An idea swap for summertime cooking

So I have an idea and the idea that I have is this.

Let’s each say what we cook All The Time… the booooring stuff. And if we want, let’s say what we do when we want to make it special. Because to somebody reading this blog, it won’t be boring, it’ll be delightfully fresh: an idea swap for summertime cooking.

If you want to tell me something you cook but NOT all the time (big sigh. do you have to be so difficult?) that’s okay too. Let’s get some ideas rolling; I need them.

I’ll go first. Yes, I can tell you would like to go first too, but you see I have the prerogative because it’s my blog. Shh.

When I can’t think of what else to cook, guess what I make?

Eggs and beans.

WHAT?? You already KNEW? Who’s been tattling??

When I want to make them special, I refry chili beans with garlic salt and onion powder and taco seasoning, then layer them in a tortilla with scrambled eggs and salsa—and a side of fresh pineapple. (See? I told you I could tell yesterday’s menu in a way that didn’t make it sound so terrible.)

For lunch I like to make tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. If I want to make the tomato soup special, I sauté onions and mushrooms and basil, then add the soup, using half milk in place of water. You have to add the milk to the hot soup slowly or it will curdle.

For supper on cool days like this one, I like to make meatloaf and baked potatoes. They are very plain Jane but a nice Caesar salad helps.

So—tell me what food you cook when you’re bored. Extra points for nutrition, simplicity, economy, and seasonality. (Whoa. I didn’t know seasonality was a word, I was waiting for my spell checker to honk at me.)



Confession: I’m so happy to have my son Aarick home from school for the summer; it means some super hired help.

[evil chuckle]

Let the games chores begin.

Really though, I’m grateful for more reasons than that. I find it delightful having a son old enough to crack jokes, carry on near-adult conversations, and work so well alongside me. I’m ready to spend more time with him again, enjoying his strengths and working with him on his weaknesses.

I’d like to think of his time this summer in quadrants—four essentials to guide each day, with plenty of nil time for padding.

1. Service

  • Folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, caring for a brother/sister, running errands for me, scrubbing areas of the house, tidying rooms, feeding the animals, volunteering (work days at church, projects for the ill or elderly), weeding his garden square, getting the mail…

2. Exercise

  • Vigorous play outside—with the rebounder, the puppy, the creek, bicycles, shovels, races, stunts, trees, tire swings, mud holes… oh man. How did that one get in there?

3. Imagination

  • Still play, but quieter. Could include Legos, K’Nex, make believe, forts, art projects, French and Indian war reenactments…

4. Reading

  • This one I will have to limit, not encourage. But it’s an essential. We’ll keep a stash of library books in a crate in our living room, refreshing them every two weeks. Aarick loves mysteries and junior biographies. I sneak in classics and informational books to round out his diet.

What are the essentials for your child’s summer days? What framework do you use to keep him busy and happy?

Dirt and dust bunnies

Advice on spring cleaning: Do not attempt, if you can help it. In many ways it is a severe waste of time and energy.

But if your fingers, like mine, start itching to turn the house upside down about the time the robins return, here is some counsel. (Free of charge. One size fits all. No one will know if you take it or leave it. And you may find it useful in other areas of housekeeping as well.)

1. Consider your resources.

  • How long do you want to work at this project? This year I had only two weeks to spend, which meant I couldn’t be spit-polishing every nook and cranny.

2. Consider your goals.

  • What do you hope for? Sparkling windows and freshly washed walls? Decluttered spaces, tidy drawers? Do not overreach. You will not be able to accomplish everything. For me, spring cleaning means catching windows and cobwebs, organizing drawers and closets, and giving attention to neglected spaces.

3. Set a course.

  • I do not mean, carefully schedule hour of the day. I mean, combine your resources and your goals: “I will clean upstairs this week, downstairs next week.” Or “I will tackle one room a day, three days a week.” Fit your goals into your time slots. Make a simple plan, and stick to it as much as possible.

4. Start with a bang. A manageable bang.

  • My first day, I scrubbed my windows and defrosted a nasty freezer. (Correction: I held the hairdryer while my good man wielded the ice pick. [I mean the ice scraper. {Is there a difference?}]) A significant start builds your morale and frees up time later.

5. Don a uniform.

  • This is proof of my childishness, I know. But wearing a special apron or slipping on a pair of fresh Latex gloves converts me into a Cleaning Lady, and I work better.

6. Use good supplies.

  • I’m convinced that success in cleaning is largely dependent on your tools. I mentioned Latex gloves. I also rediscovered two inexpensive super-cleaners last month: the Magic Eraser (which beautifully whitened my scuffed walls and a filthy door I’d scrubbed unsuccessfully with everything else), and Bar Keepers Friend (a powder that shined my rusty laundry room sink when even Clorox had left it unfazed).

7. Stick to your course and do not obsess.

  • If you dislike cleaning (like me), it’s best accomplished by a concerted push, then freedom—not by picking along at it for the next three months.
  • Make a list of projects to return to later (print a new 8×10 for the photo frame, mend books, choose a new light fixture, reupholster futon). Don’t derail to sew new kitchen curtains right now, or run all over the community returning borrowed items and shopping for perfect replacements. Make a list. It will wait.

8. Find rejuvenation along the way.

  • Some nights I was too tired and grouchy even to think. So I’d soak in a hot tub, or get a bowl of popcorn and see what Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot were up to. The next day, I’d be ready to go again.

9. Do not fear The Slide.

  • The Slide is what happens when someone rearranges all the books that you just placed alphabetically by author,* when your mister strews more tools around the laundry room, or when small hands stuff their treasure chests with new pine cones and Sunday school papers to replace the ones you just surreptitiously removed. It’s okay. You have to live here. They do too. Whatever you cleaned is that much better than before.

*Believe it or not, we used to do this when we were newlyweds. No more.

10. Celebrate progress and completion.

  • One of these days, I owe myself a very large chunk of chocolate cake at Chovy’s—the kind with six layers and a side of whipped cream. Mission accomplished. Whoopie!!

CRUCIAL NOTE: Lest you read into all this advice that Shari Zook has her life put together—well—don’t make me laugh. I live in an adorable half-renovated piece of crap. And by the time I’d finished downstairs, the two dust bunnies I’d missed upstairs had repopulated at an astonishing rate; their offspring were popping out of rabbit holes all over the place. I am cheerfully ignoring them all out of existence. The only problem I see with dust bunnies is that they grow into dust jackrabbits, but I figure I have a few months leeway before I have to pull out the big guns again.

Do you spring clean your house? How?

Stamp out hunger

Confession: I’ve found it’s easy to care about the destitute and hard to find ways to make a difference.

This week I found a postcard in my mailbox:

“On May 12, 2012, letter carriers across the country, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, will be collecting food for families in need.

It’s easy to help:

  1. Collect and bag non-perishable* food items.
  2. Place by mailbox for letter carrier to deliver to a local food bank or pantry.

*Donate items like canned meats, fish, soup, juice, vegetables, pasta, cereal and rice. Please do not include items that have expired or are in glass containers.”

What an opportunity, right at my doorstep!

If I tried hard I could get cynical and say “Well yes, but will my gift go to the truly needy or to the undeserving needy?”

Do you think I must figure that out? Do you think I can? Or should I give in good faith to a good cause? Probably there were a few career beggars in the 5,000 Jesus fed. He said some people followed Him because of the fish.

And I suppose I, on the other hand, deserve the good things I’ve been given?

This opportunity knocked at my door, and I’m in. Anyone else?

Five surefire ways to become an instant celebrity

…or, Life Lessons from My Week

1. Make *decaf* coffee for an evening ladies’ event.

I tried this Tuesday night, and gained an immediate crowd of grateful followers.

2. Drive a group of 2nd-grade girls on a field trip.

Today Aarick’s class went to the Erie Zoo. I offered to go along, and was assigned five 7-and-8-year-olds. What a delightful group of chickabids… polite, giggly, articulate, childish enough to be largely simple and honest, but woman enough to have some very interesting and catty group dynamics going on. They had the girl thing down—chic sunglasses, purses, piercing glares at misbehaving friends… but they’re too little to be truly snobby. They thought I was the bomb, which is flattering and funny.

being ‘animals on their way to a zoo in Japan’

Make sure to ask and answer some silly riddles en route. Dig paper out of your purse so they can play tic-tac-toe. And shoot lots of pictures. Second grade girls are drama queens.

3. Take your children to visit an old people’s home.

Here at your doorstep is an incomparable opportunity for opening your eyes to your own blessings. Old people LOVE children. Ryan dragged me to Juniper Village one evening this week. I was grouchy and didn’t want to go, to my shame. We sang a little and prayed a little, but the dazzling highlight for the old folks was simply enjoying our children, the kisses and handshakes and holding and asking of the kids’ ages (over and over). We are blessed.

4. Bake fresh cinnamon rolls to share.

This is on my to-do list for tomorrow. I fully expect my husband to renew his marriage vows on the spot, and my children to fervently (stickily) swear undying devotion.

5. Handwrite[1] a letter[2] to an old friend[3].

Today I was on the receiving end of this sweet gift. There’s nothing like it, knowing that this paper (so like her, wrapped in the familiar handwriting no one else can produce) came from her desk, her hand, her mailbox; and the words came straight from her heart.

If there is a confession with this post, it’s that too often my love has a hook in it. (Also that I’m about to throw the computer across the room b/c of the agonizing labor of mixing pictures, text, and numbered lists in a blog post.)

Too often my love has a hook in it. I am so blessed by the unselfish love others lavish on me.

How have you loved and been loved this week?


[1] To write with the hand, preferably with the help of a pen.

(Pen: [noun] a hand tool filled with ink and genius. Nearly obsolete.)

[2] A piece of paper covered with wondrous words to someone you love.

[3] The only person for whom you would ever make such a sacrifice of time and energy and 45 cents.