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Food Friday: The BEST (& easiest!) Spaghetti and (Homemade) Meatballs Ever!

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DSC_0050It is (sadly) rare these days for me to do a Food Friday — which should just go to show how extraordinary these meatballs are! These are so good, and so easy, that it would be sacrilege for me to not share this recipe.

I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know, but finding dinner ideas — specifically, ideas for dinners that can be put together quickly, easily, and relatively mindlessly at the end of a looooong day of work-and-school-and-meetings-and-homework-and-emails-and-sports-and-events-and-everything-else — is challenging… to say the least. And to gather up the energy to get out of our food ruts in the deep dark delirium of a looooong winter is even more challenging. But this Spaghetti & Meatball dinner is so good and so easy that it’s solidified its own position in our family’s regular dinner rotation this winter. Which, my friends, is really saying a lot.

These meatballs are so good! Before these meatballs, in the prior ten years of his existence on this planet, Kyle wouldn’t touch any sort of ground meat. And before these meatballs, even though the rest of us aren’t quite as adverse to all-things-ground-meat, we’d eat meatballs if we had to, but it would never be a choice. Now, post-these-meatballs? Everything has changed. The world is a different place. We are a Spaghetti & Meatball loving family!

This recipe is the result of my own cutting-and-pasting-and-blending-together of a bunch of different recipes I’ve found over the years from a variety of sources. Mainly, this is the result of me trying to master the art of Spaghetti & Meatballs this winter… but (and this is a big ‘but’)… distilling that art down to an essence that is achievable by the Home Cook With A Non-Food-World Career. Fellow Mommy-Professors (and everyone else out there who doesn’t have time to grind their own meat and/or chop fresh herbs and/or make their own sauce, etc., etc., etc.) — if you are looking for a good, down-home, easy weeknight Spaghetti & Meatball recipe: this one’s for you!

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 pounds “meatloaf & meatball mix” (ground veal, beef, pork)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups Italian style seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup water
  • your favorite off-the-shelf tomato sauce (our favorite is Classico Tomato & Basil)
  • your favorite spaghetti (our favorite is Barilla Plus multigrain)

Directions

  • Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a large saute pan, add onions, and season generously with salt and pepper. Place pan over medium-high heat. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring only a couple times (for the most part, let the onions sit), until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic, and cook 2 minutes more.
  • Put the following into a large bowl: the cooked onion mixture, meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and water. Mix this gently with your hands. Don’t over-work this, or “mush” it too much. You want it to be airy, barely holding together, and just barely all mixed together. Keeping it loose and light (not dense) is key!
  • Form into meatballs — about the size of a golf ball — by gently shaping with hands. Don’t roll these in palms, or even try to make them too round. Just barely form them loosely into balls. Again, keeping these loose and light (not dense; barely holding together!) is key!
  • TIP FROM MY KITCHEN TO YOURS: At this point, I separate out about 1/2 or 2/3 the meatballs to freeze. Wrap about a dozen meatballs in non-stick foil, put in freezer bags, and place in freezer. This will give us 1 or 2 other Spaghetti & Meatball dinners down the road… on nights even crazier than the one in which I’m making this batch of balls! I promise, you’ll thank me later for this one.
  • Meanwhile… TO PREPARE THE DINNER: Get water boiling for the pasta. While that’s heating up, in the same pan in which you sautéed the onions (don’t even wash it), drizzle 2-3 tablespoons olive oil (enough to coat the pan). Heat the pan on medium-high heat, and add meatballs to pan. Let sit until they start to brown, then turn them 4-6 times to brown the meatballs on all sides. Important note: (Owen would say this is the most important point) the meatballs should be browned on their sides, but not cooked through (for Owen, the key is that they are not dried out at all; they should be very moist and soft and still a tiny bit pink in the center).
  • PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER: Add pasta to boiling water. The pasta should boil for about 10 minutes (or however long the box says; I’ve learned to set the timer consistently and stick to right to the minimum amount of time it says on the box, in order to have perfectly cooked pasta every time). Right after you add the pasta to the water, cover the meatballs with sauce. It should take about 10 minutes for the sauce to heat through, the meatballs to just barely cook through the center, and the pasta to be ready to strain. As soon as the sauce is heated through, and the meatballs are cooked through, remove from heat and/or keep on the lowest setting of the stove.
  • TO SERVE: Serve meatballs on top of spaghetti, with parmesan cheese. Or, serve the meatballs in sub rolls for meatball subs! Watch out!— if your family becomes converts to this meal like mine has, you’ll have to act fast to keep the meatballs from disappearing from the pan on the stove. The most recent time I made these for dinner (last week), half the meatballs had been stolen from the kitchen before we even sat down to eat. That’s how much Kyle and Owen love these!
  • Enjoy!

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Music, Homework, and the Sayre B Lounge

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Kyle DrumsKyle’s been taking drumming lessons this academic year. Owen’s taking piano (he’s been on again and off again with piano… he’s currently on again). They do their music practicing/homework in the lounge of our building, which is just down the hall from our apartment. They also play in that lounge a lot. And, of course, we live with about 150 college students who — in many ways, just like Kyle and Owen — structure their entire lives around their practicing/homework and “play”time. They live by the “work hard, play hard” motto. A tiny detailed slice of how this all comes together in a crazy way is the Sayre B Lounge. The Sayre B Lounge is quite the multi-purpose room. It is a music room / play room by day (basically, 8am-8pm), and a study hall by night (basically, 8pm-8am). At any given hour, of any given day, you may find any number of things going on in there. It is quite the mixed-use space!

Owen Piano

Meera’s Superheroes

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IMG_7275Meera is really — really — deeply interested in female superhero comic book volumes. These are not the sorts of things you’d typically find a 6-year-old reading (let alone their parents reading these to them) — they tend to be pretty graphic, and sometimes violent, and often involve subject matter that is way over the head of a young kid. But Meera is truly engaged in these, and really understands the storylines, and is more wrapped up in these than any other books she’s ever been exposed to.

IMG_7220Braydon reads these to Meera — it is something that the two of them share, and do together. They’ve read through the entire series of Spider-Girl and Super-Girl. And now they wait together, chomping at the bit in anticipation and excitement, for the next volume in each series to be released. Meera will often sit for long stretches of time pouring over volumes that they’ve already read, looking over the pages again and again, and following the storylines over and over.

Kyle and Owen (and me!) have no interest in these. This is Meera’s thing. And luckily, Braydon enjoys these books enough that he is happy to read them to her. But for most people who know Meera, they’d be shocked to find this out about her. She comes off as the stereotypical ‘Girly Girl,’ lover-of-all-things-frilly-and-pink, and enthralled with princesses and fairies and Barbies. The girl-power theme of these comics isn’t exactly what most people would imagine Meera being so into. But she is. And this is something that we love — and that we celebrate — about our girl. Deep down, she’s a complex little being with more to her than you’d imagine at first glance. She loves Fancy Nancy, and Ladybug Girl, and Berenstein Bears, but she’ll choose Super-Girl over any of those any day of the week. That’s an awesome aspect of Meera that not many people get to see.

IMG_7276Recently, I had a bunch of my graduate students over to our house. One of them happened to notice Meera’s collection of girl-power-comics on a shelf, and asked me about them. “Who reads those?,” he asked. When I told them that Meera does, he was immediately smitten. For someone who loves these sorts of comics, to discover a six-year-old kindred spirit is kind of a big deal. Yesterday, he brought me a new comic to give to Meera — Ms. Marvel. He had bought it, and read it over to make sure it was ok in his opinion, and then asked me to give it to her. I was so moved by this gesture, and happy to be the go-between in this brewing friendship between twenty-something-male sociology grad student and six-year-old-female first grader.

Ms. Marvel was not something on the radar of Braydon and me, but fortunately for Meera, she’s now got a hardcore comic reader who’s looking out for her. Ms. Marvel was in Meera’s hands as soon as she got home from school yesterday. She even brought Ms. Marvel to Kyle and Owen’s basketball game last night, and was pouring over it in the stands (photo below). And today, as soon as she got home from school, she was deep into it again (photo at top of this post). Braydon is reading it to her right now, as I write this post.

I don’t know where this whole girl-power-comic-volume thing is going, but it seems to be sticking… It has been well over a year of a constant and deep interest on the part of Meera. It has been a really intriguing part of Meera’s journey so far, and it has been so interesting for Braydon and I to watch this developing in her.

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Events, Events, Events

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AStill 10 weeks to go until the end of the semester (and those last few are always a killer), but we are going strong with the Living-On-Campus gig. The “new” apartment (the expansion that happened this summer… I know, I know, I know! I still need to blog all about that) has made our space so much easier to entertain in. And we’re really packing in the events this year. As of today, we’ve hosted 23 official events in our apartment since the start of the school year. Most of these have been for students. And all of these include food food food. Thank the goodness gracious for LU Catering (who, lucky for me, takes care of the food for most of our events)! And thank goodness gracious for Dash– who continues in his role as our beloved Resident (unofficial) Pet Therapy Dog. Students often arrive stressed and frazzled, but after some time with the miracle-worker-pup, their anxiety has come down a couple notches. I snapped the two photos here as “before” and “after” shots during an event we hosted today for my Eckardt Scholars (the Honors Program I direct).

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Photo of the Day: You Know Your Mom’s a Blogger When…

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Little BloggerTonight for dinner I made a meal that has become one of our family favorites this winter — spaghetti with homemade meatballs (the best meatballs ever! I am planning to post the recipe on Friday!). As we sat down to eat, the bambinos and Braydon were raving about these meatballs, and about the whole meal, and we were all ooohing and aaaahing about our newfound love of this dinner (up until I started making these particular meatballs, none of us ever even like meatballs). Suddenly Meera jumped up from the table and went running off– quickly returning with her “phone” (an old iPhone that she inherited years ago). She started taking a photo of her plate, then climbed up on her chair to get just the right angle. At one point, completely dead-serious, she even re-arranged a slice of red pepper so that it would be laying just-so across a few slices of cucumber! How many times in her six years on this planet has she seen her mom do something like this?! You know your mom’s a blogger when…     …    …you’re eating a delicious meal and you just have to capture it photographically!

P.S. One of the funniest parts about this is that Meera is the only one in the family who won’t eat the meatballs. Prior to this particular meatball recipe, Kyle wouldn’t eat ground meat either — and Owen, only rarely (in the form of superior quality medium-rare cheeseburgers). For Meera, this meal is a rare and coveted opportunity to get away with having one of her favorite foods — spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese!

2 Great Productions to Highly Recommend

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Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 12.11.26 PMOne of the major perks of living on campus is having so much to do right at our fingertips. It is so easy for us to walk across campus — or make a 3-minute drive — to take advantage of a huge array of opportunities year-round. Doing more of this, and maximizing these opportunities, was one of our goals in moving onto campus. We’ve done pretty well with making the most of it. As a result, we are so fortunate to get to see so many incredible productions, listen to so many brilliant speakers, and go to so many inspiring events.

This week was a particularly incredible week in terms of this facet of our family life. On Tuesday night, I got to see Michael Eric Dyson (one of my personal heroes) speak on campus. It was awesome! He’s an incredibly charismatic and brilliant guy, and I highly recommend going if you ever have a chance to hear him speak. But that’s probably something that would only happen if you live near a college or university. The next two events I want to recommend, however, might come to someplace near you even if you are far from a college town.

Gantt 1Thursday I had the great privilege of having LeLand Gantt as a guest in my Race & Ethnicity class. He was amazing and inspiring to get to know. That night the students from my class, and me, and Braydon, all got to see him perform on campus. His one-man-show, Rhapsody in Black, was truly moving and incredibly engaging. If LeLand Gantt’s Rhapsody in Black is ever anywhere near you, you must go (he’s on tour now)! White adoptive parents of black kids– especially you!– I highly recommend this show for you! [Photos in this post are from Gantt’s time in my class Thursday; photo credits = Lehigh photographers.]

Gantt AAnd then, this afternoon, our family went to see Frogz, which was playing on campus too. This was like Blue Man Group meets Cirque du Soleil but FOR KIDS! So creative, and so family friendly! If you have little ones, and you have a chance to bring them to this, go for it! The J-Ms highly recommend this show!

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Snow Day / Bring-Your-Kids-To-Work Day

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snow day 15:45am the call came: school delay. Ok, we can manage this. Annoying, and a concerted shuffle to re-schedule and re-adjust our calendars, but we’ve become pro’s at handling this — the dual-career couple with school aged kids — we’ve got this down. Within 5 minutes we had re-planned our mornings to have 2-hour-delay under control. We will rock this!

Until…

7:45am the dreaded 2nd call came: actually, school cancelled. Not ok. We freak out, panic, and the 2 adults’ blood pressure instantly blows through the roof, while the 3 kids jump for joy in celebration. Braydon had important business meetings lined up for today. I had a day of classes and meetings on campus. What’s a dual-career couple with school aged kids to do? After 10 years, we are still flailing about, drowning in the absurdity of a work world that was — way back in the day — structured around a stay-at-home-wife. It is 2015. Too bad for us, the J-Ms have no stay-at-home-wife. We are on our own. And it is sink or swim, baby!

It was determined: I would take one for the team today. I couldn’t cancel classes, but I could take the bambinos with me. On one other other day of desperation, I had done this once before. I could do it again. It was declared: this is not just a snow day, it is BRING YOUR KIDS TO WORK DAY (granted, just for us, but still…)

And so it went. I teach two classes this semester — both on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first is Introduction to Sociology — a 240 students class in Packard 101. Off we went~

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snow day 3The topic was “The Sociology of Lehigh,” and C. Wright Mills’ classical sociological conception of “private troubles vs. public issues.” I was using the subject of “why students choose Lehigh” to get students to think through life trajectories, and to compare and contrast seeing the world sociologically vs. non-sociologically. Kyle took notes in that class. Here’s the first page from his notebook. I was impressed! I wonder how many students’ notes from today were this good?!?

snow day 8Every Tuesday I have a Team Meeting with my five Intro to Soc TAs. Today, because I had the bambinos with me, I sprung for a working lunch at the Faculty Dining Room for all of us. (This is a real treat for students — especially grad students whose eating habits leave a lot to be desired — and, as loyal readers know, this is also a real treat for the bambinos — the Faculty Dining Room is their favorite place on campus to eat.) So, class ended, and off we went.

snow day 4My TAs got a big kick out of it when Meera went up to the buffet for her lunch, and came excitedly skipping back to the table with this:

snow day 5Upon my insistence, she saved it for dessert. The TAs got another big kick out of it when she was about to dig in and — looking at her dessert admiringly — pronounced enthusiastically to the whole table, “This is gorgeous!”

snow day 6After lunch it was straight to to my next class. That one is Race and Ethnicity with 35 students. Owen and Meera couldn’t sustain their attention to sit through that one, so they played in the lounge of the building, right outside the classroom. But Kyle was fully engaged in the class the entire time. We were discussing “what is race?” and there was a lively, contentious discussion full of debate and some pretty high-level thinking. Kyle joined right in, even raising his hand (and making a very good contribution to the conversation) at one point.

It was exhausting for this mama. And it was way-out-of-the-norm for Lehigh (you almost never see kids on campus here, let alone at classes). But it was good, I think, for all involved.

I wouldn’t want to do it very often. But all is well that ends well. And, in the end, it was all pretty well.

(And tonight, I’m treating myself to an extra glass of wine!)

snow day 7P.S. If you are a current student reading this…. thanks for your cooperation and understanding today! ;)  Love, Prof J

Master Chef Junior! (Addicted! Inspired!)

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master chef junior

We are coming off a 4-day weekend here in Never-a-Dull-Moment-Land — the bambinos had no school Friday or Monday (President’s Day weekend). And we are knee-deep in our annual February Funk. This year, layered on top of our usual February-funkishness, is the more-than-usual ice-and-snow, and — double whammy! — a significant sports injury on the part of Kyle (fractured knee cap; leg brace; 3x/week physical therapy for 6-8 weeks; immobilized 10-year-old). We are facing what could easily morph into our most funkish February yet if we’re not careful. So, we’re trying very hard to be proactive.

Often people have told me that our family “just needs to watch Master Chef Junior!” But we hadn’t done it. So, this weekend we took the plunge and watched the first episode of the first season. It was like crack for the J-Ms — instant addiction! For all five of us! One hit and we were done!

We watched the entire first season over the course of our long weekend. And, as a result, one of the five of us — Owen — has become immensely inspired.

In one of the episodes of Season 1, the winning kid — Alexander — makes sliders. Owen had never had sliders before and this was like a whole new world opening up to him. He was absolutely dead-set upon the idea of creating his own version of sliders. Rather than make them “super fancy” (his words), he wanted to make them “McDonalds-esque” (his words). His concept was McDonalds-inspired “Classic American Sliders” (his title), but with super high-quality ingredients. I actually thought this was a pretty cool, novel, confident food concept. Sort of an ‘in-your-face’ to the gourmand-haute-couture foodie world. I like it! I like it! I could roll with that. So, this afternoon we went grocery shopping for the ingredients. Almost everything was top notch and organic (except for the King’s Hawaiian rolls), and he wanted to serve his sliders with only mayo and ketchup as condiments.

The result was unbelievably outlandishly good!

O's sliders

Valentines: His & Hers

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I’m not going to complain. I got off easy this year. (I am not ashamed to admit it: while I love the philosophy behind the hand-made-valentine, in all practicality, I am all for the store-bought type.) I mean, yes, Meera had to prepare 50 Valentines (50!). But, she did not have to write each individual receiving kid’s name on each one; only her own name as the giver. This is nothing — nothing! — compared to what we’ve done before… For example, the year we did this: [click here for link].

As for the boys… they have become real clever in their old age. For the first time ever they came up with the bright idea to do one fell swoop of V-Day giving — one round of valentines signed from “Kyle & Owen.” They only had to prepare 35 of those suckers. So, I got off real easy with that. Which can’t even be compared in the same league as, for example, the year we did this: [click here for link]. Holy heck! What was I thinking that February of 2010?!?!?!

Anyway, the point is this: I’m not going to complain. No sir, I am not. I will only remark very superficially on the following: His & Hers, or Boys vs. Girls, valentines.

Seriously people, this is a gendered holiday if ever there was one. And there is nothing more gendered than what goes on in my kitchen in the days leading up to V-Day.

I am a sociologist. So, this is especially hard for me to face, admit, and acknowledge. But, in all honesty, there is nothing like the lead-up to Valentines Day to highlight the fact that my children have somehow — despite all my best efforts — become the most gender-stereotypical-little-humans on the planet.

Meera could not wait to shop for those valentines. She carefully examined every option on the shelves of that God-forsaken aisle of the store. She chose with thought and deliberation. Then she could not wait to get home and write her name on every single one of those pink Brach’s-Conversation-Hearts little boxes. She truly savored every single minute of writing with that fine-point-Sharpie. And she lovingly placed each of those little boxes in a bag, and is now counting the hours until she can hand-deliver them to her friends. This is her kind of holiday.

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Kyle and Owen, on the other hand. Do I even need to recount it? They were edgy and annoyed at the mere mention that we were to stop to buy valentines on the way home from school. They could not get in-and-out of that store fast enough. The first options they laid eyes on were just fine, and were quickly snatched off the shelf. Once at home, they put off the assembly of these things until the very last minute, then begged for assistance because it was “soooooo haaaaaaaard” to put the ‘Air Head’ through the paper slot. Their hand-writing was sloppy and all they seemed interested in was that the fine-point-Sharpies smelled “sooooooo goooooood!” (whaaat?!?), and as a result they proceeded to get almost as much permanent black marker ink along the bottoms of their noses and their upper lips as they managed to get into script on the actual valentines. Ok, this might be slight exaggeration. But the use of “slight” here is not an exaggeration. I will tell you this: I am 100% positive that when they are grown they will not look back on this little elementary-school-V-Day-annual-ritual fondly. In their opinion the whole entire thing is just a big waste of time, money, and energy. Why would you do this when you could be playing Marble Blast on the computer? Or, better yet, shooting hoops?

Heaven help them. I really hope — for their sakes and for their their future loved ones’ — that someday they are making the big bucks so that they can just buy their girlfriends or boyfriends indulgent gifts for valentines then call it a day.

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Snow Days and Food Production

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Another snow day today. This is the 2nd year in a row that we’ve had a whole string of weeks in the dead of winter when we just cannot catch a break to get into a rhythm and groove. To state the obvious: this is absolutely so, so, so strenuous for a dual-career family!

Snow days around here mean not just being stuck at home, and having our calendars go haywire. In addition, snow days around here mean feeding Owen.

Owen can EAT. I’ve posted about this so many times over the years. I know it is random (because I haven’t been posting consistently), but for whatever reason I just feel compelled to chronicle this. Someday, when I’m old and gray, I know I’ll look back fondly on these days. But right now, these days feel like a LOT OF WORK.

Here’s what I posted to Facebook at about 10am this morning–

Another “snow” day. (Actually, Ice Day.) No school for Owen = a day of food production for me. Breakfast is finally complete. He had 6 fried eggs and 1/2 gallon of orange juice. For reals people. For reals. He is 10 years old, and that is half a dozen eggs. There is no rest for the weary.

And then, a little while later–

UPDATE: It is 11:20am. Owen just asked, “When are we going to eat lunch?”

I told him we’d eat lunch soon, but at about 11:45am I found him foraging in the kitchen pantry. He said he was “sooooo hungry!” I said he could have a banana. Which was gone in a nanosecond. So I let him eat a Nutrigrain cereal bar. Then some cashews.

Shortly after that, it was lunchtime. We made “baby pizzas” (english muffin pizzas). The bambinos have always loved these. If you aren’t making these, you should try them–  english muffins (I use Bay’s brand multi-grain english muffins; they are the BEST!), tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, and whatever you want on top (today we did some plain cheese, and some with turkey-pepperoni), bake at 350 until melted and bubbly.

Braydon, Kyle, Meera, and I each ate two of these. Owen ate 4.

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Luckily, I had a helper today. Meera made a fruit plate with apples and blueberries…  Owen ate at least 2/3 of this little platter (which had on it 3 apples and a pint of blueberries).

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Don’t let the photo below fool you. The honest truth is that the bambinos spent much of the day lodged on the couch watching a shameful number of Netflix videos (while I frantically tried to stay above the fray with work at my desk). But there were periods of loveliness when they made me feel like I wasn’t the worst mother on the planet. Moments like this one:

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Later in the afternoon they had a snack. Ginger cookies (thank you for sending those MorMor!), and milk. Kyle and Meera had 3 cookies each, and a glass each of 1% milk. Owen had 6 cookies and a large glass of whole milk. Like I said, this boy can put it away.

Dinner was a highly unusual one for us. I actually roasted a chicken (something I haven’t done in at least 3 years). Ina Garten has the best roasted chicken recipe in the original Barefoot Contessa cookbook (my favorite cookbook on the planet) — it is stuffed with lemon and garlic and is so, so, so delicious! We had roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and steamed carrots. This is my own childhood snow-day-type “comfort food.” Braydon made a loaf of whole-grain bread (one of the bambinos’ favorite treats). Owen ate a full quarter of the chicken and a ton of all the rest too (and this boy can layer the butter onto the bread, let me tell you). He then proceeded to eat 2 chocolate-covered ice-cream-on-a-stick.

I cannot wait for him to get to school tomorrow so that I can get a break from cooking.

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