Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spreading Sunshine

Friday was the 9th anniversary of the day my dad died. Rather than mourning this profound loss, I chose to celebrate his life by spreading sunshine all week long. You can read more about that here.

Friday was the big finale. Dad loved ice cream so I arranged to have our local grocery store print off some coupons for free soft-serve ice cream that I could purchase and then share with others. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in the look of these. I guess I had pictured something with a bit more pizazz than this:

So I decided to spice them up a bit.

I found a template for some pockets and got to work cutting out & gluing together little pouches to deliver my coupons in.

I added messages to the front of each one and then plastered them in unexpected places all over our city.

I have no idea who got any of these coupons or if any of them will even be used, but the simple hope that it would make someone smile to enjoy one of my dad's favorite treats was worth every effort.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Singing Sensation

The sound was... disturbing.

I was trying to listen to some music as I made dinner, but loud, top-of-your-lungs, off-key singing was coming from the room which my 2 teenage daughters share and, although hilarious, I could not take another minute of it.

"ElemenoB!" I shouted, "keep it down in there!"

"She has her headphones on, Mom," Thumbelina informed me. "She can't hear you. She can't even hear herself, obviously."

And this is when the plan began to take shape in the evil part of my brain that is conditioned to teach my kids their life lessons in a fun (and embarrassing) way.

I grabbed my camera...

...and then played it for her.

"Do you hear yourself?" I asked her. "This is what we get to listen to when you're singing with your headphones on. We can not even hear ourselves think." (Do I sound like your mother, or what?)

Apparently, she did not learn her lesson, because a couple of days later when I was trying to have a phone conversation I was constantly distracted by her much-too-loud singing again...

And I showed it to her. She laughed. I also asked why she found it necessary to stand on her bed while doing her self-performances. She promised to stay on the floor.

I suppose she thought that staying off of the bed was my main point, because WITHIN 20 MINUTES she was at it again. I grabbed my camera... but she had locked her door.

Her confidence in her lock was laughable. Does she think I haven't unlocked her door before? Once the lock was unlatched (child's play!), it was time for another video.

I cracked open the door and realized that she was serenading her sister who was sitting on the floor, her back to me, allowing for plenty of camera time...

This time she was a bit embarrassed because it looks like she is singing to her bed post.

"As long as you continue to sing, I will continue to record your performances for all posterity," I told her. "And don't think I won't post them on Facebook and my blog."

"Yeah, like anyone reads your blog," was her cocky reply.

Did that sound like permission to you? Or maybe even a dare?

Because it certainly did to me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I've Got Sunshine

It's pretty bleak looking outside today.

Do you need a little sunshine? Then make some! At least, that's what I decided to do.

Come see what I mean at 4 Perspectives.

Remembering The Sunshine

Pic from somewhere on the internets. I found it a long time ago.

For the past 9 years this week has been a tough one for me. It is the anniversary of my dad's death, the week he lost his battle with cancer and I lost a part of my heart.

I usually become introverted and melancholy and it takes awhile to kick the funk and get back into the happier swing of things. However, this year I decided that I was going to approach things differently. I am taking control of my emotions by making it a week of celebration instead of loss - a celebration of the life he lived.

On Sunday I went to his grave. Spiderman has always been his favorite superhero and so I blasted Michael Buble's version of the Spiderman Theme Song from my car and performed it there with a combination of dancing and sign language. Irreverent? Maybe. But I drove away laughing, knowing he would have gotten a kick out of my antics.

Monday was a day for quarters. Dad always brought quarters to my kids whenever he would come to visit and so I took a roll of quarters and left them in places for others to discover. On the sidewalk at the elementary school, on top of the pumps at the gas station and on the shelves at the library. I even slid a few dollars worth inside of lockers at the high school when I went to my daughter's basketball game. It made me smile all day to think of someone finding one unexpectedly.

Yesterday I observed and I wrote. I made a list of all of the characteristics and quirks and qualities my kids have inherited from my dad and was reminded that he still lives in them. I looked at pictures of my brother and saw Dad there, too. It was a happy day.

Today I will freeze a box of Hostess Ding Dongs and share them with my family later tonight, along with some popcorn. These were two of his favorite treats. The Ding Dongs were a highly coveted delicacy and popcorn was a nightly staple when we gathered around the TV to watch everything from Highway To Heaven to The A-Team.

Thursday is a day of preparation. I will be cutting and gluing and getting things ready for Friday, the day I have been most looking forward to!

Friday will be ice cream day. Dad loved ice cream and I can not wait to share his love with unsuspecting people all over our city! Until this plan becomes reality I would prefer to keep the details to myself but let me just say this: I can NOT WAIT until Friday!

I guess the point of this post is this: I have the power to decide how to approach things. And I think it's safe to say that this week of this year is going to bring plenty of wonderful memories to mind for years to come. Unlike years past when I have chosen to reminisce on what was missing from my life, this year I have chosen to celebrate what I still have - nearly 28 years worth of wonderful memories of my father.

Happiness is a choice and it has made a world of difference to me that I planned to be happy this week. To the point where I don't want to stop, actually. Because you know what?

Nothing brings happiness quite like choosing sunshine when it feels like winter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best Tortellini Soup

Yesterday I made tortellini soup. As I started to gather the ingredients, some conversations from last Saturday night came to mind.

You see, I was invited to attend a gathering with these women:
who are, incidentally, some of my favorite people. We all talked about our favorite things from last year and more than once The Pioneer Woman was mentioned. Like, at least 20 times. It was all gushing and complimenting and praising of this Pioneer Woman. Some of these ladies even stood in an endless line to meet her at a cookbook signing and they were so star-struck that they could not think of anything intelligent to say once they were standing in front of her.

And I thought, I could go for that kind of admiration.

They mentioned that one of the things that they just love about her is that she makes food and uses roughly 75 pictures per recipe to show you how the food looks every step of the way - plus it always tastes amazing.

And I thought, I can take pictures... and my Tortellini Soup tastes amazing.

Plus, that whole admiration thing.

So, this is for you, Pioneer Woman fans. Except that I promise you will never have to stand in a 3-hour line to talk to me.

This recipe is from my pal Marci and if you ever let anyone else taste it you will win friends instantly. You don't even have to read that book by Dale Carnegie. It's seriously that good.

Just so you know before we start, I make a double batch of this stuff. So the recipe I'm going to give you at the end is for half the amount you see here. Of everything. Are you confused already? See, that's why Pioneer Woman has so many fans. She's not confusing. But I think you're smart enough to follow me here. No, I KNOW you're smart enough. (That's called a compliment. You're welcome.)

The recipe calls for a pound of Italian sausage but I am not a spicy kind of gal. Well, not when it comes to food. (That's called a joke. Get it? I'm spicy? But the real joke is that I'm actually not spicy at all. Anyway...) So I just use pork sausage.

Once it's cooked, it looks like this. Drain off the grease and then set the sausage aside.

This is my cooked sausage being set aside. It's in the sink in case any more grease drains off of it. Yes, I know you aren't supposed to put grease down the drain but it's a minuscule amount and I'm a total rule-breaking rebel.

Hey... maybe I am spicy!

These are carrots. They need to be diced. You can dice your carrots however you want to, but I'll tell you right now that I slice mine in half lengthwise. Twice. Meaning you will have 4 long pieces from one carrot. But I didn't take a picture of that because Little O was having an issue with his toy gun and I got distracted and forgot.

This is what carrots look like when they are diced. They are carrots and they are cut into little pieces, which is what we cooking-types call diced.

Next you'll need sliced mushrooms. I usually get them already sliced because I'm lazy like that, but these were a much better price, so I bought them whole. And look how dirty they are!

So I washed them.

What? Oh, you noticed that the colander is the same one where the cooked sausage was hanging out. Good eye! Yeah, I actually put that picture in the wrong spot. Because in real life, the sausage was still in the pan at this point. Told you I was confusing.

Hey, want some pointers on mushrooms?

Thanks, mushroom packaging. I actually never knew about keeping mushrooms in paper bags.

Here's how I slice mushrooms. They are one of my favorite parts of this soup.

At this point I realized that I needed an onion but had forgotten to buy one. So, guess what? I improvised! I just got out my ginormous can of dried onion and estimated how much I'd need.

This should do it.

Now that everything is all chopped up, we need to put butter in the pot. This is what butter looks like. Does anyone else ever wonder why they bother to put 'START MEASURE HERE' on the wrapper? I mean, everyone just eyeballs it, right? Does anyone really start measuring there on the line and then.... what happens if you need more on the other end? You just stick the smidgen you cut off to the other side or what?

Melting butter. In the same pot I cooked the sausage in, thus the brown stuff on the bottom. I'm all about less dishes to wash afterward. Once the butter is all melty, you add the chopped carrots and mushrooms and onions (unless you had to improvise and use dry onions... then wait and add those with the broth).

Action shot! Check out those veggies free-fallin' it into the pot of sizzling butter!

Stir those veggies around and let them get all butter-coated.

When you're done, they'll look like this and you'll want to eat some of the mushrooms. Go ahead & indulge! It's not like anyone will know. Now let them cook for about 5 minutes. While they're cooking, get the next 3 ingredients ready...

Chicken broth. One of my favorite things to buy from the Dollar Store is chicken broth because, obviously, it's only a dollar per 32 ounce package. Plus it's a lot easier than making my own broth. But you do what you want... as long as it's chicken broth, it will work.

You will also need some Italian style diced tomatoes and...

Basil. This is a typical container of basil which you can find anywhere, but I am going to just brag on myself for a minute and tell you that this particular container holds within it the basil I grew and dried all by myself last fall. I only told you that because it makes me feel awesome.

I love basil.

(Am I using enough pictures?)

This is what the diced tomatoes look like when they are opened.

At this point, Little O was becoming increasingly frustrated that I was not paying attention to him.

So I gave him a hug and a graham cracker.

And all was well.

Oh. In case you were wondering, I don't always wear my hair back like Betty Crocker. Only when I am cooking something that requires more than 10 minutes. Why? Because I shed hair like a dog, that's why. And no one wants my hair in their food.

And yes, he's still in his pajamas. He likes it and it's cute. Who am I to argue?

5 minutes. The veggies are done.

Go ahead and eat another mushroom.

Add the chicken broth. (Action shot!)

That's looking good.

Invite the sausage which has been patiently resting in the sink to join the soup pot party.

Dump in the tomatoes. (Action shot!)

Add the basil (and dried onions if you forgot to buy a fresh one).

Stir the soup... stir the soup... (does that make anyone else want to dance?)

But we're not done yet. This concoction needs to simmer for 20 minutes or so. While it does that, get your spinach ready.

I buy the bagged stuff because it's what I'm used to.

This next step is a whole lot easier if you buy a bunch of spinach instead of a bag. You need to chop off the stems and you can just WHACK them off with your knife if they're all bunched together. I just pull mine out of the bag, a little at a time, and break off the obvious stems. If you leave some stems on it's not going to kill anybody.

And now I present the star of our show, TORTELLINI! (applause) I prefer the tri-colored stuff but our local grocery stores stopped selling it in a combined effort to frustrate me. This is just as tasty, just not as colorful.

Hello, tortellini. Want to go swimming?

Here you go! Let those swim for about 6 minutes.

You can chop your spinach before adding it but I prefer to just tear it up as I drop it in.

Hey soup, where'd you go? (Is where'd a real word? Either way, I like it.)

There you are. Stir the spinach in and it's ready to serve in a couple of minutes.

My whole family loves this stuff, but especially the teenagers. Seriously.

In fact, they got home from school just as I was finishing it up and asked, "What smells so GOOD?!" When I told them what we were having for dinner, they got almost giddy with
excitement. In fact, I was able to take this completely unposed snapshot of them when they discovered the pot of soup...

See what I'm saying? They can't get enough of it.

And once you make it, neither can you.


1 package (or bunch) fresh spinach
49 ounces chicken broth
16 ounces cheese tortellini
1 pound Italian sausage, cooked
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 can diced Italian tomatoes
2 teaspoons dry basil
3 Tablespoons butter

Cook and set aside sausage. In a large pot saute onion, mushrooms and carrots in butter for about 5 minutes. Add broth, meat, tomatoes and basil to vegetables and cook 20 minutes or so. While soup is cooking prepare spinach by removing stems and coarsely chopping. After 20 minutes, add tortellini and cook for 6-8 minutes. Add spinach just before serving and cook 2-3 minutes. Use more or less spinach depending on what you like. This makes a large pot of soup.