Dinner tonight – Vietnamese noodle bowl

I took Brett to his first Vietnamese restaurant in 2003, and he was hooked. Our favorite menu item is “bun” which is a noodle bowl, nothing involving a bun. This seems fairly straightforward – some kind of grilled meat or tofu on rice noodles, but the magic is in the sauce. Sweet, tangy, spicy.

A few years ago, I was able to track down a good recipe from an unexpected source. Emeril Lagasse – BAM – apparently makes a lot of Vietnamese food. So I’ve been making his sauce for years with a couple alterations. This link is to his sauce on the Food Network, here’s my version:

Nuoc Cham Sauce

  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 c. rice vinegar (or whatever you have on hand)
  • 1/4 c. fish sauce
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. shredded carrot

Combine all ingredients in a glass container and mix until sugar is dissolved.

The noodle bowls are good with meat, but I usually just do tofu because it’s a great blank canvas for the yumminess of the sauce. I get vermicelli noodles from the Asian foods section (also where you can find the fish sauce).

I topped the cooked noodles with some stir-fried tofu, cilantro and green onions, and plenty of the magic sauce. For Hannah, I just mixed some noodles with shredded carrots and topped with tofu. She ate half the tofu and liked playing with the noodles, then we gave her the leftover cheeseburger from lunch.

This is fun to do for a “homemade take-out” night or just something to mix up the menu plan.  And it was a great, light dinner after stuffing myself with a double cheeseburger and french fries for lunch.

Oven cleaning semi-fail

My oven glass has been bugging me for a while. Especially since Hannah loves to turn the light on and check out what I’m baking. We could barely even see what was in there!

I tried every cleaning product I own – I even used Bon Ami. This resulted in a minuscule amount of improvement. Then I found a blog post on this specific topic – Cleaning Oven Glass. I decided it was worth a shot.


With the baking soda paste on

After 15 minutes, it looked pretty much just like before; I forgot to take a picture. Barely noticeable difference. Fail.

Then Brett took pity on me and wanted to show off his manly scrubbing skills, so he volunteered to give it some more elbow grease. The baking soda paste may have loosened up some of the grime, but I think it was the extra intense scrubbing that made real headway.

Much better! Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of baked-on brown-ness. Any tips on getting this truly clean?

Dinner tonight – Chili dogs

It’s a winter picnic. Chili dogs, potato salad and brussels sprouts (like winter coleslaw?). We had our favorite Hebrew National hot dogs covered in vegetarian chili. For the potato salad, I did “baked” potatoes in the microwave, let them cool, peeled and sliced them, then tossed them with mayo (we get the olive oil kind), sour cream, green onions and some spices.

The chili is an easy way to stretch a pack of hot dogs. When one hot dog may not usually fill you up, one hot dog (on a wheat bun) under a mound of chili will probably do the trick.

Vegetarian Chili

  • 2 c. pinto beans (or one can)
  • 2 c. black beans (or one can)
  • half a jar of salsa
  • 2 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 14 oz. can tomato sauce

Everything goes in the Crock Pot for several hours. The end. Super easy. Healthy, too, except I put some nacho cheese on the top. I did get Newman’s Own “All Natural” nacho cheese, but sorry, Paul, that stuff is not exactly health food. (by the way, “all natural” is an unregulated marketing term that can basically be slapped on any product, including ones with high fructose corn syrup, but that’s a post for another time)

For the brussels sprouts I tried this recipe entitled The Very Best Brussels Sprouts Ever. How could I not try it with a title like that? It was really easy and seriously good. I don’t know if they’re the best; I think they’re tied with roasting. The recipe says 4-5 hours on low, but they were done after 2 1/2 and got a little mushy, so if you try it (and you should!) cut the cooking time way down.

And that was dinner!

New additions/editions

I love books. Duh. I have an English degree.

I don’t really like to read books unless I can finish them in one day. So I don’t start unless I know I have enough time to completely devour it. Some big ones take me longer; it took me five days to get through the four Twilight books.

With great excitement, I have added these new volumes to my collection in the past few weeks.

Some were Christmas and birthday presents; one is for Brett. I recently discovered that numerous books from our childhood favorite author Gladys Malvern were republished in 2011 after being out of print for decades. My mom got several for my sister and me, and we’ll read them then exchange.

I’ve been keeping a book wish list for a while, so I decided to use some of my Christmas money to get some. (side note: I don’t buy books that are available at the library, that’s a waste) Two of these books were published within the last two months, so I purchased them new, my only option. I was able to find used copies online of the rest of them, using Amazon and half.com. Buying used, I was able to save at least $3 on each book.

Buying used is the “greener” option as well as the cheaper option. And I had a nice surprise when looking at the list of my used book sellers. All were Goodwill operations from various parts of the country. So I was being green, saving money and supporting a non-profit that supplies valuable job opportunities. Cool how that worked out.

Yes, we have a Half Price Books store, but I’ve found that’s only a good resource when I’m randomly browsing for a general topic. When I go to look for a specific book, they rarely have what I’m wanting. And browsing just doesn’t work with a two-year-old, anyway, so online was the way to go in this case.

Anyway, now I’ve got a lot on my reading list. Four down so far. Hannah loves the preschool devotions book. Can’t wait to tackle the rest. Maybe I should give myself a couple days to catch up on housekeeping, though.

Things that disappear

It seems like we have a black hole in our house. Several categories in particular have a high rate of disappearance.

Hannah’s socks – I’m constantly buying more because I can never find any. I can ransack the house and find ONE of each pair but rarely a matching set. Most days, Hannah is not wearing matching socks. Then eventually they’re gone altogether. They’re not disappearing in the wash because I have a washable zipper bag that I put them in. Where are they going?

Cat toys – Of course she bats them around the house and they slide under furniture and in weird places. But, in our old apartment, we noticed two particular hedgehog toys missing, and we always said, “We’ll find them when we move.” Then we moved, and we never found them.

Plastic-ware lids – It’s just the lids disappearing, not the containers. Somehow I ended up with six of a particular size and only two lids that fit. This doesn’t work well for me.

My sister is coming soon to help me organize and de-clutter. Maybe some of the renegade items will turn up as we go through stuff. I want to track them down, because semi-useful things make me feel wasteful. Despite my best search efforts, I keep buying more socks even though there must be perfectly wearable socks somewhere in my house. And I don’t want to buy new plastic-ware just because 70% of the lids have disappeared. But they lose a lot of their usefulness when there’s no lid. “Here, Brett, I packed you some spaghetti for lunch, but be sure to hold it upright and cover the top with your hand.”

Maybe I have Borrowers! But that’s a strange assortment of items for them to be taking.

Miss America misses the mark

I love watching the Miss America pageant. I look at the pictures ahead of time and pick who I think will win, and I have correctly named three of the last five winners. Brett won this year (oooops, I just outed him for watching with me).

I love the glamor of the evening gowns, the ridiculously high heels and the anticipation that someone will say something truly dreadful in the interview round (please click on that, please please please). Anyway, it’s decent Saturday night entertainment.

But the messages I noticed this year were not so entertaining. In a pre-taped interview, Miss California said, “The job of Miss America is to be sexy and inspire young girls.” Seriously? Please keep Miss California away from my kid.

Then one of the co-hosts said on stage, “These women will go on to become successful in the most important careers – lawyers, doctors, maybe president! They will really make a difference in our future.” That’s nice, but guess what, there isn’t going to be much of a future unless some of these ladies become mothers.

Oh wait, that’s not cool. That’s not glamorous.

I know the Miss America pageant has been criticized in the past for supposedly sending the message to girls that beauty is all that matters. I’d like to complain that the current message seems to be that career success (preferably in a high-profile job with a big paycheck) is all that matters.

This isn’t a new message, and maybe it doesn’t matter because I forecast that more of those women on stage will become mothers than doctors, but it would just be nice to hear someone say on TV, “These women will really make a difference in the world – they’ll become doctors, teachers and moms!


Photo credit

Doll diaper project

I like little crafty projects that I can knock out in less than an hour with scraps I have lying around. Plus, I like crafts that are useful, not just clutter. As I was lost in the clicky-linky-magic that is the blog world, I found a tutorial on DIY doll diapers. I had all the materials on hand, and I knew Hannah would enjoy the product.

She loves to play with her baby dolls, and she tries to put her size 5 diapers on them which doesn’t work very well. These little ones with velcro seemed worth a shot.

If you have a little girl in your house, check out the tutorial because the instructions and pictures were good, and it was a fun evening project. I made two in less than an hour.

Yes, I should have checked the right-side-upness of the birds before cutting the second one. But otherwise, they turned out really cute, and Hannah is enjoying easy doll diapers that fit.

Why we eat what we eat (WWEWWE)

When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. ‘Hey, ladies,’ it said to us, ‘go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.’ They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply. . . . But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families’ tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.

Now I don’t make my own bread (yet) and I have honestly embraced the minivan, but I heartily agree that women made a destructive choice to punt the kitchen duties in favor of convenience and “progressiveness.”

Lest anyone think this is some sort of ultra-conservative, repressed, homemaking drivel, the quote above is actually from author Barbara Kingsolver who happens to be a liberal, feminist atheist.

In the past few years, we developed a personal family food plan based on our priorities, and when I started clicking around to blogs, I found others that shared this foodstyle, and they called it “Real Food.” Basically, this means “whole foods” – foods that grow and occur naturally and can be bought in their original form or as close as possible. This eliminates most processed foods, things with artificial sweeteners, most preservatives, and ingredients that were created in a laboratory.

Real foods take a little more preparation time since you are starting with the actual ingredients instead of a processed head-start from a box. Homemade macaroni and cheese takes about 45 minutes for me to make, the stuff in the blue box takes around 15. But I can tell you exactly what’s in mine, and I can’t pronounce a lot of things on the box (though I can pronounce Yellow 6). Oh yeah, and mine tastes better.

I certainly do not proclaim myself any kind of food expert or nutritionist, but in some following posts I’ll outline several of our intentional food goals and what that looks like on a practical level. I’m also going to have some guest posts by my awesome mom who shaped the way I look at food.

In July, Brett and I will be attending a conference in San Antonio entitled “The Reformation of Food and the Family.” We are excited to learn more about food choices and hospitality in the context of a Christian family. So I’ve got food on the brain! Stay tuned for more of Why We Eat What We Eat (WWEWWE) and more food topics in the next month.

Worth reading

Good stuff on the web lately:

Naming God’s Gifts – Doorposts of Your House – “We have a black cat that we have never named … I thought of that black cat today when I read a quote from C. S. Lewis: Now, in the Bible a name . . . reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God. To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it.”

Don’t Carpe Diem – Momastery – “Every time I’m out with my kids – this seems to happen: An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, ‘Oh– Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast.’ Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc. I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me.”

10 Ways to Re-purpose Old T-shirts – Frugally Sustainable – “T-shirts, t-shirts everywhere! You have them lying on the floors, hanging in your closet, and stuffed into your drawers. Now, all that clutter is starting to irritate you! But wait…don’t throw them out…because with these 10 super easy tutorials you can repurpose those old t-shirts into useful everyday items.”

Quiche CupsCutting Back Kitchen – “I discovered these delicious quiche cups! Not only are they quite tasty, but freeze wonderfully, and are low in calories.  It’s so nice to have a healthy breakfast on the go!  Just warm them up and top with a little green tobasco sauce!!”

50 Tips for Saving on GroceriesFrugally Sustainable – “As is the case with most growing families, we go through an awful lot of food. In fact, behind the mortgage and transportation costs (car and gas) groceries can be one of our biggest regular monthly expenses. I have a feeling that this may be the case for many of you too. So today I want to pass on some of my most helpful money saving tips.”

5 Frugal Real Food Meal Ideas – Keeper of the Home – “Without proper planning, a whole foods diet can be more draining on your wallet than you might expect! … Here are five of my favorite meal ideas for keeping our grocery budget under control.”

An Experimental Mutiny Against ExcessJen Hatmaker – “For some time, I’ve had this feeling messing with my faith. That one when you’re trying really hard and adhering to most of the rules and checking a lot of boxes, I mean, some boxes that seem really important, legit boxes, and yet…I don’t know. Something feels wrong. The mechanism is off. The parts are not creating the whole like people said it would … A bunch of my generation, millions if you want to get nitpicky, up and left the church over it, because the template didn’t end up changing the world or even changing lives. It left us with a laundry list of behaviors but conspicuously ignored way too many elephants in the room to be taken seriously.”

Just get dancy

My newest pair of shoes! I just started taking a weekly adult ballet class. It has been 15 years since I was plié-ing, so I was a little concerned about jumping into a 90-minute class mid-year.

My concerns were justified. I am soooo sore today. But it weirdly feels good.

The class is taught by a homeschooling mom of three who was hired by a nearby Baptist church to do their dance ministry (yeah, Baptist church with a dance ministry? what?). She teaches classes in a large room in the church’s education building; the church even purchased several free-standing barres and giant portable mirrors for her to use.

The other three students in my intermediate/advanced adult class are college students. So I feel a little old, even for the adult class. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

I was talking with the teacher, Meredith, at the end about why I’m excited about doing the class. She mentioned an article she read recently entitled The Best Exercise. Instead of a hot tip of the latest fitness trend, the article said the best exercise is whatever you actually enjoy doing. I think I found it.