Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Salad Dressing Formula that Will Change Your Life


I am a salad dressing snob.

It's true. I never even liked salads until I was practically in my 20s. At 19 years old I had a chance encounter with a Caesar salad tossed with a dressing made from scratch and a choir of angels sang from heaven with each bite. I finally understood what all the fuss was about and my life was changed forever.

After that I accepted salads into my life, but I still avoid bottled dressings like the nasty little devils they are. I will eat high-fructose gummy worms with reckless abandon, but don't you dare put preservatives in my dressing. Do not even try to feed me Hidden Valley Ranch or I will gag. I'm sorry, it's just what dressing snobs do.

Without dressing, salad is just some leaves and a sad carrot. I mean, who would actually eat a cucumber by itself? It's the dressing that separates us from the rabbits, my friends, and if you've spent years drowning your salad in Wishbone, I'm about to change your life too.



Vinaigrettes are the healthiest and easiest salad dressings to make. You can never go wrong with straight up oil and vinegar, but if you want to take your salad up a notch, here is a no-fail, one-minute, super spectacular salad dressing formula:

3 parts Oil + 2 parts Vinegar + 1 part Flavor
{with salt & pepper to taste}

Use 3 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp vinegar and 1 Tbsp flavor for a smaller amount of dressings - good for one salad for a crowd or for a couple days worth of individual salads. You could also make enough to have on hand for a week or two if you combine 1/2 cup of oil, 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 Tbsp flavor. Keep in mind that some vinegars are stronger than others, so if it's too tart you can add more oil, or if it's not strong enough just add more vinegar.

Personally, I like to throw it all in a mason jar and shake it til it does that emulsify thing because 1) a blender is too much work to clean 2) whisking makes my hand tired and 3) you can store leftovers in the same jar so woohoo! less dishes.

Here are some of my favorite combos:

Oil + Balsamic Vinegar + Honey = Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Oil + Sherry Vinegar + Strawberry Jam = Strawberry Vinaigrette

Oil + Red Wine Vinegar + Mustard & Honey = Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Oil + Lemon Juice + Parmesan Cheese = Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette

Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Maple Syrup with a generous pinch of cinnamon = Maple-Cinnamon Vinaigrette

Oil + Rice Wine Vinegar + Soy Sauce (add in some garlic, ginger and sugar for fun!) = Asian Vinaigrette

Oil + Lime Juice + Cilantro and Garlic = Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette



Finally, I feel I must end with a disclaimer: Though I am a self-admitted salad dressing snob, if I come to your house I will happily eat your bottled stuff because I love you more than I love hating bottled dressing. Just to clear that up.

Secondly, even though I occasionally have dreams about ranch dressing made from scratch, there are some days when it is just too hard to mix 3 ingredients together. On those days I do have some bottled dressings (gasp!) that have fooled me into thinking they are home-made.

My favorites are:
-Braswell's Balsamic Vinaigrette
-just about anything from Tessamae


Happy Mixing, friends!


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Parenting Explained in 5 Simple Graphs

I pride myself on being well-prepared for new experiences. Whenever we travel, for example, I giddily spend months planning the optimal itinerary, which I then type up in a color-coded daily schedule making sure to ignore all the eyerolls from my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband.

 Naturally, when I was expecting our first child, I reasoned that if a successful vacation simply depends on adequate forethought and research, shouldn't childrearing follow suit?

At around 8 months pregnant, after memorizing each page of What to Expect While Expecting, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no earthly clue what to do once the baby actually arrived. None of my friends had babies yet and the internet was not quite so chock full of unsolicited advice back in 2009, but thank goodness for books. Surely after populating the planet for thousands of years, humans had arrived at some sort of general consensus regarding the best practices for raising offspring, and I was confident that wealth of knowledge was shelved, ready and waiting for me, at my local Barnes and Noble.

A day or so later I found myself at the bookstore, casually selecting a few reads on parenting, my decisions mostly based on the attractiveness of the book covers. After all, won't these books mostly repeat the same things? How much could there even be to write about raising an infant? (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was sitting somewhere up in heaven laughing his head off.)

That night I got my very first taste of parenting. I sat in bed, leafing through my copies of Dr. Sears' The Attachment Parenting Book and Babywise, two books which are essentially the oil and vinegar of the parenting world. As I read, I began to feel panic surging in my chest. It was like the feeling you might get if you had stayed up all night studying for a biology test only to find your exam is on chemistry. It was like ordering pizza and getting a plate of beef lomein. It was like spending 9 months revelling in all the attention and joy that comes with a first pregnancy and then OH MY GOSH I'M HAVING A HUMAN PERSON AND THESE BOOKS ARE CRAP.

"JOHN!" I hysterically yelled at my husband.

"What's wrong? Is it the baby?"

"YES!"

"What happened? Did you have a contraction? Did your water break? ARE YOU IN LABOR LET ME PACK SOME BAGS."

"No, no, it's what these books have to say about the baby."

"what."

I clutched one book in each hand, wildly gesturing while John adopted the posture of a deflated balloon, a mildly irritated deflated balloon. "You see, this book says if we sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person and this book says if we DON'T sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person!!"

I suppose I was expecting inspired words of wisdom from my husband who was attempting to watch a riveting baseball documentary, but all I received was silence and a slow blink which in no way assuaged my mounting concern.

"These books say the EXACT OPPOSITE thing! How am I supposed to know which one is RIGHT? I mean, I know there's no manual for parenting, but isn't there at least supposed to be a book that everyone agrees on with instructions that tell me EXACTLY WHAT TO DO??" (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was clutching his sides, rolling on the floor.)


I learned an important lesson that night: parenting is a crapshoot. To be honest, in my 6.5 years of raising tiny people, I haven't learned much else, but I've taken what I have learned and turned into 5 highly informative (though severely under-researched) infographics on parenting, just in the hope that anyone googling "baby has been screaming for 2 hours now what" might find some solace.


First up, having a baby. Forget everything those parenting books have told you. Having a baby comes down to two things:


Lord help you if the baby doesn't take a pacifier, but at least you will have extra strong biceps from all the bouncing and swaying. Unfortunately, neither your toned arms nor your honed tracking skills will prove to be the slightest bit useful in the toddler stage.

Basically, you're screwed. 
I have had at least one child in the toddler stage for the past six years or so and still have not developed any telepathic abilities whatsoever, despite being given ample practice opportunities several times a day. I can't even figure out what I did at breakfast this morning to make my 2-year-old scream as if her entire family just died. Was there not enough butter on her toast? Was it too toasted? Should I have cut it into squares instead of triangles? These are the great mysteries of life.

On the upside, my nearly-4-year-old ran up to me recently holding 2 halves of his snack exclaiming, "Mommy, my granola bar breaked and I didn't even cry!!" and I swear, I have never been more proud of him.





Calm down, I know that girls can play with Legos (mine does) and boys can dance around in a sparkly pink tutu (mine does, and don't ever tell him I told you), but currently the majority of my time is spent picking stray specks of glitter off my clothing while listening to the boys replace every noun and/or verb in every song with the word 'poop'.

"Twinkle, twinkle little POOP! How I wonder what you POOP!" All the day long, friends, ALL.THE.DAY.LONG.

"I'm the tooth fairy! No, I'm the POOP FAIRY!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

There's a lot of information in parenting books, but certainly none that prepared me for broken granola bars, poop jokes or spending half the baby's infancy bouncing him under a humming vent in a dark bathroom. They never told me that my kids would fight over who gets to sit on my lap WHILE I WAS ON THE POTTY.

They also never prepared me for how completely and utterly these babies would overwhelm my heart. They never painted a picture of early morning cuddles or kitchen dance parties or contagious giggles (because every now then a poop joke is actually kind of funny). They never warned me about a love so fierce and deep it transforms you from the inside out.

Experience is the best teacher and there are some things you just can't learn from books.

Fortunately, internet graphs are always spot on. 

(Though I can't be certain, I believe I just heard laughter.) 


Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Ways to Embrace the New Year without Making a Resolution



I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, which is odd considering my great love for to-do lists, but I tend to live by the motto "if I'm not going to be spectacularly successful at something, then why even bother doing it?" This is something I'm working through.

Goals are not a bad thing and I've made them in the past. When I was in middle school I made a list of all the characteristics I hoped to find in a future husband, including such deal-breakers as He must be at least 6 feel tall and His last name must be at the beginning of the alphabet (my maiden name began with W and DANGIT I was sick of being called last for everything!) Several years down the road I landed a 6' 3" dreamboat and added an 'H' to my monogram. I'm not saying it was all due to my teenage requirements, but probably. Thank goodness for goals because I could have ended up married to 5 foot 10 inch man named Wilson and that would have been a disaster.

Every year I feel like I should make resolutions, but every year I put it off til January 3rd or so and by then IT'S TOO LATE because everybody knows you can only have resolutions if you start them on January 1st. (This is something I'm working through.)

But this year, in the spirit of fresh starts and middle school husband requirements, I made a list of New Year's Resolutions:

1. Read at least 20 books without pictures

2. Watch all my DVR'd shows, even those episodes of CSI that have been there for 3 years

3. Stop eating dinner over the sink and also lose 12 pounds

4. Make it through the whole year without hitting the house with my car 

5. Pee without an audience

Now it is January 7th and I have already failed at #3 and #5 and I'm sure my bumper will have a fresh new gouge come February and WHO AM I KIDDING RESOLUTIONS ARE A BUNCH OF CRAP so please pass the Krispy Kremes.

The truth is, at this season of my life, I don't have the energy to strive to become a smarter, skinnier, better version of myself. Quite frankly, I don't have time. I feel like I need to have another baby just so I can watch some TV. Managing dinner and bills and permission slips is difficult enough without tacking on organizing the closets or cutting out sugar and, honestly, if I stop eating over the sink I might starve. 

At least I didn't resolve to keep the house clean.
Do resolutions make you crazy? Are you in a season that requires more grace and fewer goals? Instead of making our lives "better", can we simply recognize the beauty and perfection that exist in the harried, imperfect lives we already have?

This year, as an alternative to resolutions, here are 3 ways we can embrace the new year. 

1. Join the #onebeautifulthing Instagram challenge 

Instagrammers are coming together weekly to "look for beauty in the nitty gritty of everyday life. It’s in the piles of laundry waiting to be washed. While most of the time people look at that as a huge chore and something to put off, instead, look at it as an opportunity that your family is together and home and spend time praying for each child as you wash, dry, and fold the clothes." Also, there will be winners and prizes so GAME ON, erm, I mean let's get going on that beautiful laundry. 

Find more info on #onebeautiful thing here.


2. Make a "101 Things in 1,001 Days" List

Whoa. I know. That's a lot of numbers and I hate lots of numbers unless they're in my bank account. But don't worry, the 101 Things are FUN things that you actually want to do, no cleaning out closets here! Instead you might decide you want to take a cake decorating class or reread a book series or plan a Mediterranean cruise with a dashing Italian tourguide named Alessandro. (Oh come on, everybody wants to do that last one.) And the best part? You've got 3 YEARS to get it done! 

The Lazy Genuis explains more here.


3. Choose One Word for 2016

Someone wrote a whole book about this very thing, but obviously since it has no pictures I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Thankfully there is a website! "'My One Word' is an experiment designed to move you beyond the cycle of broken resolutions. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD. This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future."

So this year I will be instagramming beautiful things (because Instagram is my latest obsession and you should totally follow me so you can see pics of my laundry), I will be making a list of fun things (because lists are my favorite) and I'll be focusing on the small things.



My One Word I have chosen for this year is 'small.' Small is not very glamorous or poetic or inspiring, but it's just what I need right now, because in a society where bigger is better, it's oddly refreshing to turn my attention to the small.

Small tells us to notice the beauty in that laundry pile. Small says to write because you love it, not because thousands will read it. Small says that it's the mundane acts of packing lunches, driving carpool, and reading one more bedtime story that build on each other to create a life of stability and joy. 

One day there will be time for clean closets and quiet meals and even locked bathroom doors. There may even be room for big things one day - ambitious goals have their place too - but even if not, we can be faithful in the mundane; we can show up everyday for the people that need us - our children, our partners, our friends, even strangers. And isn't that the mark of a great life anyway?

This year I will be focusing on doing small things with great love. So if you need me, I'll be here, hanging with all my small people...taking pics of the laundry pile.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Slacking at the Grove Park Inn

A funny thing happened last December. After Thanksgiving we began some renovations on the main living area of our home which were supposed to be completed in 2 weeks, but ended up taking 9. (Guess how many people were surprised when I told them this? Approximately zero people. It would probably be smart for contractors to start factoring Murphy's Law into their timetable estimates.)

You would think that we would be angry or at least disappointed that our home was in such disarray at Christmas. In fact, it was the most relaxing, stress-free Christmas of my adult life. It turns out, not having a functional living space is the perfect excuse for being the ultimate Christmas slackers.

Sorry, kids, we can't have a tree this year, there's no where to put it!

No, we can't host any parties, we've got nowhere for people to hang!

Elf on the Shelf? All the exposed nails just make it too dangerous for him this year.

Send out Christmas cards? Nope. Can't. We have no mailbox.


AHEM. I may have gotten slightly carried away with all the Christmas slacking.


Consequently, our house was in sad shape. The stockings were anti-climatic.



Our tree left something to be desired.

The holiday aesthetic was lacking to say the least.

However, come January 1st, all I had to put away was some felt and 3 large socks. It was glorious.


Unfortunately, this year our house is in pristine condition. With the absence of precarious stepladders and menacing nails poking through the floors, I panicked at the thought of carrying out our usual holiday tradition: cramming in so much holiday bustle and sparkle and cheer that I end up a hysterical Christmas zombie who cries at cracked cheesecakes and yells things like "I swear, if you kids do not stop shaking those jingle bells YOU WILL BE GETTING NO PRESENTS!!"

So in an attempt to ride the wave of holiday slacking as long as acceptably possible, we we decided to delegate Thanksgiving. For years my mom has talked about spending Thanksgiving with the whole family in the mountains of Asheville, NC, particularly at the lovely, historical Grove Park Inn. This year we took her up on it.

Built in 1913, the resort sits nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The impressive stone structure was constructed in the popular Arts and Crafts style of the time, giving the inn a rustic mountain-lodge feel complemented by touches of artistic charm found in ornate carvings, stained-glass light fixtures and literary quotes impressed upon large stones throughout the resort. Or, as Cormac McCarthy described it in a novel "a cool room high in an old rough pile of rocks." Same same.

The Grove Park Inn was conceptualized by Edwin Riley Grove and was built with the fortune he amassed by selling a treatment for malaria called "Grove's Tastless Chill Tonic." The tonic was so popular it became a household name and sold more bottles than Coca-Cola in the 1890s.

We had a lovely, relaxing Thanksgiving this year and if anyone asks what I am thankful for I am going to say malaria.




Best marketing campaign ever. #fataspigs

We spent our three-day stay exploring the grounds, snacking at the Gingerbread Bar, keeping Elise out of mischief, frequenting the buffets, viewing the dozens of gingerbread houses on display and sipping hot chocolate on the terrace. And eating. Did I mention eating?







Since I was not performing the usual Thanksgiving tasks of basting a turkey or washing dishes or consoling the child who got the short end of the wishbone, I had time for other things. Like taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. As in, your finger may need a rest after all the scrolling you are about to do. 







Every November GPI hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition and the top ten entries in each division (adult, teen and child) are displayed around the hotel until the new year. Ironically, of all the displays, there were only a handful that were actually houses. This year the entries included a gingerbread peacock, a gingerbread choir and a gingerbread ice queen whom Elise insisted was Elsa from Frozen. Luckily, Elsa was located right by the elevator so we got to spend 10 minutes looking at her every time we left the room.


Gingerbread "Elsa"


The grand prize winner of the gingerbread house competition.
Probably got bonus points because it was an actual gingerbread house.

It was no surprise that of the dozens and dozens of themed trees throughout the resort, Henry's favorite was the "farm tree". Like Elsa, we also spent quite a bit of time around the farm tree, and Henry, in an attempt to recreate the magic of the Grove Park Inn, stuck all his animal toys in our Christmas tree when we got home. Elise has not yet attempted a gingerbread Elsa.



Along with the edible houses (and non-houses) the GPI put their own little spin on gingerbread by creating a magnificent hot chocolate bar constructed entirely of gingerbread and other confections. Naturally, cocoa and gingerbread people were available to purchase at the Gingerbread Bar which helped reinforce for my kids an important childhood truth: when Mommy says no, Grandpa says yes. 





It took an entire 30 seconds after arriving at the resort for me to exclaim "this is great! why doesn't everyone do this for Thanksgiving??" It turns out, everyone does do this for Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving day the inn was teeming with people of every age, from near and far, dressed in their holiday best. It was crowded, but the atmosphere was festive and jovial, like the scene in White Christmas, when all the soldiers arrive for the big show and there is dancing and singing and Bing and Rosemary Clooney smooch behind the tree. If we had only brought our feathered fans, my siblings and I could have done an inspiring rendition of "Sisters."

My mother and sisters are missing from this group photo. I think they got distracted by the gift shop.






Of course, it wasn't all magical cocoa moments and endless buffets and majestic mountain views. Actually, it was mostly those things. There was the occasional tantrum and every night Elise did crawl into my bed and lie across my face, but I realized that by removing myself from the role of holiday coordinator-of-all-things, I was actually able to relax and enjoy our time together.





Nonetheless, as soon as we got home there was baking to be done and presents to be wrapped and parties to attend. I'm sure you will be shocked to hear that I have a hard time taking things off my plate (both literally and figuratively). There's always a new recipe I want to try and just one more string of lights I want to hang and a color-coded gift spreadsheet I can't wait to type up. 

But I always overestimate the number of days in December, so by the time Christmas Eve rolls around I'm kicking myself for all the stupid, fun plans I've made because now I'm exhausted and if anyone is mean to me I am going to cry so hard at them. 

It seems the only way I can take things off my plate is if the plate is pried out of my type A, overachieving fingers. 

Still, there are some tasks that can't be negotiated and if mama doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. All the same, I need to find moments in this busy season to channel my inner slacker. I may not have a Gingerbread Bar, but by golly I can make some darn good hot chocolate and force the kids to watch White Christmas with me. 

And I suppose if that doesn't work I can always call my contractor. 







Merry Christmas, friends. The weary world rejoices on this day and I wish you peace, rest and a big mug of cocoa with the ones you love.