When Life Gives You Lemons (Not a Metaphor)

We visited friends who have a lemon tree growing in their backyard.  Our 5-year-old, Viv, was given a paper grocery bag and the instruction to “just pick a few.”  So naturally, we came home with 34 lemons.

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It was very important to me not to waste these luscious lemons. I estimated we had a week until they started to soften up or turn brown, and made it my goal to use up all 34 — roughly 7 lemons per day.  Luckily, I love lemons.  But could I convince the lemon looter to partake in citrus-palooza?  Time would tell.  Here’s what we made:

1. Lemon Tarts

Viv and I have been watching Kids Baking Championship on Food Network.  Let me just say, it’s the kindest, gentlest reality show you could ever show a child who’s too young to be watching reality television. There’s a lot of hugging and helping each other.  And it’s inspiring to see young kids (10-13) who are superstars in the kitchen.  So Viv was really excited to bake with me.

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Unfortunately, my baking repertoire does not include the French macarons or eclairs the kids whip up on TV, so we had to dial it down a few notches. This recipe for lemon tarts, found on Kelly Neil’s website and adapted from The Feisty Chef, is super easy.  For one thing, you get to bake it in a muffin tin, and I love muffin tins.  We lined ours with cupcake wrappers.

For the crust: Mix 1 and 1/4 Cups of graham cracker crumbs (I pulsed the crackers in the Cuisinart), 2 Tbsp of white sugar and 5 Tbsp of melted butter in a bowl. Scoop about a teaspoon of the mixture into each cup and pack down (a fun job for a kid with clean hands). Bake for 10 minutes at 350 and let cool.

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Filling: Whisk together 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 4 egg yolks, 3/4 cup of lemon juice and the zest of one lemon. Fill cups about 3/4 of the way full with lemon filling.

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Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until lemon isn’t so liquidy.  Et voila!  Tart and sweet.  Viv gobbled them up even though they were not made of chocolate fudge.  And she learned how to separate eggs and operate the Cuisinart, which I now have to hide. (Lemon tally: 4 lemons down, 30 to go)

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2. Strawberry Lemonade

While we waited for the lemon tarts to cool, we mixed up a quick batch of strawberry lemonade.  I do not use an exact recipe for this, and it comes out differently every time, but it’s always a gorgeous shade of pink.  IMG_3639

I used the juice of 4 lemons, 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar, about 4 cups of water + ice and a handful of strawberries. I pureed the strawberries with a spoonful of sugar first, then stirred the rest of the ingredients into the pitcher.  You could also blend the whole thing.  Adjust quantities to taste. (Lemon tally: 4 more lemons down, 26 to go)

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A few days later, I pushed my luck and decided we would try cucumber lemonade.

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I thought it was fantastic and spa-like, but Viv rejected it.  That girl can spot a vegetable from a mile away. (Lemon tally: 4 more lemons down, 22 to go)

3. Lemon Spaghetti

For a lot of pasta lovers, the ultimate comfort food is Spaghetti Carbonara. And while that is delicious, to me, nothing is more satisfying and easy than Lemon Spaghetti loaded with parmesan cheese. I love this Giada De Laurentiis recipe:

Cook a pound of spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk 2/3 cup olive oil, 2/3 cup grated parmesan, and 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons) in a large bowl to blend.

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Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the lemon sauce, and the reserved cooking liquid, adding 1/4 cup at a time as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with a TBSP of lemon zest and some chopped basil. Chopped Italian parsley is another tasty topping.

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Or you can omit the greens like I did, which makes it less pretty on the plate but more kid-friendly in my house.  And for a non-dairy option, skip the parmesan and finish the dish with bread crumbs sauteed in olive oil and garlic. (Lemon tally: 3 more lemons down, 19 to go.)

4. Avgolemono Soup

Why stop at lemon entrees, desserts and drinks when you can make lemon soup?  It might not sound good but you’re going to have to trust me on this one.  The combination of rich chicken stock, lemon, egg and rice makes this soup feel like a healing hug.

I got the recipe for Greek Avgolemono from Ruth Reichl, the food writer, cookbook and memoir author with whom I am obsessed.  (Need a book? Read her first memoir, Tender at the Bone and then just keep going.)

Ruth Reichl’s recipe:

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup uncooked rice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon rind, grated
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Bring stock to a boil. Pour in the rice and cook about 20 minutes, until it is tender. Reduce to low heat.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks. Add the lemon rind, lemon juice and salt. Pour about 1/2 cup of the broth into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Then pour it back into the broth, stirring. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring, over low heat, until slightly thickened.

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Lately, I’ve been obsessed with making my own chicken stock.  It’s really easy–it just takes a while–but most of the time is hands-off simmering.  When you make a soup with homemade stock instead of the boxed stuff, it’s unbelievable how much better it tastes.  And bone broth is supposed to be super healthy.  There is no one right way to make chicken stock, but I like this recipe from Ina Garten, and I’ve successfully made smaller batches when I didn’t feel like busting out a lobster pot.

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In case you’re wondering, Viv rejected lemon soup, but the adults (and baby) loved it.  Don’t worry, she didn’t starve–I was able to turn some extra chicken stock into a plain chicken and noodle soup for the finicky one.  (Lemon tally: 2 more small lemons down, 17 to go.)

5. Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

Clearly, I am not someone who shies away from carbs.  This risotto is easy and fabulous, and you can change the ingredients to use whatever veggies or meats you like.

It’s based on Ina Garten’s Easy Parmesan Risotto, which she brilliantly bakes in the oven instead of stirring on the stovetop (ain’t nobody with kids got time for that). The idea to add lemon juice and lemon zest came from Emily Horn, a wonderful cooking teacher I know.

  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 5 cups simmering chicken stock, divided
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 TBSP freshly-grated lemon zest
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 bunch asparagus, roasted and sliced (I pre-cooked mine for 25 minutes at 400)

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the rice and 4 cups of the chicken stock in a Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Cover and bake for 35-40 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, wine, butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and stir vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy. Add the sliced asparagus and stir until heated through. Serve hot.

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This was a tasty enough for Viv to carry around the house with her, even if her face appears skeptical.

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(Lemon tally: 3 more lemons down, 14 to go.)

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6. Lemon Bars

What’s much easier than lemon meringue pie but just as good, at least according to Viv?  Lemon bars!  I had never actually made them before, so I rolled the dice on this internet recipe I found at Allrecipes.com.  We used 5 instead of 2 lemons, and added powdered sugar, both of which I recommend!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 lemons, juiced
  • Powdered sugar for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
  3. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
  4. Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool.
  5. Sprinkle with powdered sugar
  6. Try not to think about how much butter and sugar is in these and just enjoy once in a while

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This was another great Kids Baking Championship moment for Viv.  She cracked all the eggs, squeezed the lemons, stirred and poured.  In another couple of years she will be making these all by herself.  So thumbs up for kid-friendliness, both in the making and the eating. (Lemon tally: 5 more lemons down, 9 to go)

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7. Avocado Sammies

I’ve been struggling with school lunches.  Viv is bored with peanut butter, temporarily out of love with cheese and perturbed by the sliminess of sliced turkey.  But you know what she’ll eat?  An avocado sandwich.  I smoosh half an avocado with lemon juice (!), which keeps it from turning brown and a sprinkle of salt.  Spread on wheat bread and done!  (Made several–2 more lemons down, 7 to go)

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With 7 lemons left in the bowl, I hit cooking burnout.  Our babysitter helped me out by marinating some chicken breasts in lemon juice.  And I offered everyone hot and cold lemon water until they couldn’t take it anymore.

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No one in this house is getting scurvy, that’s for sure!

(Lemon tally: 0.  And I’m not buying any at the store this week. As Tina Fey used to say, “Lemon, out.”)

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10 Things That Will Go Wrong When a Kid and Baby Share a Room

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It will be GREAT, I told myself, when we bought the house with only two usable bedrooms. The girls will share. They’ll never be scared because they have each other, and they’ll grow up to be the best of friends. I also nurtured future bunk bed fantasies, left over from my tween years at overnight camp and juiced by the Restoration Hardware Baby and Child catalogue.

The reality: A preschooler and a baby are on very different wavelengths, and nothing about bedroom-sharing is going smoothly. Maybe in a few years they’ll be better roommates—if I survive that long. For now, here’s what happens on an almost daily basis:

RELATED: 13 OMG Gross-out Stories from the Parenting Trenches

1. The kid is scared to go to bed without a nightlight, while the baby requires pitch black darkness to sleep.

If the door is opened precisely 6.4 centimeters, we can satisfy both customers. And you know how precise preschoolers are, so this never gets screwed up.

2. The older kid needs a parent to lay with her at night.

The baby’s already asleep, so the rule is no talking or for God’s sake at least whisper. Except the whisper of a 5-year-old could be heard at the back of Carnegie Hall.

3. Baby’s piercing wails wake preschooler up from a sound slumber.

Good luck nursing and giving back scratches at the same time!

4. Preschooler’s nightmares (why, why, why did I let her watch Gremlins?) wake sleeping baby from a sound slumber.

Keep reading at mom.me…

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What Pet Should I Get? The Real Moms’ Guide to 10 Popular Pets

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What pet should you get?

So you don’t feel regret.

Or go into debt.

From constant trips to the vet.

Okay, so that’s not what it says in the recently discovered Dr. Seuss book, “What Pet Should I Get?” but imagine how useful that would be! As parents, we often succumb to our children’s desperate desire (aka constant whining) for cute critters without proper research. Many pets will be with us for years, so understanding what’s really involved in their care and feeding is key.

Plus, no matter how much we tell ourselves that animals teach kids responsibility, let’s be honest about who’s really going to be keeping them alive: us. So we’ve reached out to real moms who gave us the straight, um, poop on their pets. Their answers may surprise you:

GUINEA PIG

The good: Guinea pigs are “very cute and smart,” said Melissa W., who compared them to having small dogs. “They love to come out and play and interact with the family.” Also, they can eat fruits and vegetables, “So scraps are easily disposed of via guinea pigs!”

The bad: If they don’t get enough vitamin C (through drops and fresh fruit), guinea pigs can develop health problems. “One of ours broke a tooth, which led to an abscess and we had to put him to sleep. For several thousand dollars, he could have had dental surgery. We decided to pass on that.”

GECKO

The good: When Jamie G. got a gecko for her lizard-loving preschooler, she had no idea they’d be such great roommates. “The gecko needs two lights in his cage—one for daytime and one at night. I think my son actually likes the fact that the lizard needs the light on at night. It’s like a nightlight for both of them.” Plus, watching the gecko change color from green to brown has been a fascinating lesson in camouflage. “Sometimes we can’t even find him because he hides so well.”

The bad: Geckos eat live crickets, which require their own cage, water and food. “Crickets have a pretty short life span,” said Jamie. “So I sometimes have to go to the pet store multiple times a week to get more crickets.”

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HAMSTER

The good: Hamsters are easy to care for (they eat hamster feed) and make sweet companions for kids, said Stephanie T. “My three-year-old son has the cage right next to his bed, so watching the hamster helps him fall asleep.”

The bad: “The hamster started using his little wheel as storage for food, so when he runs on the wheel, food (and poo) fling everywhere. We worry about the little poo bits interacting with a toddler who doesn’t like to wash his hands.”

Keep reading at mom.me…

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How to Survive A Move With Little Kids

Wondering where I’ve been?  This is where I’ve been!

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A girlfriend of mine moved houses when she was eight months pregnant. I thought she was nuts to undertake such a physical project while swollen and exhausted, but now I understand the rush, because the only thing harder than relocating during your third trimester is moving with small children.

I just moved my four-year-old and fast crawling eight-month-old baby from a long-term rental into our first home and, boy, did I get my ass kicked. For weeks, I felt crazed, because with packing and parenting competing for my attention, I wasn’t doing either very well. But you can learn from my mistakes, as well as the few things I actually did right. Here my top tips for a low stress move with little ones:

1. Pack Like You’re Going on a Trip – Gather everything you’d need for a weeklong vacation and stick it in a suitcase that goes in your car, not on the moving truck. That way, you’ll have a laundry cycle’s worth of clothes plus toiletries, medicines, gadgets and their chargers, and your kids’ favorite books, toys and lovies at the ready without having to search through boxes. Make sure to include any baby feeding supplies (bottles, bibs, infant spoons, etc.) I forgot to put sippy cups in my suitcase and even after unpacking six kitchen cartons, they were nowhere to be found. I’m assuming they’ll turn up around the time my kids start drinking from wine glasses.

2. Babyproof First – If you’re making a local move and/or have access to your new home before move-in day, there’s a lot you can do to prep the environment so that it’s safe and comfortable for kids. Before we even moved in, we covered the outlets, put safety locks on the cabinets and installed baby gates. When you’re trying to set up house and mother at the same time, it’s reassuring to know your toddler can’t run away from home while you’re looking the wrong way.

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3. Honor Mixed Feelings – My four-year-old, though initially excited about her new home, turned sullen when our moving date approached. “I’m going to miss our old house,” she moped. I could have responded, “Don’t be silly, the new house is so much bigger!” But she didn’t need me listing its amenities like a realtor—she needed me to acknowledge her real feelings of loss and displacement. We talked openly about the things we would both miss, like the flowering tree decal permanently adhered to her old bedroom wall. Taking some commemorative photos and videos helped.

Keep reading at Mom.me…

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I Love the New “Junk in the Trunk” Barbie, But She Doesn’t Solve All My Body Image Issues

Major Barbie news out of Mattel this week–after decades of world domination, the Aryan goddess with the 16 inch waist will finally share her Dream House with buddies who are short, tall, curvy and ethnically diverse.  This is awesome.  Little girls should be able to play with dolls who look like themselves, or at least themselves in 10 years.

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Like many of us, I grew up dressing Barbies in glamorous gowns, cutting Barbie’s non-regrowable hair, and hosting naked orgiastic pool parties between my many Barbies and one Ken doll during bathtime.  What, you didn’t do that?  And though I loved Barbie, I also hated her.  She was perfect in every way, whereas I was a late bloomer with mousy hair.  I thought maybe after puberty I’d get that hourglass figure she promised me.  I’m still waiting.

I can’t blame Barbie for all my body image issues.  There was also a drawing book that scarred me for life.  I was a decent sketch artist growing up and had tons of “how to draw” books, covering everything from cartooning to cats. My favorite figure drawing book had a page that showed three supposedly typical girls, ages 5, 12 and 15, so that an artist could understand how female proportions change during childhood.  This page was my obsession.

See, the 12-year-old example had what they used to call bee sting boobs–little buds on their way to blossoming.  The 15-year-old had a rack like Marilyn Monroe.  And while I know that is true for plenty of girls, it was not true for me.  By the time I left for college, I was a passable 12-year-old, at least according to my drawing book.

Between Barbie and the book, I spent a great deal of time staring into the mirror and moping. If I could send a Barbie back in time to my tween self, I’d design”Built like a boy” Barbie.  Or maybe we could call her “No curves but you can always wear a belt” Barbie?  I think I just needed some reassurance that how I looked was okay.  And it was okay–I just didn’t know it yet.

Because what no one told me is that most girls don’t develop into perfect hourglasses.  That’s why the Playboy centerfold is such an attraction–it’s like a zoo where they keep a rare species.  Or it was (RIP, Playboy centerfold).  The other thing no one told me is that when I grew up, the guys I liked wouldn’t care about my body type.  Guys are really happy to have a woman smiling at them.  Especially a naked one.  Short, tall, curvy or straight up and down.  And besides, from what I hear, a real live Barbie is usually pretty high maintenance.

The irony is that decades later, I’m finally curvy.  That’s what making two babies will do to you.  Seriously, “Middle-aged nursing Barbie” would be a hot seller.  Get on it, Mattel.

I hope when they are old enough, my girls go through a Barbie phase, because Barbie is fun.  She likes tennis and fast cars and looks stylish whether she’s a veterinarian or President of the United States.  Maybe with more variety amongst the dolls, my girls won’t fixate on comparing themselves. Or maybe they will get boobs a lot earlier than I did.  And then God help us all.

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