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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Barely Cooking Brisket

As you all know I’m a short cuts kind of a cook.  So when I had a brisket that was going to go bad and about 20 minutes in which to do something with it before my chaotic day took over, here’s what I came up with:

The Barely-Cooking Brisket

When I’m running short on time I always turn to my faithful slow-cooker.  It is simply the best!  I honestly think it’s my favorite kitchen tool.  Slow cooking makes things taste better with half the work.  It was thus a no-brainer to use it for my brisket.

There’s my lovely brisket, some leftover grilled onions from the day before, brown sugar, baby carrots, oregano, garlic salt, and ketchup.

Here’s a more organized list:

3lb brisket trimmed of fat

2 tbsp of oregano

2 tbsp of garlic salt

1 tbsp of brown sugar

1.5 cup of ketchup

1-2 cups of baby carrots

1-2 onions cut into large chunks

2 cups of beef broth

1 cup water

Once you’ve cut up your onion, depending on how much you like onion use one or two, put half of the chunks on the bottom of the slow-cooker and lay the brisket on top.

(You really should trim the fat off of it but since I was in a hurry I didn’t, which meant I had to flip it halfway through cooking.  Don’t be like me.)

Once that’s done, cover the brisket in ketchup (or if you have chili sauce you can use that and not have to use any of the other dry ingredients).

As you can tell I didn’t take the time to actually measure but instead squirted the ketchup from the bottle directly onto the meat! Also my flash came on in this picture.  I’m very good at this whole camera thing.

Next add you oregano and garlic salt (or if you want to be fancy, crush 4-5 cloves of garlic and mince, replace garlic salt with minced garlic and 1 tbsp of salt).

It’s starting to look kinda good! Next add brown sugar, massage ingredients into brisket and cover with remaining onions.

Throw on your baby carrots, as much or as little as you like.  Next add beef broth, if you’ve got it, or chicken broth and water.

Finally set your slow cooker and walk away!

I set mine on low for 7 hours.  This would be a great meal to make if you’re rushing off in the morning!

At long last the meat:

Yum! The boyfriend had to work late so I didn’t get to eat this like a normal meal so I can’t attest to how it turned out with the meat and gravy served over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.  I did make a brisket sandwich with some of the gravy drizzled onto the bread, though and it was delicious!

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Video Talk

One of Connor’s greatest joys in life is watching videos.  Lately he has literally been waking up and immediately requesting a specific movie (over the holiday weekend that movie was Ponyo).  Connor takes joy in picking out the videos, lining up all the video cases or discs so he could clearly see all of his options.

The majority of his choices consist of various Pixar movies, but we throw in some Disney and DreamWorks Animation for good measure.

This is what Connor did this morning when he got up.  You can see from the picture that he constructed a very clear layout in which he could view everything.  The fact that he lined these videos up in this way is just one example of his autism.  For some reason, children with ASD enjoy lining things up or “ordering” things.  Connor does this often with books or videos or his toys.  At other times he is happy to leave things in chaos.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

However, Connor’s autism stands out most sharply when videos or movies are involved.  One of his biggest developmental stumbling blocks is that his speech has been slow to develop.

Initially Connor seemed to be on track with other kids his age.  His first word was “Hi” just before he turned one.  He started collecting more words over the following year, but by age two he’d stagnated at about 20 words.  Connor also seemed confused over how to communicate with me.  He often flew into rages and tantrums because he was so frustrated that I didn’t know what he wanted or needed.  It was like some horrific game of 20 questions.

Once we got into therapy, though, things began to turn around….slowly.

Connor began to acquire more words and eventually understood how to communicate his needs.  Finally by January of this year we had mastered small phrases.  By the time he turned 3 Connor was using phrases and short sentences, even occasionally using reflective pronouns.  He’d say “I jump!” or “I dance”. The first time he said that I wanted to cry.  I swept him up in a big hug and covered his face with kisses.  Connor probably thought I was insane but he seemed happy enough that he continued dancing when I put him down.

The therapists and I continued to work with him on stating his needs or wants in sentence form.  We encourage him to say things like “I want ________ please” or heck, I’m happy with “I want _________”.

The one thing that has stuck with Connor in all of this therapy is “please” and “thank you”, although people are so delighted by how polite he is that he often gets away with using only phrases ending in “please” rather than being forced to say an entire sentence.

Throughout all of this Connor has been engaging in “video talk”, otherwise known as echolalia (which means to echo back).  He watches movies or YouTube videos over and over until he’s memorized certain phrases. He would repeat phrases over and over to himself, as if replaying a piece of the movie on his own. Initially I wanted to discourage this behavior, thinking that this type of speech would only slow his development down.

But then something interesting happened.

In the movie Up (one of Connor’s favorites) the character Russel asks the giant bird, whom he has named Kevin, if he is ok after their floating house bumped into a tree (I know this sounds bizarre but it makes sense if you see the movie, which I recommend you do). Russel says “Are you ok, Kevin?”

This simple question became one of Connor’s favorite phrases to repeat.  As with most of his echolalia, I’d gotten used to ignoring it.  At least I did until Connor asked me “You ok, Mom?”

“What, baby?”

Connor looked at me blank faced and repeated the question, “You ok, Mom?”

“Yes, baby, I’m good.  Thanks.  Are you ok?”

He didn’t answer but Connor seemed pleased with this response.  He smiled and then asked each of the dogs if they were ok.  They didn’t respond of course but that didn’t seem to bother Connor since he doesn’t place a high priority on language.

Like many articles I’d read about echolalia suggested, Connor was using the memorized phrases to create meaningful language.

It’s as if he is a little anthropologist studying our society and culture through vidoes, trying to make sense of our complicated language.  It’s bizarre sometimes but he’s learned a lot about feelings from watching videos of babies on YouTube.  He’ll see a baby cry and say “oooooh poor baby” or when a child laughs at a piece of paper ripping Connor laughs as well.  He’ll usually look to me to see if this is the appropriate response to what is happening.  If it is correct I’ll mimic him or if it isn’t I’ll display the appropriate emotion.

We seem to be making progress.

One day we’ll get to a point when Connor won’t use video talk to communicate or learn language, but right now it seems to be an invaluable tool.  Think of those stories you’ve heard of immigrants learning English by watching soap operas.  Some of their initial speech may contain words or phrases not ordinarily used in everyday language, but that fades away after a time.

For Connor he is learning language in exactly the same way.  He needs a means of communicating.  He has a hard time learning language from people around him.  The visual nature of movies and videos allows him to internalize the language and slowly adapt it to his life.

It must be a frustrating and arduous process for Connor to learn this way.

There are things I can do to help.

1) Be patient.

Speaking is incredibly frustrating for Connor.  The best thing I can do is to wait for him to express his language without rushing or prompting or losing my patience.  Eventually he’ll say it.  I might have to ask him five times and wait a full minute before he responds, but he will eventually respond.

2) Use his echolalia to my advantage.

If I ask him if he wants to go to the park and he responds “to the park” I know that he means yes and I know that he has all the appropriate words.  Instead of just accepting that as the answer, I prompt him to respond appropriately: “Say park please” or “Say I want park” or even “Say yes please”.  These instructions have been getting a lot of traction lately and Connor is able to answer questions more readily by having these memorized phrases available.  We’re finally getting a lot of “Yes please” and “No thank you”!  Also I can teach him new words everyday knowing that he’ll repeat me!

3) Remind him to use his words.

When your child is crying and upset it’s very easy to comfort him and remove whatever the problem is.  For Connor if he doesn’t want to do something his first reaction is screaming and/or crying.  This is not acceptable in the long-term.  It takes every ounce of my will power not to hug and kiss his tears away.  I force myself instead to stare at him placidly and remind him “use your words please”.  If that doesn’t do it, I know that he wants to say no so I prompt him saying, “Connor, say no thank you.” This usually gets an immediate response.  It offers him a way out.  “NO thank you!” he’ll shout, which is oh so pleasant, but at least it’s something.  Thankfully this message has been getting through to him so this weekend when he was extremely distressed about having to wear swim trunks to go swimming he repeated “No swimming, no thank you. No swimming, no thank you” until we got out of the water.  Sigh.  At least he’s communicating!

4) Don’t accept silence as an answer.

Seriously.  I believe that echolalia is better than silence.  It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than nothing.  I don’t want Connor to think it’s ok to ignore the speaker.  It’s not.  He has to learn to communicate in order to thrive in his world.  I can’t just let him be silent.

 

To be sure this will be a long, exhausting process.  But Connor has improved so much in all other areas over the last year that I have the utmost faith that he’ll improve in communication also.  Until then, I can take the video talk.  I’ll just ask him “Are you ok, Connor?” until I get an answer.

She’s crafty

I craft.  I may not be Martha Stewart, but I do craft.  In fact, I think if Martha came over she’d be horrified by the state of my crafts.  Like everything else I do, I enjoy doing things the easy way.

Yes, I could spend hours making things perfect.  Yes, my crafts would probably look better if I did.  But then I would never get anything done.

Part of the reason I do take the easy road with crafts and cooking is because I get interrupted every 28.6 seconds.  It’s not easy to use an Exacto knife with a crazy preschooler running around either.  So I adjust.  I do things quick and easy because at least they get done this way.

For example:

I made this sign for the Aides and Tutors Appreciation Week lunch today at Connor’s school.  I had approximately 20 minutes to get this done yesterday afternoon.

I would like to blame….I mean credit Connor for helping me with this, but sadly I cannot.  No folks, this is 100% adult made.  In retrospect choosing to do the letters by hand rather than printing them out and pasting them on was a bad choice.  I decided to save ink, which was dumb on my part.  It took me twice as long and I probably killed the marker I used coloring in the letters.

Despite that, it came out pretty cute.  And it was easy.  I didn’t use a pattern, so the letters are uneven.  I didn’t sew or glue so they pieces may slide around.  I used my favorite crafting supply: staples.  I simply folded down the top 2 inches of the paper over the string and stapled.  Ta da! A banner is born!

I did staple the heart on to the string precisely to keep the other letters from bunching up, so there’s that.  (I’m patting myself on the back now.)

It may not have been my best work this week.

This was my best work:

Yum! Double Strawberry Scones! Here’s the recipe from BHG: recipe.

I, of course, altered the recipe a bit: no freeze-dried strawberries (1 full cup of fresh strawberries instead), no half-and-half (use milk), and just 1 tablespoon of dried basil.  Super easy to make, took about 25 minutes.  The dough was a little gummy, but it was well worth it!

I’ll be crafting more next week to help prepare for a bridal shower, so I’ll share some of the fun, fast crafts I do!

A trip to the Mall

My son never ceases to amaze me.  Sometimes in a good way (by waking me with hugs and kisses), sometimes in a not so good way (by following said affection with wrestling falls to my full bladder).

Recently Connor surprised me by displaying a love for the mall.  That’s right, the horrible torturous building I couldn’t convince him to enter as a 1 year old, has become a desired destination for my 3 year old.  Whenever we drive by it now he points to it and asks “This one? This one?”

I say “This one what, buddy?”

He answers “More please”, still pointing to the mall.

It sometimes feels like I’m talking to someone who primarily speaks a foreign language, only having a tiny mastery of English.

So I say, “You want the mall?” somewhat incredulously.

“Mall please! Mall please!”

“Ok….we’ll stop by on our way back.  First doctor then mall.”

“Then mall”, he repeats.

On this particular day coming back from therapy, I asked him “Do you want to go to the mall or the park?”

“Mall or park?” Connor echoed.

At the next red light I turned around in my seat so I could face him.  “Connor, look at mommy.” I instructed.  He finally looked me in the eyes.  I said “Hi baby.”

“Hi Mommy” he answered.

“Do you want to go to the mall or to the park?”

He looked away.

“Connor, look at mommy.  Mall or park?”

Finally he met my eyes and pronounced “Mall!”

“Ok, mall it is.”

Driving into the mall parking lot Connor even directed me to which entrance he would like us to use, pointing this way and that until we parked close enough to his particular choice.  As I unbuckled him, he practically leapt out of his seat.  Must get to the mall!  Connor pulled me through the parking lot to the front entrance where he promptly let go of my hand and started sprinting down the hallway.

And why I say sprinting, I mean sprinting!  This boy can run! You cannot do a fast walk to catch him, you actually have to run to keep up.

So I took off after him, grabbing ahold of his hand after about 20 ft.  He didn’t mind.  Connor just switched to his happy walk instead (which is him bouncing up and down with each step).  However, once we neared the glass railing overlooking the first floor, Connor took off again.

He ran up and pressed his face against the glass, staring at the carousel below.

“ooooooo, look at that”, he said looking up at me.

“What is that baby?”

“Carousel” he said, although it sounded more like cow-o-sell.

Grabbing my hand, he pulled me to the escalator and dragged me towards the carousel.

“More please! More please!”

He was so happy I couldn’t refuse him a ride.

Here is a very blurry picture of him sort of smiling on the carousel. Connor usually has a deep look of concern when on a ride, as if he’s not sure he enjoys it.  This time however, he seemed happy.

Seemed being the operative word here.

After the ride ended, Connor maneuvered me back up the escalator to the Cinnabon we had passed.  He didn’t ask for anything specifically (or generally), instead he just ran over to the nearest table and sat down, just looking at me.

Ok…..I guess my child would like a snack.  Not the healthiest choice for a snack, given that the cinnamon roll has about 800 calories but they have some twists for around 300.  Cinnamon twists it is!

I think he enjoyed them.

Once he was done, which means he ate half the twists and drank half of my Diet Coke, Connor started running down the hallway again.  This time, his destination was clear: the Disney Store.  Located across and down from Cinnabon the Disney Store promised all of Connor’s favorite characters in one place.

I’m not sure how Connor came to be so familiar with this mall, I think a certain cousin of mine is to blame, but I can’t be sure.  If only I could get him to be this happy when we went to Nordstrom, I’d be the happiest mom in the world.

As it is, I’m just the most indulgent.

Yes I bought him a toy.  I know, I know.  Connor, being an only child and a member of a 70+ extended family, is already spoiled rotten.  He has more toys than he knows what to do with.  If he sat down and played with three different toys every day, I bet it would still take him more than two months to get through everything.

So why did I buy him yet another toy?

Well…

Because I’m a sucker.

Because my baby boy was so happy and so well-behaved at the mall.

Because my autistic son spoke to me and asked for it.

Because we shared an afternoon I’ll never forget, but he might.

Because it made me glad to do it.

Whatever the reason, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Apple Muffins

The little man was home sick yesterday, despite appearing to be fine in every way.  sigh. I’m a sucker.

So there were a couple of things that I needed to do:

1. Use the apples that were quickly going bad.

2. Make something I can hand off to Connor in the car in case we’re running late for preschool.

3. Bake something somewhat healthy.

Since all three of these things were easily combined in one quick recipe, I decided to go with Apple Muffins for yesterday’s Sneaky Mommy Eats.

Disclaimer: this is obviously not a home-made, concocted from scratch recipe.  If you are expecting that from me, please, I beg you,….get a dang clue!  I would love to say I don’t have the time to do that, but that’s not true.  The truth is that I just don’t want to.  Why reinvent the damn wheel?

Ingredients:

Betty Crocker Cinnamon Struesel Muffin Mix

3/4 cup of milk

1/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil

2 eggs

2 apples, cored, peeled, finely grated

My love for mixes is three-pronged: 1) I don’t have to mix all the tedious dry ingredients myself, thus 2) I don’t make as big of a mess and 3) save time.

My recipe is easy:

Preheat the oven to 425.  Pour mix into a large bowl, setting topping bag aside.  Add milk:

Add oil:

Then Connor’s favorite step: Add the eggs!

He likes to help crack the eggs and stir them into the mix.

I promise he’s wearing a diaper, it’s just hidden behind the bowl.  He was a very good little helper until he got distracted by the tomatoes and started counting them over and over.  Well actually it was more like he lined the up in a nice row, saying “one tomato” every time he added to the row.  My adorable genius.

Anyways, stir the ingredients together.  And once you’ve grated the apples, which are not called for on the box (that’s why this is “my” recipe), add them in and stir until all mixed.

I promise it tastes better than that picture looks.

Pour the batter into cupcake liner cups or into your greased muffin tin.

And then put this on:

While I was pouring the batter into cups, Connor brought me this headband and said “Pretty?”  I thought he wanted me to put it on him, but he refused, pointed to me and said “Mommy do it.”  OK….apparently Connor is concerned that I don’t look pretty enough when I’m baking.  Well…thank you son for looking out for your old mom.

Back to business:

Using the topping from the box, lightly sprinkle on top of each muffin.

Try to do a better job than I did and actually get some of the topping on the muffin.

Follow instructions on the box and bake for 16-21 minutes.  Then you get these:

Yum! Kid tested….

Kid approved!

Bad Mommy/Resourceful Mommy

Connor is home sick again with what is now confirmed as a sinus infection. I’m pretty sure I have one too.

So when C asked to watch The Incredibles snuggled up to me on my big bed, I knew I was done for.

My eyelids grew heavier and heavier, accompanied by a rising panic that I’d fall asleep while Connor was still awake. I’d fall asleep for a few seconds only to be jerked awake and slapped across the face by motherly instincts. Over and over this happened.

Finally I decided to shut my motherly instincts up! With Connor engrossed in the movie I figured I could safely take a 20 min nap. So I locked the door to my bedroom, barring his only means of escape. I put all available nail clippers, razors, scissors, etc out of little army’s reach. Lastly I slung an arm around Connor’s waist, ensuring I’d awaken with any sudden movement.

And with that I gave into sleep….for 15 blissful minutes.

During that time Connor did not die or become maimed in some way. The house did not burn down. The dogs suffered no permanent injuries. And I actually feel better.

So why can’t I decide if that was a bad mommy thing to do or a resourceful one?

Hot pants

I am not one for diets.  I did a medically supervised diet in my early 20s to lose all the weight I’d put on in college.  It was extreme and expensive.  I had to check in daily, get shots, exercise for a regimented amount of time, and follow a carefully calibrated food program.  It was very successful.  Over the course of four months I lost 45 lbs.  That was awesome!

And I have no desire to do that again.  I’m not even sure if I could do that again.  Back then I was single, working part time, going to graduate school and had a fully flexible schedule.  Those things are not so true now.

Plus, honestly, I don’t really want to do some extreme diet.  I don’t.  I love food too much! I love cooking.  I love taking Connor to go get treats when he’s had a good day at school.

I’ve learned how to eat moderately and keep my weight around the same level, most days (obviously there are some splurge days and followed by guilt/compensation days).

The problem arose when I started dating my now boyfriend.  I’ve gained 7 lbs since we started dating! 7lbs! It’s not hard to see why.  We go out on dates.  Dates often revolve around food.  And for us, that means good food since we’re both foodies.

I remember reading something along the lines of most people gain weight when they enter a committed relationships, so I set out to find a couple of articles.  Here’s what I came up with:

According to an Ohio State study, women gain weight after marriage and men gain after divorce.

A British study found that weight gain and loss can actually be tracked via milestones in a couple’s relationship:

Early Courtship: loss of 5.3lbs

Becoming Comfortable: gain of 10lbs

Wedding Preparedness: loss of 8lbs

Baby Boom: gain of 14lbs

Late life reinvention: loss of 10lbs

So according to the British I’ve jumped the honeymoon stage and gone straight for the comfort stage.  Sigh.

I wasn’t really too worried about this except for one key problem:

 

These pants were hanging in my closet, just begging to be worn.  They are amazing.  They are beautiful.  They are so perfect for this summer.

I bought them on sale at Nordstrom a few months ago with some of my saved Christmas gift cards.  I love them so very much I can hardly stand it.

So when I couldn’t fit into them without a horrible muffin top I almost cried.

I knew I had to do something.  Some crazy diet was out of the question.  I needed something easy.  And so all I did was limit my sweets to once a day, ate only when I was actually hungry, and made certain I was drinking at least 80 oz of water a day.

Voila! Three weeks later I’m down 4 lbs and into my beautiful pink pants.  Granted I don’t quite look like the model in the picture, but at least they fit!

Yes, I am wearing a slightly blousey top to hide that the waist is a little bit tight, but hey, they’re still hot pants!