Friday, February 15, 2013

Two of Texans' Favorite Things in One Slow Cooker (With Vegetarian and Vegan Options... Which is Decidedly Not Texan)

Chili is delicious all by itself.  I make it a lot because it's cheap, nutritious, can cook all day long in the crock pot, and it tastes amazing.  It's variable: you can make it meatless, use meat substitutes like tofu, use all fresh ingredients, use all canned ingredients... it's the ultimate busy mom food.

And beer.  When you get a really good beer, one that is fresh and fizzy with just the right bitter/sweet balance and body, there is very little that is as satisfying. 

And Texans love to eat red meat and beer together any chance they get.  So I skipped a step and put them in the same pot.  And it was awesome.

The smell all by itself is intoxicating (haha! But seriously, the chili won't get you drunk and it really is awesome).

So I decided to share this delicious recipe with you folks, along with my notes about ingredients :)


Beer Chili Recipe
1 lb beans (I used red kidney beans) or 4 cans of canned beans
1 bottle of your favorite beer
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped (or 3 large beefsteak tomatoes or 2 cans of diced tomatoes)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
3 Tb (or to taste) each chili powder and cumin
1 Tb (or to taste) creole seasoning
1 Tb (or to taste) garlic salt
1 lb ground beef, ground turkey or finely chopped firm or extra firm tofu (or skip this if you prefer meatless chili.  It's still good, I promise.  I made it once without meat and my husband asked me what kind of meat I used in it, no joke... but I digress...)


If using dried beans, cook them until they're done.  This goes faster if you soak them overnight.  If you did not soak them use a 3-to-1 water/bean ratio.  If you did soak, 2-to-1 is fine.  You can do this in the slow cooker if you don't want to bean-sit, or you can do it on the stove if you're willing to stir a little bit in return for a faster cooking time.

Drain the beans, rinse them if they are canned.  Put them in your crock pot and pour in one bottle of your favorite beer.  Use a decent beer.  If you dump in a can of Keystone you're not doing yourself or your chili any favors.  I used Blue Moon's Pale Ale.  Other good choices would be regular Blue Moon, Killian's Irish Red, Guinness, Sam Adams, etc.  You get the idea.  Still pretty cheap as far as alcohol goes, but a little better than the American "lite" beers.

Add in the tomatoes, peppers, onion and all of the seasonings.  Stir, cover and cook on high heat for 2-3 hours or low heat for 4-5 hours.

When the veggies are cooked through, brown the beef/turkey/tofu in a skillet and add to the chili.

At this point the chili is done.  You could eat it if you're desperate, but letting it cook for at least another hour or so on low is ideal, since all the flavors will meld and make magic happen in the pot.  It's hard to overcook this chili in a slow cooker.  You could leave it be all day on low (or warm, if it's completely done) if you wanted and it would be ready when you were.

I like to serve chili with cheddar cheese and corn chips or corn muffins.  Corn muffins are super easy and fast to make and when you use whole-grain corn and/or wheat flours you get yourself a complete protein when combined with the beans, in case you're going meatless.


Whole Grain Corn Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup finely ground undegerminated corn meal (tip in the directions)
1/3 cup sugar (granulated or turbinado)
2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup oil (canola, extra light olive, melted coconut, melted butter... use your personal preference)
1 cup milk


Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder salt and corn meal together.  Undegerminated corn meal is a whole grain, but it's hard to find sometimes.  Check your local health food store. If you still can't find it, try  If you can't find it and don't want to pay shipping it's fine to use regular, degerminated corn meal.

Crack in the egg, dump in the oil and milk and mix it all together.  Grease a muffin tin and fill each cup 2/3 full of the muffin mixture.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18-22 minutes, or until they look firm and well risen, slightly golden brown around the edges.


A note: you could even make these recipes vegan by omitting the meat in the chili and subbing tofu or not using any meat sub, and using soy or almond milk (unsweetened!) in the corn bread.  Replace the egg with a little apple sauce, reducing the sugar by a little if you do. 


Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Unorthodox Journey to the Knowledge that Spanking is Completely Jacked Up

I have not spoken out on parenting issues much on here.  I'm feeling compelled to now, since my family is making a transition into a more gentle parenting style to share what I have learned along the way about the very controversial topic of spanking.

I was raised by parents who spanked, who were raised by parents who spanked, so on and so forth through the generations.  Prior to becoming a mother, naturally I thought kids needed spankings in order to know right from wrong, develop self-discipline, and "know who's boss".  My parents were the type to bewail the fact that society had changed and not enough children were receiving corporal punishment (despite the fact that most kids are still spanked to this day).  I had every intention of spanking my own children.  When my daughter joined our family, though, my paradigm shifted in a dramatic way.  I didn't know what I wanted, or how I would discipline her when the time came, but I knew that spanking felt so very wrong.  The thought of raising my hand to my child with the intention of hurting her felt like a violation of every instinct in my body, all of which were screaming at me to protect this tiny person with everything that I had, up to and including my life.  I hoped that time outs and yelling would suffice (the only other punishments I ever received as a small child), but I was doubtful and kinda scared.

When my daughter entered the terrible twos I just about lost my mind.  She DID get spanked a couple of times because I just had no idea how to deal with her "misbehavior".  Time outs weren't working. I screamed myself hoarse sometimes and that didn't work either.  Then I had my son and things got even more complicated.  How do you teach a child to get along with their sibling?  How do you keep a two year old from destroying the house, herself or your sanity while you are tied to the rocking chair, nursing a newborn?  Spanking was all I knew, all my mother knew, and that's the answer I got when I asked her for advice.  I was being too soft, duh.  How would she know how to behave if I didn't teach her with an iron fist?  However, the more I tried to control her, the more frustrated we both became.

I turned to my friends.  None of their kids were spanked.  None of them were even getting time out.  And all of them were totally normal, happy, healthy kids.  They threw fits sometimes, but certainly no more than any other child I'd ever seen.  They listened to their mothers and they seemed to work together as a family rather than having the soul-destroying power struggle I was dealing with.  I asked them for help.  The answer I got was astonishing.  "Relax.  Change your attitude and adjust your expectations."

Huh?  Needless to say, I rejected that advice out of hand.  Obviously they had no idea who I was dealing with here.  Their kids must be perfectly behaved Stepford children or something because there is no way LESS control was going to help my kid.

The months passed and tensions mounted in our house.  When Max would come home at night I was laughing maniacally to myself, banking my head in the corner and Rhapsody had run amok all day long.  Nothing got done, everything was a Herculean feat.  It was terrible.

I kept getting advice from people who cared about me.  I was so conflicted.  On the one hand, my family kept saying I needed to gain control.  I needed to be more stubborn, harsher, more consistent with punishments.  On the other I had people with kids who were pacific, happy and well adjusted (which is not how the kids in my family ever acted), telling me to let go a little, change my outlook, see my daughter as a person with good intentions rather than an inconvenience to be managed.  "Then stop doing it," they would say with a good-natured shrug when I said time outs weren't working.  "Work on parenting more gently."  I would think "Time out IS gentle!"  I was so frustrated.  It seemed like so much work to stop time outs.  I asked for alternatives and got nebulous answers about changing my expectations.  Which was even more frustrating.  I knew something had to change, though.

So, I tried it.  Instead of screaming because my daughter didn't listen when I told her to do something, I tried to put myself in her shoes.  And the more I did it, the more I realized that she was smarter, better intentioned and more mature than I had ever given her credit for.  From my perspective, when she dumped out the entire container  of oatmeal, she was making a huge mess.  From her perspective, she was learning to do what mommy did.  From my point of view, when she tried to run away in the parking lot, she was putting herself in mortal danger when I was least able to protect her (getting a tiny baby out of his car seat and into the carrier takes finesse!).  From her perspective she was trying to help me by getting to the store first.

Every time I have backslid into my old habits I have paid for it.  Imriel (my son) was listening to no one and playing at the top of the stairs or otherwise putting himself or his sister in danger of bodily harm and got a small handful of spankings before I fully realized what we were doing.  His behavior during that time never improved, and he acted out in more and more ways until we stopped the spanking and sat down and came up with other solutions before he could get into trouble.  "He likes to play at the top of the stairs, how about we get a baby gate?"

The more I have turned to other, gentler methods of parenting (talking with them, explaining, giving fewer opportunities for trouble making, more opportunities for constructive play and time outside and cuddles...) the better our family has worked.  And the more I have thought of things like "What other person is it okay to hit?"  Spouses aren't allowed to hit each other to show who's boss.  Employers aren't allowed to hit employees.  We don't cuff the cashier for being rude.  All of those are examples of assault.  Who else do we scream at?  We are considered grossly out of line if we scream at a waiter for getting our order wrong.  Why is it okay to scream at a kid for exploring their world (which is their freaking job)?  I feel like we have come to see children as less than people.  We treat them like animals.  I have treated my own children like animals.  I treated them with less respect than I gave strangers in the grocery store.  Who else do we treat in such a manner?

When we realize that children are people (just like the cashier or waiter or perfect stranger) capable of learning socially acceptable behavior through modeling, talking, encouragement and love it makes absolutely no sense that they are so often hit, berated, disrespected and lorded over.  Parents are naturally leaders of their children, we don't HAVE to establish control.  They look up to us, they emulate us.  They learn to respect others as they are respected.

There is a plethora of evidence of the harms spanking does to children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it.  The American Psychiatric Association recommends against it.  And still most American children are spanked.  I know how hard it seems.  I know how impossible it seems to get a child to act appropriately without control over them.  I know it seems like so much work when you have so little left to give to your kids.  You're frustrated drained and tired at the end of the day, your patience fraying.  I'm telling you that giving up the illusion of control (because the only person you can truly control is yourself) makes it easier.  It seems impossible. It's not.  It gets a little harder and then like magic it gets better.  There are still frustrations.  There are still hard days.  Times you want to pull your hair out.  It feels so liberating, though, for your whole family.

Get to know your kids as people.  Give it a chance.  Try to understand where they are coming from when they do things that drive you nuts and I promise your paradigm will shift too.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why I Don't Belong at Metal Concerts

Alirght, some of you might not consider these bands metal.  Whatever.  My husband talked me into going to a Stone Sour and Papa Roach concert last night.  He got free tickets at work and couldn't find someone to take the last ticket.  He is a huge Stone Sour fan, always has been, and when we moved here he started talking about how awesome it would be to see Cory Tyler live.  Lo and behold, prayers can bring Cory Tyler to Amarillo... but apparently they can't keep mosh pits away from my precious person.  I've been in a crowded concert before.  I've been jostled by mosh pits before.  I've had tinnitus from the ungodly volume at a rock concert before.  But this was terrifying.  Until I accepted it.  Are there five stages of terror as well as grief?  Because it sure felt like it.

Cory Tyler of Stone Sour

Halfway through the show I started enumerating the reasons I knew I was too old to be there.

1.  The first, and probably most obvious is I thought "I'm too old for this."  I didn't mean that I was afraid I'd break a hip, I meant "I'm a little too mature to be screaming at a rock band, avoiding mosh pits and trying to get the screaming teenager to stop hopping her tiny self into my back, hoping a guitar pick is flung my way."  But I did all those things.  And enjoyed it... just a little.

2.  When my back and feet started hurting from standing completely still (except for dodging moshers) I told my husband "Damn it!  I meant to take some Aleve before we came, I knew I should have taken Aleve."  Yeah.  Those words actually left my mouth.

3.  I wanted to drag a couple of completely out of control teenage girls home to their mothers and report their behavior.  The one who kept jumping INTO me, on purpose, trying to get 2 inches closer to Papa Roach.  I finally stuck out my elbow and she went around and started convulsively dancing into someone else's back.  The other kept yelling "Hi YAH!" and pretending to karate chop and kick people in front of us.  Which could have started a horrible fight right in front of me, and I didn't really want to get anyone's nosebleed on my shirt.

4.  Waiting in line to get into the concert hall a woman in front of us was telling us about a car accident her daughter had been in where her 5 year old grandson was in the front seat (both had been badly injured) and I said "Kids aren't supposed to be in the front seat until they are at least 12."  She tried to say that if he had been in his car seat he would have died because the car seat was ejected from the car and I said "Then it probably wasn't installed properly." 

5.  When Papa Roach yelled "You motherfuckers LOVE this!  You motherfuckers NEED this!" I thought first "I have fucked precisely zero mothers," and then "I'm pretty sure that psychologists would agree that YOU are the one who needs this in order to fill a void probably left by absent parents and being 3 feet tall."

Papa Roach, screaming his tiny head off
When I finally stopped thinking about all the ways I didn't belong at that concert, I started realizing that despite the negative media and my own fears, there is surprisingly little risk to being near a mosh pit.  I had asked my friends on Facebook to pray the moshing was kept to a minimum.  It didn't work, but I did learn a whole lot about them.  When they began I thought about the ways my sweater could be used as a garrote to keep myself safe.  One started where I was standing, and I still didn't get sucked into it, though.  You pretty much have to want to be in a mosh pit to be in one.  As I watched, fascinated, I realized that there are unspoken rules to these things.  If someone falls, someone picks them up.  People around the pit act as a border.  People get pushed into them and they push them back into the pit, keeping the people around them from being drawn into the fray.  Moshers make their way politely to the pit, saying "excuse me" and they don't push.  When someone got hurt, the person who did the hurting hugged them and made nice.  When a bunch of tiny girls went into the pit the men all stepped aside and let them have at it.  At that point I told my husband "Girl mosh!  I could own!" (I'm almost 6 feet tall... but I had zero intention of entering it).  It was incredible.  And by that I mean "I couldn't believe it".  I saw one elbow get thrown and at least 15 hugs.  Pretty good ratio.

My view of the pit that opened up right where I was standing

All in all, it was an uncomfortable, scary, awesome night.  I just scrubbed the smell of pot and tobacco smoke off of me, and now I'm ready to be a mom again.  Thank goodness.  I don't belong at metal concerts.