Please, sir, have s’more

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Ever feel like you want the campfire experience … without having to, you know, build a campfire?

A friend recently found this take on s’mores bars — a family-friendly bar dessert that is simple to pull together, cuts cleanly, and pleases a crowd. Made similarly to Rice Krispie Treats, these are a sticky winner perfect for summertime get-togethers (socially-distant, of course … #2020).

I added rainbow sprinkles while mixing in the Golden Grahams. No one really needs a reason for sprinkles, but let’s get serious: this has been a very stressful six months. I need any touch of whimsy I can find.

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S’mores Bars

3 tbsp butter, plus more for pan
1 (12-oz.) package mini marshmallows
7 cups Golden Grahams cereal
3 Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, broken into pieces

Grease a 9″-x-13″ pan with butter. Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a large pot/dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add all but 1 cup of mini marshmallows, then stir until melted and smooth.

Remove from heat and quickly stir in Golden Grahams, making sure the cereal is evenly coated. Press into pan and top with chocolate pieces and remaining cup of mini marshmallows.

Heat broiler and bake until marshmallows are toasted, about 2 minutes.

Allow to set at least 30 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Recipe from Delish

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End of an era

Version 2

A warm rain started just as I hopped out of my minivan, but nothing could dampen my spirits.

Hauling the box to customer service, the masked Target cashier greeted me with the customary eye-smile of 2020.

“Hi! I have a return,” I began, trying to contain my glee. We processed the run-of-the-mill transaction: scanning barcodes, digging around for my Red card. I stayed quiet, willing myself to not act like a weirdo, but it still burbled out.

“We’re finally done with diapers!” I said. “Five and a half years!”

As the Target associate moved the unopened box of Pull-Ups, she offered me an air high-five. I resisted the urge to turn to all the random people at check-out and sing it from the rooftops: everyone in my house is using the bathroom!

Ah, good times.

Toilet troubles have preoccupied our home life for ages. True to his extra nature, Oliver was nearly four before he was using the facilities full-time. He told me it was “boring” to use the bathroom, and he didn’t want to stop building his tower or smashing his monster trucks long enough to bother. But once Ollie was done with Pull-Ups/diapers, he was done. He’s hardly had an accident since.

Hadley has been much more interested in transitioning out of diapers since her cousin, Leo, arrived this spring. Not wanting to be lumped into the “baby” category definitely helped her take potty-training seriously. My girl also just seems more susceptible to peer pressure in general. All the big kids use the potty, we say — a tactic that had zero impact on her brother, but will prompt an indignant Hadley to shuffle into the restroom every time.

Because the kids arrived less than two years apart, there has never been a time in our parenting that someone didn’t need a diaper change. In fact, for two years, we had two kids to wrestle. It wasn’t pretty … as I’m sure you know yourself, or can imagine.

But we did it!

I know better than to prematurely celebrate anything with kids, but I feel confident shouting this from the rooftops (er — writing about it publicly) because we’ve gone months with very few accidents. We haven’t touched a diaper since June. Returning the box of Pull-Ups felt a bit like tempting fate, but we’re three days removed from my Target run and doing fine.

I’m proud of Hadley for quickly embracing a “new normal.” I’m proud of Oliver for eventually putting an end to our toilet stalemate. I’m proud of Spencer and I for surviving five and a half years of diapering without going into the poorhouse.

Mainly, I’m just happy to be entering a new era of parenting — especially combined with the fact that the kids can now get their own juice boxes, open their own snacks, and play favorite games on their tablets without me hovering nearby to click for them.

That last one is definitely #modernparenting … but hey.

A win is a win.

Hunting-birds in summer showers

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“Mom, can we look for hunting-birds?”

It was hot. Sticky. Thunder rippled overhead, randomly spooking my five-year-old. Oliver dashed inside. But his three-year-old sister was looking up at me, curls damp and eyes hopeful.

Dropping lunch bags and tote bags, junk mail and travel mugs, the kids and I settled on the porch while the mosquito welcoming committee rushed to greet us. I cringed. My idea of spending time in nature is ordering chips and salsa on an outdoor patio. But we’ve all taken a new interest in fresh air, rain, space. Our world got smaller this year.

My husband hung bird feeders years ago, around the time we first moved in. But working from home since the spring, and with little to distract from the kid mess and “Floogals” on loop, Spence has really committed to refreshing them. Every few days he’s pulling them down and mixing up a sugar solution, carefully rehanging them under the eye of watchful bird-neighbors.

The hummingbirds — Hadley’s <i>hunting-birds</i> — seem to be everywhere. Several duke it out for the prized feeder on the porch; others have laid claim to the back deck, where they alternate sips and squawk at one another. We can see them from our family table or Spencer’s desk in the office. He often took the kids out to watch the birds during COVID, when the days stretched with uncertainty. I was at work, watching drive-through lines for COVID testing stretch around my hospital building.

Oliver and Hadley’s daycare reopened two months ago. We worried about what to do, talking through multiple variations of the same thing … and ultimately decided it was best for everyone to settle them back in such a familiar and comfortable setting. And, you know … suffice it to say that everyone’s sanity felt like it hung in the balance.

So they’ve been happily back amongst some teachers and friends — back and as socially-distant as possible, anyway — since late June. The routines have been wonderful for everyone. Already I feel like those strange, scary first days have receded a bit in the mist. Everyone is happier; everything feels a little lighter. My anxiety dreams spin up less and less often.

COVID isn’t gone, of course. Of course. Face masks are now a staple of daily life, like temperature checks. So much of what would seemed absolutely unthinkable six months ago — canceling weddings, suspending sports, making all-important black-tie fundraisers “virtual” — is now all just so … unsurprising. Disappointing, yes. But just part of life in a pandemic.

As we’ve tiptoed into a “new normal” (do you hate that overused-but-apt phrase as much as I do?), at least for the moment, there are certainly glimmers through the rain. I now pick up the kids after school, and we talk all the way home. Before, with Spence on pick-up duty, I’d drag myself into a chaotic house with children already glued to tablets. “How was your day?” went largely unignored.

It doesn’t now. And we move slower. Each day begins with a kiss on the forehead — part affection, part diagnostic — and breakfast: string cheese for Hadley, pancakes for Oliver. I hug my husband in the doorway, step out into the heat. Begin the first of my two full-time jobs, starting the second as soon as I see those sweet faces again.

Version 2

On Wednesday, the day after a tropical storm ravaged the next county over, the air was damp and heavy. Hadley asked to see the hunting-birds. I felt the bugs clustering on my exposed ankles, then thought of the constellation of bites that would soon dot my skin.

But already I’m often “Mom,” not Mommy. Little hands don’t seek mine quite as much. I don’t remember the last time a child fell asleep in my arms (not counting my four-month-old nephew). And I think — fingers crossed! — that we’ve officially changed our last diapers … five-and-a-half long years after changing our first. (Not exactly sad about that, though.)

So we sank into our hand-me-down porch furniture — Oliver tall in a chair, Hadley and I snuggled on a bench. I tried to ignore the cobweb threads on my elbows while we watched the feeder intently. At one point we heard a mad buzzing, and my daughter and I jumped. The hummingbird was just a blur.

Spencer soon crept out. As our resident avian expert, he pointed out the tiny bodies bouncing between tree limbs. They were clearly watching us, too.

“Let’s try to be really quiet,” he whispered to our two squirming children — and me. “If we wait patiently, I bet they’ll come over.”

It took a few minutes. Thunder rumbled, but distant now — music from a storm that wouldn’t come. Hadley rested her head on my arm; Ollie settled his hand on the other.

And then, they did come. There and gone in mere seconds, but hovering enough for us all to clearly admire them. The iridescent green hummingbird, an emerald flash, was my favorite. Oliver was so excited that he jumped up, exclaiming that he needed his video camera (an Adam Goldberg in the making, for sure). The moment ended as Oliver lost it after he couldn’t find said camera … but calm moments these days are all precious.

“I love that smell,” said my husband, grinning as a soft rain started. “And I love that sound — just a summer rain falling.”

I didn’t know the last time I heard it. Or smelled it. Or … really noticed it at all.

“Me too,” I said, and mean it.

 

Colgan, take me away

500 Miles from YouYou know how sometimes a book just finds you at precisely the right moment? Our current lives, so disrupted by COVID-19 and politics and the accompanying worries of just … everything, well … I’ve been reading again. Reading like I’m not the overextended mom/wife/essential worker that I am.

In short: I’ve needed a mental escape. Enter Jenny Colgan’s 500 Miles from You, a sweet tale of two nurses — one English, one Scottish — who spend about 300-ish pages communicating primarily through text and email. Cormac and Lissa are strangers, but they’re connected through a job swap initiated after Lissa is a first responder at a terrible crime.

Sensing she needs a complete change of scenery, the NHS reassigns her to a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands. She trades roles with Cormac, a community paramedic, and the pair are dropped into each other’s worlds: Lissa to Cormac’s cottage in a town where everybody knows your name; Cormac to Lissa’s utilitarian flat in London, where he finds himself suddenly (and delightfully?) anonymous.

IMG_5793_originalThe plot is relatively simple: Lissa helps others in Kirrinfeif as she heals herself; Cormac experiences life outside the familiar paths and rolling hills of home. The two learn much about each other throughout their ongoing chats … chats about their patients, obviously. Of course. The patients.

The story branches in other directions (there’s a court trial, PTSD, the scene-stealing friendship with Kim-Ange), but its heart is certainly the growing closeness — however geographically complicated — between Cormac and Lissa. Which was genuinely sweet and believable.

Colgan knows how to build romantic suspense. And you know where else she excels? Scene-setting, because lord I wanted to cash in all the credit-card miles accrued from daycare bills and high-tail it back to the Highlands. Living vicariously in Kirrinfeif has recently taken the sting out of some long days.

My love of London is serious, too, but Lissa’s thread and the Scottish scenes were definitely my favorites. Only after finishing 500 Miles from You did I learn this was actually the third book in a series — though obviously reading it as a stand-alone was no problem.

So the good news? I get to go back!

Can’t wait.

4/5

Review copy provided by publisher
in exchange for my honest review

Swept up in ‘The Man Who Caught the Storm’

Man Who Caught the StormI thought I was a writer until I read Brantley Hargrove.

Well, scratch that: I am a writer, but I am not Brantley Hargrove.

Pick up The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Storm Chaser Tim Samaras and you’ll know precisely what I mean.

In a book that is equal parts biography and thriller, the beloved film “Twister” rendered in beautiful language outside of Hollywood, journalist Hargrove delves into the life of Tim Samaras, a self-taught engineer who changed the course of tornado science with his brilliance, grit … and pure appreciation of twisters.

I get it. Family members relate with fondness the years in which I could recite the upcoming weather forecast for the next 10 days by heart. I once asked Santa to bring a Doppler radar for Christmas. While cousins at Grandma’s begged for Nickelodeon, I insisted on round-the-clock Weather Channel. Around age 10, I remember tracking a hurricane until I fell asleep, then waking at the crack of dawn to hurriedly check its progress near Florida. I was glued to the screen. How high was the storm surge?

In short, I’m a weather geek.

I might have pursued being a meteorologist had I not decided, sometime around middle school, that I was “terrible” at math. I wasn’t, in hindsight; it just didn’t come naturally to me, and I wasn’t used to working hard.

My own obsession with tornadoes never wavered, though. I’ve watched hours of footage of classic twisters over the Great Plains — and researched extensively the shocking F4 tornado that leveled large parts of the town next to my own in 2002. (I idolize the Capital Weather Gang. Dream job, man.)

Basically, I came to Hargrove’s The Man Who Chased the Storm already predisposed to love it. It had all the elements that would combine into a gripping, memorable page-turner that would dominate my waking hours for the days it took me to tear through it. Love it I did.

Shockingly, I wasn’t familiar with Tim Samaras before I started reading this account of his life and work; I approached with fresh eyes and was completely immersed in his world. Samaras reminds me very much of my own husband — enough that I immediately pushed my finished copy into his hands. Ham radio operator, electronics buff, brilliant with both his hands and mind … there’s much to admire about Samaras.

Tim Samaras

Though the book has no choice but to end on a sorrowful note, so much about Tim demands to be celebrated. Hargrove does a fantastic job of balancing the famous storm chaser with Tim the father, husband, colleague, and friend.

As we ride along with this crew of dedicated storm chasers, saying you “feel like you were there” through Hargrove’s incredibly well-researched book is an insult to the term. Take this, from its very opening pages:

Fog clings to the low swells of eastern-Colorado rangeland as dawn breaks. The mist walls off the far horizon, and for a few short hours the high plains feel a little more finite. The still air is cool and heavy, almost thick enough to drink. This is how these days often begin. The atmosphere is primed, the air a volatile gas. All it needs is a match. …

[Tim] is already en route to the plains from his home in suburban Denver. As the sun reaches its peak, his hail-battered Datsun pickup enters the storm chaser’s cathedral. … Once the sheltering Front Range fades from the rearview mirror, he’s naked to the lungs of the earth, in an unadorned country where the passage of miles can feel more like a few hundred yards.

I could really just quote, like, the entire book, but I want you to go read the book. It really is just that good — and quite the wild, memorable ride.

Perfect for:

  • Weather geeks who crave the data and the drama
  • Non-fiction lovers who want to learn while reading their bios
  • Readers ready to laugh, cry … and open new Google tabs to research while reading

5/5

Personal copy gifted by my sister; not sent for review.

Summer bowl: Shrimp & gnocchi with corn, basil, and blistered tomatoes

Shrimp gnocchi

Back in our early days of parenthood, when I was too exhausted to make decisions of any sort, Spence and I subscribed to a meal kit delivery service.

I looooved it. And I mean loved. Gone were the nightly “what’s for dinner?” debates. The angst over what to cook, when to shop, and basically how to live with a newborn was all very foreign (and overwhelming to me). Using one of those “five free meals!”-type promotions, we opted for Blue Apron. Our box came on Mondays. The recipes were fantastic and I loved the cute, perfectly-portioned meats and “knick-knacks” like red wine vinegar. I especially loved that we could make restaurant-quality meals at home … with a newborn.

If that sounds like marketing, well — it’s kinda hard to turn off, given my day job and all. It also happens to be entirely true!

As our family grew and we began getting more than a few hours of sleep, I couldn’t justify the cost anymore. That’s around the time I discovered The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook, a/k/a my cooking bible. The moment we experience an unexpected windfall, though, I will sprint back to Blue Apron … mark my words.

In the meantime? We’ll settle for eBay.

For roughly $3, my husband recently purchased a big lot of Blue Apron recipe cards from another home chef. These babies are full-size, full-color with step-by-step instructions. I kept the recipe sheets from all of our favorite recipes, so it’s easy to replicate the dishes again and again — unless they call for a tough-to-find ingredient (it happens, though not often).

Anyway. I’m in danger of turning into this meme.

Here’s a delicious summertime dinner (or lunch!) that turned out pretty as a picture. The original rendition from Blue Apron calls for fresh ingredients we didn’t have on hand, so I substituted with canned and frozen varieties … and the result was still fantastic. This is my wild-eyed, busy parent version.

It’s fresh. It’s flavorful. It’s fast, because it’s shrimp … and gnocchi, which literally cook in minutes. The description below seems long, but it is not complicated. You’re basically cooking the ingredients in batches and layering them together to create one balanced, tastebud-satisfying dish.

Dig in. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

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Shrimp & Gnocchi with Corn,
Basil, and Blistered Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1 lb. frozen shrimp, thawed
16 oz. package potato gnocchi
10 oz. cherry tomatoes, any color
2 cloves garlic, minced or diced
2 scallions, sliced
1 can (16 oz.) corn kernels, drained
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Parmesan, to taste

Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp of olive oil on medium-high and add the tomatoes. Without stirring, cook the tomatoes until browned and blistered (about 3-4 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until slightly softened. Transfer to a bowl.

In the same pan, heat 2 tsp of olive oil on medium-high. Add the scallions and corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened (about 1-2 minutes). Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

Pat the shrimp dry and season with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the pan of cooked corn along with the garlic and red pepper flakes to your preference. Cook on medium-high, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through (3-4 minutes). Turn off the heat.

As the shrimp are cooking, boil the gnocchi. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the gnocchi float to the top of the pot. Reserve 1/3 cup of the gnocchi cooking water, then drain thoroughly.

Transfer the gnocchi to the shrimp mixture. Return the blistered tomatoes to the pan. Add the butter and fresh basil, along with a few tablespoons of the gnocchi cooking water. Cook on medium-high, stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes, until the gnocchi are coated in the butter sauce. (Add additional cooking water a few tablespoons at a time if your sauce seems dry.) Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of parmesan cheese (optional), plus more of the fresh basil (not optional — just delicious). Enjoy!