Lemon Grilled Chicken

17 Jun

lemon chicken

No question–summer is grilling season. And much as I love the convenience of tossing chicken into a bowl of premade marinade, the lists of ingredients on those bottles are often a big turn-off. I can’t pronounce half that stuff. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to make healthy grilled food doused in chemicals.

This is a really simple alternative. It’s a very light, fresh lemon marinade that took me about three minutes to throw together from fresh ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry. And the best part was that everyone liked it. We served it with some yukon gold potatoes sliced thin, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and dill, and roasted at 425 for about half an hour (until they get crispy on the outside), and simple steamed broccoli, and the grown-ups paired that with some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with balsamic vinegar. It was a great summer dinner.

Next time you’re thinking about one of those bottles of marinade, try this. Couldn’t be easier. You need:

Chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, halved crosswise (I used about two pounds–we’ll have leftovers tonight)

2 tbsp finely minced onion

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c white wine (you could use chicken broth)

1 tbsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp salt

Zest and juice of one lemon

Dash of sriracha or other hot sauce

Put your chicken in a bowl or zip-top bag.

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the chicken. Let it sit for a few hours (mine sat all day), stirring or turning every so often.

Heat your grill, throw the chicken on there, and cook until it’s done (165 internal temperature).


Missing It

13 Jun

You are not managing an inconvenience.

You are raising a human being.

-brilliant plaque I saw online


Sitting in a Boy Scout troop parent meeting last night, I stifled a big urge to shake people. Not the boys–the boys rock my world, loud and fast and smelly as they are. But because of the same scenario I saw play out four or five times during my tenure as school room parent this past school year (side note: that, my friends, is an eye-opening experience).

Our boys are going to summer camp, as they always do, and the troop needs parents to shuttle them to and from a bus depot at the start and end of camp. As they always do. A troop leader went through the equipment checklist, answered questions, and then said, “We’ll need drivers to and from the bus on Saturday morning. It’s about 20 minutes away.”

Parents physically recoiled. I watched it. Eyes that had been straight ahead hit the floor. Moms started rummaging through purses. Dads fiddled with phones or doodled on agendas. Silence blanketed the room. It was all I could do to not stand up, take them each by the shoulders, and hiss in their ears,  “You’re missing it.

It happened with every field trip this year. Getting parents to volunteer to spend the day with their kids was pulling teeth without painkiller. I saw it in Girl Scouts, saw it in church activities, saw it in birthday parties and playdates. Drop and run, baby. I’m not naive–I know we work and have more than one kid and there’s only so much time and blah blah blah. I do all that, too. Job, kids, house, dog, things to do, places to go, endless list. And I’ve done it, from parties to carpool to daytrips. Get out of my car! All but booted them out in morning carpool, soles of my feet on their butts, just for those seven precious hours of quiet. Preaching to the choir.

Here’s the thing: We get one shot at this. Our kids are kids one time–no do-overs I had a kindergartener yesterday, and I blinked and he’s going into eighth grade and we’re looking at high school. High school! After that is college and boom, we’re done. My younger just finished fifth grade, which is the last year of little-kid-dom. Sixth grade is middle school, and everything changes. Blink and they’re in high school and definitely too cool to have a parent (OMG, totes embar!), and blink again and they’re gone. All those days and nights, eyes on the floor, emails deleted, sleeping late on Saturday because we can, and we missed it.

I’ll drive the boys to the bus, and I’ll hear hilarious conversations and great stories and get a lot of insight into the kids my kid is hanging around.

I’ll take an extra lunch duty at school and laugh at the way they explain the world when they don’t know an adult is listening. I’ll work late that night for sure, but it’s a fair trade.

Field trips, wow. My favorite. Loud and stressful and stinky and sweaty and a pain, (and the overnights are sleepless and cold and lumpy) but those six or eight or 24 hours in my child’s world doing something hands-on and new and different and exciting? The memories of these days alone–totally priceless. This only comes around once.

My kids’ teachers…God bless them. With few exceptions, they have been patient and loving and kind with both my kids and me. They always thank me for taking an hour or a day to help (I suspect I’m really in the way, but they thank me anyway), and it really should go the other way round. They get my kids in a different world. They get a completely different picture of my children than I do. They hear their jokes and see their work and get to know them on a different plane than their dowdy old mom. I should be thanking them for those moments in that world and on that plane. The scrapbook between my ears is overflowing with wonderful memories of those lunches and parties and trips. And yeah, a big part of me would rather be getting my nails done or clearing my desk, and I’ve questioned my decisions more than once burning the midnight oil Working For the Man to make up for the time. But as that time goes, I know each hour with my kids is such a gift.

So yeah, my hand went up last night. I’ll drive. Both ways. Haul my aging butt out of bed and drag my sleepy self and my coffee to a parking lot and fill my car with sweaty boys and fight traffic. I’ll be on the field trip. I’ll take lunch duty. Moderate the club meeting. Sleep in a tent with 15 of my favorite 12-year-olds. Sign me up. Wouldn’t miss it. Ever. For anything.

One shot.

You’re missing it.





Cheaters’ Celebration Peanut Butter Pie

12 Jun


Yesterday was the last day of school, praise God and all the angels above. Not that I don’t love our school (I do, mostly) and not that the kids didn’t have great years (they did, for the most part, usually, sometimes), but the math homework and the projects and the needing some obscure thing at 7:30 in the morning sorry I forgot mom, and the not-invited-to-camp-or-the-party drama and the runningrunningrunning all get to be a bit much by June. Right? If you’ve got a kid older than five, you’re nodding with a big hell yeah (if not, well, you’re either a remarkable parent, terribly detached, or on the verge of an intervention).

DH was traveling for work, which is not all that unusual, and the kids wanted lasagna for dinner. Fine–no worries. Lasagna it was and it was good and all were happy. But I needed a dessert, too. Something fun and unexpected and worthy of the occasion. We made it. But also really simple and easy. I’m tired.

A few weeks back, we celebrated a family birthday at one of our favorite restaurants. The place was crowded and not prepared and our food took a long time to arrive, and in an act of pure class that will keep me coming back forever, the manager came over and offered us all dessert on the house with his apologies–and we didn’t even complain. What we got, though, wasn’t a traditional peanut butter pie. This was a layer of graham cracker crumbs, a layer of vanilla custard, a layer of whipped cream, and powdered peanut butter on top.

Seriously among the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. That peanut butter powder works miracles on the layers below and it’s a thing of beauty. Like, I took a picture of it so I wouldn’t forget later.

Last night, I made it. And I have to say, I’m sort of embarrassed to pass this off as a recipe, because it’s so stinkin’ simple. Takes five minutes to put together. As a recipe, it’s totally cheating. But boy, it’s good. Really, really good. I see a summer staple born. You just need:

1 graham cracker pie crust

1 large box instant vanilla pudding mix

Milk, to the recipe on the pudding mix box

1 container whipped topping (or make your own)

3 tbsp powdered peanut butter (look near the real stuff in the grocery store–one brand is PB2 but there are several out there)

Mix your vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box and stick it in the fridge for about five minutes to let it set up a bit.

Once that’s set, spread it into the pie crust.

Smooth the whipped topping over that.

Sprinkle the peanut butter powder over that.

Cover and let it hang in the fridge for a few hours.

Honestly. Doesn’t get easier. Or yummier. I think it’s calling me right now, actually…




21 May

The screen door slams five, six, seven times an hour. It’ll be on my last nerve by the beginning of July, but for now, the constant in-and-out by my children is Beethoven wafting through the house. Spring is finally–finally–here.

We have a little more than two weeks of school left. It’s been a year, starting out full of energy and hope and ending with us (mostly me) limping toward the last day with one arm outstretched, hoping to cross that finish line even a nanosecond earlier. This was the year I volunteered more than ever before, and it was the one I learned the true meaning of the old phrase about no good deed going unpunished. Spending time with the kids has been wonderful, truly, but also offered an enlightening glimpse into my community from a different perspective; I offer my heartiest congratulations to any teacher who’s not developed a raging alcohol or NyQuil addiction between Labor Day and now. God bless you, my friends. God. Bless. You.

I–a mere unpaid Sherpa with no authority beyond following direction and carrying tasks from here to there–have had flaming darts shot in my direction with shockingly little ceremony five times in the last two days. We’re all in the home stretch, exhausted and smelly and pretty overwhelmed with checks to write and books to return and final exam preparation and those last group projects to finish (tiny note: My 10- and 12-year olds don’t have driver’s licenses) and dear God almighty 10 weeks to fill on our own after that. I get it. And I suppose everybody needs a target. Perhaps I even deserved it–maybe I really suck at this. But wow. The good thing, if there is a good thing, is that it’s going to make stepping away from my donated hours easier.

After 15 years of freelancing and contracting, I’ll return to full-time work this summer as a regular employee of one of my favorite clients. You know how every so often, the sun shines down just right and magic sort of falls in your lap? That’s what this is. A gift. I am excited to begin this new chapter, nervous about how we’ll all adapt, and hoping to figure it all out as so many moms do every day. It’s been a fantastic ride the last decade and a half, but it’s time. I’m ready–we’re ready–and very thankful.

I am also hoping to write here more regularly. Food, sure–heaven knows I love my food. But also share random posts about family and life and work and flaming darts (I believe there’s a wait list at this point). We’ll see what happens.

Happy spring, y’all. I wish you many slams of the screen door in the coming weeks. Sunscreen and flip-flops and drippy ice cream cones. Less stress; more grass stains. Flak jackets as needed (I may invest).

See you soon…

Meaty (Meatless) Mushroom Pasta Sauce

19 Feb


Three things:

  1. The first thing DH asked me after he took a bite of this last night was whether there was meat in it. Answer: No. But the texture is just like a very hearty meat sauce. And my kids, who won’t touch identifiable mushrooms, ate some. Which was awesome.
  2. The next thing he said was that it may be the best pasta sauce he’s ever eaten. Score, ladies and gentlemen. Score.
  3. It’s super easy, very fast, and uses stuff you probably already have in your pantry. And it’s healthy.

I cannibalized this recipe from one in the defunct Gourmet magazine, which I miss very much and wish like heck would come back on paper or the iPad (did you know the iPad version is dead too? Sad, sad, sad.). Their recipe had chicken and rosemary and arugula and whole tomatoes and fancy-schmancy gourmet mushrooms and seemed like a bigger pain than necessary. I didn’t want chicken last night. I don’t like arugula despite its current trendiness. God made chopped tomatoes in cans and boxes for a reason (have you seen the boxed chopped tomatoes? My new favorite thing–they are amazingly good). I am a tightwad. And I don’t keep rosemary in the house. So improvisation was necessary.

We had this with pappardelle pasta, which is my favorite noodle of all time. The kids think it’s fine and DH isn’t much for it. You can’t win them all. This would work well on ziti or rotelle or shells, too. I am having more for lunch today, and am already smiling thinking about it–it’s really yummy.

pasta sauce

To make this, you need:

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, diced (I like Vidalias, but whatever makes you happy will work)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped (I started with sliced button/white mushrooms and cut them into quarters).

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water if you don’t have this, but the broth gives it a hint of extra yummy)

2 tsp dried basil, divided

1 28-oz can or box diced tomatoes, undrained

Pasta of your choice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pan over medium heat and coat the bottom with the olive oil. Cook the onions until they’re soft but not brown–about 2 or 3 minutes if your pan is hot.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. They’re going to shrink and they’re going to give off their liquid. Do not panic. It’ll soak back up after a few minutes. When the mushrooms look like they’re starting to cook, stir in the chicken or veggie broth and let it go for a few minutes.

Once your mushrooms are brown, use the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan (stir it in and scrape up all the yummy brown bits o’ goodness up and into the mushrooms). Cook until the vinegar is thick and sticky, which is only a minute or two.

Stir in the tomatoes, pepper, and 1 tsp of the basil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens up a little bit. Stir in the rest of the basil, adjust salt and pepper, ladle over your cooked pasta, and top with grated Parmesan.

Dear Grocery Store Manager

5 Feb

An open letter to grocery and big-box store managers.

Dear store manager,

I came home from your store this morning with a list of things I have to go somewhere else to buy.


We’re an average family of four. I buy a lot of food. I do not buy anything exotic or hard-to-find (theoretically, at least).

I have no loyalty to your store simply because it’s so frustrating to visit time and time again and leave without things, having passed shelves over because they were empty, blocked, or stocked with food that was less than fresh. And I would love, with all my heart, to find a food store I could rave about and love and patronize regularly, knowing that the experience will be positive.

I think maybe you don’t shop for your own family in your store, or you’d see what I see (and what everyone else in town sees…and talks about). Now, I’m no retail manager, but making shopping less frustrating for customers doesn’t seem all that difficult. May I offer a few suggestions, having been a consumer for awhile now?

  1. Be open when you’re open. If the doors are open and no blizzard or hurricane has knocked out the supply chain, have food on the shelves. Turn the escalators on so customers can easily access both floors without asking someone to press the switch. Have cashiers at their posts from minute-one, in case a customer just wants to get in and out quickly with a few items.
  2. Check the dates and condition of fresh food. I regularly find mold on “fresh” produce on the shelves. Last I checked, we are not a third-world nation. There’s simply no excuse for selling spoiled items. Today, I found eggs that expire in four days (which is pretty darn old for eggs) and milk that expired yesterday, all still for sale. You were out of seltzer water and pancake syrup. That shows me a lack of attention to detail, which means I have to pay extra attention to it and then drive somewhere else to finish. My time is valuable.
  3. Make your store accessible. A team pep rally that blocks aisles at 8 a.m. is a serious pain to shoppers (see #1: Be open when you’re open. Move the rah-rah to a stockroom or have it at 7:50 if the doors open at 8. And by the way, I hear the upsell motivation as I walk by this daily event, which makes me feel a bit ripped off if we’re being honest. Keep it out of earshot.). Stocking carts that block shelves during business hours mean those shelves may as well be empty–I can’t reach what I want.
  4. Tell your employees to love their jobs, at least when I can see and hear them. Its super frustrating to see/hear a gaggle of uniformed workers shooting the poop in a corner while things I need are missing. And I don’t want to hear how awful their manager is or how much their jobs suck. It’s a downer for other workers, and it’s a downer for customers, too.
  5. Train your cashiers to bag merchandise. I know–it’s not rocket science. But if my bag weighs a lot, it’s difficult for me to handle at home and the things I just paid for get smashed or spilled, and the plastic bag I wanted for trash or dog doo is ripped and useless. If I have things on the belt in order (refrigerated things together, fragile things together), please see that your workers notice and bag them that way, too. And the first rule is: the bread goes on top. Yes, I apparently have to say that. No, I shouldn’t have to. And I also don’t want to talk about my tampons, ice cream, or cortisone lotion–no comments on the merchandise, please.
  6. Watch your lanes. Ask customers who have 25 items in the express lane to relocate so those of us in a hurry can keep moving, rather than refuse to offend the idiot while inconveniencing everyone else. And before you install eight self-serve lanes and close manned stations, see if your customers like them. Most of us don’t–they’re slower than regular cashiers, they jam up, and quite frankly, we don’t work there. Finally, fear not opening more lanes when things are busy. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in line for 15 minutes during a rush while the two adjacent lanes stand empty and silent.
  7. Shop your own store. Ask your friends to come in anonymously and give you honest evaluations of what they find. Hire secret shoppers. Early and often. You’d be amazed how your business looks to those of us who don’t work for you.
  8. Provide your employees with a smoking area that’s not near the front door. Nothing, and I mean nothing (besides maybe the moldy tomatoes I passed up in the produce department this morning), is as disgusting as leaving a grocery store with fresh food and walking through stale smoke stench to get to my car. Really, it’s gross.

At the moment, I have no brand loyalty to any store in town. I would love to develop it and give you the benefit of my entire grocery budget. I would love to come home less than frustrated and having to copy half my list onto a new one for another store. And I’m sure you’d love for me to stop complaining.

Give it some thought. Please. Make me love you. Or at least, make food shopping less of a dreaded chore.Love,

Your customer

Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

31 Jan


Know what’s weird? If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti with meat sauce, the sauce is red. Buy it in a store? Red. I’ll even wager a guess that if your mom made meat sauce at home back in the day, it was red too. The meat sauce we all love (well, that I love, anyway) is red and tomato-y and comforting and the epitome of what Americanized Italian food is all about.

But. If you go online or to a cookbook and look up “meat sauce,” you’ll get a recipe for something that’s brown. Something that tastes more like seasoned beef than what we all know as spaghetti sauce. Bolognese, they say. It’s lovely, if what you’re looking for is a rich sauce that’s mostly meat. But in my house, we call that “smashed hamburger,” and it does not belong atop pasta.

We’re sophisticated like that.

So the other night, I cannibalized a few brown meat sauce recipes and came up with a red one that tastes like it should. It’s full of tomato and garlic and oregano and meat, and makes my Americanized palate very happy.


This is not a fast recipe, but it is mostly hands-off. Make it on a day you have a few hours it can simmer on a very low burner. Totally worth it. This also makes a lot of sauce–the four of us had it for dinner twice, and I still have another dinner’s worth stashed in my freezer. It’s long, but it’s very simple. And it’s red. Which is good.

You need:

Olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef (use ground chicken if you don’t eat beef–it mimics the texture of beef much better than turkey does)

2 tbsp oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup evaporated milk (I used low-fat. You could also use cream or half and half)

1 28 oz can or box crushed tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup basil leaves, pretty finely chopped (you don’t want big chunks o’ leaf in your sauce)

Heat a large pan or pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom with olive oil, throw in your onions, and cook them until they’re soft and golden (not brown). Once that happens, stir in your garlic and let it cook about 1 minute, keeping it moving in the pan so it doesn’t brown.

Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it’s browned. Add the oregano and hot pepper flakes. Stir in the evaporated milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often, until the milk has mostly evaporated.

When you don’t see the milk in the pan anymore, add in the tomatoes, sauce, tomato paste, and wine. Stir everything together, reduce the heat to low, put a cover on your pan, and let the sauce simmer gently for a long time–I let mine go four hours–giving it a stir every once in awhile so the meat doesn’t start to stick to the pan.


About a half-hour before you want to eat, uncover the pan and let it keep simmering. Just before serving, stir in the basil and adjust your seasoning. Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese.

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