“All Four Feet” Jack

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This is a HORRIBLE photo (Hubby excitedly took it with his phone this morning), but…..it is a photo of a cat, successfully and without assistance, properly using the toilet!!!
Note the correct (“All 4 feet on the seat” stance). We are now using something called “Citykitty” and it’s what turned the corner for us. I will try to take some video of him later, for anyone that is interested (I’m surprised by how many of you are, actually!)

This was, of course, immediately followed with “Good boy, Jack, good potty, good kitty” and 2 Feline Greenies treats (his favorite).

Jack is, at this point, essentially trained. Ace, his brother, is following VERY closely behind in the process. The girl (Queenie), however, is still stubborn and will complain pretty vocally about having to use this piece of unfamiliar equipment for her, um, “ablutions.” If we are not around, she will still pace around the bathroom, looking for somewhere, anywhere else to go and we have to keep reassuring her that, indeed, there IS no other acceptable option before she will actually consent to use the toilet. The “Citykitty” set-up, at the “almost at the end” stage where we are, still requires a small sprinkling of cat litter. When we open up the (gigantic, plastic, Costco-sized bucket) litter container, she always stands up on her hind legs, peeking in, thinking that she’d much rather go IN the litter bucket (she has actually done this before – now we have to put the bathroom trash can on TOP of the bucket to keep her out – brat.).

Stuffed Pasta Shells with two sauces (both vegetarian)

Boy doesn’t care for tomato sauce, so when I was making stuffed shells for dinner tonight, I thought I’d try to come up with an alternate sauce for him. Hubby, Girl and I loved the tomato sauce version and Boy really loved the Parmesan-Pesto version. The two sauces might even be really good if you combined them, or baked a batch of shells that are drizzled with a little of each sauce, in the same pan.

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Stuffed Pasta Shells with Two Sauces

For shells:
1 12-oz package jumbo pasta shells
1 15-oz tub ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
8 oz frozen spinach, cooked according to package directions
1/2 tsp. Baby Bam seasoning
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 and 1/2 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta shells in salted water according to package directions. Drain and discard any broken or torn shells.

Squeeze all excess water out of the spinach and place it in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the Baby Bam, mozzarella, eggs, ricotta and 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese. Stir until well combined. Stuff each of the shells with 2 – 3 Tbsp. of the ricotta mixture and place all of them, except 8, in a large baking dish. Place the remaining 8 shells in a smaller baking dish and set aside.

Top the large dish of shells with the pasta sauce and sprinkle with half of the remaining parmesan cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is lightly browned. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and serve.

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For Pesto-Parmesan Cream sauce
:
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
1 and 1/2 cup liquid, either chicken stock or milk
(or a combination of both – I used 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup chicken stock)
1/4 tsp. Baby Bam seasoning
2 to 3 Tbsp. prepared pesto sauce
5 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, divided

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When butter is melted, whisk in the flour until well blended. Cook, whisking continuously, for 1 to 2 minutes or until very thick. Slowly pour in 1 cup of the liquid, continuously whisking, until well combined. Turn heat down to low and whisk in Baby Bam, pesto and 4 Tbsp. of the cheese. Continue to simmer until sauce reaches the desired consistency (somewhere between yogurt and melted ice cream), adding the remaining 1/2 cup liquid, if necessary. You want the sauce to be thick, but still pourable, because it will thicken a little as it bakes. Pour about 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce over the reserved 8 stuffed shells and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. of cheese.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is lightly browned. Reserve remaining sauce for another use (pour over cooked pasta and add some grilled chicken?).

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

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One of the women in my book club made these chicken lettuce wraps for our last meeting and they were absolutely scrumptious. One bite and I knew that I needed to make them for Hubby, Boy and Girl. They are a bit of a pain to make, for what they are. You need lots of serving dishes for this (even without the dumplings and eggrolls). You have to make 2 different from-scratch dressings. You need to use your blender, your grill and either the stove-top or a rice cooker. There’s a hefty amount of chopping, including ginger, which is a headache for me. They were totally yummy, though, and I would make these again.

Modifications and simplification recommendations:
I forgot to toss the cooked chicken in the additional Lime Vinaigrette (and we didn’t miss it). If you wanted to simplify the recipe, you could marinate the chicken in a bit of bottled Teriyaki sauce instead of preparing the lime vinaigrette.

I sliced the chicken, instead of shredding it. That was probably a mistake – it’s probably worth the trouble to shred (or chop) it, to make the bites of meat in the wrap smaller. I also forgot to wash the rice, but I think it’s worth the extra step to do that – my friend’s rice was much better and less “clumpy” when she made hers.

The green onion/scallions, though they are yummy, could probably be eliminated. I love cilantro, so I would NEVER omit that. The cucumber could also go, if you’re not a big fan.

The mango (I actually used 2 mangoes, instead of just 1 and we ate it ALL) is crucial – don’t omit that!

The soy-ginger dressing is very good, so I think that’s worth the trouble (bump the amount of sesame oil up to at least 1 tsp).

I cooked some dumplings and eggrolls (frozen) to go with these.
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When preparing frozen dumplings, I boil them and then fry them (until they’re golden on one side) in a mixture of canola and peanut oil, with just a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil added in. For eggroll/dumpling dipping sauce, use the sweet & sour sauce that comes in the package, but also use this recipe (from Cooking Light) to make a spicy-salty sauce (we like sweet & sour on eggrolls, but the soy sauce-based sauce on the dumplings

Spicy-Sweet Dipping Sauce:
1 tsp. sriracha
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. duck sauce
1 Tbsp. minced green onion/scallion

Hubby LOVES this sauce and would probably eat a dead dog if it were doused in this sauce.

If I had thought of it, I would have made some edamame, too, but just didn’t get around to it. I couldn’t find Bibb lettuce right now, either. It really would have been better, but iceberg was OK in a pinch.

The lettuce wraps were a big hit with Hubby, Boy and Boy’s friend, A (and me, too!). Girl was away at a birthday party, but will have some of the leftovers tomorrow.

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Hannah Montana (Banana Fee-Fi-Fo-Fanna) Concert

The Hannah Montana concert last night was AWESOME! Girl, Friend C and Cousin A had a great time. I knew that I was only along for the ride (or, rather, to provide the ride), but I actually enjoyed it, myself. I was familiar with some of Hannah/Miley’s songs, because I’ve watched the show a few times with Girl and we frequently listen to the Disney music channel on the XM radio in the mornings on the way to school (Hannah/Miley gets LOTS of rotation there – natch). I was less familiar with Aly and AJ’s music, but was totally bowled over. Those girls ROCK! They were slamming on their guitars and really belting out the lyrics. Obviously, a lot of concerts are beefed up by background “lip synch” tracks, but if Aly and AJ were using one, it was much less obvious than during the Hannah/Miley part of the show. She was wonderful, too, though. I have to admit that I was watching for the “body double in the wig” portion of the show (not that I hold it against her – it’s a show, after all – they have to use whatever tricks they can find), but I didn’t see it. There was another part of the show where Aly (the curly-haired one) and AJ (the straight-haired one) came out to sing another song – maybe that was added in and wasn’t part of the original show – maybe that was to give Miley time for her costume change.

The concert was a TOTAL estrogen fest. You’ve never SEEN so many little girls all in one place. There was LOTS of screaming. LOTS. Thankfully, the concert arena had re-purposed some of the men’s room (covered the “MEN” signs up to change them to “WOMEN”), so the lines weren’t unbearable. This was confusing to a couple of dads that happened to be there, though, and I did hear a couple of tiny girls ask what the weird-looking sinks were in the bathroom (as the moms hurried them past, saying, “NO! That’s NOT where you wash your hands!”).

Anyway, here are some photos:
(I’m not the greatest photographer, under the best of circumstances, but add in lots of noise, flashing lights, a dark arena and LOTS of screaming and well….I did the best I could.)

In case you’re not familiar with the whole Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus/Aly & AJ genre:
Miley Cyrus is Billy Ray Cyrus’ 15-year old daughter. She has a wildly popular TV show on the Disney Channel. If you haven’t heard of it, you either have been living under a rock or have no females in your life under the age of 14. She is currently on a concert tour, singing songs as both Miley Cyrus and as Hannah Montana, the character that she plays on the show. Aly & AJ are older, but still Disney-affiliated, I believe. No show, but a couple of albums under their belt. They were the warm-up band for Miley/Hannah for the last few stops of the tours, but last night”s concert was their last show with her. The concerts have sparked all kinds of controversy because they’ve been sold out in every city, commanding prices online and through scalpers above $1000 per ticket (I didn’t – and wouldn’t – pay that, by the way). People resorted to all sorts of desperate measures to get their hands on tickets. I am fortunate to have a connection with the concert venue and was able to procure tix with minimal effort, but also have lots of friends here in Austin that were able to secure them through the legit online box office – I think that they must have found a way to weed out the mass online ticket brokers and make the tix more available to fans at a reasonable price.

Hundreds of dollars worth of piano lessons every month? Totally worth it.

Girl just won the spelling bee at her school! The last two contestants were Girl and her good friend, C. They went head-to-head for about 8 rounds, and smiling and cheering each other on. Here’s the kicker: the word that got best friend eliminated? Crescendo. The word that Girl had to spell, after that, to win? Staccato.

Girl is over the moon and will go on to compete at a district-wide bee in a couple of weeks.

FYI – Good friend C. is super-smart, very sweet and an amazing speller. She stayed in the bee last year much longer (3rd place!) than Girl did, so this was truly anybody’s game and either girl would have been thrilled to have the other one win. I am taking both girls (and Girl’s cousin, A) to the Hannah Montana concert tonight to celebrate. YAY!

Celebratory Lunch:
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Grilled Herb-Roasted Turkey and Pepper-Jack Cheese with a baby salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Chicken Paprikash and Sauteed Spinach

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Chicken Paprikash, adapted from this Cooking Light recipe

1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 medium sized breasts), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 tsp. Baby Bam seasoning
1 cup chopped white onion
1 cup chopped red or green bell pepper
2 pressed garlic cloves
1 Tbsp. paprika
(add a little sprinkle of pimenton, too, for extra smoky flavor)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
a sprinkle (1/4 tsp?) freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 scoops sprouted ground flaxseed (available at Costco)

1/2 pound pasta or egg noodles, cooked and drained

Heat the oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the Baby Bam over the chicken pieces and toss/stir to coat. Add chicken to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until softened (about 3 minutes). Add the paprika, chicken stock, tomatoes, and tomato paste to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or so, turning down the heat, if necessary, to prevent bubbling over. If you would like for the sauce to be smoother and less “chunky”, use an immersion blender at this point (right in the pan) to puree the sauce. Add the caraway seeds and half-and-half to the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the ground flax. Stir to blend completely. Return the chicken to the pan and continue to simmer (5 to 10 more minutes) until the sauce is nice and thick, the chicken is cooked through and the flax is completed mixed in. Serve over the cooked pasta, with sauteed spinach on the side.

Sauteed Spinach

1 lb. fresh baby spinach leaves
2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
Baby Bam seasoning to taste (1 to 2 tsp.)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a VERY large saucepan. Add the spinach, a little bit at a time (it will shrink CONSIDERABLY as it cooks). After all of the spinach is added and has started to wilt a little, sprinkle the Baby Bam over it, stirring (I like to use tongs) to incorporate. When all of the spinach is at least partially wilted (you don’t have to cook it to death), remove it from the heat and serve.

Chai Spice Seasoning Blend

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I’ve been threatening to make a batch of Chai macaroons (macaron), but haven’t been able to. It’s been rainy and wet here and I’m worried about the impact that all of the moisture would have on the meringues. So, I’m waiting for drier weather before I give it a try. I have also ordered some pistachio extract so that I can give a pistachio version a try (I thought that I would use ground pistacho instead of almond meal and then would use a bit of the pistachio extract in the buttercream), so the macaroon project (thankfully!) is on hold for the moment.

I did, however, want to give you all the recipe for my Chai Spice Seasoning. I’ve noticed quite a few searches for it are directing people to my site (since I have my fancy-dancy new Google Analytics set up) and I don’t want to be a tease, so here it is:

Chai Spice Seasoning Blend

1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground coriander seed
a small sprinkle of ground black or white pepper
optional: a little (1/8 tsp?) star anise or anise seed, if you’re willing to go through the trouble to grind it

Mix all of the spices together and store in an airtight container. Add to tea, coffee, any baked goods (especially yummy with chocolate – try it in brownies!). Add a pinch to meringue or whipped cream or sprinkle it in your cereal or over your oatmeal. Try blending it into a sweetened vinaigrette for a great dressing over baby spinach, fruit and nuts. If it’s too “spicy” or exotic for you, feel free to cut back on some of the other spices and bulk up the percentage of cinnamon until your taste buds (or your childrens’) get used to it.

But that other 1% really stinks…..

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99% of the time, Boy and Girl get along beautifully….

Boy and Girl had a piano class last night that they had to attend together. I dropped them off and told them I’d run an errand or two and would pick them up when the class was over an hour later. I gave them a mini deck of playing cards (that I ALWAYS have in my purse – you never know when you’re going to meet a Midwesterner who’s dying to play some Euchre!) and told them they could play “War” or something, if I was running a minute or two late or if the class let out early. They were in a great mood and were being perfectly friendly to one another when I dropped them off. An hour later, however, they were sullen and grumpy and climbed into the car while shooting each other dirty looks. Apparently, Girl had been “annoying” (unspecified definition) and so when Girl tried to deal Boy some cards, he didn’t want to play and threw the cards back at her. Of course, I wasn’t there and didn’t hear what happened or what was said, so there was no way that I could settle it (and I really didn’t want to, anyway!), so I just frustratedly suggested that maybe they could remember that they were both human beings and they should treat each other accordingly. I told them that it sounded like they both were not as kind to one another as they could have been and that if either of them felt like they had something to apologize for, this would be a GREAT time to do that, so that we could get on with our pleasant evening. I followed up my “suggestion” with a promising description of building a fire, having a hot meal and cuddling on the sofa together while watching an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. Of course, none of these things would be able to happen if they weren’t getting along and couldn’t settle their argument….

So, this is what they come up with to say to each other:

Boy:
“I’m sorry that I got mad at you when you were being ANNOYING.”

Girl:
“I’m sorry that I got mad at you when you wouldn’t pick up the cards that you threw at me.”

Me:
banging head on steering wheel

Lasagna, version 2 and Individual Pesto Lasagna Roll-Ups

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I’m still looking for a great, basic, all-purpose lasagna recipe. I saw this one and thought I would give it a try the other day. It was good and was definitely “classic” (I used ricotta instead of cottage cheese), but the sauce wasn’t as rich as I would have liked. If I make this again, I will maybe add a little tomato paste or some balsamic vinegar to give the sauce a little more depth, but this was a good, kid-friendly, basic lasagna. Girl liked it a lot. Boy isn’t a big fan of tomato sauce, so I made him some little individual, pesto-sauced lasagna wraps:

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Directions:

Take a cooked lasagna noodle and spread it with a very thin layer of prepared (or store-bought) pesto, just enough to very lightly coat it. Spread a thin layer (2 to 3 Tbsp.) of the ricotta cheese mixture (from the above lasagna recipe) on top of the pesto. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and crumbled, cooked hamburger meat (just reserve a little when you brown the meat for your lasagna, above). Very gently roll the lasagna into a spiral and place it carefully in a small glass or ceramic baking dish. Spread a little more pesto over the top and sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese. Bake for the last 15 – 20 minutes of the time that your lasagna is baking, until completely cooked and bubbly (you just want to make sure that the eggs in the ricotta are cooked though). Boy really loved these and had one in his lunch the next day.