Monthly Archives: February 2010

Smoky Corn Salsa; Good Enough to Eat With a Spoon, But a Frito’s Scoop Would Be So Much Better

I know that I am a complete and total control freak. I get it. I’ve created it. I live it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. As the More is More Mom® I love more everything….especially trouble and aggravation. If I were a sensible person (which, clearly I am not), I might have asked my Nicholas to go on line and schedule his ACT test date. He is a very capable and reasonably agreeable person, and I’m sure he would have done it with enough prodding, but I just can’t help myself. I am a busy body and must have my hand in everything. After spending the past hour of my life filling out the questionnaire, I am beginning to think that perhaps relinquishing some control might be a good idea. Nah….who am I kidding? Though if I did that, I might have more time to spend sharing the pages and pages of ideas that I have with you…….that or I could just get less sleep. I’m thinking less sleep is so much more likely.
Anyway, we have been crazy-insanely busy as of late. Last week Amanda, my mom and I had a whirlwind 24 hour ROAD TRIP to Indianapolis for a gymnastics competition. Not to be a total braggart, but……. Amanda did an amazing vault. She flipped and landed her Yurchenko and scored a 9.1. Not a face plant in sight! We love it when there is no need for a trip to the orthopedist. They love us there! Between us we have been there for: knees, ankles, heels, wrists (Amanda is a repeat customer), numerous fingers and Chuck had that super exciting (and successful) thumb replant. They rock! But do you know what doesn’t rock? The Marriott at the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Do you want to know why they don’t rock? They don’t have pay per view movies in their rooms. We girls were super psyched to get into our pj’s and watch Whip It (with the fabulous Drew Barrymore and that cute little Ellen Page from Juno, which was playing at the Double Tree in St. Louis, where they do have pay per view). When I called down to the front desk to inquire about how exactly I might find their pay per view, they responded, “We don’t have it.” What?!? Seriously, Super 8 has pay per view. Mr. Marriott has like a zillion hotels all over the world and the front desk is trying to tell me that this is the one amenity that they can’t provide. I don’t need 800 thread count sheets, or chocolates on my pillow (you know I bring those Hershey’s bars with me everywhere I go, so there is no need), but I do need in room entertainment. We were so bummed! We were forced to watch Olympic Ice Dancing….the compulsory routines. What a let down. Amanda has yet another meet this coming Saturday and I picked up our own personal copy of Whip It for our viewing pleasure. I hope we’re not putting too much pressure on Drew and Ellen to deliver and live up to our expectations. I’ll have to let you know…..
In the meantime I have been dying to share with you the recipe for Smoky Corn Salsa. I found it in Bon Appétit magazine and it was terrific!
2 red bell peppers, quartered and seeded
3 ears of fresh corn husked (I used 4 because more of everything is always better!)
1 bunch green onions (or more….), trimmed
2 garlic cloves (I used three times as many because garlic is delicious and keeps the vampires away….even that Robert Pattinson. I think our household is pro “Team Jacob” for you Twilight fans)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (I always use the bottled juice because it is so much less messy, clearly I have not been to the Cordon Bleu)
1 tablespoon (or eyeball a few dashes) bottled chipotle hot sauce
2/3 cup (or whatever) chopped fresh cilantro
Prepare barbeque on high heat. Brush the bell peppers, corn and green onions with some olive oil. Grill veggies until well charred in spots, turning occasionally with tongs and removing pieces as they brown. You really want to watch the green onions after about 5 minutes, because they char rather quickly (I know as I had to do a second batch). The peppers and corn will be good after 10-15 minutes. Allow the vegetables to cool. Cut peppers and onions into 1/3-inch pieces and cut corn off the cob.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cumin; sauté until garlic begins to sizzle but does not brown, about 30 seconds. Pour into a large bowl; mix in lime juice and hot sauce. Mix in veggies. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool completely; mix in cilantro. This can be made several days in advance.

I threw boneless, skinless chicken breasts on the grill and topped them with heaping spoonfuls of this salsa. It would be beautiful with grilled fish or pork too, as well as quesadillas. But I think it would be best enjoyed simply with ……… a bowl of Frito’s Scoops! And maybe margarita’s……..

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Here comes the judge…. a successful trip to Men’s Warehouse

More of everything is always better, and incredulous family moments are no exception. Monday evening Chuck, Nicholas and I were enjoying a lovely grilled chicken and smoky corn salsa dinner (tasty morsels and recipe to follow) as we chit-chatted about the upcoming week. Not too terribly nerdy….our Nick is the Vice President of the Law Club at the Be All and End All Academy where he is a junior in High School. This kid can argue like nobodies business. It doesn’t matter whether he is right or wrong; the lips just keep on smacking! Their club has been preparing for a State Mock Trial Competition, which is very cool. With as much time as our family spends in sweaty gymnasiums and smelly ice rinks, it is always encouraging when they do something with their brains, rather than their brawn (believe me when I tell you the last place you want to be is in our house when Nick calls out, “mirror…now.” This is the completely unpredictable smack down moment when Nick calls Amanda in to the bathroom to compare muscles. As a gymnast she totally wins, hands down, on abdominals, but his arms are pretty good).

Slick Nick (my rapper name for my son, because everyone needs a rapper name….I would be known as Grand Master Shopper) just so happens to casually mention that this Friday he needs to wear “court room attire” for the mock trial.  Seriously, this kid’s idea of dressing up is wearing an Alexander Ovechkin t-shirt (#8 hockey sensation on the Washington Capitols), and sweat pants, with a pair of basketball shorts underneath, just in case he gets hot and needs to take off his pants (?). When we ask him just where we are supposed to acquire “court room attire” on such short notice, he responds by asking why we can’t just borrow a suit from someone? Who? The suit fairy? We are now in unchartered territory……a trip to….Men’s Warehouse (a very nice store that carries clothing that can be considered “court room attire.”). We determine that Nick has a very nice looking pair of black, square toed, dress shoes that he has worn exactly once for Christmas, so he should get a suit that works nicely with black. Really, what 17 year old boy requires more than that? Now if this were our daughter, we would undoubtedly have a number of suitable options on hand… at the age of 14 we are in the market for three, count ‘em, three dresses for the spring season, specifically for: Confirmation, May Crowning, and Graduation…Heaven forbid we wear an outfit more than once, even if for one of the occasions the dress will be concealed underneath an 8th grade graduation gown. Oh well…such is life.

I have never had the pleasure of an outing to the Men’s Warehouse, and let me tell you, it was a lovely experience. There were several sales associates. We were in the door all of two minutes when we were asked if we needed some assistance. I am crazy about good customer service. We explained what we were looking for, and before I could even suggest a charcoal grey suit, the salesman was pulling one off the rack. I am all about anticipating the need and he did it. I love that! More than anything I was super psyched when they were agreeable to having the alterations completed in 48 hours. I love this place! Where else can you go for $236.00 worth of fantastic customer service and appropriate court room attire? It was worth every penny. Now I only hope that the trial is as successful as the suit……..


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72 Hours of Estrogen Fueled Fun Leads to Crazy Mama Drama

I am still reverberating from 72 hours of out of town gymnastics fun! All gymnastics, all the time, perfectly befitting the More is More Mom®. Amanda and I were really looking forward to our road trip. We packed a basket full of our favorite snacks, borrowed the audio book Shopaholic Takes Manhattan from the library (on last year’s road trip we listened to Confessions of a Shopaholic……..a book which I ironically own two copies of, and could never quite bring myself to actually read because it hit too close to home (especially the excerpts where you find poor Becky Bloomwood opening her Visa statements in horror), then proceeded to buy both the audio book and the film. I could write my own version……. Shopaholic takes Winsome, IL.), and of course two Venti hot chocolate’s from Starbucks. My gal is the loveliest, dearest and most charming girl I have ever known. I adore her and enjoy her company immeasurably.

After four hours on the road, we pulled in to the parking lot of the hotel, with the rear of our car scraping against the asphalt. In addition to; two suitcases, a vanity case, a garment bag (so cute….pink with brown polka dots, to protect the bejeweled and bedazzled $180.00 competitive team leotard and lest we forget the matching team warm up suit), my laptop, Amanda’s tote bag full of fun things to do, and 5 bottles of wine (I am willing to share with my friends. I hope I don’t appear to be a total booze hag, but I always do bring more wine than I alone will consume to safely ensure that I will have enough…..72 hours is a lot of gymnastics); I also brought provisions for the team pizza party…..for 100 people. There were 70 bottles of water, 72 cans of pop, two cases of candy, napkins and plates, and my friend and I still had to run out to pick up 70 mini cupcakes once we got there! 100 people consume an enormous amount of food and beverages, hence the 20 extra large pizzas.

Most of the moms I know are great; encouraging and supportive of the girls, coupled with a healthy dose of reality and sense of good fun. Then there are the other kinds of moms. It doesn’t matter what activity your child participates in……. you’ve seen them, you fear them and you try like heck to avoid them. Some sports, like gymnastics, or I imagine cheerleading, figure skating and dance, have not only that competitive edge, but also a sense of pageantry, which can bring out the worst in people, ala the crazies on TLC’s Toddler’s and Tiara’s.
Let’s just say 3 days, 40 girls, their mothers and close quarters does not necessarily bring out the best in all people. If you have seen the brilliant Tina Fey’s film Baby Mama, or have been a voyeur of the traffic accident that is reality television, then you are familiar with the term: Baby Mama Drama. Well, this weekend we witnessed what I will forever refer to as: Crazy Mama Drama.

Oh, good Lord. The whispering, the gossiping, the crying…………. and a few of the mothers were worse! Here’s the deal:
1. If you pay an expert for advice, take it, meaning: if you pay for coaching, let the coach make the decisions
2. Stop the irritating e-mailing and texting
3. Stop stalking the coach at the bar. In most instances, it all comes down to your child’s effort and performance…… and that, my friend, is up to them
4. If your daughter has a problem, help her develop skills to solve it herself
6. If your child is feeling left out, help her to determine what role her own behavior is playing in the scenario, and how she can find a satisfying resolution
7. Keep your opinions to yourself
8. Don’t blame other people for your children’s problems
9. As I advise my pal’s: worry about yourself
10. Let’s all remember that athletics are supposed to be fun!
Crazy Mama Drama is one of the many reasons that I self medicate. To quote the prolific Amy Winehouse, “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said; No, No, No.” I hope my daughter survives the perils of being a teenage girl, and I hope my liver survives it too…..


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The Story of (and the recipe for) the Amazing Stacked Cobb Salad

I’m so excited to share my tres fabulous salad recipe with you. As I am the More is More Mom® you can imagine that it is not merely a salad, but more of an over the top blend of culinary excellence and artistry. Always one to give credit where credit is due (you do know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), I must tell you that the first time I enjoyed this beautiful delicacy was at the home of a mom from school. She was kind enough to share with me that she found this recipe in the Neiman Marcus Cookbook, and voila; there you have the Stacked Cobb Salad.

We are celebrating Catholic Schools Week at our grammar school, Our Lady of Perpetual Donations, this week. Our eighth grade class has many fun things planned to commemorate our dedication to academic excellence and show our appreciation to our amazing and devoted teachers. The week started off with flowers for the teachers and doughnuts for the students. There will be hot beverages and pastries for the teachers to begin their day and the week will culminate in dessert for the whole class. As a Room Parent, today was my day. I brought lunch. As you know, I believe that every event-big or small-should be celebrated. Showing appreciation for our incredible teachers is really kind of a big thing, as their commitment shapes the minds and spirits of our children. That my friend is an enormous gift, and there is not a gesture grand enough to express our gratitude to those that touch the lives of our babies. Besides, I live for opportunities to make things special. It totally beats cleaning the bathroom!

Enter the Stacked Cobb Salad.

I am a huge believer in planning ahead, rarely am I a fly by the seat of her pants kind of a gal. My preference for everything, and in entertaining in particular, is to prep as much as humanly possible in advance.
Serving for 4:
1. You will make, from scratch, the Balsamic Vinaigrette.
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic (I always use way more!)
1 Tbsp minced shallot (twice as much at least!)
1 Tbsp chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme…….the more the better!)
2 tsp salt (I love sea salt)
1 tsp freshly ground pepper (I prefer cracked black pepper for a little kick)
Toss in a food processor or blender.
Puree on low speed and slowly add 2 ½ cups of olive oil until well incorporated.
Store in the refrigerator in an air tight container.
2. You want the dressing to be thick, so you will make it nice and creamy.
The recipe calls for a ½ cup of the Balsamic Vinaigrette and ½ cup of mayonnaise whisked together. I always think you need more, so I use about ¾ of the Balsamic Vinaigrette and eyeball it when I add the mayo to make a nice creamy consistency.
3. Here’s the thing, there are so many variations that you can incorporate to make this salad customized to your own taste and budget.

The meat of the salad as described in the Neiman Marcus Cookbook is Lobster. Delicious! To cook the lobster meat:
• 2 sliced lemons
• 2 dried bay leaves
• 2 tablespoons black peppercorn
• ¼ cup salt
• 3-4 pounds lobster (live….I’m way too squeamish), I use lobster tails and figure one per person. If your budget permits, for a serving of 4, I would use 5 tails… a little more is always better.
• Fill a stockpot with 6 quarts of cold water and add the lemons, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes to flavor the poaching liquid. Add the lobster and cover the pot for about 10 minutes, or until the lobsters are bright red.
• Prepare an ice bath and submerge the lobster to stop the cooking process (so you don’t over cook the meat and it gets rubbery….complete waste of a beautiful lobster!). When cool enough to handle remove the meat from the shell and chop in to bite size chunks. I am all about being prepared ahead of time because I totally hate feeling anxious and stressed, so I do this a day in advance. I wrap the chopped lobster meat in paper towel to absorb and moisture, so the meat doesn’t get slimy and gross. I love paper towel and I especially like Bounty, the quicker picker upper. Store is a Ziploc baggie over night until ready to use.

This time around I defrosted a bag of shrimp, cut off the tails, and chopped it into bite size pieces. As is my method (I have many methods and think in another life I might have been an efficiency expert. I know I was not Cleopatra or Joan of Arc. I was a worker of some sort. I may also have been a purveyor of food, home goods and cloth at a general store, but I’m not sure), I wrapped the bite size pieces in Bounty and sealed them in a Ziploc baggie over night.

You might also consider using a few grilled chicken breasts. The options are endless.

4. Chopping and cooking…..get cracking
• The recipe calls for 8 slices of thick cut bacon, but I think 16 is more like it (4 per person…I mean if you’re a meat eater, who doesn’t like bacon?). I like a smoked, maple, bacon personally. Fry it up in the pan, chop in to bite size pieces, wrap it in paper towel and store it in a baggie.
• Hard boil 7 eggs, though the recipe calls for 4, I hate to be skimpy. Separate the whites from the yolks. Chop in to bite size pieces, wrap in paper towel and store each in separate baggies.
• The recipe calls for two, but I used 4 Haas avocados. Peel, remove the seeds, chop, wrap and store. The recipe suggests adding 1 Tbsp of lemon juice, tossing together and setting aside. I’ve never tried it that way, but I’m sure the lemon juice prevents the avocados from turning a little brown. I don’t like to deal with a mess while I am preparing to entertain, so I can live with a little brown, it gets covered up in brown balsamic dressing anyway. I’m sorry Martha if I am being offensive, but I am one woman kitchen prep and clean up crew, so on occasion I must take a few shortcuts where my sensibilities will not be offended. I chop the avocado, wrap it in paper towel and store it all in a baggie.
• 4 (or more…personal preference) vine ripened tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced. I wrap tomatoes in a huge wad of paper towels because they are so darn watery, and no one likes a slimy tomato. Chop, wrap, store.
• 2 cups crumbled cheese. I hate blue cheese, so I substitute with feta because it is also a nice soft cheese, but use what you like.
• If you don’t like all of these ingredients, choose what you do like. I have also incorporated diced cucumbers and carrots. C’est la vie!
• Fancy lettuce

• Rolls or crackers (I like to serve this with flatbread crackers)

5. Now it’s time to start stacking!

• You will need a tube type mold to stack the salad, so it stays vertical. The least expensive and simplest thing to do is to purchase a 15 ounce (or whatever is closest) can of generic soup (or be thrifty and use this item to make dinner, perhaps homemade chicken noodle soup), empty its contents, remove the label, remove the lid from both sides, and wash. Now you have a tube shaped mold! I have 8 empty cans for this recipe, as I have made it on several occasions. You really do need one mold per person because the layers needs time to stabilize and the dressing will bind the ingredients together in order for the stack to remain upright.
• Because I will layer the salad earlier in the day, I may use a small bread plate, or even easier a paper plate (because I am all about being efficient, and you can easily toss the paper plate in the trash when you are in the frenzy of putting out your masterpiece, and have one less plate to clean up per person). Place the mold on the plate.
For each individual serving:
• Divide the tomatoes equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange on the bottom.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Divide the egg whites equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange as the next layer.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Divide the bacon equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange as the next layer.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Divide the egg yolks equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange as the next layer.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Divide the cheese equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange as the next layer.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Divide the avocado equally amongst the 4 cans and arrange as the next layer.
• Spoon approximately 1 tsp of dressing over this layer.
• Top with the meat of your choice; lobster, shrimp, crab, chicken…whatever makes you happy!
• I cover the can with plastic wrap and secure it with a rubber band while it is in the refrigerator.

6. When you are ready to serve your creation, simply add the lettuce in a circle around the plate, leaving a small flat surface for the can. Carefully slide the can off the paper or bread plate, and on to the dinner plate, and remove the plastic. Gently and slowly slide the can upward, revealing the stacked salad. With any luck it will remain intact. If some of it happen to fall over, not to worry, it will still be delicious!
7. Certainly serve extra dressing on the side (for people like me who only choke down veggies because there is an opportunity to savor tasty, flavorful salad dressing!).
8. I like to garnish with flatbread crackers. If you were brave and cooked a live lobster, then you could certainly, artfully arrange the antennae upright in the salad. You could also garnish with sprigs of tarragon.

As an aesthetic person, I think it is equally important to be surrounded by pretty things, satisfying my sense of sight, in addition to my sense of taste. Today I was serving lunch in the teacher’s lounge, so from my vast collection at home (I do believe that I mentioned that I collect these items in 20’s), I brought placemats, cloth napkins, napkins rings, chargers, dishes, flatware and real glassware. If you are taking the time to make something special, go the whole nine yards! Again, I am all about authenticity. Rather than serve water or soda (because the Board of Education takes this funny stance about consuming alcohol during the school day, on school property, while you are responsible for minors….details, details, details), I served a lovely sparkling pomegranate juice. Sparkly drinks always feel luxurious, even when they are alcohol free (but I avoid that whenever possible. If I’m going to consume the calories, I’d better get buzzed!).

I am so pleased to have had the chance to show Amanda’s teachers just how important I think the job they so lovingly devote themselves to, is to me. As a bonus, Chuck and I are having Stacked Shrimp Cobb Salad tonight for dinner while we watch American Idol. Yum!


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Butterflies are free to fly, but to purchase them costs American dollars

Boy, oh boy, I’m telling you the kids these days sure do live large. It is Saturday afternoon and once again I’ve set up shop at a local Starbucks, all the while my mountain of ironing and a monstrous mound of laundry is bursting through the doors of my laundry shoot, beckoning me to come home (stacked so high that when the kids slide the next pile through the hole upstairs they are greeted with the top of the pile; of course, if they ever wore anything for more than five seconds and realized that a towel can be used more than once, if hung up to dry, rather than discarded on the floor to grow mold and mildew, there might not be quite so much laundry. Also, you may be wondering what’s up with me and the ironing?  I love the peaceful process of ironing and the sense of accomplishment. And I like all things to be neat and orderly. You know me, more of everything, including issues with OCD.).

So, for today’s quota of pleasure and entertainment, Amanda and her gal pals are celebrating a friend’s birthday by enjoying spa services and lunch; very lovely and generous of the birthday girls family, and quite civilized. When I was a girl, on the birthday party circuit, things were much different. I’m racking my brain trying to remember if I ever attended a party that wasn’t in someone’s home where we didn’t eat boiled hot dogs or sandwiches, play pin the tail on the donkey and eat home made cake? Nothing comes to mind, so my version of the story is going to be: no, I did not. I also walked to school up hill, both ways, in the snow without boots. Waa, waa, waa.

While I sit and wait, rather than troll the mall, I can’t wait to tell you all about my special find. I have an affinity for just about everything, but I am particularly drawn to insects (the decorative kind, not the creepy crawlers), and especially butterflies. I have loved them ever since I was in grammar school when Sister Jo Anne, a very hip and groovy nun that did not where a habit, but funk-adelic polyester as it was the 70’s, read to my class, “If you know a Vanessa….(everyone turned to stare at me, and I was terribly and painfully shy, so by then I was sliding under my desk to hide. I always hated my name and desperately wanted to be named something normal like Mary or Kathy), her name means butterfly.” Butterflies are beautiful, and colorful, and graceful and lovely. Yay me. I have been collecting butterfly themed items for years. I have a lovely collection of framed antique butterfly, dragonfly and insect prints that float up the wall of the stairs going to our second floor. There are about 47 of them so far, and it’s a nightmare to dust them and keep the frames all straight, rather than slightly askew (Wrigley and the children are forever running in to them as they fly down the stairs), but I just don’t care. They make me happy.

Well, this Christmas my friend and neighbor Missy was with her family doing a little shopping downtown Chicago, and stumbled across a special treasure; butterfly ornaments! Not just a butterfly, but a butterfly that is an enormous 10” square with a textured tiger print pattern on its wing span. How awesome! When she saw it, she said she knew she had to get it for me just for fun. If there’s something I love almost as much as butterflies it’s a saucy animal print, and it was perfect because I have a tiger print runner going up our staircase along side my floating butterfly collection! Needless to say I loved it! Thanks Miss!

Also needless to say is that after Christmas I high tailed it over to Marshall Field’s (though I guess they still insist on calling it Macy’s) to track down more butterflies. It only took stalking the Oak Brook store and the flag ship State Street store to amass a collection of 16 of these beauties. Now I have a flock (or is that just for sheep?).

The question then becomes: What exactly does one do with 16, 10”, tiger print butterflies? I don’t know yet. For now they are carefully and safely tucked away in their very own Rubbermaid box in the attic while I thoughtfully consider that dilemma. Maybe on a tree, maybe intertwined in garland draped along the banister. So many butterflies, so many possibilities……..

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