Happy Birthday LuLu!

Your Royal Tininess ...

It's been a joy to watch you grow up; to see your personality develop and to learn about who you are. You're just such a cool little person, and I love everything about you. Happy Birthday, sweetheart.


One year

Two years

And three

When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble - give a whistle

The Thanksgiving break was, I think, a little hard on the Big Girl. Not that she minded the extra home time. It was the change in routine that threw her; a few days at 'daycare' (which she declared was "too little for me; the kids in pre-K just don't *know* anything"), and was a complete break for the predictable routine she has at Kindy. Then a lot of special togetherness days at home. With me. At home. For several days. Just me, Bean and Her Royal Tininess. And the glad tidings and thankfulness that go along with that togetherness. (I mentioned that it was a lot of days, right?)

So it really shouldn't have been a huge shock when she started to get a little ornery. But it was. And I reacted as well as those who know me would expect, after several days at home, with my kids. I get a little ... ahh ... twitchy when I feel trapped.

There was this time, many moons ago, when I still lived at home with my folks in Sarasota. As Florida thunderstorms are wont to do, there would sometimes be epic rainfall that would flood us into our neighborhood. Regardless of whether I *planned* to go out that day/night, knowing I couldn't leave drove me batty. I probably would have built a damn raft, knowing all the while the water would be down in a day or two.

I'm like that guy who cut of his own arm after being trapped under a boulder for five days, except, you know, less patient and way less ballsy. A few days of not being able to get 5 minutes alone makes me contemplate things like how nice it would be to have appendicitis and be hospitalized. Sure someone would come in every 2 hours to take my vitals, but if I said "Can you bring me the clicker?" there wouldn't be a 10 minute discussion about why I needed it, who invented the clicker, who invented the TV and what the phrase 'hand to god, I could drown myself in a bucket' means and whether it's a figure of speech or a myth.

But all that together time did yield a lot of great moments, and a lot of fun. We got in some time at the newly rebuilt neighborhood park, dinner with my folks and decorating the house. The girls are just awesome little people, each totally their own person and totally comfortable in who they are. I'm so proud of who they are, and how much love they have in their hearts.

Park time, Thanksgiving morning. You'll likely notice Bean's boots - she hasn't worn anything else since I got them for her. Personally, I think they take her style to a whole new level.

Our bling-tastic Christmas decor - magenta, silver and purple ornaments, and hot pink lights. They wanted pink and purple lights, but I talked them down to pink and white to minimize the bordello theme they were driving toward. Just call it the Best Little Christmas House in Texas.

And the extra fabulousness of our Shrine-to-Santa. Yes, those are pink trees. And no, I don't remember what Her Royal Tininess was all about back there ... but the picture is totally reflective of life with them: one is full-on, all the time, the other is comic relief.

Bean's latest tome

Texas Chili

For Miss O's 2nd birthday party, I made a Texas-style chili that everyone (very kindly) raved about. When I was invited to a soup swap recently, I decided to replicate my efforts, and actually (a first for me) keep track of what and how much I used to create a recipe. I tend to just be a wing-it type of cook; I'm not really a details kind of person when it comes to cooking (which is likely why I suck at baking), but more of an "start with stuff that sounds good, add more or less of other things to taste, cook it 'til it's done" kind of cook.

2.5 lbs lean stew meat
1.75 lbs lean chili meat
1 large onion, diced
1 24-oz jar of salsa
2 28-oz cans crushed or diced tomatoes
1 jar mole
1T sugar
1T oregano
½ tsp chipotle flakes
½ tsp ancho chili powder

Brown meat.

I cut the bigger hunks of stew meat into smaller bits, and crumbled the chili meat before browning so nothing stuck together in clumps. You can probably skip browning, but I think it adds flavor. While I was browning the meat (in several batches), I added a generous sprinkle of garlic salt to cut the browning meat aroma. I love red meat, but hate the smell of it browning.

Dice the onion and sautee it in the last round of beef drippings (for all the others, I soaked up the fatty runoff with paper towels) until softened with some browned bits.

Start dumping everything in the slow cooker. For this recipe, I used a 6-quart cooker. I started with the meat, then onion, mole, tomatoes and salsa.

The mole is a pain in the tush to work with, but the flavors it adds are *so* worth it. If you’ve never used mole, opening the jar is difficult, and there’s an inch or so layer of oil on top. Oh, and the opening instructions are in Spanish, so enjoy that. I'm pretty sure the instructions say "locate the three dots, then pry the lid off at the dots". Either that or "get a beer, find a cute guy to open this, take it back after he's figured it out." Potato, potahto.

Below the inch of oil is a solid brick of mole. You need to puree the mole with water or broth or something before you add it to the pot – it won’t melt down. (Yes, that's experience talking.)

Cook for at least 6 hours – I did about 18 hours. Give it a good stir as often as you like. My slow cooker has a 10-hour setting, and that’s what I used, but it still boiled the chili and could possibly burn the bottom layer if you aren’t stirring or using a slow cooker liner.

The result is a sweet, rich, somewhat spicy, earthy, meaty chili that is to. die. for. Unless you're a vegetarian. Texas chili is pretty universally accepted as being bean-free. When I went through my couple years of vegetarianism, I really grew to like chili made with fake meat crumbles and dried, rehydrated, beans. Using the dried beans meant they retained just a bit more firmness and held up better for a 6-10 hour slow cooking. But now that I've done Texas chili, I don't know if I can ever go back to fake meat and beans.

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