Friday, March 31, 2006

Freezer Food Friday-Li'l Cheddar Meat Loaves

Happy Friday!

In continuing with my freezer food Friday theme wherein I share my favorite freezable recipes with my sister-in-law, today's recipe is a meat loaf recipe.

I am not a fan of meat loaves. I like the taste, but there's just something not right to me about taking meat that is whole, grinding it up, and then shaping it into a loaf, so that it looks as if it were whole. And, the word "loaf" just doesn't have an appealing ring to me when used in conjunction with meat. I don't know, maybe I'm weird. Have you ever had a meat loaf with an entire hard-boiled egg inside? Yikes.

So, why am I sharing a meat loaf recipe? I found one that I like and my kids love in A Taste of Home magazine. It was contributed by a woman named Katy Bowron from Cocolalla, Idaho. These are "Li'l" meat loaves. Not the big hunk-o-meat that creeps me out. Each recipe renders 8 mini-loaves. My kids love the mini-loaf. So here is the recipe for a single batch:

1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup onion
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. lean ground beef

Beat the egg and the milk together; add cheese, oats, onion and salt. Add beef and mix well. Shape in to 8 loaves and place them in a greased 9 X 13 baking pan. Make the following sauce to put on top of loaves:

2/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. mustard

Mix and spoon over top of each loaf. Bake, uncovered at 350 for 45 minutes.

This is a very easy recipe to times by 6, eat one batch today and freeze 5 other servings for another day. Here's what you need:

6 eggs
4 1/2 cups milk
6 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 cups oats
3 cups onions
6 tsp. salt
6 lbs. lean ground beef

Prepare as described above. Divide into six parts, 5 parts into gallon freezer bags and 1 part to prepare today. You can flatten out the bags so they fit easily into your freezer. Remember to let them cool in the fridge first.

I make the ketchup/brown sugar sauce the day I prepare the meat loaves.

I serve these with rice, or potatoes and a salad.

A couple of other domestic notes:

I found this mess this morning in the kitchen:

I also found incriminating cracker evidence next to Juan Carlos's (3 yrs.) bed. He must have gotten up for a little midnight snack. I think I jinxed myself with the post about him being such a great sleeper once in bed. Oh well, at least he still has all of his fingers.

And, here is a picture of a quilt that I and my best friend here in Carmen, let's call her Rita, are working on right now:

We are making it for our friend from Mexico City that just had a baby girl. Cute, no?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tales From the Potty

I had a proud moment as a mother this week. In the battle against my boys’ love of potty talk (you know, catch phrases like "poopy" "pee-pee" "gas", "fart"**, "butt"** that are like a little dose of laughing gas for my little guys), I finally found a way to use it to my advantage.

In an attempt to get the Julio (5 1/2) to eat his veggies the other day I decided to let him in on the little secret about the veggie du jour: asparagus. He ate 5 spears and waited with giddy anticipation. He was not disappointed. We will be having asparagus a lot more often around here.

In other bathroom news:

1. The other night the two boys both got out of bed to go to the bathroom. Juan Carlos (almost 3) peed intentionally on Julio's leg. Major screaming. By the time Guapo made it into their room, Juan Carlos had tucked himself back in bed and was saying, "Sorry Julio, Sorry. SHHHHHHH. Please be quiet."

2. Juan Carlos told me Tuesday morning that he had a pineapple in his bottom.

3. Juan Carlos recently finished potty training. We still have two little potties around the house. Julio (5 1/2) decided he wanted to try one out yesterday. It was #2.

4. Juan Carlos is insisting on wearing boxers instead of briefs.

5. When I ask Juan Carlos if he has to go to the bathroom he says in the cutest little voice, "No thanks mom" like I am offering him a cracker or something.

**these words are taboo in our house, and in so being, cause a much greater response

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Maybe Make Browniepasta?"

Juan Carlos (just about 3 years old) is very into his naptime and bedtime routine. If all goes according to schedule he goes down like a little angel. It always starts with a few stories in the rocking chair followed by holding him and maybe singing a couple of songs (ABC's is his favorite). Then it is time to put him in his bed and that's where things can get tricky. Here are the Bedtime Players in order of ascending importance.

Player #1: Blue Bankie (he likes it, but not a big deal if it is not there)

Player #2: Pillow (can be exchanged for any other pillow)

Player #3: Red Pillow. This is "Baby's" pillow (see below). Can be exchanged for another color, but must be approximately the same size.

Player #4: Green Blankie (pretty important)

Player #5: Baby (cannot be exchanged) (Looks much creepier (and dirtier) in this photo than in real life)

Player #6: "Kiki" (cannot be exchanged at any time or under any circumstance)

Julio (5 1/2 yrs.) often takes #5 or #6 and strategically hides them right before nap or bedtime. He loves to see me and Guapo running around the house screaming, "Has anyone seen Kiki?" He usually turns himself in before we totally lose it.

So, these are the players, but it's not just that they are all present. There is an order to the madness and here it is:

If there is a problem, Juan Carlos claims that the offending Player is "broken" as in "My green blankie is broken". This mostly happens with Green Blankie (notice how it is not flush with the edge of the crib):

Or Baby (Baby must be laying on his back with only his head on the pillow) (Julio is LOVING the photo shoot, normally finding baby in such a compromising position would not bring such a cute smile):

These problems must be dealt with before you can proceed.

Once all things are in place the most important part of the ritual comes. It is the same conversation every time:

Gabriella: Goodnight Julio.
Juan Carlos: Goodnight mom.
Gabriella: I love you.
J.C.: I love you too.
Gabriella: Night-night.
J.C.: Mom?
Gabriella: What?
J.C.: Maybe make browniepasta? (it's one word)
Gabriella: Yes, we'll make browniepasta.
J.C.: Ok, goodnight.

You can tell that early on in his life I would bribe him to go to sleep with the promise of high-carb snacks. We don't actually make brownies or pasta everyday, but somehow it stuck.

You may think I am spoiling this kid with all of his needs and wants at bedtime. Margarita gave up her nap at 2 years and 4 months and Julio at just 22 months. My friends with older kids would say, "Just lay down with the kid and they'll go to sleep" or "Tell them they have to close their eyes for 10 minutes and if they don't fall asleep in 10 minutes they can get up." Nothing worked with them. I always ended up asleep and they would be off making mincemeat of the house.

Juan Carlos is almost 3 and still sleeps 11 hours at night and another 2-3 hours in the afternoon. If the kid wanted me to jump through a fiery hula-hoop, believe me you, I'd be jumping.

Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Not So Best of Small Town Mexico-The Milk

One thing I really dislike about living here is the milk. Here's how the milk comes here:

That's right. In a box. When you buy it, you buy it off of a shelve where it has been sitting at room temp for who knows how long.

I'm sorry, I just can't do it.

It's not even that it tastes horrible, it really doesn't, but after living in the States and drinking milk from the refrigerated foods section for the first 26 years of my life, I cannot drink it. They have lovely drinkable yogurt here and great cheeses, nice ice cream, but the milk really doesn't do it for me. Occasionally, I will try to have some cereal, but I usually opt for toast or yogurt in the morning.

To be honest and fair to our little town, I must tell you that at Sam's Club they do carry fresh, pasteurized milk. I counted the days until the opening of the store (7 months after we arrived) for this very reason. But, I have been burned so many times buying fresh milk to only have it go bad 23 minutes after I open it that I am a broken woman. I don't even look at that darn fresh milk anymore. I only buy the boxed now.

I know this is not a tragedy in my life, but it is an annoyance. How satisfying is it to have a plate of delicious, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies accompanied by a nice, tall, ice-cold glass of water? When I travel home to the States one of the first things I always do is have a swig of milk straight from the container (don't worry Grammy, at your house I will pour it in a glass first).

This is the only way I can enjoy a glass of milk here:

Mixed with a healthy serving of vanilla ice cream and Hershey's syrup. Please have a nice, tall glass of milk for me today (or a swig).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Best of Small Town Mexico-Big Lupita's Tortillas

To continue with my "Best of Small Town Mexico" series, today I would like to feature my friend Lupita. But first a small class in cultural differences. I call her "Big Lupita." I do this because in our congregation at church, Lupita is a popular name. It is short for Guadalupe. I know at least 6 Lupitas. So, to distinguish her from the others, she being the largest of the group, I call her "Big Lupita". This is not offensive in Latin culture (now, I don't claim to be an expert in Latin culture, but I have been living in Latin America for 5 years). I think most Americans would be shocked at the lack of political-correctness here.

It is not offensive when describing someone to refer to them as "gordo" (fat) or "feo" (ugly) or "the one with acne" (really not sure of the translation). In high school I suffered from pretty bad acne and if I would have heard someone describe me as such, I think I would have died. But, the culture is just different. They say it how they see it, and everyone seems to feel fairly comfortable with their appearance. I have a friend here who refers to her husband has "Juan mi feito" or "my ugly John". I have gone to church before and had someone come up to me and say, "You look fat today, are you pregnant?" (I wasn't.) "Who's María Jiménez Hernández?" "Oh, she's the fat one over there holding the ugly baby". Makes you cringe, doesn't it? As Americans we dance around such words and descriptions. Remember the Seinfeld with the "breathtaking baby"? So there you have it, a little lesson on the bluntness of Latins.

Anyway, Big Lupita is one of the sweetest, hardest working women I know. She would do whatever she could to help another person. I have watched her find jobs for other women, and if she can't find them any work, she teaches them skills like sewing and cooking so they can help their families become more financially stable. She donates her time and talents to the local orphanage and to our church. Many an unwanted animal has ended up on her doorstep because everyone knows she has a kind heart for little critters. She ALWAYS has a new animal in her home when we visit (this week it was a hamster that someone got tired of).

And, on top off all this she makes the best tortillas I have ever had! Here she is in her home making the dough.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) white flour
  • 250 grams vegetable shortening (1/2 pound)
  • 1-2 tsp. salt
  • enough tepid water to make the dough

She mixes the first 3 ingredients until they are well blended and then adds in the water little by little until it feels "right" and kneads it with both hands for several minutes. She makes little balls of dough and lets them rest for 5 or so minutes and then rolls them out with a rolling pin (hers are always circular, mine are either triangles or weird squares). Then they go onto a previously heated frying pan, about 1 minute each side. Her's puff up so nicely while they are cooking.

Sounds easy, right?


She has tried to teach me several times to make the tortillas. She has come to my house, I have gone to her's. I have tried. . .and tried. . . and tried. I have changed the water temperature a dozen times. The amount of water I add. I have let them rest for more time. Less time. I've tried it at different times of the day, at different humidity levels. DOESN'T MATTER. I always end up with frisbees. My sweet kids try to eat them, but after a few bites they admit they are nothing like Lupita's and start flinging them around the house. The only way I can explain this is that the woman has magic hands.

Getting back to the cultural lesson, these little babies can sure make you fat in a hurry. I always knew tortillas weren't the best food for you, but watching her mix up bleached white flour with vegetable fat and a little water was a real eye opener. But, not enough of an eye opener to prevent me from eating 5 in a row...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Freezer Food Friday-Spaghetti Sauce

I have always been intrigued by the "cook once a month" idea. You know, where you spend one day incarcerated in your kitchen making 30 meals and then you stick them in your freezer and sit back and take a ride on easy street the rest of the month. So, I bought a book, The Freezer Cooking Manuel from 30 day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy by Nanci Slagle. I really like it. If you are interested in the subject, it is a great place to start, not intimidating at all.

So, I geared up. Went mega-shopping, got a good night's rest (the book suggested that), and hit the kitchen early. Well, my one day in the kitchen turned into 2 days, but it was ok because the book warned me that might happen my first time. The book also warned me I would be tired. The book was not kidding. Holy cow was I tired. I fell into bed both nights dreaming about my Crock-Pot and grating umpteen cups of cheddar cheese. The thought of retrieving one of the 36 frozen meals that I had prepared made me feel sick. (The book also warned me about this and told me in a few days I would get over it).

Anyway it was great, sort of. I don't ever want to do it again that way, but it was an experience. My hands smelled like onion and garlic for a week and the rest of my person just smelled like food. I used to think it would be cool to work in a restaurant. Not so much anymore.

Now what I do, is with my favorite freezable recipes, on the day I am planning on preparing it, instead of making 1 recipe, I make 6. It does not take 6 X the time to make 6 recipes. Maybe 2 1/2 X the time. If I do this once or twice a week, I keep my freezer pretty well stocked. Do we eat "frozen delights" everyday? No, I enjoy cooking and I LOVE cookbooks (I never take a trip without a cookbook), so we probably have one 3 or 4 days a week and I do other things the other days. I couple the frozen meals with a month long meal calendar and it cuts way back on the annoyance of "what am I going to make for dinner tonight?" syndrome.

Anyway, I have told this to my mom and she tells me my sister-in-law is looking for freezer friendly food ideas. So, every Friday, until I run out, I am going to share my favorites. These are the ones my kids and Guapo like. She doesn't have kids yet, but she is married to my brother, whom my kids lovingly refer to as "Uncle Monkey". Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of him doing his famous monkey face, but here's a shot of him with Guapo and my brother-in-law (my brother is the one with dark hair who is not Guapo. He is guapo but he is not my Guapo.). In this picture they were pretending they were in a beer commercial. Strange, I know.

And here is my brother with his lovely wife:

So, I will start with the easiest thing I do. Something I am sure you already do, but maybe you don't times it by 6.

Spaghetti Sauce
6 Jars of Spaghetti Sauce of choice
1/4 jar full of water per each jar (to get all the sauce out)
6 lbs ground beef
Whatever you like to jazz it up*
Salt/Pepper/Oregano/Parsley/Garlic Salt (whatever you like)

**I like to jazz it up with mushrooms, onions, garlic, sometimes a little green pepper, but just a little because the flavor is pretty strong.

Cook ground beef, drain add whatever veggies you like, cook until cooked. Add sauce, water, salt/pepper/garlic salt to taste. Take out enough for your meal, let the rest cool, and bag in gallon Ziploc bags. If you are worried about leakage, double bag them. Just make sure to get as much air out as possible. After they cool in the fridge, pop them in the freezer, and there you go. 5 meals. Relatively painless.

The night before you want to eat spaghetti, or that morning, take a bag out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. While you are cooking the pasta, prepare a simple salad and slice some crusty French bread and Voilá! The whole thing takes 15 painless minutes. I promise. I did it yesterday.

Calgon-Take Me Away!

This is what's going on lately between Julio (5) and Juan Carlos (almost 3). It starts with Juan Carlos doing something accidentally, like falling, or spilling his cup of water, or running into the wall and then this is what follows:

Julio: chuckles softly to himself
Juan Carlos: It's not funny.
Julio: chuckles NOT so softly
Juan Carlos: IT'S NOT FUNNY.
Julio: belly laughs
Gabriela: Julio, it's not funny (which is a lie, because you have to admit, sometimes it is funny.)
Julio: Yes it is.
Gabriela: Ok, it was funny to you, but now it's over.
Julio: No, it's still funny.
Juan Carlos: IT'S NOT FUNNY.
Gabriela: Ok, it can be funny to you on the inside.
Julio: laughs

Over and over and over. . .

Monday, March 20, 2006

Not So Best of Small Town Mexico-Our Bathtub Situation

One thing I don't like about living here is our bathtub. Or, better stated, our lack of a bathtub.

Hardly any of the homes here have bathtubs. We have these huge showers that are akin to a cave. At the far end is a little shower head where the water trickles out at best. So, we have purchased a plastic bin to bathe the kids in. They seem to be ok with it.

Except for when we go to Sam's Club and they look longingly at the fancy, big bathtubs hanging from the wall.

Julio: Mom, can we buy a bathtub?

Gabriela: Where would we put it?

Julio: In the toy room.

Gabriela: Hmmmm, not today.

On the upside, it makes going to a hotel or to Grandma's house all the more exciting.

Happy bathing to you and yours!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Best of Small Town Mexico-The Airport

Now that we know we will be leaving our small Mexican town in the not so distant future I would like to feature one thing each week that we like about it. I will do this on Monday and follow it Tuesday by something that we are not so crazy about here.

***Here's my disclaimer: It is not my intention to offend anyone from that is from here. I am not making fun of the town or people who live here. I often complain that it is boring here, but it is not a bad place. We have been happy here and have made some great memories. I am writing this from my perspective: that of an American mom and her family coming and living here. These are my observations. I am writing this for two reasons: one, so I can remember our time here and two, so our family and friends who have not visited us here have an idea of what life is like for us.

So, with that said, one thing I love about it here is the International Airport.

Anyone with kids knows the fear that comes from taking a flight with children. I have taken flights on three continents with my kids, many of them without my husband. When I was pregnant with Juan Carlos I swore I would never travel alone with 3 kids. By the time he was 1 year I was at it again.

The stress, headaches and sweating begin the moment you arrive in the airport. The first challenge is trying to get your kids, their backpacks, maybe a stroller, and all of the luggage to the check-in line without losing a kid or a bag (or both). You finally make it in to the airport (whew!) only to realize you will be standing in a line with your kids for the next 30-45 minutes (aggggh!). This is where I start sweating. I survey the scene. Are we dealing with other families or business travelers? How many ticket-counter people are there? What is the mental state of each kid? Where is the closest bathroom/drinking fountain/trashcan? Do I need to reach into my bag of tricks yet, or can I hold off a bit? As I kick, push, pull bags and kids through the switchback line I continually pray that the kids will not start freaking out or have to go to the bathroom. Speaking of the switchback lines, those things they use to divideit up are a constant source of amusement for Julio. Unhooking one end and letting it fly is just too hard for the kid to resist.

This photo cracked me up yesterday. I found it on an airline's site under the "unaccompanied child" policies:

Look at how happy the man looks. Notice how refreshed, clean, and mentally-stable he looks. I would look that good too if I could send my kids on a different flight from mine!

Anyway, the airport here has significantly reduced this kind of stress in my life. I don't think I will ever again live in a place with such a great airport. First of all, it is located only 4 minutes from our house. So, forgot a passport/blanket/sleep-inducing children's medication? No problem, just run home and get it. The parking lot is 25 feet from the door which is only 20 feet from the ticket counter, so the wrestling with bags, kids and strollers is minimal. You only have to show up 45 minutes before the flight leaves, so your kids are fairly fresh when they enter the aircraft. There is only one American carrier that operates out of this airport. It runs two flights daily and the plane is small. So, there is almost never a line. In my two years here I have only had to wait in a line one time. And the line was only 2 or three people deep.

I will miss the International Airport for sure!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Three Cheers for Harry Potter

Margarita got a new kid in her class last week. His arrival was much anticipated since she lost her entire class in December when the set of triplets that made up her class moved to Venezuela. The new boy was supposed to arrive in January from his native Australia. For two months Guapo coached Margarita on how to say, "G'day mate," and "Put another shrimp on the barbie, will ya mate?"

Finally he arrived. When I picked her up from school his first day I asked her what he was like, and if he spoke differently. She said he had a hard time understanding the English that was being spoken so she "had to speak to him with a British accent so he could understand." What a crack up! Her interaction with British citizens has been quite limited in her life, so I am attributing her linguistic capabilities to none other than Harry Potter.

This is not the first time she has spoken with a British accent. While we were living in Caracas she occasionally would occasionally throw out a question in British-like form and add the appropriate intonation to go with it, "Is the toy very costly mum?", "Shall I have an orange or an apple?" Strange.

Anyway, speaking of Harry Potter. I think Margarita may have a crush on him. She came up yesterday to me and asked me what is his real name is. I told her it was Daniel Radcliffe. This morning when I went downstairs she had all four DVD cases out and was showing them to Guapo, "See Dad, his name is really Daniel Radcliffe".

I was thinking she was a little young for a crush, but then it came back to me: Han Solo. I remember a particular "show and tell" in first grade. My teacher and I were looking at the record from the Empire Strikes Back together that someone had brought in to "show". There were little pictures from the movie on the case including one of Han Solo. I can't remember my teachers exact words, but the sentiment was loud and clear. It was something like, "I'd like a piece of that,"(she wasn't the classiest lady). I remember feeling shocked that someone else had noticed Han's boyish good looks and thought something like, "Back off lady, Han is all mine." So, I guess it is possible that Margarita likes Harry (or Daniel).

I don't have the heart to tell Margarita that Harry and Ginny hook up in book 6 (or was it 5?). It may crush her.

So, do share, my loving anonymous fan club (you can leave your name if you choose "other" in the comment section. Or fake name in the case of Guapo and my brother-in-laws). Who was your first crush on?