Butternut Squash, Carmelized Pears, And One Unhappy 4-year-old

I felt so guilty about not cooking for the family last week, (I did give my mom helpful direction when I was sick/recovering from dental surgery, but being annoying doesn’t count as actual cooking) that I prepared a huge meal tonight.

I had the 4-year-old put on his apron and help empty the seeds out of the butternut squash that I then roasted with olive oil, butter, and salt and pepper. Once that was in the oven, I cooked salmon and mashed potatoes for the husband and I, and pasta and chicken for the boys. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m one of those parents I swore I would never be and I cook two meals – a bland one for the kids and something I hope is slightly more interesting for the adults.

The dessert was for everyone and the 5-year was delighted to help because it involved sugar. I took Bosc pears and cut them in half and had the boys rub butter on the inside. Then they smeared a little brown sugar on the pear and I sprinkled a touch of cinnamon. I popped them in the oven with the squash and it made the house smell like Fall. The whole thing took forever and the pears started to get dry but were still hard. I poured a little apple juice on the pears (thank you Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network website) and they came out perfect.

The squash was the best part of the meal, but the boys said repeatedly, “Noooooo. I’m not eating that.” I even offered them a quarter just to try it. They are long past falling for that trick so I took the squash (that already had olive oil and butter) and sautéed it with more olive oil, garlic, and spinach and it was amazing!!

I served the pears warm with ice cream and was able to get one of the boys to eat them. I kept telling the 4-year-old that it’s a pear, one of his favorites, with sugar, his favorite thing in the whole world. He put his hand over his mouth and mumbled, “I just want ice cream.”

This week I’m going to try cooking only one family meal and the kids will have to eat it…right? Or they’ll throw a fit, cry, and tell me they’re starving, but can’t possibly eat my dinner. We’ll see how it goes.

The "Spooktacular Got Chocolate Milk Halloween Event" I went to

I’ve never been on a studio lot before, so I was thrilled to be invited to the “Got Milk” Halloween party at Paramount Studios. And I could bring my kids, an extra coup because it happened on Tuesday, the day we struggle for activities because my kindergartener gets out early.

We braved the off and on rain (which in L.A. people treat like a hurricane) to get to Paramount. After driving in the wrong gate (why did you go the wrong way mom? Why mom? Why?) we checked in. I quickly changed my boys from mild mannered school children into Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader then we walked past the giant fake sky to find the party.<

And what a party it was. A giant spider made of balloons was fastened to the entrance. Fall trees that looked like they came right out of When Harry Met Sally graced in the inside of the tent, which was decorated with hay barrels and pumpkin balloons. The kids trick or treated down a street lined with brownstones (soundstages inside, I think), which were done up like Martha Stewart designed them herself. There were kids in costume and mom bloggers everywhere. Oh, and Angie Harmon.

Which brings me to why we were there. Angie Harmon is the new Got Milk? Mom and her new ad was pretty cute. It’s a shot by Annie Liebowitz (I hope they paid her lots of money! Get your pictures back, woman) of Harmon with her three girls. I was a little worried about my boys ability to listen quietly long enough for the presentation.

Angie Harmon (who is stunningly beautiful by the way) started talking just as my older boy droped his white chocolate covered brownie-on-a-stick on the floor covered with hay. He looked at me and his lip started quivering and he said “Mommy! Mommy!” Hold it together, I told him. Hold it together while the famous

lady is talking. Tears started welling in his eyes. Finally, I told him I would get him another one and he wiped his tears away and nodded that he would be ok.

After the presentation we took pictures, ate junk food, and stocked up on milk products. Chocolate milk is the official (according to the Got Milk? campaign) drink of Halloween. The only disappointing thing was that my son picked up a four pack of Nestle 100 calorie chocolate milk with no sugar added (they drank and loved the sugar chocolate milk minutes after we arrived). Instead of sugar it had sucralose and acesulfame potassium, artificial sweeteners that I don’t let my 4 and 5 year old consume. It was gluten-free, the bottle said, but why would it have gluten in it anyway? (Don’t get me started on the wheat starch in the Trader Joe’s Halloween Gummy Candy.)

All in all it was a really fun day and my kids were asking to go back tomorrow. And to add to my brush with Hollywood I did see another semi-famous person walking to his car. I don’t know who it was, but I’ve seen him do a guest spot on Entourage. You see famous people at Starbucks here in Los Angeles, but for some reason it was pretty exciting to see one at a studio. I’m a dork.

Big Hair and Good Friends

I’m really excited about this weekend. I’m heading off to my 20-year high school reunion in sunny Tucson, Arizona. There’s something so peaceful about flying into the Old Pueblo. The golden brown mountains rise up, and as the sun sets the sky turns a brilliant orange. Then when you step off the plane and breathe in the clean, dry air you feel like you’ve never taken such a deep breath.

But back in the day I thought it was a vast, dusty wasteland that I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of. I dreamed about living in a place where your lips don’t crack and bleed in the winter and you can go outside in the summertime. A place where it rains once in a while and one of the major holidays isn’t rodeo week.

Those things are funny now and I love going back. Even though I hated it growing up, my kids think it’s the best place in world, exotic and slightly dangerous (snakes! cactus!). And I can’t wait to see my old friends. I have to admit I’m one of those few people who had a good time in high school. I wasn’t cool or popular, but I had very good, smart, funny friends who I’m still close with today. If it weren’t for those girls, I don’t know what would have happened to me.

Here’s one of the more hideous pictures of me. It took a lot of time and hair product to get my hair that big.

Vons/Pavilions "No-Cook" Cook-Off Challenge

Sometimes this mom blogger gig is pretty cool. Yesterday, I was a contestant in a “no-cook” cookoff sponsored by Vons.

Eleven LA and LA adjacent mom bloggers competed to make a family meal for 4 for $25. We had 10 minutes to shop and 25 minutes to make our no cook meals. I ran around the store in much-too-high-high-heeled-boots like a crazy person on a game show. It was a blast. I chose to make a gluten-free mango/avocado salsa with shredded rotisserie chicken over a bed of brown rice.

Unfortunately, it sounded better than it tasted. When I made it at home, I tried the salsa a thousand times until it came out perfect. I also mixed the chicken with the salsa. Because of time constraints (but mostly because I wasn’t thinking) I didn’t test out the salsa enough and it was a little bland. I also forgot to coat the chicken in the salsa and the chicken was dry.

And then there was the rice. I used frozen O Organics rice, which tastes great thawed, unlike the bags of cooked rice that need to be microwaved to taste good. I tried to thaw the bag of rice by wrapping it in a towel and placing the hot rotisserie chicken container over the bag. The rice was still a little cold.

Anyhoo, I met some really cool mom bloggers and left with a bag of fabulous prizes. My favorite item was the zester that I will use in my role as owner/baker at Yvonne’s Gluten-Free Goodies. I really needed a zester, rubber spatula (I broke my last one) and bowls.

The reason for the event was to get the word out about their new everyday low prices at Vons and Pavilions. It was nice to see that prices are coming down and they’re carrying more organic items.

Almost forgot to mention the winning blogger, Erin Shachory, who made a chicken chipotle salad that was spicy and delicious, and a beautiful fig crostini.

Ken Burns and the National Parks

(Denali National Park)
I can’t wait to watch Ken Burns’ new documentary about the National Parks. I heard him speak at PBS press day during the summer and I was overwhelmed by his eloquence. Burns and his filmmaking partner nearly brought me to tears talking about their personal experiences in national parks.

Speaking of eloquence, one of the subjects of the 6 hour documentary is a Yellowstone National Park ranger, Shelton Johnson, who speaks poetically about his admiration for the wildness of nature. I love people who are passionate about their jobs and he is definitely in love with his. He said he felt privileged to live in one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth.

The clips I’ve seen of the show so far were definitely beautiful. I hope the rest is as amazing.

LA Marathon

I’ve decided I may possibly, if everything works out, if I can get it together, if I have the time, do the LA Marathon. The course looks beautiful this year http://www.lamarathon.com/course.html . It starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the beach. I did it in 2007 (when the course was not so beautiful) and trained with the LA Roadrunners for 9-months. It was an incredible experience to run 15 and then 18 and then 22 miles and then a marathon! My goal was to finish in 5 and a half hours, and I managed to finish in 5 hours 29 minutes. I was so proud.

You would think that because I did a marathon before, that I could easily train to do another one on my own. I went running three times this week (3 to 4 miles each time) and today I can barely walk across the room. I have the feeling it won’t be easy.

Anyway, here’s an essay I wrote about the 2007 marathon training. It won second place in a humor writing contest for moms.

The Race
Jerry scanned our small group and urged us to stay together. “Now remember,” he said. “Don’t start out too fast. If you want to sprint at the end, go ahead, but be careful. You don’t want to burn out.”

Burn out, right. It was a warm Fall day. The 5K race on a mostly flat course through Santa Monica, couldn’t have been easier.

“I did a half marathon and two sprint triathlons before I had my babies,” I told Laura, the 20-year-old blonde in my marathon training group. She seemed nervous, so I assured her, “This little bitty race is no big deal.”

The buzzer sounded and I was off. I didn’t listen to Jerry. I ran alone and as fast as I could. I waved furiously at my husband and two little boys as I zoomed by. I was desperate to catch up with the giant Nordic man in my group, forgetting that he was younger, nine feet tall, and in much better shape. After five seconds, all I could catch was a glimpse of his head shrinking in the distance.

I continued on at a sprint. I passed mile one. I was thrilled when a race volunteer shouted out nine minutes, 32 seconds. I’ve never run that fast in my life, even when I was 19 and in the best shape. I was determined to keep it up. By the end of mile two I was unstoppable.

This is it, I told myself. This is the where it all changes. I’ve lived my entire life in a state of half ass-itude: I would try, but never too hard. I would go a mile, but no extra. I would diet, but still eat a dozen donuts. This time was going to be different. “I’m going to do the best that I possibly can. And not just in this race, but in everything I do. From now on I’m going to be the best mother, the best writer, the best athlete. No more half-ass for me. Yep, this race is going to change my life.”

This was my mantra until around the end of mile three when my breath started coming out in short pants like I was in labor. My ample, child bearing hips felt like they might shatter with each step. Suddenly, people were flying past me. Did they start the race in the middle? Were they former Olympians? I tried not to let their awesome speed bother me until 20-year-old Laura caught up looking just as fresh and perky as she had at the start line. I, on the other hand, was red as a tomato and sweating like it was 110 degrees. I passed her, resulting in her passing me; our two-woman race was on.

There’s no way I was going to let this little chicky beat me.

“Let’s challenge each other,” she said kindly.

“Okay,” I said, but weren’t we already doing that?

In an instant she was gone. Instead of eating my dust, I was choking on hers. I had to catch up. I pumped my arms and moved my legs as fast as I could. “Only two more blocks to the finish line,” I said to myself. “I can do it. I can. I know I can. I know I can. I know….I think I’m going to throw up.”

Oh my God. I can’t throw up. I’ve thrown up plenty of times, but it usually involved a box stamped with the word “wine.” I stumbled down a side street and ducked behind a Dumpster where I began to dry heave.

Something interesting happens after you have a couple of kids; you’re not in control of your body the same way you were before giving birth. The force of the dry heaves made me pee what felt like a gallon. It was everywhere: on my shorts, down my leg, on my shoes. I’d heard of marathon runners getting diarrhea during a race and just cleaning themselves off to keep on running. This wasn’t a marathon; it was a 5K with a happy, happy carnival at the end.

If I were my hardcore sister I would have picked myself up and wiped myself off and kept running. I would have puked and wet myself right there at the finish line, but alas the quitter in me took hold and I got the hell out of there.

I speed walked down a side street searching for anyone with a cell phone. When I called my husband, he was at the finish line looking for me. I could hear the roar of the crowd through the phone and I wished I was running toward him and the kids, dry and victorious. Instead I shouted “Help, help. I dry heaved and there was pee and you need to come and get me now! Now!! Now!!!”

When my family found me I sat defeated on the curb. This race wasn’t going to change my life, it mirrored my life. I started out strong with great potential and then I peed myself. What does this mean for my new life as a mom, as a writer, as an athlete? What about my new, can-do attitude?

“Hmmm,” my husband said as he pondered my problems. “I’ve never run a 5K and I’ve never peed myself in public. I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer your questions. I guess it could have been worse.”

I suppose. It could have happened when I was 20. I would have been found days later drowning in a pool of pee and tears, completely devastated. But I never would have tried it in my 20s. I only ran if someone was chasing me. And I didn’t recover quickly from defeat.

But I guess this time was different. I wasn’t devastated. Instead, I pulled myself up from behind that Dumpster and met Laura the next week for a 10-mile run. But this time I brought along a change of clothes.

Wolfgang Puck Teaches My Kids to Make Pizza

I was so lucky this weekend when Elise of Elise’s Ramblings invited me to a restaurant in the valley where we could bring the kids. She mentioned pizza and Wolfgang Puck, but all I heard was a kid-friendly activity that started at noon. I wanted to give the husband a break because he was charged with Sunday childcare duty while I worked the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market.

We arrived a few minutes late and who walks in behind us but Wolfgang Puck with his beautiful wife and adorable children. He was there promoting his all natural frozen pizzas. He greeted the group of about 15 kids who sported Wolfgang Puck chef jackets and went to work making pizza. Mr. Puck got right in there and showed them how to knead and toss the dough. Then he put sauce on all of their pizzas. He was charming and great with the kids. I thought he would pop out, but he stayed while the kids ate their creations and then rewarded the moms with dish after amazing dish that included goulash, Caesar salad, steak, salmon, and vanilla bean cheesecake.

He even took a few minutes to talk to me about gluten-free pizza crust. His company doesn’t make a pizza with a gf crust just yet. There’s not enough demand, he said. If you disagree, I suggest writing him a letter and mention that 1 in 100 people have Celiac Disease and can’t eat his pizza. That sounds like demand to me. He seemed so nice, I’d bet he’d listen.

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

I’ve been experimenting with Cinnamon Rolls (these I made in a muffin pan) for Sunday’s Mar Vista Farmers’ Market. They came out quite decadent. I know because I ate one while it was still warm. I must learn to sample a few bites, not eat an entire giant roll of cinnamony goodness in the middle of the day when I plan on trying out a few more recipes this evening.

I think I’d better get a long run in before I pick the kids up from school. When I perfect this recipe (hopefully before Sunday), I’ll post it.

Easy Chocolate Frosting

I needed to whip up something quick for a labor day bbq today (actually starts in a few minutes so I better be quick) and came up with gluten-free vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting. I didn’t want to use the mixer for a second time (I didn’t want to WASH the mixer for a second time) so for the frosting, I melted Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips with a couple of tablespoons of vegan butter. After it cooled, I added a little vanilla, and a few tablespoons of powdered sugar. It turned out sinfully chocolatey and delightful.