Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I feel that I live my life in the service of food. (I'm eating cake batter as I type this, as my keyboard will attest). But food also lives in the service of me, doesn't it? Let's just say that it's a glorious symbiotic relationship that has colored my most cherished memories and informs most life decisions. I make this comment because I've noticed that in the short life of this blog, most of the posts have been food-related. The topic scoreboard so far:

Food = 3 (including today's post)
Kids = 1
Exhibitionism = 1

Is this bad? Should I be concerned that I haven't yet posted about my firstborn, yet managed to glorify my favorite grocery store twice?

*Moment of Guilt*

Okay, moment over-- today we're talking about herbs, folks!

Glorious, glorious herbs-- these babies were a Mother's Day gift from my babies. They know that I A) love plants B) love food, and C) directly asked for an indoor herb garden. R to L: basil, rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme (I don't like parsley, which kind of ruins the Garfunkel love... but I like basil enough not to care). How neat is it to have them, fresh on my windowsill, ready to snip whenever I'm feeling the whimsical urge to add, oh, sage to my scrambled eggs? VERY neat, is the answer to that question. And just how whimsical have I gotten, you ask?

Enough for food puns! Tea thyme, anyone? Eh? Anyone? Well, it tasted good at least. I've heard that there are medicinal qualities to thyme, but I mostly just enjoyed the lemony qualities it added.

Rosemary's turn to be the star, and as you can see, this girl is a diva. The recipe for these rolls can be found here (with a less anemic-looking photograph) at Pioneer Woman Cooks (see also link love on right), one of the best food blogs EVAH! It's gorgeously photographed, scrumptious, and saucy, much like these buns. And finally, my heart swells with pride:

Let the record show that this is my first whole bird ever attempted and successfully roasted--woot! The vegetables weren't done (let's call them "crisp-tender," heavy on the crisp part), but the chicken, with the help of Betty Crocker and my herbal helpers, was perfect.

I just noticed that I don't show any use-of-basil pics, but I think it's because it's my go-to-- I use it so much that it's just not remarkable enough to compel a photo, I guess. Just you wait until August, though; I've got three more basil plants in the outdoor garden sprouting their leaves to feed my (substantial) pesto addiction throughout the cold months... I'll post my pesto methodology and give basil its spotlight in due time.

And, speaking of my outdoor herbs: I have a giant fennel bush outside that I have absolutely no idea how to use. Ideas, anyone? I mostly picked it out because they use it on Top Chef all the time, and I fancy myself at that level. Which I clearly am not.

But my herbs let me pretend to be :)

Beware the Fanged Geranium,
Professor Sprout

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mini Nugget: Midnight Snack

I usually wait until something of substance comes along, so I can post something more, uh, substantial (is it the teacher in me, that compels me to write essays?), but this is a breaking newsflash: new favorite midnight snack. This is major, people! I keep pretty nocturnal hours, so I find it necessary to refuel around 12:00 to 1 AM, usually by melting down a bunch of chocolate chips and eating them with a spoon. This works 97% of the time. But sometimes I want a salty snack, ya know?

So tonight I seized upon the french loaf on the counter (Hy-Vee bakery, 2 for $1.99, what what!), sliced off some hunks, and drizzled them with olive oil. I popped them under the broiler on low, fully preparing to later top them with whatever fun ingredients (like cheeeese) I could find in the fridge. But oh, the smell from the oven-- how can just bread and oil smell so heavenly? I love dipping crusty bread in oil/vinegar, but something about the toasting process brings them to another level. A toasty level. Of goodness. So I ditched the toppings and sprinkled on a little salt--and THAT'S IT--simple and divine. I ate 97% of the loaf.

Try it, tonight! Or if you sleep in the night time, like a normal human, then tomorrow.

Tastefully Yours,

Olive Oyl

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Million Dollar Idea: Grocery Lottery

I consider myself a bit of an armchair millionaire. I’m coming up with ideas all the time that would make me millions, if only I could set them in motion. (Ask Greg—he would roll his eyes and say “yep.”) Some ideas wouldn’t make me any money, per se… they’re just so utterly awesome that they still deserve the “million dollar” tag. Intrigued? I know. Calm down already.

To understand the idea, one must first be familiar with the NuVal system:

NuVal and I have become fast friends. It’s basically a magical scoring system that factors in the good stuff, subtracts for the bad stuff, divides by three, and multiplies by the square root of the number you’re thinking of right now to arrive at a simple score between 1-100 that shows how nutritionally sound a product is.

A sampling of scores (listed on the shelf by the price):
fresh tomatoes = 96
Fruity Pebbles = 12
chicken breast = 39
Wonder Bread = 23
1% milk = 81
Teddy Grahams = 24
shrimp = 75
raspberries = 100 (woot!)
Mac ‘n Cheese = 5 (sorry Tali)

Anything that makes bringing greater nutritional clarity and objectivity to the masses amid all the misleading commercial clutter is wonderful, in my view. Plus I like that I don’t have to physically take things off the shelf to check the nutrition facts. Laziness!

Anyhow, back to this here idea. Hy-Vee recently started featuring NuVal, which is exciting, but do you know what would be more exciting?? Being rewarded for the nutritional value of your cart! This could be as simple as providing a final points total. Hy-Vee could needs to realize what Safeway and Gordman’s already know: people love to hear how awesome they are when checking out. That’s why a cheerful voice always recites “You saved $___ today!” while tearing off your receipt at these places; it leaves the customer feeling accomplished, and maybe even compels them to come back and beat their old score.

But wait, there’s more! A total score is fun, but why not sweeten the deal? If Hy-Vee could somehow figure out a system where your NuVal points could earn entries in a lottery, then more people would intentionally “trade up” (substituting wheat for white pasta, for example) before they hit the register.

I know what you’re thinking: “This woman is a freaking genius.” You’re also thinking: “I thought this was supposed to be a million dollar idea, not cost a million dollars. I’m confused.” Fear not, little one, for I have two words: government subsidies. Think about it—preventative care is infinitely cheaper than after-the-fact treatment of obesity and heart disease, so it would actually save us money to incentivize nutrition in this way.

The fact that it’s a lottery also cleverly targets the group that needs this program the most: the poor. These are proven facts:
1) The poorest individuals in the US are also the unhealthiest, with an especially high link between poverty and obesity. This is in part due to the fact that junk food is just cheaper—you could buy three cheeseburgers on the dollar menu at McDonald’s for what you would pay for a handful of raspberries.
2) Poor people love to play the lottery. True story. If they give you a chance at big bucks, maybe those raspberries will start to look more cost effective, and fun! (Although I think they are fun no matter what prize is attached... I heart you, raspberries).

And though everyone won’t win, everyone eventually will win: the unhealthiest Americans will be incentivized to trade up to better nutrition, customers overall will be more intentional about eating better, and everyone will choose Hy-Vee over Wal-Mart, which will die the slow and agonizing death it so very much deserves. Yay!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mateo's Story

Meet Mateo.

He’s a cuddly four-year-old with twinkling brown eyes… who also has a (probably unhealthy) obsession with firearms.

This is my destroying stick. If we meet the enemy, I will destroy him

People gloss it over by chuckling, “Oh, he’s all boy!,” but I refuse to believe that ALL little boys are this preoccupied with weaponry. Kaden, for example, enjoys a pretend swordfight/shootout every once in a while, but he’s not picking up every stick he finds, crouching into combat stance, sighting the enemy, and blasting him with a sound-effect “pshhheww!” (in extreme cases, the stick goes over his shoulder as a bazooka, with so much firepower that the recoil pushes back his small body as it annihilates entire armies of bad guys).

Naturally, I’m disturbed and horrified by this. I don’t even allow toy guns in my house, for Pete's sake! When he turned every object into a gun anyway, I attempted to dampen the fun whenever I could by inserting my little motherly admonitions: “Don’t point guns at people.” “Don’t pretend to kill—just put the bad guys in jail.”“Don’t point your gun sideways, that only works in the movies.”

I knew that my peace-loving platitudes were failing miserably when one day, as Greg’s parents were over, Mateo was on my lap, blasting away at Grandpa Brad with his Lego machine gun.

“Remember, don’t shoot guns at people,” I said wearily.

He slowly swung his gun around, aiming it right between my eyes. With a “chk-chk” he cocked his gun, shifted it an inch to the left, and fired it right past my ear, all without breaking his steely gaze and devilish smirk.

What is there to do but surrender (and try to suppress giggles), at this point? I’ve resigned to tolerating his fetish, even indulging it at times, while trying to keep the violence to a minimum. So when Mateo insisted I tell a story about him, with the direction to include 1) war 2) guns and 3) candy, this is what resulted from our collaboration:

Mateo’s Story
By Marissa, with much contribution as it went along by Mateo

Once upon a time there were two cities in the kingdom of America: California and Beresford. These weren’t just ordinary cities, though; betwixt the two sat a mountain—made of candy. Tootsie Pops, Kit Kats, Fruit Roll-Ups, gum balls… any candy you can imagine. Both cities, of course, wanted the candy for themselves, which began the Great Candy Wars of 2002.

The wars lasted many years, with both sides equally matched. Finally, the queen of Beresford said “Enough. We must find a champion to win the candy mountain for us once and for all.” She held a series of games, each more difficult than the next—strength contests, bow and arrow shooting, grenade throwing, mazes, and bazooka blasting. As each game progressed, a clear winner emerged: Mateo Dean Kleinhans (At this point, I raise Mateo’s hand, and he gives his small smile that’s suppressing gallons of inward glee and pride).

The queen gave Mateo all the weaponry and ammo in the kingdom, and he set out to summit the candy mountain, pausing only to grab handfuls of sweet, sweet sustenance. When he reached the top, he was flanked on all sides by the formidable Californian army. He battled them all until there was one left standing: Carlson. Carlson was the strongest warrior from California, so the stage was set for an epic battle. Mateo and Carlson pulled out everything in their arsenal—grenades, swords, swordfish, everything—until they had one weapon left: the monster gun. They shot their monster guns at the same time, but instead of hitting the enemy, the explosions hit each other, causing the mountain to erupt in a fantastic shower of candy.

Everyone stood outside with open mouths and baskets to catch the candy, and when it was all over, Beresford and California had equal hills of candy by their town. They realized that they could share the bounty, and finally ended their wars; Carlson became king of California, and Mateo ruled Beresford peacefully. Everyone had candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the dentists of the town were busy for years to come. THE END!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do Not Read (DNR)

It didn’t work, did it? You’re reading this, even when I explicitly warned you not to. STOP. I mean it.

If you must continue to recklessly disobey signs (are you this heedless on the road, too?), I might as well explain: DNR is a tag I often see when grading student journals. I let them have their verbal privacy when they want, provided that they clearly label the entry with DNR (here’s hoping that I don’t miss an especially gripping journal about the Department of Natural Resources someday because of this). I’d like to think that this allows them a little more room for candor/venting, thereby solidifying the link between writing and catharsis, thereby developing their voices, thereby creating scores of writers who will someday dazzle the world with the raw beauty and poignancy of their prose. I like to think this, at least.

I obey the privacy wishes of my students (I do), but a warning like this in a public writing space is more likely to tantalize readers into sneaking a peek than to provide safe cover. Which is why I typed it, illustrating the paradoxical mindset of many writers: words committed to page are intensely private, but it’s secretly thrilling when others see them. Publishing text is verbal voyeurism. It’s risky, and the danger/thrill factor increases when your stuff is exposed to strangers. People could turn their nose up in disgust, which is devastating, or your goodies could become the hottest peepshow in town. Am I really making a stripping analogy here? This is a family show!

The scandal I feel for even hinting at nudity (and verbal nudity, at that), though, is in pretty stark contrast to the growing trend of bare-it-all facebook photos and tell-all blogs in our confessional culture. Next to them, I’m positively prudish. The blurred line between private/public in our collective consciousness started with reality shows—where we were privy to the gripping saga of “who ate all the peanut butter?” in MTV’s first Real World and later to subtitles that simply said “slurping” when Joe Millionaire hot tub-snogged his gold-digging lady friend—and ballooned into a fully interactive, public peep show that spawned delightful verbs like “sexting”. I think it’s the medium that’s changing the mindset: technology allows us a degree of separation from the situation, providing a much more convenient and justifiable showing—and viewing—of what otherwise once was private. Technology, too, is a paradox, making strangers intimate while isolating people who live in the same household.

But I feel as if this has all been said before… I’m bored with this. Time to go take pictures of my bikini-clad self in the mirror with my camera phone and see which guido Snooki hooked up with in the hot tub on Jersey Shore.

Gossip Girl

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Off We Go

Dear Internet,

Hello. I’ve never greeted you before, have I? I’ve used you, in such exciting capacities as Facebooking, Googling my own name, and deleting emails that warn me to forward something if I’m not ashamed of Jesus. But I feel guilty now, Internet, because nobody ever talks to you. How are you? Overloaded, overcrowded, spammy? I know. Let it all out. I’m going to make you feel loved and appreciated again, by writing to you as often as I can… in a blog. Because I know what you really need is even more details about the minutiae of everyday life. You’re welcome, Internet.

I’m doing it for you, but in many ways for myself: to be more intentional about recording the fleeting days of my sons’ childhood, to make like the Cranberries circa 1993 and say Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, but mostly to force myself to write on a regular, public basis. I need to write, like I need to dance, like I need to eat and sleep. I have no designs of doing any of these professionally (except “professional sleeper”—that job will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine), but I’m just an all-around happier person when they find expression somewhere.

So I’ll put my daily (or near-daily) nuggets of writing out there, for all (or some) to see. Which is kind of terrifying, isn’t it? I critique writing as a teacher all the time, but I think I’ve lost sight of what it’s like to be on the other side of the ink: fretfully sending my little word-children into the world, hoping they find acceptance out there… or at least avoid getting pummeled by playground bullies.

Not that I want you to go easy on the quality, Internet—most writing deserves a good, constructive beating (now you’re thinking, “wow, I bet it’s awesome to be her student/child!”), so feel free to give the comment section a few light slams once in awhile, or contribute your ideas, or just lurk creepily in the shadows, like I do on the blogs I read. Just enjoy the yummy nuggets.

What not to expect

A theme. I don’t really have enough to say about any one topic, so cohesion is not likely. Coherence is also in question.

Original content. That “words as children” metaphor up there? Total Anne Bradstreet rip-off—her figurative Puritan word-children had “blemished” faces, wore irksome “home-spun cloth,” and “run’st more hobbling than is meet.” And my real-life children have chocolate on their faces, sport self-chosen camouflage/Hawaiian print outfit combos, and trip over flat surfaces. Parallels! Most things I’ll write will be derivative, recycled, and rehashed, like a nuked tater tot casserole. Yum.

Overshare. Don’t expect a detailed account of my bowel movements or sex life here—those private nuggets are reserved for my facebook status updates.

What to expect

Wayne’s World quotes—see above.

Party On,