Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Birth Story of Sorts

On the morning of March 15th, one year ago, I sat on the edge of my bed and held my round belly. I sat silently as I felt the swell of her tiny body stretch and press against mine. This pregnancy had left me exhausted and achy and gestationally diabetic, but I loved knowing that no matter where I was, she was there with me. Every flutter and kick was a secret told just between us. I held my belly tight, embracing these private moments because I knew this would likely be the last time I would ever feel any baby cuddles from the inside. Remember this, I whispered to myself. Today was the day we would meet our little girl.

I don't have an exciting movie-worthy, water-breaking, racing-to-the-hospital birth story. I don't have a tender, weepy, push-her-out-and-clutch-her-to-my-chest story either. 

I had a planned and scheduled, contraction-free, smooth and easy C-section. Actually, it was kind of awesome, especially after the excruciatingly long, painful and drawn out births of her brothers (my babies, it turns out, are not that fond of being born.) 

On the morning of the 15th, John and I strolled into the hospital and were ushered right into pre-op by a staff of jovial doctors and nurses. I sat on a bed in my hospital gown with curled hair and extra mascara. (I was determined to not look like a drowned cow in all the post-birth photos this time around.)

"So what are we going to name her?" my husband asked. It was a question we had been tossing around for nine months without any resolution.

"My favorite is still 'Willa'."

"Honey," he said with exasperation, "I promise you, whenever she says her name everyone will think she is saying 'Willow'."

"They will not! You're over-thinking it!" Now it was my turn to be exasperated. 

A few minutes later a nurse popped in to check on things. As she went about her duties she made pleasant small talk, "So, do y'all have a name picked out for this baby girl?" 

"Well, my wife likes the name 'Willa'," John answered.

"Willow?" she asked.

And that was the end of that.

When you are pregnant and you imagine what your birth might be like, you never envision yourself exposed and strapped to an operating table with a roomful of strangers staring at who-knows-what beyond the blue sheet. It's hard to be appropriately sentimental while feeling your insides being tugged and shifted, and rather than listening for your baby's cry, you are instead concentrating very, very hard on not throwing up for the third time (oh, the blessed, cursed anesthesia). 

Instead, I focused on my husband and experienced our tiny baby's birthday through him. He nervously gripped my hand and lovingly stroked my forehead. He gasped when her tiny wail pierced the air and he yelled, "I see her! She's beautiful! She's so beautiful!" as the doctor lifted her into our world. I watched as he held her bundled body close to his chest and wiped the tears from his eyes. 

I was still chanting my ever so calming mantra of don't vomit, don't vomit, don't vomit in my head, but I knew these were memories I wanted to lock away and revisit someday, once I regained feeling below the chest. Instead, as I took deep breaths in and out, I began to repeat Remember this. Remember this.

Later that night, after pictures were snapped, and a final name was chosen, after visitors headed home and a ravenous mama scarfed down a rather large sack of Five Guys (good-bye gestational diabetes, hello carbs!!), I finally had my baby all to myself.

I nuzzled her tiny six pound body into my neck and I held her. And I held her. And I held her. Remember this. I examined her perfect toes and lips and I memorized the weight of her body on my chest. Remember this. We stayed cuddled together all night long and I don't think I really slept. I just willed time to stop, because I now knew how truly fast babies grow. Remember this. Despite my best efforts, morning came and I could already feel the minutes slipping away...I could see her smiling and cooing, sitting up and grasping a pink rattle with chubby fingers. I could see her laughing and babbling with her brothers, feeding herself tiny peas and (finally!) crawling to get a toy. One day she would eagerly reach for the candle on her first birthday cake and one day she would yell my name and come toddling to hug my legs. And through all these milestones I would again tell myself remember this, remember this.

Life is unpredictable, particularly when it comes to babies. Some children are not planned, some names are a compromise, and real life birth stories usually write themselves. It's not our version of perfect, but it's these events that point to an Orchestrator, to a Designer who has planned an even better version of perfect than we are capable of imagining. 

All we can do is to step back, embrace the journey and repeat Remember this.

Happy 1st Birthday, Elise! We thank God for the gift that is your precious life!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pecan-Crusted Chicken {Freezer Meal}

Pecan-Crusted Chicken is subtly sweet with a delightful crunch and the nutty pecans add an incredible layer of flavor. Don't let the name intimidate you, this is just a fancypants version of a breaded chicken cutlet.  In this freezer meal, most of the prep work is done ahead of time, so this dish even works great on a busy weeknight. And sometimes your average Tuesday night could use a little fancy, dontcha think?

First, slice 2-3 large chicken breasts into cutlets. Then, in a ziptop bag, marinate the chicken cutlets in about 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Yes, maple syrup! It's the secret ingredient that gives the chicken that hint of sweetness.

Next, take 1 cup pecans and coarsely chop them in a food processor. If you don't have a food processor, you can put the pecans in a plastic baggie and crush them with a can or the bottom of a frying pan. 
I actually used walnuts here because it was what I had on hand.
I'm just pretending they're pecans because pecans sound so much fancier.

Mix the chopped nuts with 1 cup panko bread crumbs, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and store in a ziptop baggie. You can place your marinated chicken and topping in a gallon bag and throw it in the freezer. Now you've got yourself a meal kit on hand!

When you're ready to cook, thaw your meal kit. Dredge the chicken in the pecan/breadcrumb mix. You can do it assembly line style, shown below, or you can pour the pecan mix into the gallon bag and toss each piece of chicken around to coat (one at a time) shake-n-bake style!

Make sure all the crumbs are pressed in well.


Now, this next part is a little tricky, but if you follow all the steps, you should be good to go!

First, heat your skillet to medium heat. Add enough oil to completely coat the bottom of your skillet - don't skimp! If there is not enough oil, the pecan crust will burn. Let the oil heat up, then drop in a breadcrumb to ensure the oil is hot enough. If the breadcrumb sizzles and bubbles, you knows the oil is ready (you don't want to put the chicken in before the oil is hot, or it won't brown properly). 

Next, carefully place your chicken in the skillet. If your pan isn't large enough to cook all chicken breasts at once, cook them in batches rather than overcrowd the pan.

After your chicken is in the skillet, leave it alone for 2-3 minutes. No poking or prodding! Moving the chicken around will cause the crust to come off. 

After a few minutes, take a spatula and quickly slide it under the chicken. Before you flip it over, make sure there is still oil coating the pan. If you did not add enough oil to begin with, add more oil before flipping the chicken! Trust me, if you accidentally burn this dish, your family will not eat it. Even if you try and convince them it is actually called "Blackened Pecan Chicken." Hypothetically speaking, of course. 

Finally, flip the chicken and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. 

I like to eat my Pecan-Crusted Chicken over a big, leafy salad. My 4-year-old, on the other hand, says, "Mommy, I just wasn't born for salads," so feel free to serve it up however you choose. 

What did I tell ya? Perfection!
Apparently my 4-year-old wasn't born for this chicken dish either.
If you are looking for a way to get dinner on the table even faster, you can bread the chicken before freezing. Just be sure to individually wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap and store all the chicken in a ziptop bag in the freezer. When you are ready to cook, DO NOT thaw the chicken. Pan fry the cutlets frozen. It is a little trickier and takes a couple minutes longer on each side, but it works!

Serves 4-6

  • 2-3 large chicken breasts, sliced into cutlets
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp herbs of choice (thyme or rosemary work well)
  • olive oil
To ensure a quicker cooking time, fillet each chicken breast by placing the breast on the cutting board and with a long sharp knife, cut through the side of the breast from top to bottom, parallel to the cutting board. You should now have 2 chicken cutlets from each chicken breast. (See photos here)

In a ziptop baggie, add chicken cutlets and maple syrup. Turn to coat. In a separate baggie, combine panko bread crumbs, chopped pecans, salt, pepper and herbs. Add both baggies to a large gallon bag and freeze entire bag. 

When you are ready to cook, thaw entire meal kit. Coat each chicken breast with pecan mixture, pressing to ensure that the mixture sticks. 

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Make sure you have enough oil to coat the pan. When the oil is hot, add 2 to 3 chicken cutlets to the pan - don't overcrowd!  Leave the chicken alone to cook for 2 to 3 minutes - no peeking! Then, flip each chicken breast with a spatula. Again, let the chicken cook for 2 to 3 minutes without poking or moving the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dear Winter, YOU WIN!

Dear Winter,


I give up. And I know I'm not alone because all day my Facebook feed has been filled with desperate pleas from other mamas crying Please pray for me! I'm stuck at home with the kids AGAIN! Mothers of young ones everywhere are throwing in the towel and waving our white flags because you have BEAT US DOWN, Winter. We surrender!

Today it is 30 degrees outside. ICE and SNOW are falling from the sky. One child is lying sick on the couch and I can hear the wails of the other two as they beat on the bathroom door. I am cowering on the other side because I swear, I CANNOT TAKE ONE MORE DAY! I know we recently had the Best Snow Day Ever, but now  IT IS MARCH FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! Isn't March supposed to bring sunshine and sidewalk chalk and bare toes? Instead I'm still playing tortuously long games of Candyland and dressing in layers.

You think we'd know better by this point. It always starts the same way. We celebrate the crisp, cool breezes of fall as a welcome respite from the humid summer. We unpack our boots and Instagram our pumpkin lattes. We bundle up in December and happily hum carols because it's just not Christmas without Jack Frost nippin' at your nose. We are such fools.  

As soon as January 1st comes around, so do the winter doldrums. And we have been doldrummed to a pulp. We have been to 532 story times. We have broken up 876 fights. We have said "cover your mouth when you cough" 2439 times. If we have to wipe one more runny nose or watch one more episode of Caillou, we may just march ourselves outside and lay in the frozen street and wait for the snow plow. I imagine that George Washington must have faced similar despair as he camped at Valley Forge. Our situations are almost identical. I bet his soldiers whined a lot too.

Winter, we are tired. We are SO TIRED. We have LOST ALL THE BATTLES and you have WON THE WAR. 

We have lost the Battle of Overcoat. Everyday, EVERYDAY this winter I have responsibly insisted that my children wear coats before we brave the frigid temperatures and everyday, EVERYDAY I have the same conversation: 

"I don't wanna wear a cooooat!" 

"Sweetie, it's freezing cold outside. Look, you can see your breath!"

"But I'm not cooooold! Batman never wears a coat!" 

"Of course Batman wears a coat! When it gets really cold Batman has a special Batcoat he wears so that he can walk around outside without whining to his Mommy about how cold he is."

"Ok. But I don't want my coat. I want a BATCOAT!!"

So fine. About a month ago I gave up. You wanna freeze, kids? Fine, go ahead and freeze! Of course, now I'm met with disapproving frowns from strangers as I drag my coatless children the 30 feet it takes to get them from the heated car to the heated store. "Moooommy! We're COOOOOLD!! WE'RE SO COOOLD!" they wail. "TOUGH!" I bark, "KEEP MOVING!" The strangers shake their heads. I suppose it doesn't help that the baby doesn't have a coat either. She owns one light jacket and one snowsuit and when the weather isn't appropriate for either, I just wrap her up in a blanket and make do. Third child problems, you know.  

We have succumbed to the Great Germ Invasion. Sure, last fall I was all about hand sanitizer and flu shots and vitamins, but then we all ended up getting the flu anyway and sanitizing took too much effort and Henry broke into the Gummi Vites and ate up half the jar. We have spent a small fortune in tissues. My children's noses are a constant stream of mucus. I have dreams about snot. I suppose if they started wearing their coats their noses might not drip so profusely, but sadly that battle has already been lost. 
Proof of my desperation:
Today I took my coatless, snotty-nosed kids to a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut for lunch.
Dressed like this. Yes, my oldest is wearing underwear over his pants. 
We have given up the Quest for Entertaining Indoor Activities That Do Not Include Electronics. We started out making coffee filter snowflakes and shaving cream snowmen. We baked cookies and whipped up some snowcream. We colored, glued, finger painted, and crafted. And that got us to mid-January.

On the upside, my 2-year-old is now a whiz on the iPad and my 4-year-old has totally mastered the DVR. Even the baby loves the iPhone, or at least the iPhone cord.

So Winter, you win. You have brought us to our knees and we are begging for mercy. And you know what? This mama can't take it anymore. I am packing our bags and next week we are headed to sunny Florida!!! And I have a message for you, Winter. You may have beat me down, but if you follow us to Florida I will HUNT YOU DOWN. I will HUNT YOU DOWN and then I will SIC MY KIDS ON YOU!! I guarantee you, after 57 games of Candyland-With-Made-Up-Rules you will crack! You will be BEGGING for Spring to come and take your place!!

So Winter, I concede, you win. Now let's go our separate ways and part as friends.

Until we meet again,

Stir Crazy Mama