Summer ennui

For people without young children in the house, perhaps you don’t experience the change of seasons so viscerally. You go to your climate-controlled office, you come home, you go back to the office.  Things don’t change much from one month to the next.

Personally, I feel our American school calendar is for the birds. Nine months on, three months off–who needs THREE MONTHS off? Seriously, knock even one of those months off and spread the vacation days throughout the school year–or not–and we’d all be a little more balanced.

In our house we’ve all lost our momentum. The kids are bored and and snappish, and my routine is so out of whack that I haven’t planned a week’s meals in…three weeks? A month? I can’t take the anxiety of not knowing what we’re going to eat for dinner when five o’clock sneaks up on me. I can’t start some other project when I don’t even know what we’re having for dinner. Spontaneity is fine for other people, but apparently not for me.

All week I’ve been thinking about, and then avoiding, these eggplant meatballs. Saturday. We’ll make them Saturday. I finally plopped the eggplant in the oven to roast this afternoon, so we’ll be one step closer. Yesterday I didn’t know what to have for dinner, so I cooked a pot of rice (credit goes to Tamar Adler for that particular strategy). Then I got distracted by these corn cakes and decided to use up the four ears of corn in the fridge instead. With fried eggs and a handful of tomatoes from the garden, it did turn into a lovely meal (you should add a little more buttermilk to the batter, though).

I still wish I had planned it ahead of time.

Tonight we’ll be eating rice.


Getting organized for homework and music practice

This is a project I should have tackled a month ago, but better late than never, right? Mr. Nine and Miss Seven, in fourth and second grades, have daily homework this year. Miss Seven and Little Four take piano lessons, and Mr. Nine is starting the clarinet in band. Now that the dust has settled on the first few weeks of school and lessons, we need to get organized.

I’ve been keeping the kitchen desk fairly clear, but today things seem to have piled up. I cleared off the desk–sorting, recycling, filing–and then moved on to the file boxes I have for each child. They were overflowing with papers from last year, most of it obsolete now. I kept the nicest artwork and a couple writing samples to keep in their files in the basement, and recycled all the old spelling lists, classroom newsletters and old book order forms. I even organized my own file box with labeled folders.


My last step was to clear the memo board and reorganize the important information so that we can see it and reach it. The kids each have a clip with their current week’s homework and any logs they need to fill out (reading log, math facts log, karate practice log). Finally, I found a basket to contain their math fact practice workbooks and flash cards. We use them every day, so they need to be accessible.

I added one last touch: a jar of candy kisses. I just read The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, by Daniel Coyle. I’ve used several of the tips this week to help with piano practice, and the difference has been amazing. Tip #41 advises, “End on a positive note.” That is, give a small reward at the end of a successful practice. For Miss Seven, one candy kiss to put in her lunch box at the end of her morning practice has transformed her attitude. Instead of racing through her assigned songs, oblivious to the quality of her performance, she has willingly repeated sticky passages and improved her technique. (By the way, other tips have been equally effective and easy to implement. I highly recommend the book to anyone who needs some help learning or coaching a skill. Thanks to the folks at Dinner: A Love Story for recommending it!)

Back to school baking

It’s the first day of school for my fourth grader and second grader. (Little Four has a couple more weeks before Pre-K begins.) You might be under the impression that their lunches are lovingly crafted, homemade works of art, but you would be mistaken. Today their lunchboxes contained applesauce, orange juice, animal crackers, and a thermos of spaghetti and meatballs from a can. They had goldfish crackers and water for snack. Not the best, but not the worst, either.

But hey, now that they’re out of my hair for 6.5 hours each day, I can take a little time to bake something healthy. Our school district has banned all peanut and tree nut products from snack time (which is eaten in the classroom), so I need to pay a little more attention to what we pack. I used up some bananas in banana-chocolate chip muffins (using half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose flour, and a good dose of wheat bran), and then tried something called “breakfast cookies.” I was going to make granola bars, but Miss Seven has a mouthful of orthodontic appliances and shouldn’t be eating sticky foods.

These cookies are 100% whole grain, mildly sweet, nut-free, and full of fiber. I think they are little more like tea cakes or hearty scones than cookies, but they’re yummy. If you can’t find quinoa flour (or don’t want to pay the outrageous price for it here in the U.S.), just use a cup of cooked quinoa and omit the milk (as in the original recipe).

Whole Grain Breakfast Cookies

adapted from Dinner: A Love Story

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup quinoa flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 cup old fashioned oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and milk and beat until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

Mix flour mixture into butter mixture 1 cup at a time. Stir in oats, sunflower seeds and raisins. With your hands, roll dough into balls about golf-ball size and then flatten into 1/2-inch thick disks. Arrange 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

Does your child’s school have a ban on nuts to protect those with allergies?