Your Monthly Update, WhamBamCram SAJ style

I don’t know if you know this but every month I try to make a new banner for my blog. This is silly since I rarely ever post here any more but I continue to attempt to do so because it’s a good exercise for me illustratively and it comes in handy when I make up my yearly SAJ calendar (that I really need to get a hop on right about now.) I updated my banner and I wanted to show it off on instagram but I had this really old moldy Japan post up! That means it’s time to blog. And what do you blog about when you haven’t blogged in a month? A mish-mash catch up of instagram photos of course.
back-from-japanLet’s see… what happened in the month of October. I came back from Japan. It was great when I first came back with the dregs of jet lag still hanging on. For about two days I was not a morning person and I could stay up until midnight watching tv. That was fun. While it lasted.

The girls loved all the presents I brought back for them. They’ve worn their costumes for days on end, as costumes and as pajamas. I wish I had bought more yukatas. Isn’t that how it always is? When you’re in another country you feel bad spending so much money on souvineers and wasting all your time shopping but when you get back you wish you had gotten three times as much as you did! Oh well. I guess that’s what makes imports so special.

25th-Reunion-Bust

The weekend after I got back from Japan I attended my 25th high school reunion and it was a big ol’ bust. But it was fun to spend a weekend in Palm Springs with my main man. I was looking forward to showing him off to all my old classmates but only 15 of them showed up. It was fun still. Not worth what I paid for in tickets and dinner and a hotel room but oh, well.

And THEN! the next morning I woke up to a cockroach on my pillow. I kid you not. Four inches from my head a small brown beetle stared me back in the face, his antennae wiggling as if to say hi, good morning, welcome to the desert! This was not the romantic luxurious morning I had planned, especially since it happened at 7am. So we packed our bags in a dramatic rush and checked out. They comped us our room, which was nice but I’m not too excited to stay in JW Merriot any time soon.

kids-will-be-kids

Then back home to a week of single-parenting! Payam had a business trip for a week in the bay area and I was on my own. How did I do it? Of course one kid is easier than two but I swear it’s my kid who wore me out the most. It was drama drama drama with these two. Nothing too terrible just constant bickering and challenging me on every decision I ever made. I can say that I’m glad there is no real underdog in this group. They both stick up for themselves loud and clear. No kid is getting ignored in this family!

pumpkin-patch-2015

We made the most of our time though. We hit not one but TWO pumpkin patches and then ice skating too when Payam got back. Boy was I glad to see him. I underestimate how much of a support he is in just handling decisions alone. I love my kids and I love parenting but it’s sooo nice to have someone else back you up once in a while. I didn’t realize how mentally exhausted I was until he got back and I could just sit and let him answer all the questions for a minute or thirty.

coloring-for-days

Then it was mettaprints coloring week. We landed a big job for candy company and part of their display included our 3-D snowflakes and christmas trees but they didn’t like the white edges. So for a price we manually colored every single edge with black marker pen. For days and days and days and days. I am now officially an expert at coloring gator board with marker pen. Too bad I’ll never need this skill again because we are never taking on a job like this again, ever!! It was a pain in the butt! It’s pretty impossible to color edges black without screwing up. I had to have a crew to help me. We colored for days. Fumes were inhaled.

Please keep your eyes out for these displays if you live in Chicago or New York. I’m anxious to see how they turned out.

done-with-csa

How goes it with the CSA boxes you ask? It doesn’t! I am officially over CSA. I joined because I thought I would get the best of the best produce in a box monthly, forcing me to eat and cook more healthily. I thought it would be local and fresh and challenging. It was all of the above BUT not so fresh! The last straw was last months beets. I love beets but these were not sweet and I’m tired of getting old beat up produce. I have a feeling that instead of giving CSA members the best they box up what won’t sell and get rid of it that way. I’m sorely disappointed. It could have been such a great thing. So instead I’m saving up my $22 and forcing myself to spend it at the Farmer’s Market on what I want instead. Bah Humbug.
halloween-catchup

I hate posting old pictures of holidays past but I just can’t be one of those bloggers that posts things ahead of when they happen. That’s too much like work and I do that over on Alphamom instead. Which went OFF this month, by the way.

Merengue spidersEmpire State Building and the Chrysler Building costumes! The Space Needle AND The TransAmerica Building costumes. AND skull planters for succulents! It was a busy month. I do love this time of year though even if I don’t love spooky things that much.

I made some bat garlands and some spooky trees for mettaprints. We used them for the school Halloween parade and that turned out pretty well. I’ll probably package them up and put them in our Etsy shop for next year.

day-o-the-dead

Of course I can’t leave out my Day of the Dead costume. This was a really fun, though not-so-original, costume. It was challenging and fun to do my make-up but it took entirely too long and we were so late to a Halloween Party at a friends house that I had no time to take proper pictures! Isn’t it frustrating when real life gets in the way of all this documenting we need to do?  Bloggers, man. It’s a tough job.

We dressed up for two nights. The first night (a school parade event) Bug went as a pineapple which I thought was really really cute but she refused to let me do her hair up on the top of her head like a spikey pineapple. Nope. She wanted it down, hippie style, sprayed green. We went around and around arguing about it but she was stubborn. In the end, I called her dad and even he got in on the argument and we all decided together to let her have her creative license even though it MADE NO SENSE. That’s what happens when you have a family of creative people. Sometimes they don’t agree on their creative vision and you have to respect it even though IT MAKES NO SENSE!

She went as a sad spike-less pineapple. We painted a yellow shirt with pineapple texture and she wore her pineapple shorts over some neon orange leggings. Just like I predicted, nobody knew what she was because she had no pineapple top so the next night (actual Halloween) she dressed us as a cute wolf and was adorable and got all the candy in the world.

Moral of the story: Listen to your mom. But all in all, I’m glad that she had a vision and she executed it in the fashion that she wanted. I love that she has a strong vision and follows it even if it isn’t entirely successful. Pineapples have been her thing for a few months now. She has two pairs of pineapple shorts and Payam even bought some pineapple socks for himself just to make her day. It’s cute and funny.

However, I am the pinterest queen and I’ve been following this pineapple trend for a while now. I predict llamas are next. They’ve been showing up for a few years now but I think winter 2015 is going to be the winter of the llama. And that is why I have a llama in my November banner. Now you know.

cat-drama-rama

Oh, the cat drama! I almost forgot about it even though while I’ve been typing this, one cat has ran over my laptop three times and successfully typed the number 8 across my screen while yowling and trying to kill the other cat who she can see through the window on the other side of my desk.

Here’s the nitty gritty: The cats are NOT getting along. Still.

While I was in Japan, Payam set up a baby gate between the girls hallway and the rest of the house. This has sort of kept my cats on the girl’s room side and his kitten, Lucy, safe on the other. The reason for the gate is the three am chase-Lucy-to-the-death all-out brawls that have been going on. They play nice in the daytime, everyone sleeps peacefully in their spots but then when all the people are  asleep, the cats all suddenly get wild hairs up their butts and think they have to have World War Three. It’s been bloody and blood-curdling. We tried all the tricks. The smelly plug-in thing with the special cat pheromones that are supposed to keep them calm, cat trees and cat boxes in every room…it’s all a bunch of bunk. These cats will NEVER get along!!!!

The baby gate worked for a while but Aqui figured out that she could jump over it. At three in the morning of course. So now we have a schedule. Aqui gets to be an outside cat during the day (which she loves) and Fiesta and Lucy are somewhat civil to each other as long as they aren’t too close to the dividing baby gate. Then at night I put Aqui and Fiesta in Bug’s room and they spend the night there. It’s not the best solution but it’s better than Aqui getting eaten by coyotes and better than everyone waking up at 3am.

Of course there are kinks to this plan. Fiesta thinks she can get attention by opening cupboards with her paws. So that’s why there are big fluffy blue arm rest pillows propped up against the linen closet. And we still have fights between Lucy and Aqui at the windows but at least nobody is getting their eyeballs clawed out.

Lucy-Lucy-Lucy

Yeah, cute little innocent Lucy. How could Aqui want to hunt her to the death? I don’t know. But I have a feeling if the tables were turned and Lucy was the bigger cat it would be the same.

couch-potato-update

That’s it! You are officially all caught up. See you next month. Maybe.

Chopped Challenge Dinner

 

chopped-challenge-basket-opening

We watch a lot of cooking shows in our house. Why? Because the grown-ups are tired of Sponge Bob and cooking shows are usually accepted by the kids. The food network channel doesn’t usually show nightmare-inducing commercials for horror movies that are coming to theaters near you and we like to cook so it’s a good meeting ground for everyone.

One of our favorite show is Chopped. (We also love Cut Throat Kitchen and Camp Cut Throat Kitchen. Who doesn’t love Alton Brown?)  Even the kids love these shows and it’s turned into a family affair. We watch nearly everyday. (Yes, this is something new to me: living in a house where the television is on all the time in the background but that’s another blog for another time.)

We decided to have a little Chopped Kitchen Challenge of our own. It works like this: You get a basket of mystery ingredients, usually four or five items. They can be anything. The weirder, the better. The chef doesn’t get to see what’s in the basket until the challenge starts and then they have thirty minutes to cook something delicious.

Judging is based on presentation, taste and creativity. You can imagine the shenanigans that can go on. There is always lots of hurrying, sometimes people cut their fingers and then there is all kinds of drama involved when the judges judge because somebody has to go home (it is reality tv, after all).

chopped-challenge-1

How did our home version go? Well, we did’t have more than one chef because that would be crazy-town in our small kitchen. You really need two stoves and two prep stations to compete.  We had mystery ingredients and we had judges. Oh did we have judges.

The kids are judges every damn day when it comes to food so that was a natural fit.  We upped the time from 30 minutes to an hour because we are not real chefs (yet). Payam and I flipped a coin to see who got to be the chef first and who got to pick the mystery ingredients. I got shopping and Payam got chef.

I took the girls shopping with me and we decided, collectively (!), to give Payam the following ingredients:

  1. pomegranite juice
  2. boneless cross ribeye steak (whatever that is. I wasn’t up for paying for filet mignon and Bug thinks fat in a steak is a bad thing)
  3. a package of dry spring onion noodle soup
  4. toaster waffles
  5. broccoli

Shopping with the girls is an adventure in itself even when we aren’t creating a chopped challenge. Nobody agrees on anything and they are a couple of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I take that back. They are eight and nine and have typical eight and nine-year-old palettes. Bug only likes hamburgers and steak, especially from a restaurant and not cooked by me. Joon doesn’t like meat at all. Joon could exist off of cheese alone and Bug doesn’t like anything gooey, especially cheese.  They both love toaster waffles (and any kind of junk food) and broccoli (score!). The package of spring onion soup and pomegranate juice were items that they didn’t have much of an opinion about so they went in the basket. They had strong opinions about every other item that did or did not go into the basket. Many, many, many strong opinions.

I would have had an all-out blast picking mystery items if it weren’t for my personal peanut gallery piping in on anything and everything. We live in an area that is populated heavily with Middle Easterners and Asians. We also have a pretty big Jewish community. Even normal regular grocery stores around here carry a huge selection of international items.  Canned rombutans? Rice noodles in any shape imaginable, carbonated yogurt drinks, fish eyeballs, pigs feet, pickled anything, spices from every corner of the earth…I could go on and on. Payam actually made out with some pretty tame ingredients.

chopped-challenge-judges

He opened the box, we had a few laughs at the strangeness of everything and then he got to cooking. The judges took their places. It was a great family bonding activity. Even the dog got in on the action.

Who am I kidding? The dog is ALWAYS in on any kitchen activity that might be going down.

chopped-challenge-activity

Both Payam and I are average cooks. We’re not super chefs or real foodies.We’ve pretty much taught ourselves everything we know. I’ve struggled with my cooking over the years but more so from a lack of an appreciative audience than for lack of trying. It’s been really fun to cook with Payam. We love to cook together. The kids don’t usually join us in the kitchen but the chopped challenge brought everyone together. They sat at the bar and critiqued every move. I photographed.

I should really have Payam write this paragraph because I don’t know all the things he did (it was a flurry of activity) but here is what I remember:

He blended the dry rice noodles up in a food processor. Then he made kind of a buttery risotto with the rice noodles (now bits) and their spice package.  He toasted the waffles, ground them up in the food processor too and then re-toasted the crumbs in the oven. There was some reduction of the pomegranite juice with onions and wine. The broccoli got steamed in that. The rice noodles became a yummy risotto and the waffles got rehydrated with pomegranite reduction and became a kind of delicious mush. He then pan-seared the steak with the pomegranate reduction and then plated everything, topping it all with a little more pomegranate onion reduction.

chopped-challenge-dinnerThe result? DELICIOUS!! I loved everything. It was all so tasty. Bug loved everything too but gave low scores on presentation. (She’s particular about color, of course.)  Joon was not a fan of anything and would have rather ordered pizza.

All in all, it was really really fun. Especially for entertainment value. And at the end of the night we had dinner taken care of! It was like make-your-own dinner theatre.

Next week, when the girls are back with us (We both have 50/50 custody and recently Toby has started taking Bug every other week), it’s going to be my turn to cook.

I can’t wait!