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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Plov!!!! Americanized

We have Yulia and Jenya to thank...

Back in 2004 when we were in Kazakhstan to adopt our Tanya, our translator Yulia and our driver Jenya (who are still our dear friends) took us to a small cafe for lunch. There were various dishes on a buffet and Yulia pointed out one in particular, saying that it was a national dish much loved in Kazakhstan called plov. She cautioned me that we probably wouldn't like it; her experience with most Americans was that they rarely tried the local cuisine and when they did, they found it too different from American fare to enjoy it. I eyed the dish, a mixture of rice, meat, and veggies and thought it looked and smelled great...and it was delicious. I've loved plov ever since that first bite...and with four kids from Kazakhstan, learning to cook it was practically a must!

Plov can be made with chicken, beef, or lamb and we've tried a few different versions. Hands down, my kids like the beef version best. I make this dish at least a couple of times a month and every blessed member of the family, whether ethnic American, Kazakh, or Russian, will line up for seconds and thirds. We've tweaked the recipe a bit so I'm not sure it's very authentic these days but it's still pretty darn tasty and reminds my kids of their homeland. With thanks to my friend Yulia for introducing me to this delicacy and apologies for the tweaking of a national treasure, here's how we do plov. Be warned! This feeds our family of 7 so it's a pretty big batch.

First I heat 1/4 cup of Canola oil in a Dutch oven
Then I brown out 3 lbs of small beef cubes in the oil and add seasoning salt


Plov is all about layering. After the beef is browned, I add a layer of chopped onion (about 2 cups) with a bit more oil and brown some more. Next comes a layer of chopped carrot (about 2 cups) and a wee bit more oil on top of the beef and onion. Chopped garlic doesn't hurt either. The final layer is rice, about 12-14 cups (I like to use brown rice) which is then covered with 32 ounces of beef stock. I tuck in a couple of bay leaves, too.

Now it's ready for the oven; it stays in at 350 degrees for about an hour.

When it's done it looks like this...I stir the layers together and stand back to avoid the stampede...
5 minutes later, it looks like this...almost gone.
Not hard to make, pretty darn healthy, and very tasty. I usually serve it with a green salad or my kids' favorite Russian salad of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. It's one dish heaven in our house!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Midterm madness

Since 4 of our kids have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we really try to avoid high stress environments and triggers...but sometimes there's no way around it. Stress happens in life. When it does, this basically means our house is a pretty intense place to be for a while. Sometimes that's a really bad thing...but dealing with stress and managing PTSD is a life skill our kids (and the rest of us who live with them) have been working on for years.We've made some progress in dealing with times when the stress triggers can't be avoided.

The past week or so has been Reading Week at our kids' school. That means our 3 high schoolers have been preparing for midterm exams which began last Thursday. They have hunkered down with their teachers and reviewed study guides in class. They have brought home said study guides and enlisted Mom's help with studying some more. It's a nice concept in theory, this Reading week thing...but it also means we've been eating and breathing test anxiety stress triggers for a bit too long. Here's how we've been managing:

  • We have feverishly revisited types of cells in Biology, the Periodic Table of Elements in AP Chemistry, and the Nitrogen and Carbon cycle in Environmental Science. 
  • We have puzzled over graphing linear equations in Math and developed a collective headache
  • We have attempted to tease and torture our siblings who did not have mid-terms as a coping strategy.
  • One of us decided to reduce stress by turning a brother into an impromptu punching bag
  • We have revisited the lesson of natural consequences for unkind/unsafe actions and returned to our studies.
  • We have made notes for a character analysis essay on Lennie and George in the book Of Mice and Men
  • We have declared English stupid and just too frickin' HARD! 
  • We have reviewed characters from the book Speak which we read last fall.
  • We have thrown our pencil across the room and declared that we can't possibly remember what we read last fall.
  • We have analyzed the poem "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" and compared it to the book Speak that we read last September.
  • We have thrown up our hands and threatened to quit school because we can't possibly finish a 5-10 page paper on the Civil War in Syria for Current Events before Monday.
  • We have electronically submitted a 6 page paper on the Civil War in Syria to the Current Events teacher at 8:30 on Sunday night, complete with bibliography (Gotta love BibMe.org)
  • We have collapsed in a ball on the kitchen floor, moaning that the AP Government teacher is evil and trying to kill us.
  • We have orally reviewed all the amendments and articles of the US Constitution for AP Government...successfully.
  • We have tried hiding in our room, texting excessively, and slamming doors to avoid studying.
  • We have bemoaned the unfairness of life and midterms
  • We have made flashcards for terms and definitions for virtually every blessed concept in 9th, 11th, and 12th grade core curriculum. 
  • We have handed Mom flashcards to quiz us while simultaneously cooking, folding laundry, or driving to school. 
  •  We have thrown our study guides and flashcards in the recycling bin
  • We have calmed down, retrieved our flashcards and study guides from the recycling bin and tried again.

Today is the last day of mid-terms. The high schoolers got out of bed and girded their loins for battle. A hot breakfast of each child's preferred brain food was consumed. Loud music and lacrosse videos played on the computer to "pump us up" for the task at hand.  I heard chemistry gibberish being muttered from around a toothbrush and mumbled worries about a multiple choice exam on lipids, carbohydrates, enzymes and more. One child tried to wear her slippers to school purely for a sense of security...nice try but against school dress code...switched to cozy moccasins instead. They are done testing at 11am and will be rewarded with an early dismissal. Just minutes from now, I will drive to school and pick them up, fresh from battle and flushed with relief that the ordeal is behind them. No matter how they did on the tests, just getting it done is a victory against PTSD.

Thank God it's over...I'm ready for a rest.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Out of the mouths of teens...

I came home from grocery shopping the other day bemoaning price increases on many of our staple items. I was explaining to one of the kids why I bought 4 pounds of bananas ($.49 a pound) as opposed to our standard 4 pounds of grapes (currently $3 a pound). I also mentioned that generic frosted flakes would be on the breakfast menu instead of Tony the Tiger's brand due to price increases...and my sweet son looked at me with a puzzled expression and said this:

"But Mom, when prices go up, they increase what you get in your paycheck, right?"

I finally managed to stop laughing long enough to let him know that was not the case...he was shocked and appalled, said it wasn't fair. Yeah, tell me about it. Welcome to the wonderful world of adulthood, my son!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Birthdays and Memories

We celebrated our youngest's 15th birthday as planned and in our family tradition. There were balloons at his special seat at the dinner table. There was his requested birthday meal and cake (Kentucky Fried chicken and an ice cream cake were his choices...I threw in chicken spaghetti, pomegranates, and Russian carrot salad for good measure). After dinner, we lit the candles on his cake and sang the two birthday songs that our family always celebrates with. Then he opened his gifts from his sibs and Mom and Dad. Before the actual day, he checked the mail regularly to see if there were birthday cards from family and was thrilled about the cash gifts he received...asked me to help him tell Grandma and his aunts and uncles thanks from him.

As for me, I just kept thinking about all the birthdays he had with none of those little traditions...no parties or presents, no cake, no special treatment in the orphanage. He came to us at age 11...we've had just a few short years to make up for all the missed birthdays, to give him a sense of belonging, a real family...and now he knows just what will happen on his birthday...and that it will be his special day. My hope is that he will carry these memories and traditions in his heart for the rest of his life. I hope the memories help him to realize that whatever his life was like before he came to us, he is here now and he is much loved.

Never forget, my boy, we chose you to be our son....and we're so glad you agreed to be a part of our family! Happy birthday, sweet boy!!

Cake and presents...

Don't you love these smiles?

A personal DVD player and some movies, too!

His own beanbag chair...perfect for TV and videogames!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Status report

Christmas tree??

 Still up but it has only lights, no decorations. (I packed away the sparklies and treasures today while the kids were at school) Kate says it's naked with just lights. I made a case for returning to its natural state...

Aniyar's bday is tomorrow. My baby is turning 15...going on younger but that's just fine. He's requested Kentucky Fried Chicken for his birthday dinner....huh???...but Dad did a web search and will bring home a KFC couch gating game day meal for our boy. Marketing is a curse...but our boy will be thrilled. Special boy, special effort...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shhh...don't tell anyone

I have a confession. I'm having trouble letting go of my Christmas spirit. The stockings are still hung by the chimney...the wreaths and garlands still festoon the doors and mantel...and our Christmas tree is still up and shining brightly. At first, I said we were waiting for
Новогодний, New Year's Day being the big holiday our kids celebrated instead of Christmas in Kazakhstan. Then I said we were leaving the tree up until Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7th...since 2 of our kids are of Russian heritage, that works, right? Now it's just too darn busy around here with everyone back to school and work...wonder if I can make a case for leaving the tree up until Nauryz Meyrami (Persian New Year)? It's a huge holiday in Kazakhstan...and it's on March 21 this year. That might give me enough time to get the job done, right?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We finished our holidays with snow and ice

The cherubs had a long break from school, are just returning to classes today...so we decided to use the last few days of their freedom for a final blast of fun before returning to the grind. We headed to our condo in New Hampshire for some of our favorite activities. There was swimming in the rec center, movies in town, and lots of hot chocolate and winter sports. Best of all, no major drama or problems with any of our kids. Our boy did well in spite of the lack of structure that often triggers his PTSD and bipolar disorder...he spent hours in the pool which is a great stress reducer for him. Our youngest enjoyed the pool and some sledding but he was most excited about the new WiFi access that has been installed in our condo building that lets him play his favorite on-line games without leaving the condo. (Woohoo! Access to the worldwide web without a walk to the rec center! To be honest, I haven't totally decided if this is an improvement or not...I've always liked the reduced screen exposure when we're on vacation...but my youngest was ecstatic.) Anyway, the weekend was a nice opportunity for everyone to do what they enjoyed most. As for me, I had fun trying out the camera in my new Samsung Galaxy SIII phone. Here are some pics I snapped to record our outdoor antics!

There was ice skating...
and ice kung fu...
followed by ice dancing.

The weather was perfect for skating...
and snow angels...
and a snowshoe hike for Mom and Dad.

My monkey made faces...

and wrote me a message in the snow.
We went night snow tubing at the local ski resort...
and warmed up at the fire pit afterwards.
One of the kids and I took a walk and stopped to write our names...
then we played snow scrabble! 

What a perfect end to our Christmas break! Sunny days in our favorite winter playground, fluffy snow that we didn't have to shovel, lots of time to simply enjoy it instead. We're back home now and settling into our regular routine once more...but the memories of the fun we had with our kids will keep me energized for a while to come.