Monday, March 23, 2015

Saltine Toffee Bark

Do I need to convince you to make this saltine toffee bark? Okay, since we're friends and I care about you, I'll give you a few reasons:

1. You've had a long, exhausting week, and the kale chips and Greek yogurt are simply not calling out to you.

2. It's chocolaty, salty, sweet, and nutty. Basically all the taste profiles necessary to quell your snack time cravings.

3. You're in the middle of making some big, grownup decisions. Saltine toffee bark is the perfect, albeit momentary, escape.

4. Who actually likes saltine crackers? No one, because they are pretty much cardboard. That is, until you slather them in chocolate and sugar butter.

5. It's ridiculously easy to make, but when you eat it, you'll proclaim your life calling is to be a chocolatier.

Now that we're in agreement that saltine bark is now on your to-do list, let's get going.

The toffee bark comes together in a snap. Butter and sugar are boiled, and poured over saltine crackers. Bake those babies for a few minutes, then spread on the chocolate and nuts.

Then the most difficult step: WAITING. You have to wait for everything to completely cool. I won't lie, it's an excruciating discipline to refrain from immediately shoving some into your mouth. But I believe in your capacity for delayed gratification.

You'll be rewarded with delicious pieces of crunch, chocolate, toffee, and nuts that are addictive and happy-inducing. If you truly love someone, you might consider sharing some with them. Or if you decide to hoard this for yourself, I won't judge you.

Saltine Toffee Bark

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4 ounces saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips 
3/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
Coarse sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Lay crackers in a single layer.

In a small saucepan, combine butter and sugar. Bring to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes (without stirring). Immediately pour over crackers, and spread to cover crackers completely. 

Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Return to the oven for 1 minute. Remove from oven, and spread melted chocolate evenly with a spatula. Top with chopped almonds. Sprinkle sea salt, if using. 

Let sit for 20 minutes to cool, then break apart into pieces. Chill for a few hours in the freezer, then store in the fridge.

Tip: small bits and pieces should be sprinkled over ice cream.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aria's Birth

Aria's due date, March 5th, passed without event.

Days went by without any changes, and our doctor scheduled us for an appointment to induce labor on the morning of March 10th. My delivery with Alexandra was induced with pitocin, and I wasn't excited to repeat that experience, so I hoped that I'd go into labor naturally.

Around 1am that morning, I started feeling regular contractions. By the time Steve and I showed up at the hospital at 8am, contractions were pretty painful, and I knew that I was close to delivering our baby. The nurse checked, and told us that I was 6 centimeters dilated (over halfway there). To help labor along, the nurse recommended a low dose of pitocin via an IV. She asked if I wanted an epidural for the pain. After a moment of consideration, I said no. No epidural. The pain was bad, but I figured if I could do it with my two previous births, I could do it again.

Soon after receiving the pitocin, contractions came faster and stronger. Around 11am, I was asking (probably yelling, actually) if I could start pushing. When you say this to the nurse, a flurry of activity is set in motion. The doctor and aides jumped into action, setting up all their medical gear, breaking my water, and finally saying, "Okay, go for it...start pushing!"

Side note: our actual doctor was running late, and so a different doctor did the delivery. That happened with ALL three of our births.

I pushed with each of the next 3-4 contractions, and Aria came out. Healthy, calm, and alert. Steve cut her umbilical cord. She was wiped down, and wrapped up in a blanket, and handed to me.

Oh, the joy and relief and burst of love at meeting our daughter!

Her name, Aria, means "lioness," in Hebrew, and "air" in Italian (also used as a musical term for an operatic solo). A blend of strength, beauty, and nurturing. All our children have Chinese middle names, and Aria's is Li Mei, meaning "strength and beauty."

This third delivery was just as painful as my others. I fantasized about the baby just slipping out without much effort, but alas, that was not my experience. Contractions, pushing, and an episiotomy were all really rough. But in the end, I had another un-complicated, non-pain-medicated, healthy delivery, so count me grateful.

In this first week since Aria's arrival, we've had an influx of friends and family (namely, Steve's mother, who is the BEST), around to help with meals and other practical needs.

We are enamored with Aria. Aaron and Alex are adjusting to having a newborn sister - with some grace and some turmoil. Steve and I are living on less sleep and figuring out how to parent "zone defense" style.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Baby Aria Is Here!

On March 10, 2015 (5 days after her due date), Aria Li Mei Marks entered into the world!

She's a healthy newborn - loud cryer, constant eater, cat napper, and maddeningly dead set against sleeping at night.

And now we have THREE kids. The chaos just got real. We're figuring out a new normal with an infant, toddler, and 5-year-old, which feels both insane and fun.

Monday, March 2, 2015

10 Things I Learned in February

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in February:

1. Our church Bluewater Mission is bringing transformation in Honolulu through its justice restaurant, and I feel inspired by what's happening in our faith community.

2. Giving instructions to my kids is easy. The hard, long work is coaching and empowering them in their development. 

3. Curry udon. It's a thing. And it's delicious. This meal was enjoyed at Marukame Udon in Waikiki.

4. I have no guilt if I need to put aside a book that isn't compelling. There have been multiple highly-recommended books that I just couldn't connect with. So back to the library they go. Who has the time to waste on lukewarm reading experiences? Not me.

5. If you try basting your hot waffle iron with butter, your basting brush may melt. 

6. There is really no predicting the timing of our babies' births. Aaron was born the day after his due date. Alex arrived 3 weeks early. And this baby girl...well, we'll see. She is due in three days, but who knows.

7. This handbag organizer is awesome. For anyone who uses totes or other large bags, this is a truly helpful item to keep stuff organized. No more digging for lost keys in the abyss of your purse!

8. I've been storing cheese all wrong. According to this Lifehacker article, you're supposed to wrap cheese in wax paper and then a layer of plastic wrap. Apparently putting it in a plastic zip-top bag, as I've always done, is the worst. Whoops.

9. I like television dramas way more than sitcoms. After watching shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Scandal, sitcoms are really difficult for me to get into.

10. I'd rather live a life that messes with the status quo than maintain social acceptability. 

What about you? What have you been learning?

Friday, February 27, 2015

My Life in Verbs

Trying... to embrace the present moment of waiting for our little baby girl to show up. The due date is in one week, and we're pretty much good to go. We had a baby shower, have all the necessary infant gear ready, and are ready to welcome her. I waiver between fully enjoying our last moments as a family of 4, and getting antsy for the baby to arrive. 

Finding... some brief moments of writing inspiration. It's been a while since I sat down with my book manuscripts, but I've recently come back to a few of them to do some tinkering. 

Feeling... so tired all the time. I'm carrying 35 pounds of extra weight, and feel like a mama bear ready to hibernate. 

Wondering... if I want to participate in the 100-Day Project. I'm intrigued by the idea of creating something in bite-sized pieces and documenting it for 100 days. Crazy? Maybe. I need to think about what my actual project will be. It starts on April 6th - anyone else want to join me?

Loving... that we are surrounded by family and friends who offer so much love and support. People keep volunteering to babysit, offer help when the baby arrives, and generally remind us that we are not made to do life alone. 

Reading... Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a compelling look at the isolation, social maneuverings, and trauma of a high school girl. I'm also reading a devotional guide Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker, which is perfect for this season of engaging with God in the midst of parenting.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Of the many things I miss about living in Los Angeles, my home of 15 years, Mexican food is near the top of the list. In a 1-mile radius from our LA house, there were probably at least 30 Mexican eateries, food trucks, and street vendors. Here in Honolulu, despite what some people may claim, there is frankly no good, authentic Mexican food. So I've been seeking out recipes of our favorites, like carnitas.

Pork carnitas is a tender, flavorful pork that is traditionally braised or simmered for a long period. This super simple version is cooked in a slow cooker, resulting in a juicy, flavorful pork that is then shredded. The meat can then be used in tacos, burritos, or tamales. We served ours taco-truck-style, over warm corn tortillas and topped with cilantro, diced onion, lime wedges, and a side of refried beans. They were delicious, and satisfied my Mexican food craving (at least for the moment).

Slow Cooker Carnitas

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4 pounds pork shoulder
Salt and pepper
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, cut in half

Place pork in slow cooker, and salt and pepper the meat liberally. In a small bowl, mix the oregano, cumin, and olive oil, and rub mixture all over pork. Squeeze juice from the lime halves. Add the onion, garlic, and lime halves. Cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4 hours. 

Once the meat is tender, remove from the slow cooker and let cool slightly before pulling apart with a fork. Preheat oven to broil. Place carnitas on a foil-lined pan, and broil until crisp and crusted, about 4-5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10 people. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love Is...

While sipping my lukewarm coffee and hoping my daughter takes a long nap today, I think for a moment about Valentine's Day. My first thought: Thank heavens my kid's kindergarden class doesn't require cupcakes or homemade Valentine's. My second thought: I wonder how to celebrate, reflect, and expand love today. 

I'm not that interested in receiving chocolates or a teddy bear holding a heart from my husband. I'm celebrating Valentine's Day by pouring love into people around me. And embracing the ways I am experiencing love. 

Love is taking a deep, long breath while my two kids fight over a toy for the twentieth time, and embracing another moment to teach them about kindness.

Love is connecting with a friend who is struggling through depression and fatigue, and hoping and persevering with her. 

Love is cooking dinner for our family, and keeping our nightly ritual of eating together. Even if it's a brief moment that is shared over a meal of chicken nuggets, it's still something good. 

Love is my unborn baby squirming in my stomach, and feeling such gratitude and awe for this little person. She's being welcomed into a very love-abundant family. 

Love is my sister-in-law texting me to recommend a book to me, and asking how I'm doing. We're an ocean and timezone apart, but our friendship still thrives and I'm thankful for her. 

Love is my toddler snuggling up to me, requesting to read Elephant and Piggie again. As I read it to her, I make sure to deliver the dialogue with gusto that would make my drama teacher proud. After I finish, I breathe in my daughter's scent and mentally capture this passing moment. 

Love is rounding up another load of laundry into the washing machine so our family has clean clothes to wear. 

Love is listening intently to my son as he talks about his favorite part of his day (getting a cookie) and his least favorite part of his day (when Kyle bothered him in the lunch line). 

Love is enjoying a tear-inducing, belly-aching laugh with my husband before we drift off to sleep. 

I may not be "celebraing Valentine's Day" this weekend, but I am celebrating the abundance of love that is coursing through my life.