlic, top removed plus 4 cloves, peeled

8 fresh sprigs of thyme; 6 left whole, 2 chopped

1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved

1 large shallot, peeled and halved

4 tblsp unsalted butter or *truffle butter

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tblsp olive oil

1-2 cups chicken stock

1 tblsp flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Remove giblets and pat dry the chicken.  Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and freshly-cracked pepper.  Stuff the cavity with half each of the lemon, orange, onion, shallot, peeled garlic cloves and 4 thyme sprigs.  Salt and pepper the skin of the chicken and layer the bottom of your roasting pan with the remaining onion, shallot, lemon, orange and whole garlic bulb and rest the chicken on top.  Tuck the two remaining whole sprigs of thyme between the legs and breast.  Add about 1 cup of the chicken broth to the pan to prevent the drippings from sticking to the bottom.  Roast, uncovered for one hour basting occasionally.  In a small bowl whisk together the orange juice, olive oil and chopped thyme.  Pour this over the chicken and continue to roast until the thickest part of the thigh registers at 170 degrees, about 45 minutes longer.  Continue to baste.

Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer it to a platter, tent it with foil.  Place the roasting pan directly over a burner and heat to medium-low.  Whisk in the additional broth and flour.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Once your broth has achieved a thicker, smoother consistency, strain the pan gravy.  Discard the remaining ingredients.

Slice your chicken and serve with the pan gravy.  We like this with smashed or mashed potatoes and a sautéed side of something green – think green beans or kale.

*truffle butter is available in most markets and grocery stores where butter is sold

the kitchen, tiled.

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We did it! We tiled the backsplash in our kitchen AND painted! It is really feeling like we have come full circle, despite the old floors (we foresee that project happening in about a year or so). Even with builder-grade linoleum, our kitchen is looking fantastic and, even more importantly, is a dream to work in. Cory cut and laid each individual piece of tile by hand and then I stepped in at the end for the glory when it was time to grout. The pot faucet, pictured above, does make me feel pretty glamorous, I must say, and the nifty stainless shelves we added are practical and stylish-we are super pleased with the turnout. A few more pictures…

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Grouting is a real pain, by the way and white tile, of course, doesn’t make it any easier. We had fun this day though and later it made our cocktail taste THAT much better.

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Cory also installed under-mount cabinet lighting. It uses tiny LED bulbs so it is very bright and incredibly efficient-we turn them on a lot.

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As I said, we love our shelves. The open storage forces me to be more organized.

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Behold the newly painted walls. This is a real bonus and a big, bright improvement! We love the chalk walls and have fun making lists and drawing pictures here and there. We lucked out last weekend at a Farmer’s Market in South Haven, Michigan and found a beautiful print by local photographer, Bobbie Bush. Things are really shaping up on this side of the house!

moody

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It’s back to school and back to schedules, back to planned meals and back to looking at the calendar at least twice per day. Lily wants to nap when she gets home at 3:30pm, Michael wants to sleep in “at least until 7:35am”, Ella already has a sore throat and headache and Cory and I are exhausted by 8:30 (although, this isn’t entirely new). No one wants to wake up and get dressed immediately and everyone wants to have a movie night on a weekday. How quickly we go from carefree summer days to tightly scheduled weeks that force us to view life in large blocks of time rather than small, sacred mini moments.

This morning over breakfast we talked about some of these changes. How does it feel to have a happy teacher and familiar friends in the classroom? What is the feeling you get when you walk out onto a wide open playground? Is sitting down to a snack or a lunch with your friends something you would miss? How lucky are you to be dropped off and picked up from school by mom and/or dad? All of their responses were pretty expected and Michael even reminded Lily that his school is all day so she should stop complaining (mind you, she has never once complained about school yet this year-quite the opposite really). During this discussion, our old friend chipmunk perched himself on the rock outside our patio door. We have been tracking him all summer and, there for a while he was visiting quite regularly. Lily and Michael immediately left the conversation to sit by the door and observe. Before I could get annoyed and worry about how much time was left to eat breakfast, I joined them.

Flashback to yesterday when I walked into a quiet house and knew I had at least two hours and forty-five minutes of silence. I surveyed my tidy kitchen, the pillows in their proper places on the sofa, shoes in the baskets where they belong. On a rough day for me, these things matter. I care deeply if the floor is vacuumed and the toilet bowls are brushed. I hate dishes in the sink or an overfilled can of garbage. I invest so much energy in the outward appearance of my house that I almost always never stop to ask myself questions like I asked the kids this morning. What would we do without each other? When the day is said and done, what is the good stuff I want to remember about it? If given the choice, do I really choose dishes over a game of Sorry with my family? I use my “me time” to clean and organize, run errands no one else wants to, and prep for dinner. Today I think I will call a friend or read a book instead, try to store up some great moments, rather than chunks of time. Who knows, it may help to make all of us a little less moody.

*The family photo above was taken by my friend and local photographer, Amy Bartley. Her work reflects her lighthearted nature and we had a ton of fun working with her on this particular day. I like how this picture reflects how we are all capable of living in the moment.

Snack Recipe #1: Kettle Corn

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A few years ago we discovered, by the grace of none other than Alton Brown, how to pop popcorn at home on our stove top with out any of those fancy whirly thingamajigs.  We stopped buying microwaved versions and never looked back-nothing beats fresh-popped corn.  I will also add that we use a large stockpot with lid.  We used to use a large bowl and foil, as Alton suggests, but a pot works just as well and the handles make it easier to agitate the pot.  This popcorn recipe is brought to you by my good friend, Tara.  She shared this with me after she spent a weekend with her friend, Emily, who shared it with her.  Now I am sharing it with YOU!  I have made a tiny adjustment on the sugar, simply because we favor more savory than sweet flavor, but you can use up to a 1/2 cup if you like.

Home-popped Kettle Corn

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/4 popcorn kernels

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1-2 tsp fine sea salt, or 1 tsp popcorn salt

In a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid, melt the coconut oil over medium high heat.  Add the popcorn kernels and then the sugar once the oil is looking bubbly.  Replace the lid and continue to agitate the pot over the flame until the kernels stop popping.  *Note: this will cause you to sweat and perhaps even give you an arm cramp-keep on!  The result is totally delicious and you will say, as you eat it, “I can’t believe I made this at home!”  Sprinkle the salt over the popped corn and toss to mix.  Eat it until you feel sick.

“We both have a thing!”

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This is actually what Michael said to Lily last night in the car on the way home from dinner out.  They were fumbling in the dark, trading their book or random piece of wooden play food, when they finally settled on having something they could be pleased with in hand.  They always want a “thing” in the car;  a train, a sticker, a book, what have you, as long as they are busying themselves with something tangible.  It is one of the more aggravating features of parenthood, although I am certain I brought this one on without any help from them.  If they are never given it to begin with….yada, yada, yada.
I enjoy a little peace while I drive.  Refereeing two toddlers from the front seat (because Ella is light years past this stage) is quite enough to make a person want to drive into a small building, or large road sign.  When Michael says, “Did you bring me a ‘thing’”?, I have to wonder how this began and then I remember the insurmountable amount of “things” we call toys and how they are stacked, shelved and piled into nearly half the corners of our house.  I don’t mean to sound grinchy, but I am over toys.
At Christmas I felt like my head was going to swell up and swivel off when I heard one of our children open a gift and say, “Look! It’s that ‘thing’ I wanted!  Thank you!” (At least they are gracious).  Toys are space-takers and toe-busters and I can’t help but think about all the unnecessary environmental waste they will create once given up. I will also add that I was completely freaked out the other morning when I woke up and Lily’s blinky-eyed baby doll was staring at me from the foot of our bed.
I thoroughly enjoy playing with my children and seeing them play and interact with one another, however this occurs usually with a stack of pillows or blankets they’ve pulled out of their beds–very few “things” are required to enjoy this time together.  I will never wish away time, but I will also never miss the feeling of stepping on a hot wheels car in my bare feet either.

Annah’s girl

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The memories of my grandma Mary are all good ones.  She was the kind of Grandma who let you get into all her stuff and act as if it’s your own.  She played with us, read to us, danced and sang with us.  She was one of the true gifts of my childhood.
A few weeks ago, Cory and I spent hours in the kitchen blanching, peeling, slicing and packing peaches in Mary Pentello’s memory.  I followed along to the same steps she had referenced many years ago in her own cookbook.  No doubt, things have markedly changed since she stood at her kitchen counter, and I can’t remember my Grandpa Roger pitching in to boil lids or cold pack a peach.  However, she loved doing it and loved sharing them.  The rows of peaches we now, temporarily, have on our dining room table signify the little things in life that might have a big impact on a family.
I see myself and Mary in my mom and Lily.  Don’t get me wrong, all three of our children are close to her, and for good reason, but Lily has an affinity for her “Annah” that verges on idyllic worship.
When my Grandma Mary passed I was in the seventh grade and completely caught off guard.  I lost my buddy, my safe harbor who made all things fun, all the moments meaningful.  Now, I feel reminded of that love every time I see my mom with our children.  Their relationship with her is constant, solid and the memories they have made so far will carry them throughout their lifetimes.  She takes time for them and, usually let’s them do a thing or two that I might balk at–she is exactly the notion of what a grandma is meant to be.  I hope they always carry her with them as I carry my Grandma Mary with me.

Folly Beach 2011

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This year at Folly Beach we had the pleasure of sharing vacation with all of our family, including Cory’s sisters and their families, our parents, and friends.  It was awesome–best vacation so far and we all can’t wait to do it again next year.
Our nieces Libby and Emery got to experience the ocean for the very first time, Fisher and Michael played Star Wars and Legos, Ella loved playing in the surf with her cousins Paris and Jill.  Lily got to celebrate her 2nd birthday with everyone and even acquired two brand new baby dolls :).  We shared dinners and enjoyed each others company every day between beach, pool and condo.  We shared laughs when the grown-ups got a night out for karaoke at the local bar.  Best of all, we shared memories that will keep us sane until our next vacation!  FB 2012, here we come!!!

A singer, a talker, a pumpkin pie baker.

A singer, a talker, a pumpkin pie baker.

If you get the opportunity to spend 15 minutes with our son, you’ll know his favorite song, his favorite train, as well as his favorite book.  What you will also learn is that he is as equally interested in learning about your favorites too.
When his neighbor friend came over to play a couple of weeks back, he desperately tried to spark a conversation with a “how are you doing today?”  When this didn’t get a response, his eyes shifted to the band-aid on the bottom of his friend’s foot so he logically asked, “how’s your foot feeling?”  It’s a profound little thing the way Michael engages and gets to know the people who are close to him.  In the morning he will thoughtfully ask, “how was your sleep?”  When we eat, he asks if we like our dinner, (wouldn’t want his efforts in the kitchen to go unvalidated 🙂 if there is an opportunity  for a moment of silence, he’ll ask what we are thinking about.
Cory is his “best dude” and I am his “best girl”, although Ella and Lily get the Michael love too when he hugs them sweetly and calls them his “best”.  He wants to know how our work days went and tells us to drive safe when we leave the house for something.  He also gave his Grandma Theresa some unwarranted bowling advice over the weekend.  On the phone he ends with a “have a nice day, I luz you”.  After he complimented my girlfriend on her jeans and asked her where she got them, she started calling him The Mayor.  A uniquely considerate 2 year-old is he.
A few nights ago after a hectic evening filled with lots of whining and neediness, I quietly, but quickly dressed him after a bath.  The silence broke when Michael asked, “mom, what you nervous about?”
Remember the adage, nothing gets by a kid?  It turns out to be true.