Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Unspoken Perils of Parenthood

Seems that many people around me just had babies. To be exact, three people I know had babies in a 24 hour window last week. Whenever I hear about people in the early days of parenthood, I am overcome with a sense of pity and then relief. Pity – I’ve been there. Relief – I’m not there now!

One of the things that always astounds me, and that I forget so quickly is that babies are nocturnal. Seriously, why doesn’t anyone warn anyone else of this? Correct answer – A. we must continue the species, B. no one told us about it, and we're not telling the rest. It’s like that hamster I had as a kid – he slept all day and ran on that creaky wheel All Freaking Night Long! Except, the creaking is crying and you can’t just carry his cage down to the basement and ignore him.

Whenever a friend is about to have a baby, I say this. “It sucks! All the stuff about how great it is – lies! The other parents just want to trap you! But it gets better… then worse, then better, then worse, and then eventually better until someone gets a stomach bug…” But seriously, it kind of sucks. But then one day you adjust, and it’s totally worth it, and you can’t imagine life any other way.

Another friend mentioned being so tired they felt drunk. I remember that. I remember walking into a wall in the middle of the night carrying a dirty diaper to the trash. Boom! Luckily I didn’t break my nose or drop poo all over floor.

And then there’s the vacuum cd. If you are reading this, I hope you will never need a vacuum cd. Our eldest daughter had colic. She was a perfect baby - for three weeks. And then a switch went off inside and she started crying every night. For four or so hours at a time. She’d start crying around 6:00 PM and if would just go on, and on, and on. It was the saddest thing ever. We rocked her, cradled her, everything we could try. One night we turned on the vacuum and it calmed her down. We downloaded a 60 minute MP3 of a vacuum. It was in every cd player (there were these things called "compact discs," they were like iPods, oh, never mind), every iPod, in every car. We listened to it for hours nightly. We shouted conversations above it. We sent friends and family screaming from our home. They couldn’t handle the vacuum cd! We watched tv with subtitles. To this day, I still haven’t heard the dialog to the final season of the Gilmore Girls.

Another of the friends who had a baby last week commented on Facebook that their toddler wants the baby returned to the baby store. I can sympathize. I have been oft quoted as saying that the two best days of my life were when my daughters were born. The two worst days – the days we brought them home from the hospital. You're working on no sleep, and suddenly you have to care for this helpless little baby. One word – terror. There's no owners manual, no warranty, nothing. If there were a return policy, I might have tried.

But luckily, there is no return option. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made it through the hellish early years/months. So if you're behind me on this journey, consider this your warning. And if you're ahead of me, don't tell me what's around the corner. I choose ignorance. Something tells me I'm just writing the first chapter on this. And it's bad enough knowing that I will eventually share my home with two teenage girls...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Strange Brew

For my 22nd Birthday (13+ years ago for those keeping score at home) my now wife bought me a Mr. Beer home-brewing kit. That first batch (made by combining the little can of Mr. Beer malt extract with refined sugar) wasn’t very good. But for my second batch I went to Maryland Homebrew and was steered in the proper direction to make delicious homebrewed beer.

I fell headfirst into homebrewing and even began working part-time and Maryland Homebrew. I sucked my friends and room mates into the hobby, and brewed batch after batch of delicious beers:
  • Tail-Chaser Ale,
  • Pimpbot Stout (this beer will cut you man),
  • Death Star Stout (an imperial stout that fermented so vigorously it exploded poor Mr. Beer and forced the move to a better primary fermentation vessel),
  • Numerous other ESBs, Steam Beers, and whatnot.
And then it stopped. Life got busy. I got a “real” job. I brewed an infected Vanilla Porter and then a stuck steam beer. Maybe I got lazy? Maybe I had enough disposable income to buy good beer? Maybe I switched more and more to a wine drinker? Maybe Mrs. P90 and I moved in together and she said that homebrewing smelled like Cheez-Its? In truth – it was probably all of these things. Either way, the homebrew gear was boxed up, moved with us to our current home, and sat abandoned in our garage and basement.

So why this trip down memory lane? Because I spent Saturday digging out my old homebrewing equipment, and returned on Sunday to Maryland Homebrew to buy supplies for my first batch in 10+ years.

I’m starting back slowly. I’m planning to make a beer with the malt content of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the hop varieties of some of my favorite IPAs. My goal is to create a hopped up session beer.

I wrote up my recipe, bought my supplies, now I just need to brew. And in case I forgot anything over the years, I found this great introduction (refresher in my case) to homebrewing by the Homebrewer’s Association.

Here goes nothing…

The 30-something Music Geek’s Running Mix

I’ve successfully made it through four weeks of my Couch-to-5k program. It’s nothing to be that proud about, but it’s a start. And aside from the encouragement from my little cheering section in a jogging stroller, I can thank my running playlist.

Being that I am a total music geek, my running mix isn’t your usual running mix. It’s all pop-punk, ska, and indie rock. I won’t give you the full shebang, but here are my top 14. It's 39 minutes (a few more minutes than I can run).

And for those of you scratching your heads about Surrender by  Cheap Trick, I figure if it was Conan’s soundtrack for his run from NYC to LA, it can carry me through a short jog around the ‘burbs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Howard County an Un-friendly Place?

I'm going to come right out and say it. Howard County is un-welcoming at best. And I say this having spent the majority of my 35 years here.

I think I've always known it, but it became abundantly clear as the family and I spent last week near Fenwick Island, DE. Everyday at the pool, other parents would strike up conversations with us, encourage their kids to play with ours, and encourage their kids to share toys with us etc.  And yes, I realize we were technically on vacation, but I can't understand why people can't behave like this at home.

But at the CA pools, it seems that any time we try to talk to other parents, they politely respond and then cut off the conversation. I don't get it. We clearly have things in common, even if it's just that we have kids of similar ages that are in the pool together. There is no reason not to have a friendly conversation.

And at my girls' pre-school it's even worse. Here, we clearly have things in common and should share an interest in making sure our kids are in a friendly and welcoming environment. It seems that parents communicating with each other would be a great thing.

But no, anytime I try to strike up a conversation with another parent, I get nothing. Sometimes I try to smile and get a frown in return. WTF? I just don't get it.

We're lucky, we live on a street in Columbia with other young families. We moved in five years ago and immediately started having the other young couples over for drinks and dinner. We all took turns hosting at our houses. It's wonderful to have people that are friends and neighbors.

I remember when my family first moved to Columbia in the late-80s. My mother was generous with our new neighbors, assumed that they all worked for NSA and that they must be brilliant and that's why they were unfriendly. They had "super secret jobs" and were introverts.

I don't buy it. I think we are all caught up in our own lives and don't care about the rest of our community.It would explain why we require a PR campaign to remind us to be civil...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fireflies and Fresh Herbs

Seems our herb garden is bringing joy to more than just the P90 family.

Coke-Brined Pork Loin

My apologies. I meant to take a picture of the coke-brined pork loin as it came off the grill, but it was a crazy night, the girls were hungry, and I was running late. Instead, you get to see the sliced leftover pork loin on the sandwich I had for lunch the next day. At least you now have an idea for how to use the leftovers.

As we all know, America’s pork producers (the big bad guys), in an effort to “make pork healthy” and lean like chicken, have bred most of the delicious fat and marbling out of modern pigs. And outside of the few farmers raising heritage breeds, it’s hard to find pork that isn’t so lean that it dries out by the time it hits 145 degrees.

Your options, if you want pork that doesn’t have the consistency of an old shoe, are to either slow cook a fatty cut (think ribs or shoulder) or use a brine. Whenever I cook pork chops or pork loins, I always brine. One of my favorites is Coca-Cola brine. I found the recipe in some random free magazine that came to our house a few years ago. It’s pretty simple. You take a 2-liter bottle of cola, ½ cup of salt, and some pepper or other spices* and soak the pork in it for 8-24 hours.

  • Pre-heat the grill to medium
  • Remove the pork from the brine, rinse it, and pat it dry
  • Place it on the grill, cook for five minutes and flip it over
  • Cook for five more minutes, and then reduce the heat to low
  • Cook until it hits 135 to 140 degrees internally and then remove and cover loosely with foil
  • Carry over heat will bring it to 145 degrees
  • Let it rest for about five minutes and then slice and serve.
If you want to add a little smoke flavor, soak some wood chips and place them in a smoker box (or directly on the charcoal if you aren’t using a gas grill) just before you put the pork on the grill.

This brine works great with chicken as well.

*A little Old Bay works great in this recipe. But since Old Bay is mostly salt, cup back on the ½ cup of salt so that the salt and Old Bay together equal ½ cup. Any BBQ rub should work here as well. I’ve been known to add a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. Experiment. You can’t screw up that badly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When is Princess Leia Going to Sing Her Song?

I showed the girls an abbreviated version of Empire Strikes Back last weekend. They liked it. As I’ve said, before, I’m thrilled to have two girls and no boys. The only thing I lament is the lack of boys toys (Star Wars, Transformers, etc.).

A few weeks ago, we visited my mom in KY. Aside from the distillery tours, the highlight of the trip was sharing my old toys with my daughters. My four year-old asked me why I didn’t have any princess toys. I responded by pulling out the Star Wars toys and introducing her to Princess Leia. My two year-old was enamored with R2D2 and the taun-taun. They only wanted to bring those three home.

What, no love for Darth Vader, Boba Fet, or Luke? Sadly, Chewbacca was lost years ago. I can only assume that my sister hid him from me or one of my brother’s dip$hit friends launched him into orbit via a bottle rocket. And yes, seeing as it was Kentucky in the early 80’s, parents let their kids play with bottle rockets. Not my parents. My parents were smart enough to move us to Maryland. Though sadly, still dumb enough to subject us to Catholic schools prior to our move…

But back to my point, we were watching Empire and my four year-old says “But daddy, when is Princess Leia going to sing her song?” After laughing for roughly ten minutes, I explained that there are no songs in Star Wars (aside from Bill Murray as a lounge singer, doing “star wars, if they could bar wars, please let these star wars stay).” I can understand why she would expect a song though. Princesses always sing a song. 

Next up – Return of the Jedi. I figure they will love the Ewoks.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grilled Pizza Recipe

On Wednesday, it was 1,000 degrees! While that’s a slight exaggeration, the little weather station on our deck registered 98 in the shade. Global warming? More like global roasting!

When it’s that hot, there is no chance that I am using the oven. But we had pizza dough from Trader Joe’s in the fridge and no other dinner ideas. Time for grilled pizza. Over the years, I’ve seen and tried a lot of recipes and techniques for grilled pizza. Many call for cooking the pizza directly on the grates. I’ve tried this method to some success, but it always results in crust that is a little too tough, cool toppings, and cheese that isn’t quite melted.

Seeing as I don’t have the money to buy one of these, a few years ago, I experimented with placing a pizza stone in the grill. I pre-heat for 15 minutes on high and then reduce the heat when I put the pizza on the grill. I close the lid and cook for 5 minutes before quickly lifting the lid and checking the crust and cheese. I usually cook for about two more minutes. This technique works great for me and produces a pizza with a very crisp crust and perfectly melted cheese. It’s important to move quickly and barely open the grill to prevent heat loss.

Every Grill is Different
On my old grill with burners than ran side to side, I could keep the two outer burners on high through the process. My current grill (Weber Genesis) has burners that run front to back, I have to turn the middle burner off and reduce the outer burners to low. Anything more than this, and I get burnt spots (overly burnt) on the bottom of the crust. You’ll need to experiment and plan to have some failures. Once you get to know your grill you’ll be all set.

Bonus – placing some wood chips in a smoker pox below the pizza stone add a little of the smoke flavor you get from a wood-burning oven. I’ve had the best results with oak, but hickory also works well.

Pesto Pizza Recipe
1 lb. pizza dough
¼ - 1/3 cup pesto
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/8 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
a few leaves of fresh basil

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Succeeding at not Being Lazy

It turns out I have the best personal trainers around. Well, the best cheering section at least. The Mrs. And I started the Couch-to-5k program on Friday morning. Due to some glare and being a little groggy, I accidentally started us on Day 3 by spinning a little wheel on the iPhone app before hitting “start.” Oops.

We’re finally using the jogging stroller for jogging. We bought it for off-roading and things of that nature. Aside from adding an extra 60 lbs. worth of work-out to the mix, the girls keep us on pace and cheer us on.

Part of the Couch-to-5k program is doing intervals of jogging and walking. During our warm-up walk, my four year-old quipped “Why aren’t you guys running? You said we were going running!” Luckily, her tone improved as we continued. They both shouted “We’re going fast now” and “faster, faster” during the run. And then at the end, the two year-old said “good job guys, good running.”

Works for me. Especially since I’m running for them. My dad died at 60. I’m in better shape than he was at my age, and I don’t smoke. But I’d like to make sure I have a lot more than just 25 more years with them.

We ran again yesterday and they were just as cheerful. Let's hope it lasts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Strawberry Ice Cream Forever

The P90s spent the Memorial Day weekend near Fenwick Island, DE. One afternoon, we happened upon a “pick your own” strawberry farm and thought the girls would love it. They did! The farmer was very friendly and encouraged the girls to “eat as many as they like while they picked.”

1. I’m not sure he realized just how much our two year-old likes strawberries or how many strawberries a 28 lb. girl can put away in 20-30 minutes. Hopefully she didn’t put him out of business.

2. He doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers, so I begrudgingly let the girls eat while they picked. Here’s hoping no animals “took care of business” on the strawberries…
    So, even though our two year-old ate about four strawberries for every one she put in the basket, we ended up with a ridiculous amount of strawberries. We ate them fresh, we dipped them in chocolate (after the girls went to bed), and we still had leftovers.

    The remaining berries were going downhill fast, so we decided to make something to preserve them. When in Fenwick/Bayside, we frequent an ice cream shop called the Blue Scoop. It’s amazing. Check it out! Our four-year old says that when she owns an ice cream shop, it will be called the Pink Scoop.

    So yesterday, we made the first official batch of Pink Scoop ice cream – fresh strawberry ice cream. It was delicious. We took it to a cook out and had it with pound cake and more fresh strawberries. It tasted like summer. Here’s the recipe.

    Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream Recipe
    • Rinse and trim 1 pint of strawberries and then crush by hand
    • Combine 2 cups light cream, one can of sweetened condensed milk, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
    • Combine the above and place in an ice cream maker.*
    • Eat!
    *Having been married in 2001, the P90s have the little Cuisinart ice cream maker that was de rigueur for bridal registries at that time. We use it twice a year at best… That’s better than the fondue set! What’s that thing about hindsight?