Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dinner Dilemmas: Italian Not-Alphebet Soup and Cheesy Bread Dippers/Safeway's O Organic Vegetable Chicken Dinner

I decided to give Rachael Ray another shot. This week's Dinner Dilemmas is her recipe for

Italian Alphabet Soup & Cheesy Soup Dippers. Unfortunately, it was actually Italian Not-Alphabet Soup. Safeway apparently does not sell alphabet pasta, so I substituted orzo. I think this took away from the fun-for-kids-factor, and also made the soup very pasta heavy, thus I can't hold Rachael 100% accountable for the results.

The recipe:

1 Wedge Parmigiano Reggiano cheese with the rind on

2 Cloves garlic

2 T olive oil

1 Small onion chopped

1 Cup marinara sauce

5 Cups chicken stock

1 Cup alphabet pasta (I used orzo)

2 English muffins

2 T butter

Garlic powder

Dried Italian seasoning blend

1 Cup frozen mixed vegetables

Salt and pepper to taste

Shred 1-1.5 cups parmigiano reggiano, this is for topping your bread dippers and your soup. Trim off the rind and save it, you will put it in the soup. Rachael calls this the "secret ingredient"

Put pot over medium heat, add olive oil, and whole garlic cloves and onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and stir. Pour in chicken stock. Put lid on pot, turn heat to high and bring to boil. Once soup comes to a boil add pasta and cheese rind. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 7 minutes.

While the soup cooks, make the cheesy dippers. Spread melted butter on English muffin halves, then top with cheese a sprinkle of garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Toast English muffins until cheese melts, then cut them into 2 inch strips.

When the pasta is tender add the vegetables to the soup, season with salt & pepper. Serve in bowls with cheese sprinkled on top.

What did the judges think? As usual mixed results.

Zachary went back and forth, but ultimately gave the meal 4 stars. He indicated that he liked the soup, but he didn't care for the bread as much. He ate a good portion of dinner, so I was happy.

Evan took one look at the soup and started to cry. At first he wouldn't take a bite of the soup, however the threat of no dessert convinced him otherwise. After a few tastes he decided that the meal was worthy of two stars. He liked the bread, but did not care for the soup. Figures.

I thought the whole thing was pretty darn tasty.

Now, so as not to leave out my youngest son, he rated his own dinner. Safeways O Organics Vegetable Chicken Dinner. Judging by the empty baby food jar, I believe he would give this dish 5 stars. I am pretty sure that he felt that the food was rather one dimensional in it's flavor profile, and that the presentation was lacking, however that happens to suit a baby just fine. It looks pretty good on him too doesn't it?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sad Snow

I grew up in Wisconsin, where the winters were cold and produced real, honest-to-God snow. Snow, white and fluffy when it first fell softly under the warm glow of the street lamps. I would watch the winter wonderland come to life from my frosted bedroom window. Sitting tucked cozy in bed I could see the snowflakes fall in dizzy circles to the ground, accumulating into soft mounds, which of course would later produce treacherous frozen roads and sidewalks. There is just something fabulous about real life snow. We have all heard "White Christmas" a million times too many, but there is a reason that the song became so popular. The image of snow on Christmas evokes a lot of lovely romanticized images. Woollen hats and mittens, red noses, hot chocolate and children sledding.

There is no white Christmas in Oakland. For the most part I appreciate the lack of ice and sub-zero weather, but on Christmas, I want a little cozy. It's just not Christmas in 60 degrees with green grass.

Oakland tries, sort of. There are some holiday decorations coming up, but it all seems a little ...silly. Take for example Rockridge Snow Day. Perhaps they should have named it, Sad Day. Or Lame Day. We didn't know what to expect when we arrived to the Rockridge neighborhood. I read that there would be snow, entertainment and food. What was it? A slab of melting ice covered snow in the parking lot underneath the Bart station. The kids were milling about on the ice/snow trying to figure out what they were suppose to do. Growing up in a land where snow was plentiful, this little display was PATHETIC. Not to mention it also seemed silly to be drinking hot apple cider on an ice-tea kind of day. I also have to note that Rockridge Snow Day was home to the saddest little Santa that I have ever laid my eyes on. Not only did he lack charisma, he also looked terrible. His wig was falling off, his tummy was lumpy, it was awful. Zachary and Evan looked confused and asked me if this was the real Mr. C, and I assured them that it wasn't.

I know that I should be grateful that I no longer have to worry about the inside of my nose freezing, and I am, but I do miss my chilly holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


The trip was fantastic. It could not have been better. I'm not just saying that. Believe me, when we embarked on our little adventure I was skeptical. Our last "vacations" have not gone all that smoothly. This past May we travelled to Monterrey over Mother's Day. I was very pregnant, but I thought we could have a relaxing trip to the aquarium and beach. I was wrong. The kids behaved terribly, fighting, crying, complaining. It was exhausting. Then in August we travelled to Denver for a long weekend. While it was great to visit with friends and family, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants was just a lot of work.

But this trip was exactly what the doctor ordered. We drove to Yosemite. We packed the van as full as possible for a three night get away. It is amazing how much gear one requires when traveling with a baby and two little kids. On the way to the park we stopped in Jamestown, a little state park and an old gold mining town. We purchased candy in an old fashioned sweet shop, dressed up in miners clothing at the museum and made our own candles.

We then drove on to our "cabin" which was about an hour outside of the park. It was a spacious house with a full kitchen. Full kitchen is the key element here. As much as I love eating out, especially on vacation, with the little ones, eating in is far more relaxing.

We spent our days hiking the easiest hikes in the park, and they provided plenty of beauty and fun. The boys loved scrambling over rocks and seeing the impressive waterfalls. The fall colors were lovely, the weather was chilly yet sunny. At the highest altitude we a saw snow, spectacular sparkling white snow winking at us in the sun from the tops of the evergreens.

The evenings were spent at the cabin, grilling under a million twinkling stars. We made smores after dinner, although since we didn't have a working fireplace, they were cooked on the stove top, but melty marshmallow and chocolate? The boys didn't care how they were made. We listened to music, played cards and dealt with an occasional meltdown (yes, those happened.)

This trip could not have come at a better time on this eve of Thanksgiving. Life has been a bit trying lately, adding baby Julian to the chaos of two crazy boys, has not been easy. But getting away from the day to day helped me to focus and enjoy my family. My wonderful family. I am so thankful for all four of my boys. I am a happy lady.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Road Trip/Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Thanksgiving plans were turned upside down this year. My father and stepmother were going to visit us for the holiday, however as it turned out, dad needed back surgery and their trip was cancelled. That left us with a whole week of no plans. My husband is required to take mandatory vacation time so we decided that we might as well do something. The result? A last minute three night road trip to Yosemite. The kids are thrilled. I am looking forward to the next few days myself, but as I packed for our "get away" I was struck by the volume of STUFF we are shoving into our mini van. HOLY HELL. It takes a lot to make a "vacation" happen these days. I became aware of the sharp contrast between what a holiday meant in 2004 versus what it translates to today.

In 2004 the destination might have required a passport and our accommodations would have included a wrist band and a swim up bar. Today, we are driving 2 hours away and staying in a vacation rental where we are required to bring our own linens. Details, details.

Our packing lists are also very different.

My 2004 Suitcase:

3 Adorable bikinis.

3 brand new sundresses, purchased for the vacation.

2 little black dresses for those fancy dinners out

At least five pairs of shoes, four of which had heels

A full make up bag

1-2 new novels

A stack of trashy magazines

Tylenol (oh, the hangover!)

And today?

Fuzzy slippers

Warm jacket. (not going anyplace tropical afterall)

Flannel pants

3 Sweatshirts

Tennis shoes (no heels needed)

2 Pairs of mom jeans

10 Jars baby food

5 Bibs

Stack of coloring books.

5 Bags of groceries (No dining out. Except maybe a McDonald's run.)

2 Suitcases full of kids clothing

Dog food


Pack & Play

Double Stroller

Bag O' Hot Wheels

Bag O' Diapers

First aid kit

Portable highchair

Bouncy seat

Baseball bat, baseballs, soccer ball, football

Rain jackets and umbrellas

Tylenol (oh, the whining!)

Two very different lists, two very different trips. Do I miss my 2004 version of vacation? YES! YES! Do I hope to experience it again someday before I am 100? YES! YES!

Will this trip be awesome (if not exhausting)? I am so thankful to say-YES! Of course! I will be with my family. I am the luckiest woman in the world.

Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, Gobble!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dinner Dilemmas: Pizza Burgers

It's only week three and already, I'm losing steam with dinner dilemmas. Here is the problem. One of my critics just isn't interested. No matter what I prepare, he takes only one or two small bites before leaving the table. It's more then a little bit discouraging. I am beginning to think that the only meal he would consume a reasonable tasting portion of involves ice cream.

In any case this weeks dinner was Pizza Burgers. It is actually a variation on a dish my mom used to call Formage Burgers.


1lb ground beef

1 tsp oregano

salt & pepper

shredded mozzarella cheese


marinara sauce

Mix ground beef oregano, salt and pepper.

Form a flat hamburger patty and then place a small handful of cheese and a slice of peperoni on top, cover with another small flat patty and smoosh together. Repeat to make as many patties as you want.

Fry burgers on stove top. Top burgers with warm marinara sauce.

Zachary gave the dish 5 Stars and joined the ranks of the clean plate club.

Evan gave the dish zero stars. Surprise, surprise. I asked him why. He explained that the food was "yucky" then he asked for dessert. You can guess what happened next.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Aging

None of us live forever, certainly this is why the passing of time is such a popular topic among writers. We all marvel at how quickly the years pass, particularly after we become parents. We watch newborns turn into toddlers and then children in the blink of an eye. We see the lines appear on our own faces and wonder, when did that happen? We witness our own parents age, their bodies change, their hair grey. Unstoppable. Unstoppable. Julian is now almost six months. His first little baby tooth is pushing through. Unstoppable. Unstoppable.

It's inevitable, and perhaps that is the hardest part. Certainly for those who can afford it plastic surgery can mask the evidence, but even for them, it doesn't stop the passage of time, it doesn't truly keep one young.

Growing up in a youth obsessed culture, I admit that at age 37, I already miss my younger self. The tone in my skin and my calves. The brightness of my eyes, the whitness of my teeth, the tightness of my tummy. Aging has already left it's physical mark.

Recently I was telling a friend about my 1997 trip to London. I lived there for six months on a student visa. I lived in a one bedroom flat with my boyfriend and two other people. I was a waitress. I often spent my mornings wandering the streets, parks and museums of the city on my own. I took my time, and reported to nobody. I drank tea in cafes, had a pint in a pub, and read a book in Hyde Park on my own time. Tonight I looked back at my photo album from that time (see above pictures) and became quite nostalgic. I miss that woman. Young, free, ambitious, pretty, hard working. My whole life ahead of me.

That isn't to say that things did not turn out well. Of course they did. I married that boyfriend. We found careers, traveled, and created a beautiful family. I love my life, but I am afraid that it is passing too quickly, and my growing children remind me of that every single day.

Lately there are times when I wish that I could not only press "pause" on life, but that I could also rewind, and go back to my younger self. It's hard to see that person fade and to know that I can never, ever go back.

We all get older. If we choose to have children we proudly watch them take our places amongst the ranks of the youth. For me it brings great happiness, but also some sorrow as I begin to fully acknowledge our circle of life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Best Email. Ever.

I just received this email from a dear friend, who like me has two little boy terrors at home. I just had to share.

Subject: Pee

Are you cleaning pee of your floor and walls daily because your boys don't have aim? Do you cry because you just scrubbed the floors and 5 minutes later there is pee surrounding the toilet? I do.

Fucking Pee.

Miss you.

God I love this woman.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dinner Dilemmas-Pasta & Trees: Meh

It's time for Dinner Dilemmas once again. Before I dive into the recipe, let me first say that today was one of those days. A day when I tried really hard, and yet my efforts just did not yield the results I hoped for.

Wednesday is a "minimum day" in Oakland public schools, this means the bell rings at 1:30 instead of 2:45. I planned a play date with one of Zack's classmates as a way to pass the time. My hope was that the boys could at least partially entertain themselves.

I picked the boys up at school and served them snack once we arrived home. As soon as the last morsel of brownie was consumed the kids were looking at me as if to say "what's next?" Crud. Luckily I had prepared a holiday inspired craft, hand print turkeys. A simple project. We painted hands and left our imprints on foam. From there the idea was to decorate with markers, glitter, googly eyes and the like. The result? Zack had several meltdowns due to "mess ups," I was holding Captain No Nap, and trying to clean up paint spills with one hand. The pictures were cute, but not worth the tears...or the mess.

Now to the dinner. The recipe:

Pasta & Trees (Rachael Ray, Cooking Rocks! Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals For Kids)

1 pound broccoli tops

1 pound pasta (corkscrew)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp butter

3 cloves garlic

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup Parmesan

Separate broccoli into small trees by pulling them apart. Put broccoli florets into a pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and add 4 pinches of salt. Cook broccoli about 5 minutes. Drain.

Boil pasta water add 4 pinches of salt, add pasta. Cook until al dente.

Pour oil and butter into frying pan and heat over low heat. When butter melts add garlic and cook 5 minutes. Add broccoli to garlic.

Drain pasta and add to broccoli. Add ricotta and grated cheese and stir. Add salt and pepper.

My comments:

Just like the rest of my day... Meh. It was fine. Easy to prepare. Tasted fine. Rather bland. Perhaps perfectly kiddo-bland.

The Judges:


Three Stars. "It was okay mom" was about all I got out of my critic. He ate a good portion of it, but was not exactly licking his lips.


Evan seems a bit confused by our rating system. Like his brother he gave the dish three stars, but his comments were that "it wasn't good", and he really didn't eat much of anything. (Surprise, surprise!)

The result? Oh Rachael Ray, how I want to like you. We share the same name, you are cute and bubbly and believe in simple cooking, however this recipe was just so-so.... I spent $16.95 on your cookbook, so I will give you another shot.

So here is to a more spunky day tomorrow-better food, happier artists and a baby who naps!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

No Thanks

Dear Universe,

I am sure you thought you were doing me a giant favor by turning back the clocks and giving me an extra hour today. I can see why you might think that, however quite frankly I do not wish to accept this gift. I know, I know I should be grateful for every blessed second I get to spend with my beautiful boys, so an extra hour today should be welcomed with open arms. The problem is, I feel like I have plenty of time with my princes. To be honest, I don't need a second more of playing referee in the battle of "that's mine," "he got more," or "my super powers are stronger than your super powers."

Furthermore, by setting back the clocks you are now ensuring a week of rising before the sun, most likely around 5:30am, while the boys "adjust" to the time difference. And the afternoons? They just got longer. Now that darkness will fall during my go-to 4:00 activity (playing at the park), I will be forced to come up with a whole host of creative activities to do at home. I was strained to come up with the paper plate jack-o-lantern craft, if that tells you anything about my artistic abilities.

So great Universe, you can take back your extra hour today, I just simply have no use for it.

Best Regards,


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Kargas Inc?

Dear Kargas Inc. Team,

I know that some of you have been inspired by Occupy Oakland & Wallstreet. We understand your enthusiasm for this effort, however we have heard rumors about "Occupy Kargas Inc" and this concerns us.

As CEO of Kargas Inc, I want to make sure that you are fully informed about our financials. For starters, we are not a profitable organization, furthermore unlike most CEO's in our country I do not receive a salary, nor any bonus what-so-ever. That is correct. NO BONUS!

I also want to insure you that the senior leadership of this organization works incredibly hard. Vacation days? Zero. Sick days? Zero. Holidays? None.

And the hours? Just yesterday I was called into meetings at 12, 2 and 4:30 am. I am not afraid of hard work. Around the clock.

So please, consider the facts before you protest.

But if you must protest please follow the following guidelines:

  • Inside voices.

  • If vandalizing, please use only the Crayola washable markers.

  • Remember to practice non-violence. Usually protesters do not hit each other. There is typically no biting at rallies.

Thank you for your cooperation in these matters.

Warm Regards,


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dinner Dilemma: Sweet & Sour Baked Chicken

The boys were quite excited when I told them of their new role as official food critics. I let them know that one day a week they can tell me exactly what they think about my cooking (but they still have to eat their dinner before any dessert!)

First recipe:

Sweet & Sour Baked Chicken with Brown Rice. (recipe adapted from Better Baby Food by Daina Kalinins and Joanne Saab)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/2 cup tomato sauce

3 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1/2 cup crushed pineapple with juice

1 clove garlic, minced

cooked rice

1. Place chicken breasts in prepared casserole.

2. In small bowl, combine tomato sauce, sugar, vinegar, pineapple (with juice) and garlic; spoon over chicken. Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

3. Serve chicken and rice over cooked rice.

My Remarks:

Super, super easy, literally about five minutes of work. I actually liked the taste, it is a bit sweet, but it reminded me of the sweet and sour stuffed peppers my mom made for me as a kid. I would eat it again.

But now..... THE JUDGES.


Zachary gave the recipe FIVE STARS! He almost cleaned his plate.

Zack's comments: "I liked the chicken because of the sweet pinnapple." The heavens sing.


Evan was not so enthusiastic. He gave the dish two stars. I asked him what he liked about the dinner and he said the rice. I asked him what he didn't like about the dinner and he said the chicken, which was obvious since he ate only about two bites of it.

Evan's comments: "I didn't like the chicken. It wasn't good."

Success? Only if I am trying to feed just one child...

Dinner Dilemmas: Meet My Critics

Zachary Kargas

Food Favorites: Peperoni pizza, peanut butter and jelly, bean & cheese burritos, cheeseburgers (hold the bun), fruit, all sweets.

Dislikes: Most casseroles, pigs in a blanket, spicy food, Chinese food, pizza without peperoni, bananas, eggs, salad.


Do you think that mommy is a good cook? Sort of.

What is the best thing she ever cooked for you? Bean and cheese burrito.

What is the worst thing she ever cooked for you? Those roll up things with the ham.

What do you wish mommy would cook more of? Bean and cheese burritos.

What is your favorite restaurant? Subway.

Why? Because they have good sandwiches and Cheetos.

Evan Kargas

Food Favorites: Macaroni & Cheese, fruit, macaroni & cheese, PB&J, goldfish crackers, cereal, macaroni & cheese, milk, yogurt covered raisins and did I mention macaroni & cheese?

Dislikes: Eggs, meat, the crust part of pizza (which means anything under the cheese), pickles, tomatoes, bananas, burritos, chicken, fried rice.


Do you think that mommy is a good cook? Um..... yeah.

What is the best thing that she ever made for you? A corn dog.

What is the worst thing that she ever made for you? Spaghetti.

What do you wish she would cook more of? Subway.

What is your favorite restaurant? Subway.

Why? They have prizes and cookies.

So there you have it folks. I have some tough cookies to impress.

How I will be rated:

We will use a star rating system.

* Yuck!

** Not very good

*** OK

**** Pretty darn good

***** AWESOME!

First recipe is coming up tomorrow, stay tuned!