Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Off to Summer Camp We Go!

summer-camp-550x372What summer camp in Arizona would look like if we didn’t have fire restrictions.  Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

 

Last week I drove my oldest two hours north, up to summer camp in the cool mountains.  I reminisced during the drive–this is the same camp where I spent many of my childhood summers, too, and I have such fond memories of those experiences.

This highway, it used to be just one lane in each direction, and now it’s sometimes six lanes across.  That McDonald’s, that used to be the one and only place to grab a quick lunch en route to camp–now there are dozens of options, including ethnic food and even sushi.  Sushi!  (I wonder rural sushi in the remote Arizona mountains is anything at all like what us city folk are accustomed to?)  In the end we played it safe this year, interrupting tradition only for the shiny new In-N-Out.

I remember my parents having to drive me through a long, winding dirt road up the mountains, through the pine trees, past scenic lookouts before we arrived at camp.  But the small town we used to pass through in the blink of an eye has grown so much and expanded outward so far the “long, winding dirt road” is now mostly paved.

The forest still looks the same.  The pine trees still smell the same.  Those same familiar summer storm clouds creep in every afternoon like clockwork.

The camp counselors got younger, though, didn’t they?  When I was a camper the counselors must have been twenty or thirty or years old, right?  Now the counselors look like all of fifteen years old.  How strange.

Check-in took all of five minutes, and then my kid takes off running to her cabin-mates just as I held my arms out for a good-bye hug.  But that’s okay–she’s excited and has been counting down to camp for months.  I totally get it.  I hop in the car for that nostalgic drive home on that modern highway which looks nothing like the path I traveled as a kid.

summer capm“Dear Mom, Camp sucks.  The hot tub is too hot.  Help.”

 

At pick-up I was emotionally ready for her to be hiding in a closet, begging to stay another week.  What I got instead was a dusty, dirty, smiling kid thrilled to see me and anxious to come home.  Aww.   I think I’ll keep her a while longer.

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

Slow Cooker Dijon Chicken with Mushrooms

I’m back to my slow cooker this week, concocting another recipe following one of my favorite formulas:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts + 1 can of cream of mushroom soup + 1/4 cup of another wet ingredient + a few tablespoons of dry seasoning = YUM

This time I’ve adapted one of my favorite Weight Watchers’ recipes into one I can throw into my Crock Pot.  I love strong flavors, so Dijon mustard is a favorite of mine anyway–combine it with balsamic vinegar and some sliced mushroom and it’s a big hit at my house.

Dijon chicken 2Please note how carefully I stacked those mushrooms for your viewing pleasure.

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

2-4 tbsp ground mustard

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

10-12 fresh mushrooms, washed (one small/normal sized foam container, white button or baby bella)

 

Instructions

1.  Throw everything except the mushrooms into your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for six hours, or on high for three hours.

Dijon chicken 1Well that just looks like a big mess, doesn’t it?  Please–just trust the process.

 

2.  Midway through the cooking cycle, use metal tongs to flip the chicken breasts over.  The chicken may be tender enough to begin shredding with the tongs, and you should–before you add the mushrooms.

Dijon chicken 3Hear me now and listen to me later: metal tipped tongs are far superior for shredding compared to their silicon counterparts.

3.  Slice up those mushrooms and add them to the chicken mixture.  (You can add them at the beginning of the cooking cycle, but sometimes all that heat cooks the ‘shrooms so thoroughly that their texture becomes an issue with picky eaters.  Add them in the beginning if you must, but I usually throw them in halfway through.  Or add them toward the end of the cooking cycle, but give them at least thirty minutes of slow-cooker heat in order to avoid serving up raw mushrooms with your delicious Dijon chicken.)  Now is also a great time to grind some black pepper in there, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Dijon chicken 4Why did the Fungi leave the party?  There wasn’t mushroom.
WOCKA WOCKA

My finished product was not very pretty, but a whole lot tastier than this photo makes it look.  I served it next to whole wheat penne topped with grated asiago and cracked black pepper.

Dijon chicken 5Dear Food Pyramid:  I swear that’s only a half-cup of pasta. The plate is smaller than it appears.

Footnotes (my specific advice to you is underlined below)

  1. In the end the mixture was too dry to serve over rice or to incorporate into pasta, which were my original intentions.  I could have made a sandwich with it if I’d had foccacia or other crusty type of roll.  Next time I’ll add 1/2 c of broth at the beginning of the cooking so that when I serve the mixture over rice, the juices find their way to the bottom of the bowl and flavor is all over the place.
  2. I should have thought to add whole cloves of garlic.  Dammit Jim, why didn’t I think of that?  They would have slow cooked into sweet dollops of savory goodness after six hours and added that element of delightfulness which only roasted garlic can add to my plate.  Garlic bread also would have been a good choice for a starch.
  3. Mustard is full of salt, so hold off on adding The Silent Killer during the prep and cooking and allow each person at the dinner table make that choice for his or herself.  We all consume too much sodium to begin with, so just take it easy.
  4. I realize I failed to use a green vegetable to really pull this meal together, but that felt really ambitious.  What vegetable side could complement such strong flavors as Dijon and balsamic vinegar?  Comment with your ideas
  5. My kiddo taste-tested two bites and didn’t care for it (made me wonder if I should have omitted the dry ground mustard?).  I was bummed, but whipped up a veggie burger for her while I daydreamed about all the leftovers I will enjoy tomorrow.

 

Dijon chicken 6No Celine was harmed in the assemblage of this blog post.

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

Okay–Maybe I’m Just Hungry

I have never been a dessert person.  I cannot be enticed or influenced by chocolate or Bavarian cream or even Tic-Tacs.  Sugar just doesn’t do it for me.  I can firmly say “No” to any sweet.  It’s my super power.   If you’ve ever spent more than thirty minutes with me you would know that I’m not sweet–I’m sour (and/or savory) and I don’t know why that is or if it’s a “which came first” chicken/egg question for the ages, but I definitely enjoy the ability to resist the goldmine of trans-fat and calories which come with a restaurant cheesecake and frankly I pity all of you who can’t.

Well, unless it’s like a lime cheesecake or something.  I do love lime, in almost anything.  Or lemon.  Like those lemon Girl Scout cookies?  Talk about perfection–especially when you eat them cold, right out of the freezer.  Okay, I guess adding citrus to a powdered-sugary dessert makes it more appealing to me.  I think that’s because citrus is so refreshing and light and, well, adds the sour element that I love so much.  Plus, citrus is great for our metabolism.  I can’t actually prove that’s true in any way, but I feel like it must be so every time I shovel those gooey lemon bars by the bushel into my facehole.  What?  Come on.  Like you don’t do this too.

lemon barThe powdered sugar prevents me from actually inhaling these.

Do you know what I am craving now, thanks to staring at these lemon bars?  Gooey butter cake.  Schnucks.  St. Louis, Mizzurrah.  I don’t live anywhere near St. Louis, but when any of the family here fly back to visit our family there they always fly home with at least three gooey butter cakes from Schnucks, and then we all congregrate like vultures at Grandma’s house and inhale that pastry miracle in one night.  But you see, this dessert is much more savory than it is sweet, thanks to all the butter and cream cheese–not that there’s not some sugar and powdered sugar and high fructose corn syrup also in the recipe, but I enjoy the savory layers of the cake much more than those sweet layers.  And let’s put it this way: I If I should ever find myself on death row, gooey butter cake from Schnucks will absolutely be my last meal.  Now it’s all I can think about.  I’m not saying I’d commit murder just to make sure that gooey butter cake is my last meal, but I am suggesting that you all keep it in mind in case that opportunity falls into your laps.

GooeyButterCake-1St. Louis, if you won’t share your gooey butter cake with the rest of us then you can keep your diabetes to yourself, too.

If there is a reason to suck up to me in order to get something you want, try using cheese.  I love cheese.  I love sharp cheddar.  Creamy goat cheese, maybe in a quesadilla with some caramelized onion and mushroom?  And crumbled bleu cheese–I could eat that with a spoon right out of the package.  I’m not snobby about it, though–I am such a sucker for those grocery store cheese sampler trays, the kind from the deli department?  Or if you really have cash to spend, gift me a big bag of those pre-cut cheese cubes.  Cheese?  In a bite-sized cube??  How luxurious!  And we all know what goes with cheese—wine.  So bring wine with the cheese.

cheesewine_01Exactly.

 

Predictably, I don’t care for the sweet wines.  I’m more a fan of the heavy reds.  Or a locally brewed craft beer.  By the way, I’m going to begin calling them “artisanal beers” and hope that catches on, because I can see it becoming a thing. I’d kill to hear the hipster guys in that one hipster pub order “an artisanal beer, please”.  That would make my day.

beerNobody is too good for artisanal beer.  SAY IT OUT LOUD.

So in summary, by paragraph:

  1. I’m not a “sweets person”
  2. Citrus is not only nutritious but also delicious
  3. I would commit crimes if it meant gooey butter cake
  4. Cheese goes with wine
  5. I got bitchy about the hipsters

I bet all this means I’m PMS’ing.  Happy Friday!

 

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

Goat Cheese & Dill Potato Salad

My salivary glands can’t even handle the title of this blog post.

Goat cheese?  I’d eat it everyday, given an unlimited supply of goats and people to milk them and turn that into cheese.  Wait a minute–I live in America!  I think I already have this!  Why don’t I eat goat cheese everyday, then?  I should.  Mmmm goat cheese.

And dill?  I only grow a ton of it in my garden and I’m always looking for ways to use it up.

This was a recent experiment–a savory, delicious experiment which I must share.  And this was so timely of me, given that we have embarked upon BBQ-and-picnic weather and everyone can use a new dish to try or share with your friends and family–don’t be the lame-o who brings the same old, tired, uncreative mustard-based store-bought potato salad to your next potluck!

The dressing here is based on fat-free yogurt, olive oil and goat cheese–I understand that this may seem non-traditional to some of you, so hold your judgment and disdain until I can explain some things at the bottom under “Helpful Hints”.

 

Ingredients:

  • a half dozen or so red potatoes, washed and quartered
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled goat cheese (eyeball it–it doesn’t have to be exactly 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup of plain, fat-free yogurt (eyeball it, this time with your other eyeball)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (I used a micro plane, seen in the above photo)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch of radishes, thinly sliced and then halved (half moons)
  • fresh dill, chopped–about 1 cup, or the entire contents of the clamshell you buy in the produce department
  • 4-5 green onions, sliced

 

Steps:

  1. Cover the potatoes with water, using a large pot.  Add some salt.  Bring to a boil.
  2. While potatoes cook, whisk together your dressing ingredients: goat cheese, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, grated garlic, and salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Remove and drain the potatoes when fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Return potatoes to the hot pot, add the white wine vinegar.
  5. Add the sliced radishes and fresh dill to the warm potatoes.  Cover with the dressing and give it a mix until the spuds are evenly coated.
  6. Walk away, put on leather motorcycle jacket, light up an e-cig and reflect on how cool you are because nobody else at the neighbor’s BBQ will bring anything as delicious as what you just made.

 

Helpful hints:

  • You can serve this potato salad warm or cold.  I prefer warm, because I like to be accused of being difficult.
  • This dish is pretty vegetarian-friendly.  If wanted to “beef” it up a little, you could add bacon crumbles or diced ham cubes.
  • This recipe calls for plain, fat-free yogurt instead of mayo.  It’s not that I’m some kind of animal or un-American, but mayo really creeps me out (raw egg yolks, you guys!) and plus is responsible for literally millions of incidents of food poisoning (I literally just made up that number).  Don’t worry, though–as long as you use plain yogurt (i.e. not vanilla) the tangy-ness won’t bother you.  Also, feel free to use plain Greek yogurt if you like all that protein.  The texture won’t matter in the end, so as long as you buy plain yogurt you’ll be in good shape.
  • Regarding the crumbled goat cheese, all of us smarties with Costco memberships will be pleased–they sell logs of Kirkland brand goat cheese cheaper than anywhere else (around $6, in the cheeses aisle).
  • You could swap white wine for the white wine vinegar if you don’t usually keep that on hand–and you only need a splash, so get your wine glasses ready while you make this dish!
  • If you don’t own a micro plane, consider buying one ($10-15, scroll up and click the Amazon link to your right and add one to your cart).  I used it for grating garlic in this case, but it’s also good for grating fresh ginger or cinnamon sticks and for zesting.  It only comes out of the drawer once or twice a month, but it’s inexpensive and handy to have.

Any thoughts or more ideas on this recipe?  Leave them in the comments, please!

dill radishes

 

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

Everalbum

The innovative folks at Everalbum approached us with the news that their app for iOS has been released and I am loving it!  It’s the most intuitive and advanced way to edit, organize, and share my photos that I’ve used yet, and once I tried it out I knew that it was something I wanted to share with you here.

Everalbum

 

Everalbum is free in the iTunes app store (Android coming soon) and allows me to store 2,500 photos from my camera roll up to “the cloud” at Everalbum, for free.  When I’m ready, I can upgrade to the premium membership so that I can store 50,000 photos in the cloud for just $7.99 per month.  For the cost of one glass of wine a month at that hipster pizza joint I like so much, I can safely delete the pics from my camera roll and access them from my laptop, iPad and iPhone if I want to because they’re all on Everalbum.  This feature is a biggie for me–right after my daughter’s Make-A-Wish experience, I had to perform a “master reset” because my phone locked up.  The tech on the other end of the line didn’t tell me that doing this would delete all of my photos, and I lost some precious photos when that happened.  I so wish they’d been backed up somewhere, but I literally did not have the opportunity!  This was about an hour afterward and I didn’t know that I was about to lose them all.  Ugh.  That still makes me feel sick.

photo2

Friends don’t let friends run out of photo storage space.  Everalbum is your friend.

The default privacy settings for every photo and album is strict–I am the only person who can view my photos unless I specifically choose to share it/them with someone, which is a relief for me.  When I want to share a photo with my sister, I click “share” and select her name from my contacts list and poof–she has it.  My sister is often stuck in a chair somewhere nursing one of her twins, so now she could flip through her Everalbum albums and choose which dozen photos she wants just me and our mom to see and which ones she wants to post directly to Facebook or Twitter via the Everalbum app on the iPhone she always has with her.  And we can edit a photo within Everalbum using all the same editing tools found in any photo software: adding filters, frames, crop, add stickers, adjust focus, sharpness and correct red`eye before I share it.


enchiladas
Believe me, these seafood enchiladas needed no enhancements–but if I wanted to I could do it very easily.
(I’d probably make the scallops look bigger.)

 

My albums are organized by date, and the user interface is beautiful.  My photos are backed up from my camera roll directly to my Everalbum account, so I don’t have to remember to do it myself later.  And if you’re like me and always take about five shots of the same image so that you can go back later to save the clearest/best photo and delete the rest, removing a photo from an album is quick and easy.

You will want to check out this app before the kids are all out of school and summer getaways begin, so that you can take the photos and Everalbum does all the work!

photo1

And I was free to enjoy a baseball game with the twins while Everalbum backed up all my photos for me.

 I was compensated by Everalbum to review their product here, and it is genuinely a great app.  It’s a powerful tool for backing up and organizing your pics, it’s very fast, it’s secure, it’s free and it’s pretty–it’s like my antithesis.

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.

I’m Feeling a Little Icy about “Frozen”

 By the time I saw the movie “Frozen”, I had been hearing for weeks about how it was the best Disney Princess movie yet.  The movie was so well done, and everyone seemed to rave that finally the princesses save themselves instead of depending on a dashing prince. But when I left the theater after finally seeing the movie I was uncomfortable.  I didn’t feel satisfied.  That’s the movie that everyone I knew was raving about?  Eh.  As a story, it was entertaining but I took issue with too much of it.  I’ve kept quiet about it until now and I wasn’t going to say anything, but we’ve served some time in the children’s hospital lately and this movie is running on a loop.  After watching it roughly a dozen times last week I just couldn’t take it anymore.  Let’s get this storm raging on, shall we?

Okay–I wouldn’t go that far.

How exactly did Elsa come into her freezing powers?  She inherited them genetically, but when the king and queen brought the unconscious Anna to the troll he suggested that there’s another more sinister way but it was never elaborated upon.  Was that half-explanation necessary?  Am I missing something?  I found this a weak plot point, but let’s move on.The girls’ parents then tragically perish while away from their daughters.  Elsa retreats to her bedroom suite for ten years, mourning and lamenting the loss of her parents and also of her special powers.  “No it’s cool, we’ll just let the girl martyr herself and shut herself off from the entire world while she obsesses about her flaws and responsibilities and there’s no need to mentor her or otherwise monitor or ensure her mental and emotional health since her parents just died and left their ten year old and her younger sister in charge of the entire kingdom.”  That pisses me off to no end.  The implication that her parents had no backup plan–no Vice President to take charge and not even a Mary Poppins to care for their progeny–seems out-of-this-world irresponsible.  Gah.


She’d be on those girls like cheap plastic flowers on a macramé  hat.

 

And let’s talk about the sexualization of this female protagonist–as Elsa sings “that perfect girl is gone!” up on that snowy mountain, her modest gown and cape transition into a shimmery, off-the-shoulder, clingy gown with a side slit that goes all the way up to here as she sashays her way toward the camera with her sexy long hair flowing behind her.  She went from a tortured, chaste young adult to an unapologetic Jessica Rabbit with the power to kill.  She went from spending her days protecting others from her unpredictable ability to harm them by locking herself away to effectively saying “screw you people, I don’t care and I don’t want to hear about your problems.  Now maybe this snow monster I just made will chase you and kill you since I failed to kill you myself”.  Huh?  I’m still looking for the lesson in all this.


I’m not buying what she’s selling.

 

Elsa sure seemed in control of her ability to murder innocents when she first arrived at the top of that mountain, making sparkles and frost with a few flicks of her wrist.  It’s too bad she had to endanger everyone’s lives with uncontrollable ice daggers a few minutes earlier when she could have just made some chilly little poofs of prettiness.  She ran away from that problem and didn’t have to be accountable for her actions or even empathetic to the discomfort and inconvenience of a sudden and bitterly cold winter on her town.  In fact, she lacked empathy all around.  Elsa grew up obsessed with the negative aspects of her special gift and then when she was finally pushed, she couldn’t hack it and decided to abandon her sister and her frozen kingdom in favor of living alone as a martyr.  Am I the only one conflicted about Elsa as a role model?  As a parent I found her character disappointing–I mean, the character of this character.  Her character lacked character and integrity.  That’s how I felt when I left the theater and it’s how I feel each of the three times per day that one of my kids is watching this movie at home. (Sigh. At least three times.)

Not to mention NO YOU CANNOT MARRY A MAN YOU JUST MET.  What is this girl thinking??  She’s not thinking.  Anna has been abandoned by her parental units and ignored by her older sister, left to her own devices.  And what happens when the sheltered, smoking hot daughter is cast off into the world with zero guidance?  Well, in this case she was ready to cast aside all common sense and marry the first loser she finds, vulnerable to the influence of this handsome, selfish man who ultimately not only breaks her heart but also tries to kill her.  Anna lives in a fantasy land where everything and everyone are there purely for her delight and she lacks any sense of reality.  Her naivete is adorable until it’s not.  In the real world you don’t even kiss someone you just met five minutes ago, much less finish each others’ sandwiches and then marry them.  I’ve had more meaningful relationships with the mouth-breather sitting next to me on an airplane than Anna and Hans ever had.  It’s not adorable or endearing to completely commit yourself to someone you don’t know–it’s not a good idea at all, and it’s obnoxious to the rest of us.  I don’t want my kids to look up to Anna or emulate her, either.

You got on a boat with that sociopath?  Do the names Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood mean anything to you?

 

That leaves us with just two characters to hope my children will find inspiration from:  Kristoff and Olaf.  Kristoff is a realist, a hard worker, has is act together, does right by others and is willing to help those in need.  Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.  Those are all traits I try to instill in my kids.  And Olaf, well, he’s just adorable.  If he could just keep his face and his limbs from falling off, he’d be someone to look up to, too.  Everyone needs a little humor in their lives.  And “some people are worth melting for” might be my favorite line of all.  Yes, as long as you’re not a naive teenager and he’s not an evil jerk-face whose last name you don’t even know, some people are indeed worth melting for.

Get yourself together, Olaf.

 

Okay so yes, in the end the sisters saved each other.  Let’s ignore the fact that they wouldn’t be their situation at all if either of them had a healthier sense of self esteem or operated logically on any level.  The good guys eventually win, the scenes and colours are beautiful, the soundtrack is great.  I don’t mind if my children want to watch the movie (again. And again. And again.), but you know I’m standing over their shoulders pointing out most of what I just pointed out in my above rant.  Yeah, I’ll rain on that parade as long as there are lessons to be learned.

Let it go, indeed.

This better not be a thing, you guys.

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Cassandra can be found on Twitter @aclevergirl.  Learn more about her family’s unique challenges and why they have hope for a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy at byrdsforacure.org.