Monday, March 28, 2016

Eggs, three ways

Happy Easter (Monday), everyone!
There was no chance of a blog post yesterday, I was in a candy coma.
The Easter Bunny sure does have good taste in candy!

We had a beautiful weekend celebrating together and I thought a lot about holiday traditions: the ones that everyone shares, the ones we bring from our heritage, the ones we make for ourselves. I thought I'd share one of each.

Dyeing Eggs
This is a fun tradition that's hardly unique to our family, or even to Easter! Did you know that in China, dyed eggs are passed out at a traditional party held for a one-month-old baby to announce his/her name? The meaning is similar. Just as at Easter, the eggs symbolize new life.

I hard-boiled a dozen in good old colossus (remember it?).
I just learned that you can steam eggs to hard-boil them and in colossus it is as easy as pressing the steam button and walking away. Life changed. If you already knew this, congrats, you win this round of "Most Efficient Life." But also, WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME? I have been messing up hard-boiled eggs for years...

We used a kit. I'm not cool enough to make my own dye.

They had fun with this for about 10 minutes, then asked if they could take the water outside to make a lemonade stand.
This entertained them for a full 90 minutes. Go figure.
Finished product:
And also:

Sirek, aka Easter Cheese

Grant's family is of Eastern European heritage (Russian, Croatian, Serbian, etc.) and my family is 100% British Isles. This meant that when we got married we got to merge lots of holiday traditions and learn some new ways to celebrate. Most of these revolve around food and hey, I'm not complaining!

Grant learned how to make Sirek (which is one of MANY possible spellings, but it's pronounced like SID-ack) from his dad and no Easter is complete without it.
It takes a LONG time to heat up a dozen eggs and a quart of milk (throw in some salt and white pepper) at very low heat while constantly stirring.
B helped. Little Guy just photobombed.

This part takes close to an hour. When it hits that magic spot -- cooked to curds, but not too rubbery -- you have to tie it up in cheesecloth and let it drain.

I know what you're thinking: Where is the cheese in this Easter Cheese?
Easter Cheese, it turns out, is neither cheese, nor all that particularly Easter-y.
The finished product is, well, congealed scrambled eggs. I don't know why they don't call it that. Wait, yes I do.
When Grant told me about this, I was appropriately grossed out. Now, though, after fifteen Easters with the guy, I can't imagine celebrating without it. It's become our tradition and now we will pass it down to the kids. If there's a better metaphor for marriage (slowly cooking, congealing together over time) I haven't found it yet.
Tastes significantly better than it sounds like it would.

Bird's Nests
Finally, I love cooking projects with my kids. It's one of the traditions that I'm creating with them that means a lot to me. I hope it means a lot to them, but I'm also willing to bribe them with chocolate until they say they enjoy it.
I saw these little Bird's Nests online and just had to make them. It was such a good excuse to eat fistfuls of Cadbury mini-eggs (the BEST!!). I used this recipe from a very cute blog called "Chef in Training," but I modified a few things. Some pics:

These, on the other hand, taste EXACTLY as delicious as you would imagine.

There's something that unites these "eggs, three ways," these seemingly unrelated traditions, borrowed and passed on. The driving force behind stirring eggs for an hour is the very same thing that makes a family in China dye eggs to celebrate the new life in their family. It's the same thing that led Jesus to gather his friends around him and start a new tradition, one we still keep verbatim more than 2000 years later, of breaking bread and remembering Him. 
It's love.
Love for those who came before us, and love for those with us now. And maybe the hope that some day, when we are long gone, this time of year will come around and they'll remember that love. Maybe they'll even teach their children to make Sirek. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring Cleaning

The Garden Team at B's school had some hard work to do this Saturday morning.
After receiving a grant from Wild Ones, we will be planting native wildflowers that will help attract native pollinators to all of the gardens planted around the school. Native plants are important to our ecosystem for three reasons:
1. They provide food for the bees, birds, and butterflies who are hard at work pollinating other plants.
2. They have deep roots which act as an early, natural water filtration system before runoff reaches our streams and rivers.
3. A lawn of native plants (instead of turf) reduces our carbon footprint. And it's just so much prettier!
Before your wildflowers can bloom, however, you have to prepare the ground. We were tasked with clearing a bed on the sunny, south side of the school. This was no easy task!
Aided by a volunteer team of eager middle schoolers, we worked for a few hours and finally had a clear bed to plant!
B looked for rocks. When she read this she informed me she is holding a doughnut hole. So not really helping at all.
Some of the roots we had to dig up were huge!
We dug up and bagged more than thirty bags of debris.
Little Guy's contribution was to eat 2 cookies and 7 doughnut holes and then play on the playground while the rest of us worked.
Finally seeing some progress! It's not quite beautiful yet, but the groundwork is laid.
Work hard, play hard. 
It's so satisfying to work hard at a project and actually see the fruits of your labor. Even more satisfying was working with this group of middle schoolers. It reminded me of how much I admire this age group. They are so optimistic and so powerful because they do not yet know their own limitations. Middle schoolers can change the world simply because they believe they can. I think this is why I write about them. And for them.

I'm doing quite a bit of spring cleaning on my writing, too. I've been incredibly privileged to have received invaluable feedback from two very talented friends who agreed to be early readers. Danielle, an incredible writer and an inspiration to me in many ways, provided specific and detailed critiques and encouragement. Martha, a copyediting master and designer extraordinaire, went over my manuscript with a magnifying glass. The results look a bit like this:
Not unlike the southside garden bed, I have a mess to clean up and many bags of refuse to pull out of this novel before it is ready to bloom into something beautiful. 
I am rolling up my sleeves.
I have my tools in hand.
I have a great team beside me.
I am ready for spring cleaning!

Sunday, March 13, 2016


The little Dragans and I are pretty proud of our Irish heritage, especially around this time of year!
They're also very proud of their Russian and Slavic heritage, stay tuned for an Easter recipe in a few weeks!

In a rare bout of crafty inspiration (seriously, this hardly ever happens, crafts usually give me hives) I came up with a fun little St. Patrick's Day project and we thought we'd share it with you!


Disclaimer: I'm not much of an artist or a craftswoman, my sister got those genes, so these aren't meant to be my entry into an unofficial "Best Mom/Artist of the Year" competition. Just a fun activity with the kiddos. Not Pinterest-worthy. Not even really #Pinterestfail- worthy, although that is a very entertaining timekiller.

We started with simple black origami boxes. I really love origami and find it really relaxing. If you want to make the simple box, or any number of other fun folds, I'd look here. I made these ahead of time for the kids, but I think B could have handled it. To jazz them up a bit we added some fun Irish sayings in metallic sharpie (!) like "Happy St. Patrick's Day" and "Sláinte" which means good health, or basically "Cheers!" in Irish Gaelic.

Then we painted cardstock strips to look like rainbows. We had markers, crayons, and watercolors on hand, and I really think the watercolors looked the best. 

I did a quick staple surgery to make the rainbow and then we glued on cottonball clouds. Thank you, Sunday school, for teaching me how to gently pull apart a cottonball until it looks like a cloud. 

Then it was time for the best part -- filling the pot with gold! We used Rolos and Hershey's Nuggets for our gold because, well, they're gold. And delicious. Obviously we sampled some, it would be very rude to deliver unsampled treats to friends and neighbors. A pretty funny dichotomy of personalities emerged in candy distribution methods. B is of the "I will count out an equal number for each pot" mentality whereas Little Guy adopted the "fistful" method in between attempts to steal more samples. Very telling. They should use this as a job interview question.

This was a really fun project and we already delivered our first pot o' gold to our wonderful neighbors. We have big plans for the weekend of St. Patrick's Day celebrations like checking out the green river and making a feast of corned beef brisket and cabbage.

True or False: I bought all of the Irish/St. Paddy's Day products at Costco.

I bought ALL BUT ONE of the Irish/St. Paddy's Day products at Costco because I already had that one at home. It was the Kerrygold butter, or according to the Little Dragans: the good butter. 
Because Irish kids know what's up.

It’s me B,
I had a great time decorating the box.
You can let your imagination go wild!
Have you ever made a holiday gift for other
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See you next time,


Sunday, March 6, 2016


This crack appeared on my windshield out of nowhere, and on my birthday no less.
Thanks, Universe.
After empirically proving that I could not wish away the crack, I called around and made an appointment to get the whole windshield replaced (argh). Cost aside, I actually had myself talked into an enjoyable and productive morning of errand running, reading and phone call returning while I waited for the work to be done. Multi-tasking queen.

But then little guy threw up his breakfast. And the whole day changed as we would now be a party of two for the windshield adventure. Too far to train it home, we were stuck for at least a few hours. Temperature: a sunny 19.

A funny thing happened, though, with this unexpected, unstructured time to ourselves.
We wandered.
We searched for Great White Sharks.

Great news, the city is safe. Little guy thought he saw some penguins, though.
We found a Toys R Us and spent, no exaggeration, an hour looking around.
We'll pretend it was like going to a museum... a museum of capitalism and desire. We managed to escape with just one purchase, and a pretty fun one at that.
The plastic stands are called "navigation guides," which I guess is the Star Wars consumer-approved way to say "finger puppets."
We worked up quite the appetite, guess that stomach bug was short-lived.

You're going to want to dunk that donut right in the coffee, guys, the restaurant didn't get its name by accident. Oh, and it's a French Kruller, because they're the best.

It wasn't what I expected from my morning which began with me nearly losing my temper over how many times this kid has been sick this winter. I commented to Grant that it feels like we've been stuck in the breakers, barely getting our feet back under us when another wave of sickness just rolls in and knocks us out again. But it was a great morning, as much for its unexpectedness as for its forced lack of agenda. We get these little gifts sometimes, reminders to slow down and put away the to do list for just a second. Sometimes it takes a cracked windshield, or a stomach flu to make us pay attention to them.

So yeah, thanks, Universe.

Little last thoughts with Little Guy:

I liked going to the store because I saw an Ewok, and now I feel better. Do you want the Millennium Falcon or the TIE Fighter to win in a battle?