Thursday, January 31, 2013

If-ing by Langston Hughes


If I had some small change
I’d buy me a mule,
Get on that mule and 
Ride like a fool.

If I had some greenbacks
I’d buy me a Packard,
Fill it up with gas and
Drive that baby backward.

If I had a million
I’d get me a plane
And everybody in America’d
Think I was insane.

But I ain’t got a million,
Fact is, ain’t got a dime —
So just by if-ing
I have a good time!

Langston Hughes


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Worth a Thousand Words: Late January 2013

Dad Doubles as a Jungle Gym
Couch Fort!

Nigella's Clementine Cake recipe may have failed, but Riley was the best baking assistant ever.

Caveman Boo

When his brother falls asleep, he sneaks out and hangs out with me at night while we wait for Dad to get home. My buddy...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Kindness Experiment: Sometimes I Kind of Suck

I'm on a mission these days to have something worth writing and seeing published over at I've been mulling over an assignment for months and months, and while that might seem a tad crazy for a writer, when you're working with crew of seekers, yogis, and all-around enlightened cats, they tend to be a little more forgiving than most.

I've been trying to attack KINDNESS from all angles to get a handle on it.

It's one of the four divine abidings--attitudes the Buddha would see living in the hearts of all people. It's so important to Christianity that the apostle Paul called it one of the "fruits of the spirit." In Islam, it's said that kindness is a true mark of faith. Judiaism also calls kindness to other people a sublime showing of one's faith.

Kind of a big deal, right?

I googled kindness on a whim and thanks to the ever present Wikipedia, here's what it said:

"kindness: the act or state of being kind, being marked by good and charitable behavior, pleasant disposition, and concern for others."



I did a mental inventory of my last 48 hours searching for places where I was really and truly kind to my fellow man. At first pass, I thought I did pretty good. Here was my list:

1. Didn't swat my son's behind despite him stuffing dirty underwear into the hermit crab tank.
2. Held my tongue when the bank teller rolled her eyes at me this morning.
3. Returned my library books. On time, ya'll...

Pretty kind, right? Doubt it.

I also thought about Facebook, my nemesis. Not only does it eat up too much of my damn time, it creates a sort of hyper-competitive, uber-persnickity asshat out of me. I mock over-the-top EMOness and will snort out loud at one too many self portraits. I look at cute pictures of homeless puppies, and if my husband won't let me adopt one today I figure I'm not meant to do good deeds at the moment (to date, I've yet to get my dog, so I've yet to feel called to kindness actions. I blame P.)

The whole inventory I took of my state of mind and my actions in relation to kindness sort of led me to the conclusion that in a lot of ways, I suck as a human being. At least as a self-professed, church attending Christian. No fruits for this spirit this week, Paul, sorry...

Kindness is opening up to me as an ideal, but as a day-to-day state of being? Well, not yet. I've got no problem being compassionate when I see you step ankle-deep into that mud puddle.

"Poor thing," I'll say in my heart. "I hope her day gets better."

Buuuut, that's about where things end in my world. Lend you my socks? Not likely. Buy you a cuppa to warm  you up? Sorry. I'm on a diet and I gave up Starbucks this week. None for me? None for you!

It's a bit humbling as you learn the difference between decreasing your own negativity (I'm getting better at this) and increasing another's happiness. That's trickier and in today's age, people are often mistrustful of kind strangers. Who wants to be the weird lady handing out lollipops and clean socks?

Well, me...I guess.

I'll let you know how that thing works out. Hopefully I find a way to approach the kindness subject without alienating the "om"est of the "om" out there. kind!...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

crowded kitchen: slow-cooked chicken tikka masala

Do  you ever come across a recipe at just the right time? One that reaffirms faith in your own cooking?

I had a rough morning in the kitchen and despite a surprising and freeing revelation I finally came to, it was still rough. I haunt Nigella Lawson's web site like some sort of stalker.

 I have this notion that if I lived in London or if she somehow inhabited the apartment above ours, we'd be besties. We'd ride bikes with tassles and playing cards in the spokes. We'd have a secret handshake and she'd totally let me eat all her leftovers.

So I had high hopes when I printed out her "Clementine Cake" recipe and boiled five clementines in their own skins for TWO HOURS. I chopped and swirled them (skins, piths, fruit, and all) around once or twice in the blender and made a cake of them with six eggs and a couple cups of flour. Some sugar, too.

Let me just state for the record that I must have a palate about as sensitive as a concrete slab.

I just don't appreciate certain flavors and the whole having chunks of peel and pith residing in your cake (on purpose, even!) just sorta made me resent this cake that nobody would eat. Not even me. Some people love this cake, as evidenced by the MILLIONS of blog posts raving about the recipe.

I, however, did not.

Add insult to injury? It was such a dense, heavy mess that it ripped my trash bag from the lip of the trash can, forcing me to dig around in the dirty egg shells and coffee grounds to retrieve it. Ugh.

But then redemption came after watching Gordon Ramsey trek across India and eat fire ant chutney and curse at street vendors with flamin' hot curries. I found a recipe for the one of two dishes I've ever tried at an Indian food joint.

 I will eat Chicken Tikka Masala and I will eat Panak Paneer. Period. I've yet to spread my culinary wings. I know, I know.

Thanks to Table for Two, I rediscovered my love for this dish. It's complicated in terms of what I normally cook, but the flavors were incredible in the final product and so worth having to search the spice shelves for the obscure and obselete garam masala. Who knew I'd had it all along? It was fate, ya'll.

My amounts differ from Table for Two, but that's ok. I think that's the fun part about food blogs. The recipe lives on forever in many, many forms!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 6 to 8


Package of boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins (my package had 10 and it was perfect)

1/2 of large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 T fresh ginger, minced (thanks to a juicing experiment gone wrong, I had this on hand!)

1 (29 oz) can tomato puree (in future, I think I might cut back to about 2/3 of the can to balance the "tomatoy" acidity in the dish)

1.5 c plain yogurt

2 T olive oil

2 T Garam Masala

1 T ground cumin

1 t paprika

Salt, to taste

3/4 t cinnamon

3/4 t ground black pepper

1 to 3 t ground cayenne (I omitted this part)

2 bay leaves (I splurged and bought a package...first time EVER using bay leaves)

1 cup heavy cream (next time, I'll up it to 1 and 1/4 cups)

3 T cornstarch

Chopped cilantro or parsley to garnish


In a big ol' honkin' bowl, combine everything minus the chicken and the bay leaves.  When thoroughly mixed,  put the sauce in a your slow cooker, add the chicken and coat with sauce, top off with bay leaves and let cook. 2 to 4 hours on high, 4 to 8 on low...all depending on your appliance. (Mine is waaay off and it only took about two and a half hours on high.)

It was a hit with then entire crew and all we were missing was naan. Travesty, right? Next time I'll be sure to hit up a local joint for some bread...Lord knows I'm not patient enough to spend six hours making the stuff.

...happy eating...


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hermit Crab Grief, Two Ways

Godspeed, Skippy Horse. See you on the other side, apparently...
Our tale begins with the arrival of two navel orange-sized hermit crabs in the mail. (Thanks, Nana!) Did you know they could be mailed from Washington? Did you know they could arrive approximately 10 times bigger than those cutesy walnut-sized things in pet stores?

They can, my friends. And they did. About a week and a half to two weeks ago.

One exited his shredded paper filled cup and promptly donated his pincher to P's hand. Ewww.

 Boy Wonder (9) seized upon the opportunity to exercise his right as the oldest and claim the crab that was guaranteed alive. (We hadn't seen the other one yet.)

He named him "Tony Hawk" because with just one good arm, he sorta moved around his house like he was in a constant skateboard know, one arm planted on the ground, the other holding the skateboard high above your head? Yep. Tony Hawk.

The second one was even bigger and took up most of P's man paw. I was pretty sure they had sent us a reanimated dinosaur fossil that contained some sort of dead thing. When the dead thing shot out with long red legs and antennae, I screamed. And Boo (3) promptly named him "Skippy Horse." (Apparently of no relation to "Skippy Money," our Christmas Elf on a Shelf.)

Fast forward a few weeks. The crabs don't do much. Don't eat much. I'm starting to feel like a senior rest home where grandpa hermit crabs go to die when Skippy Horse goes and does just that.


Like, hanging half out of his shell with that weird, slimy hind end all exposed and everything...

Naaaasty, ya'll.

And here is where our tales of grief begin.

Boy Wonder shed a tear or seven. Thirty-nine, maybe.

 He talked about whether hermit crabs will be waiting for us in heaven, if he possibly suffered a heart attack when he died, how his terrarium bunk mate might cope without him, and whether Tony Hawk needs counseling.

You should understand that this is the same boy who cried at the Christmas tree recycling center a few years back. He's pretty say the least. He'll still let forth a forlorn sigh from time to time and reminisce on those super special 18 days he had with the crustacean. He's in the current stages of penning a memoir about the experience. "Tony Hawk Shredded My Heart" is the working title.

And then there's Boo.

Boo watched his father remove the deceased crab from the tank. Poked at the weird back-half thing it had going on and managed to take advantage of the impromptu funeral to steal his brother's DS for a glorious few moments.

Three days later, he checks the tank, notices his crab isn't back from whatever vacation he must have gone on and asks me.

"Where's my crab?"

"He died, buddy. A few days ago. Remember?"

He frowns. I'm worried my answer was too...umm...honest?

"Oh," he says, fiddling with the charger of his brother's DS. "Can I have a bike?"


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sketchbook: Next nap for me? T-minus 18 years and counting...


crowded kitchen: GMOS (Oh, and a few updates, too!)

Some updates first...

Pretty New Colors!

What do you think of the new layout?? Just so we're on the same page, I'm big on changing things around more than I probably should. I've been like that since I was big enough to drag, muscle, and cajole my furniture around my old bedroom back in El Paso. I love remodeling!

So Long to an Old Friend

A couple years ago I started a foodie blog and for the most part, I was decent at keeping it updated. Lately it's been tough to shoot photos, edit, and upload, but little by little I'm getting back to it. But I've been reading A LOT about the business of blogging and what effective bloggers do with their resources...and the number one piece of advice was to NOT separate out each tiny interest you have into new blogs. Ouch. I'm terrible at that...I want an art blog, a food blog, a kids blog, a writer blog...and I'm so stretched out that I can't keep up any of them. So....I'm moving my favorites over here from the blog formerly known as the "Hungry Little Blackbird" and tagging them as "Crowded Kitchen."

It'll keep all my writing under one roof (except my author page, but I'm pretty much ignoring that thing until I ink that ol' don't hold your breath!)

Little by little, I'll be bringing over the recipes (mine) that I posted and some of the write ups I did after interviewing neat food-based folks. The label up on that nav bar will take you to all the "Crowded Kitchen" posts from here on out...Huzzah, right?

Well, now on to today's post. I want to preface it and say that I'm not some holier-than-thou food elitist. Seriously. I don't even recycle in our current apartment. (The SHAME! I know, I know.../facepalm.)

But I'm edu-ma-cating myself about what I've been eating for a few decades and what I'm putting on my kids' plates. It kinda freaks me out...

So without further ado...some of the things that freaked me out...

Today's Post

It's a strange time to be a foodie, isn't it?

Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, hormone free, cruelty free, foods versus "food like" substances...

The list is long and pretty daunting and sometimes I don't know where to start.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about genetically modified (GM) food. I don't pay much attention, really. Up to this point, I've never bought anything organic on purpose. Not that I have a problem with organic, I just didn't have the pocketbook power to learn more about it.

But I guess you can only stick your head in the sand for so long before the earth starts rumbling below it and you can't hide anymore.

I've been doing a little cursory research into what exactly GM food is, where it comes from, why there was a big honkin' fight over it in California (and one to follow soon in Washington), and what it could possibly be doing to my family and I.

I'm pretty sure I'll never know everything I need to...that would require a Ph.D. in chemistry that I just don't have. But I know more than I did yesterday. And I'll know more than I do today. I started this journey for knowledge after reading an article in this month's Mother Earth Living. From there I went down the rabbit hole of GMOs and I'll probably never come back.

Another resource was a Netflix gem I stumbled across called "Hungry for Change." It was hard to hear at points because my sons were locked in a death match over a lego, but what I was able to hear was pretty thought provoking. And scary. As hell...

The basics of GMO (as I've found it so far)

Let me state this disclaimer (again): I'm not a scientist. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a farmer. I'm a mama. I'm a food eater. I'm a student of this all. I'm chronicling this as a journey of what I discover, not as a thesis of any sort.

Phew. Glad that's over.

GMO foods contain genetically modified organisms. They've been around for a couple decades and are, from what I've found, everywhere. Evvvverywhere. They can be found under the monikers genetically engineered (GE), transgenic, recombinant, gene-altered, goes on.

Most cotton, corn, and soybeans grown in the U.S. are modified in someway...most likely to make them pesticide resiliant. Some estimates put the amount of GMO foods consumed by the average American in an average year to be about 190 pounds. (Does that seem like a lot? It did to me.)

Scientists take a gene for a characteristic they like from one plant (able to resist cold?) and place it in another plant's DNA.  According to watchdog groups, its an imprecise science that even the scientists don't really have a handle on yet.

The risks? So far, in independent studies, GMO foods behave differently when consumed by lab rats. Side effects included stomach lesions and ...ahem...rat testicles turning BLUE when they should be more rat-ty colored (pinksh?). SCARY!

There's so much more to it than that and I encourage anyone with the time and interest to find the study in "The European Journal of Histochemistry." If you find it, pass it along, will ya?

Mother Earth Living quotes a Michael Pollan essay:

"These new crops are revolutionary enough to deserve patent protection and government support, yet at the same time the food made from them was no different than it ever was, so did not need to be labeled." 

Mother Earth Living offers a link to this and other reading materials at

In the next installation, I'll talk a little more about the major players and what's at stake (money?). And then? I'll talk about my own personal journey and how I'm shifting from one way of eating to a new, more conscious way. It's not immediate and it's not easy, but the more I learn, the more I think it's worth every ounce of effort.

...happy eating!...


Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Sun Never Says by Hafiz

The Sun Never Says

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”
Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.


Saturday Things: Beet Juice and Nudie Pics

Believe it or not, I have about three drafts that I started and stopped over the course of the week. Topics ranged from the fakeness me and my fellow storytime parents engage in at the library twice a week to the frustration I've been facing trying to find purpose and some sort of "spark" while stuck within these four walls 16 hours a day. (It ain't pretty, friends.)

But I'd get all ranty and wordy and I'd sort of lose steam. And stop. So, you know, I'd put away a load of dishes or fight with the toddler over putting dirty underwear in the hermit crab tank. Just how it goes, I guess.

But I have promised myself a few things this month. I'd take care of myself better (I'm still figuring that part out...I think it includes more yoga, more weights, and more Vanilla Spice Lattes from "Fivebucks" around the corner). I'd finish writing my beanstalk book (despite the damned "Jack the Giant Killer" coming out March 1...sigh). And I'd blog. Way more than I did last year. I mean, like, lots more. TONS more. (Part of that includes re-rolling out my food blog with a new focus...but that's not 'til next month sometime.)

So here I am. I. am. blogging.

Aren't you proud?

And since we're here, I'll tell you a little about my week.

Not so great moments:

1. I bought a new exfoliator with some sort of skin destroying/refreshing acid in it. And gave myself the nastiest burn EVER. It's day four and my skin feels itchy and like leather...surely it will heal, right? Holy crap. It hurts. And I feel like a shclub because makeup doesn't sit right on my patchy, itchy face so I've been skipping it. And that's never a good idea when you're 34, addicted to caffeine, and have four kids. It's the truth.

2. My "juicing" quest isn't quite turning out like I'd hoped. One blessed, health-inducing concoction included kale and beets and about every other fruit and vegetable in the kitchen. I drank it. And promptly felt sick for the next two hours. Is it possible that my system is so hooked on preservatives and crap that pure nutrition is really a poison for me? Should I return to hot dogs and diet soda? It's worth a thought at least. That nasty brown junk in the glass tasted like dirt and salad and fruit salad all at the same time.

Great moments:

1. Impromptu picnic. The kids and I had to do a mid-week grocery run. Always fun with three kids, right? On the way home, it was sunny and 60 and perfect and we pulled out some lunchabley things, water, and a couple apples and parked it at our neighborhood park picnic table. I get some awesome points for that, right?

2. Church. We made it back last Sunday. It wasn't perfect (I had to listen to most of the message via loudspeaker in the lobby while McK did sprints). But it was still perfect. Does that even make sense? We all  got spiffy in our Sunday clothes and we didn't fight over remotes or toys or snacks for almost two hours. Yay, God!

3. Lesson win. I teach creative writing to fourth graders on Fridays. Sometimes I'm a rockstar, sometimes I'm a failure. You never know what you're going to get in terms of reaction to a writing lesson. Well, I ordered a stack of museum art postcards, removed the nudie pics (always a good idea when dealing with 10 year olds), and had them write stories based on the artwork. Kids that regularly blank out on me filled two pages of sword swinging, zombie slayin' goodness. And they even wanted to share at the end of class. Win!

How was your week? Score any wins? Muscle through any fails??


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rainy Days and Top Gun

Really, this post is just a catch-up attempt...but I couldn't bring myself to title it "Update" and add it to the nine-gazillion other posts with "update" in the title.

As it stands now, "Top Gun" is playing in the background, Maverick is about to slay the real-life bogies (you know, at the end? instead of constantly shooting at the untouchable Ice Man), and it's raining outside. Super cold, stay inside type of rain. And I have Christmas photos to get out of my camera before another year passes and none of you get to see just what a mess the kids made of the place that morning.

It was our first Christmas in Texas after our quick departure from Alaska this summer. Texas winters are pretty much what I remember...maybe a bit hotter, actually, but still pretty much the same. A little chilly, maybe a little rainy, a few parades, and lots of tamales. (We didn't eat any this year...P made a killer prime rib that left no room for other food!)

Boy Wonder was on the other side of Texas this Christmas, so don't think I'm a bad mom or anything because I don't have photos of him...ha! I take lots and lots of photos of the poor kid. Just ask him...

New Year's Eve was here before we knew it and I was at the airport that time forgot (Hobby) scooping up said Boy Wonder and driving him back home. Love that kid. His brother nearly jumped out of his skin when he finally got off the plane. He goes back to school Tuesday and something tells me he's not too excited. Maybe it's the repeated times he's told me that he's not in a rush to get back to class...tough life for a third grader...

I took a lot of time off the Etsy shop and from writing. I made a bunch of goals for myself that I haven't even started to work towards (I suck at discipline) and, well, that's about it for now. Enjoy the Christmas photos, ya'll!


This was the year of Caillou for Boo. Caillou, Caillou, and even more Caillou. I hate Caillou now. 

The calm before the storm...

The first Cabbage Patch Doll is a momentous occasion in any girl's life. Kenna meets Ava Delaney for the first time...

She gets the whole "present" thing now. Way fun.

Oh. Mai. Gosh....

Every princess needs her pony castle!

Did I mention the boy loves Caillou??