Super easy mac-n-cheesey

I have long been a devotee of Irma S. Rombauer. When I was single, I used to flip through the pages of her 1997 edition while eating breakfast or after cleaning up from dinner and get all sorts of handy tips, like how to cook the perfect hardboiled egg, the proper way to brew coffee, or where various cuts of meat come from on each animal and how to prepare them. Now that I have less self-indulgent time on my hands, I only get to flip through Joy for random inspiration or last-minute references.

This past weekend, feeling too lazy to retrieve a box of mac & cheese from our cellar, I decided to see what Irma had to say about whipping something up stove-top. I read her entry, surveyed my cupboard and came up with this pathetically easy and surprisingly tasty concoction:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk (per Irma’s suggestion; it really was creamier than my whole milk option and what the hell else do you do with evaporated milk anyway?)
  • handful of shredded cheddar cheese (or more to taste) + grated Parmesan for zing
  • 2 cups cooked elbow noodles,
  1. prepare a roux with first two ingredients,
  2. turn it into a bechamel by adding the third gradually
  3. add cheeses to desired taste
  4. stir in any additional items you might have around (in the hopes of diversifying young pallets, I added some crumbled Italian sausage and chopped broccoli florets but my kids would have been perfectly happy without)
  5. pour over (or spoon in to) cooked noodles

Really, that was it.  To think I’ve been cooking mac & cheese from a box all my life…Who knew it was so easy?! Happy cooking.


Encountering God

lake at Pilgrim PinesThis past weekend, despite a growing pile of laundry, a laundry list of to-dos and a total absence of all things fall and festive being done in and around our home, my family and I attended our church‘s All Church Retreat. It wasn’t a casual decision, in fact, in part, the retreat evolved from a conversation I had with one of our ministers last winter. It was the first time the church had ever had an all church retreat and they pulled it off like Houdini; it was magical.

If you’ve never participated in a religious retreat of any sort or don’t even attend a house of worship for that matter, it’s not too late to try one on for size, you may be surprised how well it fits.

I grew up on the Main Line, in a wholly Waspy, highly social, see-and-be-seen sort of church. I have a vague memory of Sunday School, a fleeting recollection of Coffee Hour and a peptic sensation about my family’s actual religious conviction at the time. But the experience was evocative and somehow this half-baked exposure during my formative years stuck with me.

Like many, I exerted a great deal of energy during adolescence and young-adulthood rejecting the establishment, abstaining from anything conforming and shunning all things religious, not spiritual, just “religious.”

Fast forward 25 years: DH and I genuinely invest in our spiritual development and our children are being raised under the same premise. It’s a challenge, living in New England, where religion is a private, closed-door topic and talking openly about one’s affiliation leaves you feeling like a pariah. On the other hand, connecting with like-minded, mutually-seeking travelers on their own religious journey is as exhilarating as being stranded in a foreign culture and stumbling upon an enclave of native English speakers.

And that’s how it felt this weekend, for the first time our church has ever had a retreat, 120 of us gathered in Swanzey, NH and encountered God together. Young kids were taken under the wings of older ones; teens engaged adults in spiritual dialogue; empty-nesters held babies; seniors communed with young families; ministers experienced services as laypeople; and parishioners delivered sermons. Labels were abandoned and replaced by the mutual value we all have placed on our spiritual growth and we left feeling exhilarated and fulfilled. So while many things this weekend may have been neglected at home, the most important things were attended to. Now if only I could figure out how to pull a Houdini act around my house.

Lay Down your Sweet Head

Aretha’s earned her keep (not like it was costing me anything to begin with, since she was a freebie) but hey, she can stay

I figured, if I got the kids involved, I’d be more accountable for finishing the project. So I took them to the fabric store (see prior post on this one: One too Many) and let them pick out the above choices. The sewing class I signed up for got Aretha and me through the remedial stages of straight-stitch, zig-zag and reverse, yielding the results pictured here. In the process, I also developed a keen understanding for why sewing guilds  developed in the first place: it was fun!

I once attended a Bunco night and I’ve gotta say, my sewing class is a little like that. It’s part serious, part funny, all moms and completely social, we just happen to be learning how to sew instead of rolling dice. I didn’t know any of the other participants going in but gradually, like our projects, we’re piecing together. So much so, in fact, that this blog, which I thought I’d launch quietly, with just a handful of loyal, familiar readers, is now public knowledge to my fellow fashion mates. Three weeks in and I mentioned it enough during class that it’s entirely possible some of them are reading this very post.

So here’s to you, ladies of the Wednesday, Mothers & More sewing crew, thanks for talking me around my first edge; now if only one of you could show me how to wind a bobbin…

Sweet Dreams

‘Til death do us part


No one said marriage would be easy. Getting married, easy; staying married, hard work. My DH comes from a long line of mono-marriages; I come from a long line of multi-divorces. I joke that my parents are serial monogamists but its really not funny. Cumulatively, they’ve been divorced four times and married six; my mom’s on her third husband, my dad, his fourth wife.

Current statistics show that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. In fact, the year we got married, so did several of our close friends. We couldn’t help attending some weddings that year, wondering which would become a statistic. Marriage is the target practice at life’s artillery range, bullets like graduate school, relocating, children, career(s), and business travel can leave it pretty tattered.

My parents may not have set the bar very high but well-weathered marriages, ones that had endured through the years, surmounted the challenges, and risen above the fray, did. Which is why I am still deeply unsettles by Al and Tipper Gore’s divorce.

Back in June, when the news broke, DH clipped this article for me. It’s not that the Gores were my role models, nor do I think of them as poster-children for “Happily Ever After.” What I find so sobering are the article’s statistics about the diminishing  amount of dinner conversation married couples have over the years.

When marriage vows were scripted, median life expectancy was somewhere around 50. You got married in early adolescence, had children before 20, raised them and died. Manageable, doable, possibly even pleasurable. But now? Life expectancy world-wide is 80!  So maybe I should be thankful that DH’s job has him on the road 50% of the time. Maybe that will give us 50% more time to make up for when our marriage is 20 years in.  And seeing how we got married at 28 and 31, I’m counting on SIX whole minutes of robust dinner conversation by the time our last supper roles around. Opinions welcome.

Sew Long but Not Farewell


Somewhere along the way, I tripped over my Modern-day-free-wheeling-independent-woman persona and fell smack into Domestic Maven. So in keeping with my new role, about a year and a half ago, I expressed an interest in learning how to sew. It was shortly after moving into our first home and I thought it would be a handy skill for hemming curtains–possibly even making some from scratch–and certainly for mending kids’ clothes. I mentioned this idea to my Darling Husband (DH), who sallied forth to find me a respectable and reasonably priced (read: free) machine. Here’s what he found:

She’s a Singer Fashion Mate 360 circa 1978. Note the unique addition of red, model paint speckled gingerly across the front, adding to her already diva personality. She’s also really heavy and, despite her advanced age, still works great. For all of these reasons, I call her Aretha.

Through the benevolence of a sewing-spectacular friend of mine and the quilting group at my church, I did manage to learn how to use Aretha enough to hem several curtains, mend my son’s favorite blankie and make a potholder but beyond that, nothing…UNTIL NOW!

Last night I ventured into the guilded world of sewing by signing up for a class. OK, so we’ll disregard the fact that my inaugural project is making a pillowcase for each of my small charges and instead hope that this is just the beginning of Aretha and my glorious new career. After all, “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.”

Kids in the Kitchen

My paternal grandmother was from Central Italy, a small village outside of Campobasso. Back in 1965, my parents stopped in her home town while on their honeymoon. They described a village surrounded by rolling green hills dotted by flocks of white sheep and filled with the wonderful tastes and smells of Italy. When I was about 7, my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s and she didn’t cook as much but until then, she was a GREAT cook. Though she’s been gone for 25 years now, I still have clear memories of her cooking. Fabulous foods whose names rolled out of your mouth as easily as the delicacies rolled into it. Things like braciole, cosciotto d’agnello con aglio [leg of lamb with garlic], stromboli, and at Christmas, pizzelle (which we continued to make just like this for many years). So it was with my Nonnie in mind that my 4 year old and I set out on adventure to make a gigantic pot of Jeanna Paula Anzluena’s Pasta Sauce with Meatballs.

For me, this was an act of homage to my grandmother but for my daughter, there were really just two main attractions : 1. the opportunity to pulverize a variety of herbs and vegetables using my food chopper and 2. mixing and rolling food with her bare hands. As I mentioned previously, I’m not a mom who regularly treads into the land of craft projects but cooking with my kids is a whole different journey. The kitchen is our canvas and food the medium. They smell the spices in our spice drawer, they mix, measure, pour, fill and taste; and they definitely get messy. Since my kids are young, we haven’t crossed into the vast terrain of reading recipes and using sharp cutlery yet but the road ahead is long.

In the end, I am pleased to say that we turned 2 lbs of ground meat into these:

my child got to play with food–mix, mash and roll–without being reprimanded and we now have enough sauce and meatballs to fuel us right into pizzelle season. Mangiamo!

For more great ideas about fun things to do with kids in the kitchen, check this out

To Market, to market: grocery shopping with kids

OK, so I once thought I was going to be the kind of mom that would make cardboard caterpillars out of egg cartons and all sorts of other crafty, fun stuff with my kids but alas, it hasn’t turned out that way. In fact, I often go to great lengths NOT to do craft projects with my kids (hey, they’re already tiny tornadoes, who needs to add paint, glitter and glue to the mix?). Instead, I opt for creative “learning excursions” instead. I look at life as a mobile classroom, rarely visiting the same place twice (I don’t recommend this lifestyle to others unless, like me, you have a hard time sitting still). But today, I had a rare stroke of Genius. Two coincidences occured simultaneously and the result was magnificent!

The coincidences were: 1. I needed to go grocery shopping 2. I happened to have a pen and paper in my car.

I’ve read about “professional” moms who make shopping lists for their little charges, complete with pasted on pictures of the items to search for and other fun tricks but who has time for that, I mean REALLY!? What I did have time for was a quick jotting down of a few items my 4 year-old wanted from the fruit, veggie and dairy sections. The result looked like this

I also selected a store that happens to have kid size shopping carts and away we went.  It may not have been a nifty googly-eyed insect but in the end, I think she gained a lot of pretty valuable life lessons: she felt empowered, she was able to read the items on her list and she learned a lot about how to select items from the grocery store, including a carton of eggs. Now all I need to do is figure out what I should do with the leftover cardboard container…

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