Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oceans and Mountains

Our little family went to St. George Island last week to get away and relax.

I was worried about how Amelia would do traveling and how she would like the beach.  She did really well in the car, however, and she really enjoyed the beach!

I love St. George.  It's a part of what is called the "forgotten coast," and it isn't as crowded or noisy as other beaches.  It's for people who just want to enjoy the sun, sand, and the ocean. St. George is the perfect place to curl up with a book (or two...or three).  The state park is especially nice - you can enjoy a whole chunk of the beach to yourself.

The beach situation worked out really well for me.  Jeremy and I would play with Amelia for a few hours and then she would go inside for lunch and a nap.  While Amelia napped, Jeremy stayed inside with her.  That meant that I had the beach and a book to myself.  The few hours of solitude and waves were just what I needed.  Heaven.

And, due in part to my Native American ancestry (if you don't believe me you should see my grandmother), I got a little darker.  I'm not really interested in getting tan anymore - I'm too concerned with the plight of wrinkles and skin cancer - but I got a little sun to abate my pastiness.  Poor Jeremy, however, spent a couple of hours in the sun to find himself miserably burned and red beyond imagination, even though we put sunblock on him.  The worst part of the trip was probably his sunburn (well, that or our dirty beach house..ugh).
He's wearing the long-sleeved t-shirt here for a reason.

We had fun building sandcastles (that Amelia destroyed), playing in the waves, and walking down the beach.  At nighttime, Amelia and I would walk into "downtown" St. George, which consists of a few restaurants and shops.  We got ice cream one night at the famous Aunt Ebby's, did a little shopping, and enjoyed the sun setting gloriously over the bay behind the island.  I honestly enjoyed our nighttime walks just as much as I enjoyed our daytime beach activities.

Like all good things, our trip came to an end before we knew it.  I do enjoy the beach, but I'm definitely a Georgia girl at heart.  The night of our return, we headed to Dahlonega to grab a bite to eat.  After we crossed over the big bend with the "Welcome to Dahlonega" sign, I saw the amazing Blue Ridge Mountains.  Their beauty just called to me.  It spoke of home.  There's just something so earthy and almost mystical about where I live...I enjoy the beach, but I belong near the mountains.

I'm thankful for our trip, glad to be home, and enjoying the last few days of my summer.  Time is running quickly through this sieve of life, and my summer will soon be over.  In the midst of oceans and mountains, however, I've been able to get some wonderful rest, and I'm grateful for it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Falling Action

Summer, very quietly, will come to a close soon.  The heat may not go away for some time, but the work will slowly maneuver its way back into my life, filling my hands with papers, my time with the newness of school, and my mind with all the preoccupation that comes with my...well, my occupation.

Very soon, I will go back to being a working mother.

And it is this time, this upcoming dusk that is approaching, when I start to ache, when I start to see the full scope of what I miss when I don't have this precious gift of time. 

People told me when I was pregnant that I would not get any sleep, they told me that I would have a hard time, and my own mother told me that my child would probably be as crazy as I am (she's right), but no one ever really and fully explained the ache.

It's the ache of missing your child - even if she's just gone for a few hours.  It's the ache of seeing her bloom and grow.  There's such conflict and bittersweet feelings attached to watching her grow - I feel so proud to see her progress, but so sad to know she's moving, inch by inch, away from being little.  It's the ache of hearing her say, "byyyye," and "nigh-nigh!"  at the end of each summer night, knowing that I'm one day closer to summer's close. 

And oddly, I'm taking on the philosophy a biscuit at this stage of life.  I'm determined to sop up all the goodness that I can while I still have it with me.  I want to enjoy this summer with my baby girl while I still have the time.  Because soon, I'll be back at work, and our long, lazy summer days will be gone before both of us know it.

I've got a special girl.  I might tell you she's destructive (true) and crazy (yup), but she's beautiful, outgoing, silly, funny, sweet and absolutely wonderful.  I'm so blessed to have her.

"And somewhere past the quiet/
I think I heard you growing up/
And I, well I don’t think I’ll ever be the same" - Bebo Norman

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chicken Fried Rice

I do not profess to be a Japanese steakhouse chef.  Those chefs make some awfully mean and pretty incredible fried rice. But, this is one recipe I've been making for years and I feel like I've gotten close to a yummy fried rice that comes close to the stuff you'd find in a restaurant.  I feel like restaurant rice is "slicker" than homemade, and that mine is definitely more "sticky," but I attribute that to the GOBS AND GOBS OF BUTTER in restaurant rice.

That being said, this is my version of chicken fried rice.  Jeremy loves it.  It is probably his favorite thing that I cook.  Amelia loves it, too - although it can get pretty messy for a toddler.  Amelia had to run through the sprinkler after her encounter with the fried rice...heh.

This fried rice isn't difficult to make, but it does require a bunch of ingredients.  I will say that once you have some of these specialty items (rice wine vinegar, etc), they'll last you for a long time and that you can make relatively inexpensive chicken fried rice after you've gotten the stuff to make it.

I make the chicken separately from the rice because I want to actually taste the chicken I'm making.  I think that's important.  For what it's worth, you could take the chicken recipe, make up some extra "sauce" on the side, add some corn starch to it, and serve it with some broccoli on top of some steamed rice.  It'd be pretty close to the Ginger Chicken with Broccoli I've seen at some restaurants. 

Fresh ginger makes this.  If you omit anything, please don't omit the fresh ginger.  It's cheap, easy to grate, and adds so much flavor.  I also add more soy sauce, because I eat an unhealthy amount of it.  It is soooo good.

I keep my rice pretty basic, because I live with my hubby, who is a Mr. Picky Pants.  I like veggies and would include lots of them (snap peas, carrots, broccoli)  if I was making this for veggie eaters...but, alas...
Chicken Fried Rice
Serves 4

For the "ginger" chicken marinade:
3-4 chicken breasts, sliced thin
2 tablespoons, fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons (or more, if desired), brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon, rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon, sesame oil
Dash of garlic powder

Place all ingredients into a bowl and marinate for at least one hour.

For the fried rice:
4 servings, "al denti" rice (you can make instant, regular..white, brown - whatever)
2 tablespoons, sesame oil
2 eggs
3 cloves, garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon, fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon, crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons, butter
1 teaspoon, toasted sesame seeds
two or three dashes of rice wine vinegar (about a teaspoon)

several dashes of soy sauce (to taste - two or three tablespoons)
pepper, to taste (No salt!  You will regret it!)

Heat up a wok or a large pan.  Drizzle a little sesame oil in the pan (you will know the pan is hot because the oil will literally "move" in the pan).  Saute the chicken pieces in the pan until brown on both sides.  Remove the chicken from the pan.

Add another drizzle of sesame oil to your pan.  Scramble the eggs and cook them in your pan.  While the eggs are still soft, add in the rice, shallot, ginger, and garlic.  Add the soy sauce to the mixture and toss the fried rice around gently (as to not break up the rice too much).  Once your shallots and garlic are translucent and cook through, add in the red pepper flakes and the butter.  Once the butter has melted, add the chicken back in to the mixture and toss lightly.  Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

This picture makes me hungry.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Peaches 'N Cream Oatmeal - the Real Stuff

A lot of people don't really like oatmeal.  I blame this on those little packages.

Remember those little packets of oatmeal called "peaches 'n cream?"

I do.  I still eat them when I'm at school.  There, I'm forced to succumb to (mostly) quick and convenient eating habits.

Those little artificially-flavored boogers don't really taste like peaches.  Or cream.

But this does!

I had a small portion of rolled oats leftover from making strudel bars and granola, and I had some fresh peaches, so I thought I would give the old Quaker a run for his money with some real stuff.

I cooked my oats separately from my peaches.  I sauteed my peaches in a mixture of brown sugar and honey.  Then, I added my peach mixture to my oatmeal, added in some cinnamon...and topped it with some whipped cream.

Yes, I did it.  Beto, my Zumba Master, will not be happy with me.

Because, honestly - what is peaches 'n cream oatmeal without cream?

Amelia and I loved this.  I made the "one serving" portion on the back of the oatmeal package, but it'll easily make two servings (it'll make even more servings if you're serving it as a part of a big breakfast) or more.    Amelia and I will probably have enough left tomorrow for one of us.  I've found this with grits, too - the serving for grits and oatmeal is huge - I can make a whole casserole with two cups of grits.

This is real oatmeal - and I think you'll find the texture and taste much better than that of the little packages.  The little packages will do when you're in a hurry or working a job, but this is great for a Saturday morning or a happy holiday. 

Here's the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it!

Real Peaches 'N Cream Oatmeal

1 cup, rolled oats (not instant)
1 3/4 cups, milk
2 peaches, pitted and sliced into small cubes
1/3 cup, brown sugar
2 tablespoons, honey (or agave nectar)
1 teaspoon, cinnamon
1 teaspoon, vanilla extract
whipped cream (optional, yet necessary)


Cook one serving of oatmeal according to the package directions (usually one cup of oats and 1 3/4 cup of milk).  Add a splash of milk or more while it is cooking if the mixture tastes underdone and you are running out of liquid.

As oats are cooking, saute your peaches with the brown sugar on medium heat in a small saucepan.  Once the brown sugar melts down, add in one tablespoon of honey.  Cook the peaches until they start to brown a little on the edges and "puff up" and absorb the sugar mixture, about five minutes.  Once the peaches are done, lower the heat on the peaches to and allow them to simmer while the oatmeal finishes.  Add in your teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Once the oatmeal has finished cooking (it will take 6-10 minutes), add the peach mixture.  Add in the cinnamon.  Top with a large dollop of whipped cream, and stir the mixture in.

Serve and top with a drizzle of honey if desired.  
The final product...with the cream added.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Wat id dat?"

See this book?

About two years ago, when I was nine months pregnant and insanely hormonal, a sweet college-aged kid came to my door selling these books to help him with his tuition.

"These books are, like, really cool," he said.  "And they hold up really well.  I mean, I think they're awesome."  He gave a nervous, semi-surfer dude laugh while showing them off. 

I took a few books from him and started scanning.  What struck me about them was that I had the same books when I was a child.  As I flipped through the books, I remembered the words and pictures.  These books didn't have a lot of frills.  They had basic, yet memorable pictures.  For some reason, I just thought it would be "awesome" to have Amelia read the books from my childhood.  I loved them.

I bought the whole set.  The college kid was so excited.  When Jeremy came home, his eyes popped out of his head when he saw the bill.

"These are educational books," I told Jeremy.  "They'll help Amelia."  I also thought to myself that they'd help  that nice college kid earn a little money for his tuition.  It takes guts to sell stuff to complete strangers.

Since Amelia was born, she and I have been reading through our little collection of these books.  We mostly read the number, shape, and color books.  (I'm holding off on the child dictionary until she gets a little older.)

And, as many of you know, Amelia's saying of choice has always been, "Wat id dat?" when asking questions.

Our reading of the books usually went like this:

She'd point to a lime.  "Wat id dat?"

"It's a lime.  Limes are green," I would reply.

She'd point to a heart. "Wat id dat?" 

"It's a heart.  Hearts are red," I would reply.

I'd work with her on the little page that introduces all the colors.  She'd point to all the little swatches of color and say, "Watiddatwatiddatwatiddatwatiddat?"  Then, I calmly told her the colors.

If you can't tell, the "wat id dat?" process went on for a long time.  And this process was frustrating. 

For the past few weeks, I was discouraged.  I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere with Amelia.  I'm a teacher, for goodness sake.  I just felt like I needed to have Amelia actually point to something and say what it was instead of "wat id dat?"  I knew (and know) she's young, but I just felt like we weren't making the kind of progress we needed to make.

Last Sunday before church, Amelia brought in her color book to the bathroom while Jeremy and I were getting ready.  She opened it up to some of the pages she hasn't destroyed (she loooooooves her books - but she still retains the title of Baby Destructo, regardless of her desire to read them). 

She turned the book to the "blue" page and pointed to the blue splash of paint.

"Wat id dat?  Booo!"  she said.

She turned the next page to the "green" page.

"Wat id dat?  Geeeen!" she said.

She turned the page to the "yellow" page (well, what's left of it).

"Wat id dat?  Yeh-ohhh!"

Yes, people.  My child was answering herself.  It was as if a light switch turned on...as if someone told her  she could answer her own questions.

Breakthrough.  We had a breakthrough.

I got so excited.  I stopped in mid-primp, carried her to my bed, and sat down with her, anxious to see what she knew.  She got excited seeing me excited.  She flipped back through the book, laughing and smiling at me as I rejoiced over her correct answers.

Amelia knows most of her colors, a few of her letters, a few numbers, and she names all sorts of animals (she even attempts the noises).  Turns out, her daddy has been working with her, too.  When they go upstairs to play, he's taken the time to teach her all the animals.  Her favorite thing right now is to say, "Cow!  Mooooo!"

All of this to say, I'm thankful that college kid knocked on my door.  I'm thankful for these simple, yet uber-helpful books.  I'm thankful that Amelia had her first big "learning" moment.  Of course, I'm also thankful for Amelia's Daddy, who wants her to learn as much as I do.

There are still goals to accomplish and things I want Amelia to learn (of course - I guess that's a given), but I feel better knowing that we're making progress.

PS  Think this company has books for fractions?  I'm going to need some help in a few years.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So Thankful

I'm so thankful that I have friends.  I mean, aren't we all thankful for that?

In turn, I'm thankful that that my friends have kids who are friends with Amelia.

Amelia has a great little group of friends.  I hope they'll all be lifelong pals.

(Picture stolen from Kathi.)