Here, Taste This: Tex-Mex Enchuritos

I am so over turkey.

And leftover mashed potatoes. And green bean salad.

Anyone with me?

The goal for the week after Thanksgiving is to use up the danged leftovers and then move on in the flavor department. Introduce something new, something spicy, something our forefathers would never have thought of.

Let's make some enchiladas, filled with spicy beef and sharp cheddar and covered with a fiery chipotle sauce and baked until crispy and bubbling.

Only, technically, enchiladas are made with corn tortillas, and I'm not a fan, probably because it's hard to get good corn tortillas here in the Upper Midwest. So I make these with flour tortillas. Which means I'm really making something more akin to burritos here.

Let's call them enchuritos. The purists will be pacified.

photo courtesy Everyday Food

Tex Mex Enchuritos

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup flour
30 ounces chicken broth
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 small chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from the can
1-1/2 cups water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 pounds lean ground beef
Coarse salt and ground pepper
10 flour tortillas
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped cilantro

1. First, let's make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the flour and whisk together; cook 1 minute. Add broth, chili powder, the minced chipotles and adobo sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat, and simmer until lightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
2. Next, let's make the filling. In a large nonstick skillet, cook beef, onion and garlic; season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spoon 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of an 9x13 baking dish, enough to just cover the bottom.
4. Time to assembled the enchuritos. Fill each tortilla with a heaping 1/4 cup beef mixture and 2 tablespoons cheese; roll up tightly. Set each enchurito, seam side down, in the baking dish. When the dish is full, pour remaining sauce on top; sprinkle with cheese. Baked, uncovered, until hot and bubbly, 15-20 minutes. Serve garnished with cilantro.

1. For the chicken broth, you can either buy 2 15-ounce cans or one of those resealable boxes and just measure what you need.
2. If you've never bought chioptles in adobo, don't be scared. They are awesome. You'll find them in the Mexican food aisle, and you can freeze the chiles and the sauce that remain after this recipe. I use chipotles in all kinds of recipes; I love having a few stashed in my freezer at all times.
3. Stuff those enchuritos in your baking pain in whatever direction you choose. I usually end up with the majority lined up the long way and a few stragglers lying along the bottom. Doesn't matter. It all tastes good.
4. If cilantro is the herb from hell to you, you don't have to use it.
5. I always serve this with a crunchy green salad, as show in the picture. It's the perfect accompaniment.

I Don't Understand, Charlie Brown

I realize what I’m about to say is un-American. Or worse, un-Minnesotan, since Charles Schultz hails from this state. (All of a sudden, all those Zamboni jokes make sense, don't they?)

But I don't get the enduring reverence for Charlie Brown.

A few weeks ago, our family watched the annual airing of the Peanuts special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” My kids have seen it a few times, mostly when they’ve decided to check the DVD out of the library - in June, naturally. But it’s been a few years, so watching it this fall was like watching it for the first time.

Before I continue, I feel compelled by my distaste for all things controversial to say: I don’t hate Charlie Brown. When I was a kid, I used to check out the Complete Collection of Peanuts from the library at least once a year. I had a small thing for Snoopy. And my kids are so used to me listening to the music from Charlie Brown Christmas each winter that they’ve started saying “This sounds like Charlie Brown” whenever they hear jazz.

So I'm not a jerk, OK?

But I can't say the same about most of the Peanuts gang. They aren't just jerks; they are bullies, especially to Charlie Brown. The Halloween special revolved around them calling each other blockhead and idiot (two words that would get kids in major trouble in our house, if they dared fling them like the Peanuts gang) and mocking Linus’ childlike faith in the Great Pumpkin. Charlie Brown got no candy in his trick-or-treat bag – only bricks. Lucy pulled the football away from him – again - even after promising not to. The few times the kids were kind to each other – like when Lucy goes to get her sleeping little brother out of the pumpkin patch, where he’s shivering with cold – the compassion was colored with huffs and eye rolls.

The humor is grown-up and very 1960s. Jokes about women’s lib abound, and when Linus and Charlie Brown debate the existence of the Great Pumpkin versus Santa Clause, Charlie brown quips, “We’re obviously separated by denominational differences.” Corey and I snickered. But the kids didn’t even flinch.

Frankly, the only somewhat entertaining part of the special was Snoopy’s foray into the world of the Red Baron. And even then, our kids didn’t really understand it. “What is he shooting? Why are there bullet holes in his dog house? If he crashes, will he die? Why is he crawling around on the ground now?” It made no sense to them. But they liked that he made silly noises and shook his fist at invisible enemies.

I know the Christmas special has more redeeming qualities. And I'll admit that my kids watched The Great Pumpkin more than once, even though they didn't get most of the jokes and they were saddened and a little angered by the constant meanness. But to my eyes, it appears the culture lore of Charlie Brown is one of those traditions that is cherished more for its nostalgia than its intrinsic value.

Am I wrong? Tell me I am. Explain.

Thankful (A Partial List)

image via 3 Wishes Creation
I am thankful for food, because cooking is one of my favorite forms of play. I spent eight hours in my kitchen today, and tonight, I wear the satisfied smile of an artist who spent time with her muse.

I am thankful for the dried Play-Dough on my floor, because it kept my toddler occupied for 30 whole minutes.

I am thankful for my camera, because it allows me to collect everyday moments and keep them forever, like polished stones in my pocket.

I am thankful for poets, because their words scatter into the crevices of my soul and crack wide the soil packed hard by routine practicality.

I am thankful for my body, because it is strong, if a bit lumpy, and it has born four babies.

I am thankful for Zumba, because I come alive when I dance.

I am thankful for flannel sheets.

I am thankful for my home, this gift I scarcely dared hope for during years of transition. It is nothing like what I used to envision, yet it is everything I've ever wanted.

I am thankful for the gap in Teyla's front teeth, because it is adorable and it reminds me that perfection is not required for beauty.

I am thankful for Connor's infectious laugh, because it lights up the very air with joy.

I am thankful for new friends who enliven, encourage and energize. I feel like I've stumbled onto a secret cave of treasure, and I stagger under the exquisite richness around me.

I am thankful for old friends who knew the me I used to be, who see the me I am and who give me hope I will be the me I want to become.

I am thankful for my siblings, scattered though we may be. They have grown into some of my favorite people. If the four of us lived near each other, we would surely end up like the Bravermans, and I'm not sure anyone needs that much drama in their lives.

I am thankful for music because makes the intangible beat of my heart real.

I am thankful for parents who's unconditional love was as common and expected as the bottomless tin of homemade cookies in the kitchen cupboard, third drawer down. To have love be as ordinary and as decadent as a Chocolate Crinkle is a gift I still can't measure.

I am thankful for Natalie, who picked up every room in the house tonight just because she knows clutter drives me slightly batty.

I am thankful for Kieran's zest for life, even if he wakes me up at 6:00 AM to show me his "new" big boy bed, for the thousandth time.

I am thankful that the sun rose again this morning. Glory.

I am thankful Corey is home this week, because now I am whole.

I am thankful for a God who redeems and renews and restores, who wastes nothing, who loves without end, who is defined by grace.

I am thankful. My soul overflows with gratitude.

Lord, may it always be so.

Without You

photo courtesy 1000 Words Photography
Solo parenting is grueling work.

Because of his new job, Corey has been home only four weeks since August. The kids and I are finding our stride, learning how to thrive in this environment instead of just survive it. This is my life; to grit my teeth and push through with grim determination would be to despise the gift.

But there's no denying it's exhausting to parent four kids alone, day after day after day. I'm the only adult around to make the meals, break up fights, give the baths, read the books, laugh at the jokes, listen to the stories. It's just a lot to do, and most nights, I fall into bed thoroughly spent.

But I have found something that makes solo parenting even harder - the dryness of being disconnected from my spouse.

I fist noticed the parched surface of my own soul in September, about the time I wrote this post. I felt weary to the core, drained. A Southern friend might say plain tuckered.

To be sure, no one expects to have loamy top soil in this stage of life. This is the time of sowing and weeding, a season of work. But I started to notice it wasn't just the surface that was parched. My well was dry. There was no refreshment in the deep places.

And that's when I realized: I miss my husband. I don't just miss his help with the kids or his companionship at the end of a long day. I miss him. I miss our closeness, I miss our jokes, I miss the knowing and the being known. We were growing apart, as quietly and steadily as two boats without oars.

This realization hit me like a bolt.

Corey and I are good at living separate lives. We did it for years before we had kids. He worked long hours for his job, I worked weird hours for mine. We drifted. We got used to being roommates. We grew accustomed to a dry, barren relationship. We could function as a team to take care of the house, pay the bills, even lead the young marrieds class at church. But there was nothing behind the mask.

We didn't like it; no one gets married and hopes for an empty shell of a relationship. But we accepted it as normal. Everyone has struggles, right?

And then God used a variety of circumstances to burn our false front to the ground. Nothing remained but ash. We mourned, with broken hearts and deep humility.

Funny thing about firestorms, though: they leave behind fertile ground. When the new growth began to appear, we could scarcely believe the blessing of a second chance. The last nine years have been the best of our marriage, because now we know that we squandered our first 10 with indifference and resentment. Now we know what can happen if we aren't intentional about letting God deal with us, if we aren't intentional about staying connected. If we don't love each other well.

I say all this so you understand my horror when I recognized the dryness of my soul. It wasn't because I was busy (I was) or the kids were whiny (they were) or I wasn't getting enough sleep (I wasn't). The underlying problem, the root of it all, was the lack of togetherness with my spouse. Nothing could make up for that, and without it, nothing else seemed to work.

Thankfully, once we had a diagnosis, Corey and I were able to tackle the problem together, and today, we are working on keeping connected even while apart. We don't want to go back.

After 20 years together, even in the lean seasons, he is the other half of me.

Maybe this is what is meant when God says he'll make you one.

Welcome to The Parent 'Hood, a weekly blog round-up of all things parenting. I host this carnival every Monday (er, sometimes Tuesday), along with some of my favorite blogging buddies (FriedOkra, Vita Familiae, To Think is To Create, Joy in this Journey, Lovefeast Table and O My Family). Post your link using the tool below, and your post will show up instantly on all the host blogs.

A few bits and pieces:
1. Today’s link-up will run from this morning through next Sunday night. A new link-up will start next Monday morning.
2. Link the unique URL of your parenting post, not the homepage of your blog. Otherwise, your parenting post will get buried under new content on your homepage and be hard to find when readers click through later in the week.
3. We ask that you please include a link somewhere in your post back to The Parent 'Hood, via this post or The Parent 'Hood welcome post on any of the other hosting blogs.
4. If you're on Twitter, hashtag Parent 'Hood posts with #TheParentHood.
5. Share your own posts and read and comment on other blogs. Any good 'hood is all about community, right? Read, comment and enjoy as you have time.

Here, Taste This: A Symphonic Thanksgiving Dinner

I do it every year.

When the November magazines show up in my mailbox, and the glossy cover photos showcase updated Thanksgiving classics, I think, “Maybe this is the year to tinker with my menu.” I start to daydream about change. That brown-sugar glaze looks amazing. Maybe I should add another vegetable dish, like that one with
the Brussels sprouts and pancetta. Wow. Check out that pear and custard pie. Do you think it’s crazy to make four different desserts for my family of six?

But then, when I'm forced to make a decision, I can never deviate from the tried and true. I came up with this menu a few years back, after much trial and error. And it is, quite simply, Thanksgiving perfection. I can't bring myself to part with or add one single dish.

Here's why:

1. It’s a symphonic menu - meaning, it is more than the sum of its parts. If I remove even one dish, the meal loses something. If I add a dish, I have too much food. Put together, it’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet, crispy and creamy, fresh and rich. It touches on every Thanksgiving must-have, sometimes in unexpected ways, without overwhelming the table with any one food group. Bonus: It's a gorgeous meal, with all the reds and oranges and greens and browns.

2. Almost every dish can be made the day before Thanksgiving. Even for people like me who love to cook, this is a sanity saver. It allows me to enjoy the day of Thanksgiving, and spend most of it playing games with my children or going on a frosty hike through the woods, instead of standing on my feet in front of the stove for eight hours. You might say, it enables me to have a slice of Sabbath with my pie – and Sabbath is fuel for a thankful heart. Bonus: If you only have one oven, a menu like this is almost a necessity. Having the side dishes already prepared and ready to reheat in the oven while the turkey rests takes a lot of mental gymnastics out of the day.

3. It's all tasty enough to make you want to slap yo mama. Or whatever they do where you live. In Minnesota, if a meal is really amazing, someone might say, "Uff-dah." Which is Swedish swearing. Or so I've been told. I'm not native.

Are you ready? Here we go: the ultimate Here, Taste This, Thanksgiving edition.

Alton Brown's Roast Turkey
Nothing trendy here. No figs in the stuffing or deep-frying the bird or roasting it upside down. Nope, it’s just turkey, Alton Brown-style. It’s brined – which is really the key to taking a turkey from OK to O-WOW – and then cooked at high heat in your oven. The recipe videos are especially helpful to me. (And highly entertaining. "Stuffing, by and large, is evil.") I watch them every year – it’s my own Thanksgiving tradition – so I can be re-educated about the science behind cooking a 15-pound bird in my oven. Also? If you doubt me, believe the good people on the Food Network’s website. This recipe has five stars and almost 3500 reviews.

Cheater method (which I'm totally doing this year). Get yourself an already brined turkey from Trader Joe's, then follow the second half of Alton's recipe. (Alton, forgive me, but I know not what I.... Actually, I totally know what I'm doing, and brining, while genius, is a butt load of work. This is much easier. Thanks for your understanding.)

White Wine Gravy
Gravy is one of those dishes I feel free to play with, but this recipe is close to what I do. I really like the white wine undertones in this. I don't serve wine at Thanksgiving, so I don't offend my conservative Baptist in-laws. I totally serve wine at Thanksgiving these days, because I like wine with my turkey. But IF YOU DON'T, this gravy almost makes up for it.


Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
The Pioneer Woman's recipe. Seriously. These are a revelation. And so easy. I especially love that I can make them on Wednesday and then pop them in the oven to warm on Thanksgiving and yet they lose nothing in the process. They are just as good the second day as the first.

Roasted Harvest Vegetables
From one of my favorite magazines, Everyday Food. A medley of carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and garlic are roasted at high heat the day before Thanksgiving. (Note: If the aroma of this dish could be made into a perfume, I would wear it.) Just reheat before serving. Again, nothing is lost in translation.

Green Bean, Watercress and and Crispy Shallot Salad
Another Everyday Food contribution. This is a simple salad -- blanched fresh green beans tossed in a light lemon-Dijon vinaigrette and topped with pan-fried shallot circles. Best: It's best served room temperature. Nothing to reheat here. Just prepare the different parts on Wednesday and toss before serving on Thursday.

Zesty Cranberry Sauce
I love cranberry sauce, and this homemade version is so good, I sometimes eat it for dessert. (True story.) I can't find the recipe online; I've had it so long, I'm not even sure where I got it. But it's easy and short, so I'll just give it to you here.

1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine everything in a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to pop, about 8-10 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Nannie's Pumpkin Pie
In my opinion, pumpkin pie is more necessary than turkey for a real Thanksgiving. I know some people don't like it, to which I say: What is WRONG with you freaks? 

Maybe it's because you don't have my Nannie's recipe for pumpkin pie, which has the perfect blend of sugar and spice. According to family lore, Nannie got the recipe off a Kroger's can of pumpkin in the 1940s, when food was being rationed for the war. It has simple ingredients and it's easy to make and it's practically fool-proof.

15 oz canned pumpkin
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients well. Bake in an unbaked pie crust at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, and then 350 degrees until set, about another 45 min.


The frost catches me by surprise.

Living lace peaks from the corners of my window panes. It highlights each strand of grass, sparkles on the neighbor's roof, grows in my lungs when I breathe deep of the crisp morning air.

The sun glow pink behind the fir trees, and my toes glow pink from the chill of the frozen bricks.

It is morning in November.

I think it odd that the frost delayed its appearance until now, so late in the fall, after so many cold nights.

Then I remember: the clouds. For weeks, they've lingered, thick and numbing.

Frost rarely grows without the light of the moon glittering like a diamond in the darkness.

I inhale deep. The sharpness of clarity etches me.

And like the frost, I catch the sun.

Linking up with Amber's abstraction on frost and Heather's call to Just Write, because this piece from one of my favorite abstract-and-writerly friends cleared the fog in my soul and let light shine on me like hope.

Here, Taste This: "Homemade" Mac and Cheese

My real-food, Paleo-eating, health-conscious friends should look away for this post.


Look. Away.

Because today, I'm sharing with you the recipe for my homemade macaroni and cheese, a dish so bubbly with cheesy goodness, the mere mention of it triggers spontaneous praise from my children. It's one of their favorite dishes, and when Corey is on the road, I may even serve it and call it dinner.

But. ...


Can you come closer to the screen? I feel the need to whisper.

The thing is, it's not really a from-scratch sort of thing. In fact, it begins with a box of Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, which appears to have enough orange food dye in it to make us all glow like Lorax. I am not proud of this, so I keep it a secret; some might say I live in denial.

But I do know there's a fair bit of stirring and measuring and pouring, despite its questionable origins. And wholesome ingredients like cheddar cheese and sour cream are added to the processed cheese sauce. So it's practically homemade, right?

One bite, and it won't matter anyway. Not even to Michael Pollan himself.

"Homemade" Mac and Cheese

1 14-ounce package Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese
2-1/4 cups hot water
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

1. In a 1.5-quart casserole dish, whisk together the hot water, pepper and cheese sauce from the box. Ask for forgiveness for using cheese sauce from a box.
2. Stir in dry pasta from the box. Note to self that dry pasta always comes from a box, so this can't be all that bad.
3. Stir in 1 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese. Reflect that cheddar cheese is real food; wipe all thoughts of step one from your mind.
4. Cover casserole with lid; bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Carefully remove casserole from oven, stir in the sour cream, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and the Panko crumbs.
5. Bake another 10 minutes, uncovered, until bread crumbs are golden and macaroni is bubbling.

1. Kraft makes several variations of Deluxe Mac and Cheese. Any of them will work, but I think the original is the truest version. 

2. I often use a mix of cheddar and jack cheese instead of pure cheddar because it happens to be what I have in my fridge. It's still wonderful, but it does tamper with the intense cheese flavor a bit. You've been warned.
3. As noted above, you can swap Greek yogurt for sour cream. The end result will be richer and tangier; good for adults, maybe not so palatable for kids.

Big Boy Bed

It happened so fast, I didn't have time to dread it.

After yet another night of Kieran thrashing between us, Corey announced one morning, "I think Kieran's ready for a big boy bed!"

And instantly, I knew he was right.

Kieran had been waking up at 3:00 AM for months, disoriented and calling for mama. I was too exhausted to deal with it at that hour, so I would scoop him out of his crib, carry him back to my bed and sleep restlessly the rest of the night as he cuddled and nuzzled and tossed and kicked his way to 6:30 AM.

It wasn't the best sleep, but it wasn't the worst either. This tired mama can sleep through just about anything, including a knee in the ribs and a finger in the ear.

But Corey, who sleeps in a hotel bed almost as often as his own, wasn't as amenable. So it was he who gently reminded me that all our kids did this between age 2 and 3, that the best solution was to get them into a twin bed so I could climb in with them when they need some midnight snuggles, and eventually, they would start sleeping through the night again without mama skin contact.

So, in a matter of days, we bought a bed frame, a mattress, a waterproof mattress cover (for lo, the potty training days are still ahead) and bedding that is so perfectly little boy, I almost clapped my hands in delight. (Pottery Barn Kids has my number. That's all I will say about that.)

And then Corey started to disassemble the crib, and my heart started to come apart too.

That crib, it was never really my style, being a hand-me-down and all. And it's a bear to move, seeing as the bolts have to be inserted one way and tightened another.

But it faithfully cradled each of my babies, and I've spent hours and hours of my life bent over its side rail, stroking little heads and whispering quiet lullabies. I've contorted my arm to fit in the side, when Kieran and Teyla just had to hold my hand while falling asleep. It's been a symbol in our home these last 10 years, of our stage of life and of our blessings.

And now it was being taken down for the last time.

But I didn't have much time for melancholy, because when Kieran first beheld his new bed, he almost exploded with joy.

"It's mah big boy bed! Mah big boy bed!" he shouted over and over as he bounced with utter delight. "And dis a crane! And a dumm truck! And a ex-cob-ator! I wuv mah big boy bed!"

Who can resist that?

Time is relentless. Part of my heart will always lie with the crib, now stacked patiently in the guest room, awaiting a new family.

But a bigger part of my heart is right here, with the big boy, in his big boy bed.

Welcome to The Parent 'Hood, a weekly blog round-up of all things parenting. I host this carnival every Monday, along with some of my favorite blogging buddies (FriedOkra, Vita Familiae, To Think is To Create, Joy in this Journey, Lovefeast Table and O My Family). Post your link using the tool below, and your post will show up instantly on all the host blogs. (How cool is that?)

A few bits and pieces:
1. Today’s link-up will run from this morning through next Sunday night. A new link-up will start next Monday morning.
2. Link the unique URL of your parenting post, not the homepage of your blog. Otherwise, your parenting post will get buried under new content on your homepage and be hard to find when readers click through later in the week.
3. We ask that you please include a link somewhere in your post back to The Parent 'Hood, via this post or The Parent 'Hood welcome post on any of the other hosting blogs.
4. If you're on Twitter, hashtag Parent 'Hood posts with #TheParentHood.
5. Share your own posts and read and comment on other blogs. Any good 'hood is all about community, right? Read, comment and enjoy as you have time.

Comments as Love

Every Friday morning, for 45 precious minutes, between Zumba and preschool pickup, I sit alone with my laptop in the cafe of the local community center, and I determine to write.

It goes something like this: I check Facebook and Twitter, to calm my mind. Then I follow a few links, and read a few posts, "to prime the pump," I tell myself.

And before I know it, I'm too involved in other people's stories to tell my own.

This is a hazard, to be sure, one rightfully guarded against. It's why many bloggers I respect create content first thing in the morning, before checking email or social media or their to-do list.

But this morning, it hit me: Commenting on the blogs that I'm reading, sending emails to people I love, even posting on Facebook, this is writing too. It's not creating content for the masses. This is reaction, not action. But it's still using my words to love well. It's sharing the journey and whispering encouragement and saying, "Me too!" It's writing with laser-directed focus on others, not me.

I would do well to remember this. It is good to create something from nothing. Writing takes work and practice and discipline, and I am trying to get better at that.

But using my time and words to applaud the gift in others, that is writing too.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this to get you to leave me a comment. Rather, I am hoping it frees you to spend your words lavishly this weekend, loving others. If writing is your gift, give it away.