Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

While my kids may refuse to eat soup, they will never turn down a plate of pasta. Nobody in this house would dare look away from a bowl of hot, glorious, Parmesan cheese-covered carbs. Penne, angel hair, fettuccini, orecchietti, linguine, tagliatelle, tortellini, ravioli. We may not claim a drop of Italian blood but when it comes to pasta we are all in.

“What you make, Mommy?” Nolan asks every night while I cook dinner. I guarantee that when I show him a pot full of boiling pasta he does a big dance, smacks his lips, and screams, “Pasta! Yay! Nummy nummy num num num!” If you haven’t caught on by now, subtle this kid is not.

Basically what I’m saying is, if you want to be a hero in my house at dinnertime, make pasta.

And pasta and I get along just fine. I make a pretty good plate of pasta if I do say so myself. This specific dish came about because Tyson once ordered something similar from one of our favorite restaurants in Madison. I snuck a couple bites of the deliciousness before my wheels started turning and I thought, “Hey...I could make that…”

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I should clarify here that I’m good at making pasta in a pretty lazy way. The weeknight way. I’m not talking about rolling out my own pasta here (though I would love to tackle homemade pasta sometime very soon). I’m talking about getting pasta on the table for dinner because people are hungry and I need something simple that’s going to taste good.

The addition of sausage in this dish catches the attention of the boys. Broccoli delights all three of my kids, who have yet to catch on to that whole “kids don’t like broccoli” thing. (Don’t worry, they still quickly and happily reject Brussels sprouts, white potatoes in all but French fry form, and whatever fruit I’ve currently stocked up on because it was their favorite last week.)

It’s quick enough for a weeknight - on the table in less than 30 minutes - yet delicious enough to make for guests. There’s enough here for lunchtime leftovers the next day, especially if you serve it with a Caesar salad on the side. It’s nothing revolutionary, yet this has been in my meal planning rotation for years now and it’s not going anywhere. Possibly ever.

A simple, yummy, dish with the possibility of leftovers on the table in the month of December in 30 minutes or less? And all the parents said, “Amen.”

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I prefer to use gemelli or orecchietti here, though you can use any medium to small-ish sized pasta. Penne would also work, as would rotini. And if you can get your hands on some broccolini to sub for the broccoli (and you’re cooking for adults or there’s the chance your kids will eat it), the bitterness adds a nice contrast to the cream sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 16-oz. box pasta

  • 3 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 8 cloves garlic, don’t be shy here

  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped

  • 1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3 Tbsp. dried basil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions.

  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to skillet. Add sausage and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up and crumbling until browned. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add broccoli and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute more. Add chicken stock and cover skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.

  • Add pasta to skillet and toss well. Add cream and stir to coat. I err on the 1/2 cup or sometimes more side here - until everything is well-coated. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan and watch smugly as your kids gobble it up.

If Only (On Changing the Story in My Head)

It was 4:45 pm on the Friday of a week Tyson was out-of-town. The ultimate witching hour. He wasn’t due back until morning. It had been a long week. (Understatement.) It had been 45 minutes of gritting my teeth and summoning every ounce of patience left in my body. The living room had more LEGOs visible than actual floor, though that wasn’t the issue giving me dental problems. What set my teeth on edge was Nolan, once again displaying his full 2 ½ years of age as he attempted to tear apart every creation his brother and sister made.

“Don’t touch. Look with your eyes,” I said on repeat. I attempted to engage him in building his own tower over and over again. He’d been sent to time out once already for destroying Caden’s Batcave handiwork.

I had just taken a two-minute break to order dinner - take-out from our favorite Thai place for a Friday night win - when Nolan Godzilla-stomped Caden’s LEGO masterpiece yet again.

“NOPE,” I barked, and plopped him on the bottom step for another timeout. Caden and Brooklyn gathered up the pieces and continued playing. I figured a timeout would buy me the two minutes I needed to gather up my wallet, keys, and phone so we could run out the door to pick up our dinner. Nolan had other ideas. He bolted up the steps and I dashed after him, enraged. He laughed as he ran and that only made me angrier; I wasn’t playing, this was no game.

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If only he were a little older. If only his inner being weren’t so set on destruction. If only he could keep his hands to himself. If only he could play nicely for once. If only I could complete a simple two-minute task without everything falling apart.

It happened suddenly. He tripped, three steps from the top, falling and slamming his mouth into the edge of a step. Instant wail. Instant blood. Everywhere.

I picked him up and carried him to the nearby bathroom, ripped off his bloodstained shirt and set him in the sink, pants and underwear be damned. I found a washcloth and soaked it with cold water, told him to bite down on the washcloth as the blood gushing continued, which turned the white sink pink.

His wailing continued as tears sprung to my eyes. I still didn’t know what was wrong - had he knocked out a tooth? - as he sobbed and heaved up another gush of blood. With the blood running down his stomach, a bath was imminent, so I whipped around to run water in the tub behind us. This made the crime-scene that was my bathroom complete. He managed to create two tiny bloody handprints on the shower as blood ran down his arms. Water pooled around him, swirled with red, and I finally saw what happened: he’d hit the top step so hard that his front, top tooth had been noticeably shoved up into his gum, combined with a pretty good bite to the lower lip.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry,” I breathed as I hunched over the tub, my lower back pinched in pain as I continued to alternately sponge him off and help him bite down again on the cool washcloth. It was part prayer, part apology, part liturgy.

+++++

Failure, my mind hissed at me 15 minutes later as we all drove to get our (now probably cold) Thai food. Nolan had calmed down enough to consent to ride for the five-minute drive in the car. He was silent; his mouth was swollen and puffy. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, though I was pretty sure he didn’t need immediate medical attention. I was using this drive to think and create a plan. And in the meantime, we all needed to eat.

If only you hadn’t put him in timeout. If only you’d disciplined him in a different way. If only you’d gotten them ready to leave instead of disciplining him at all. If only you hadn’t chased him up the stairs. If only you hadn’t been so angry. If only his nice, even teeth weren’t ruined. If only. If only. If only.

My mind told me these things over and over again, these accusations all layered with the crimson stamp of GUILTY.

+++++

Tyson was out for his own dinner that night when I called to give him an update on Nolan’s tooth.

“I talked to the on-call pediatric dentist while we ate dinner,” I told him, “I remembered they had an emergency number. She was super nice and even had me text her some photos.” I went on to tell him how Nolan might be in pain for a few days but we could give him Tylenol, how glad I was to have ordered Pad Thai since he could eat the soft noodles, that the dentist said the tooth might even come back down out of the gum on its own over time, that the tooth could eventually die and discolor but it wasn’t a huge deal since it was a baby tooth.

“But I feel so bad!” I continued, those pesky tears pricking at my eyes again, “I chased after him. In anger. I was so mad and frustrated and I feel like I made him fall. It’s my fault.”

“It’s not your fault, you’re still a good mom,” Tyson assured me. “I’m so impressed. I can’t believe you did all that on your own. You got them all dinner and fed them and took care of Nolan. You thought to even call the dentist and managed to text her pictures and cleaned up the bathroom. All by yourself. That’s amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to do all that.”

I paused. Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

The negative labels come so much quicker to my brain: failure, awful, incompetent, not good enough to be a mother, sinner. The timeout, the chase, the fall, the blood, the tears, the mess, the guilt. You chased him. You were angry. You made this happen. It’s your fault. All yours.

What about the positives? I have to dig for those. My brain is more prone to condemnation than to praise.

For 45-minutes we played with LEGOs. I was patient.
I had the foresight to order take-out to relieve the stress of what had been a long week. I practiced self-care.
I was able to console Nolan after the accident and clean his wound. I was his comfort.
I served up plates of food to all four of us and we all had full bellies. I fed my family.
I remembered the on-call dentist and was able to both make a phone call and send photos during the course of our meal. I was resourceful.
I turned the TV on after dinner so I could put away the take-out containers in the kitchen and bleach-out the bathroom while everyone took a much-needed breather. Okay, this was just a no-brainer.
I rinsed blood stains out of the sink and put Nolan’s clothes and my own stained cotton sweater to soak. We’ll call this one foresight.
We snuggled on the couch and settled into a fairly uneventful bedtime routine. I re-connected with my children.

I did all of that. Me, myself. All the things. I had a flash of anger, yes. That aside, I nailed it.

+++++

I rocked Nolan to sleep that night, giving him some extra-special attention before bed. The pitch dark of the early autumn night was tempered by the rotation of lit-up cartoon animals on the ceiling. His head curled up on my right shoulder as I walked him around the room in circles, the calming sound of waves crashed from the sound machine. I said our bedtime prayer. I began by thanking God I get to be Nolan’s mommy, as I always do. I asked for Nolan’s overabundance of energy to be channeled into good, into play, into being kind. I asked for Nolan’s mouth to be healed, for the pain to be relieved. I asked forgiveness for myself; for chasing after Nolan, for my anger, for another chance.

I stopped by the door of his room, pausing to do his favorite bounce back and forth. He sighed and turned his face into my chest and I could see a sleepy grin as he snuggled up into his favorite place in the world: my shoulder. Between the dim light and the fact that his face has remained virtually unchanged for the past two years (the current tooth situation notwithstanding), I felt like I was rocking baby Nolan again; he could have been two months old, or six, or fourteen.

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He’s okay. I’m okay. We’re okay.

If only I had told myself that all evening.

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

I got slammed with library holds the past couple of months - it took all I had just to try to keep up! Writing up quick reviews (ha!) this time, so I can get back to the other books loaned out to me.

  How I’ve been keeping up on reading lately: surrounded by small children, blankets, and stuffed animals during our afternoon screen time break.

How I’ve been keeping up on reading lately: surrounded by small children, blankets, and stuffed animals during our afternoon screen time break.

READ

Tell Me More
This book was so. good. Kelly Corrigan is such a wonderful storyteller, and I loved how she candidly interwove stories (by turns hilarious, sad, and serious) with the twelve words and phrases she is working to use more frequently.

The Book of Essie
I was really looking forward to reading this novel, but didn’t love it. It was easy enough to read, but I guessed virtually all of the major plot points long before they were ever officially revealed (er…surprise?). It did have a satisfying ending, in a rom-com sort of way.

The Opposite of Hate
A very interesting read given the tensions of our current political and social climate. Sally Kohn (a progressive commentator on Fox and CNN - I don’t watch the news but maybe you know of her?) walks through various expressions of hate, from childhood bullying to genocide, and wrestles with the roots of hate, racism, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Happiness
This memoir about motherhood, illness, and relationships was so beautifully written. The author’s experiences in these areas were vastly different than me own, yet I couldn’t stop reading and relating to her anyway.

Like a Mother
I would have been more fascinated by this book if I had read it during my first pregnancy. Many of the things the author discusses (how miraculous breast milk is, the fact that a fetus leaves behind cells in a mother’s body and just what the hell are they doing there anyway?) were things I already knew about, so those sorts of revelations lost their power for me. I do think this book would make a great gift for a newly pregnant or first time mom.

Inspired
Overall I loved Rachael Held Evan’s new book. The idea of looking at the Bible through the lens of storytelling — and discussing the power of storytelling itself — is such an important one. I could, however, have done without the re-telling of Biblical stories at the beginning of each chapter. They didn’t add anything to the book for me.

That Kind of Mother
I had mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed the writing and storytelling. On the other hand, some of the characters and plot (or lack of) didn’t do it for me. It was a story ripe for something to happen - white family adopts the baby of their black nanny after the nanny dies - but I don’t think it quite got there for me in the end.

A Spark of Light
I LOVE Jodi Picoult. Like, one of my top three all-time authors. I didn’t love this book. I may have known too much about the story already going in (see the podcast recs below), but IMO this was not her writing at it’s best. Also, as a book about a shooting/hostage situation, it was VERY TENSE, which may not have been the best choice of book to read in the last few days leading up to the midterm elections. #mybad

Glitter and Glue
A Kelly Corrigan memoir of her time nannying one summer in Australia. Her writing is interesting enough (though I don’t think this is a book I could ever read again - which is typically the hallmark of a great book to me), but what kept me interested was the narrative that came forward about her mother, and how getting away from her made her appreciate and understand her mother all the more.

WATCHED

Nanette
Watch it. Watch it now. And then do what I did and make your husband immediately watch it with you the next night. To say this is a comedy special does not do it justice. It’s a feminist, LGBTQ, #metoo manifesto.

Chef’s Table (Season 5)
You know I love this series. Watch it. Start at the beginning and watch it now. (Or at least after you’re done with Nannette.)

Lady Bird
We (or at least I) are not big movie people, so you know it’s a Big Freaking Deal when I list a movie on here. Tyson and I enjoyed this coming-of-age, mother-daughter-tensions, character-drive, drama-ish movie. It was up for a bunch of Oscars a couple years ago and it was free on Amazon Prime so win-win for us.

LISTENED

Pod Save America
I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned this one here before! These guys - former Obama staffers - deep dive into politics and the news of the week. I particularly enjoyed their recap this week of the midterm elections, where they had an insightful conversation on the meaning (or lack of meaning) of results on election night and the blue wave that was. (!!!)

For the Love
I’ve said before that while I love me some Jen Hatmaker, I’m not a huge fan of her podcast. That said, she had two STELLAR episodes recently. One with Kelly Corrigan, the other with Jodi Picoult. They were both chock full of wisdom nuggets on life and writing that I know I will come back to again.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Morning, Again

It’s morning. Again.

I’m thirty-one years old and it really shouldn’t surprise me that it comes every day but here we are. Dark bedroom. Warm bed. Children who serve as the most functional alarm clock I’ve ever owned.

I am decidedly not a morning person. So of course the other four people in my house are. My husband, while he’d rather not get wake-up calls quite as early as we do, still has the ability to roll over and get out of bed at the first sound of a child. Unlike me, who only has the ability to roll over into a more comfortable position. For the record, I’ve never had the ability to roll over and immediately get out of bed. Snooze buttons for the win, every time.

My three kids, once they’re awake, are instantly awake. Like, ready-to-run-a-marathon awake. While I don’t even want to string a sentence together before I’ve had about twenty minutes to wash my face, change my clothes, and take those first few sips of coffee, they are ready to be up and out into the world.

I have friends with kids of similar ages to mine who actually have to physically wake their children up in the morning. What in the actual world? This is as foreign to me as living in a place without snow on Christmas. Surely these children, these places, must be mythical. I hear that eventually, in the years of teens and preteens, this might become a thing in our house, too. But for now, they are awake. Always. Instantly. Whether the sun is shining or not, whether they’ve been up late the night before or not. Six o’clock hits and they. are. up.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Art Time

I’m a planner by nature. Always have been, always will be. My husband and I use an app to synch our family schedule and I use another one to plan our meals and create a grocery list for the week. After a two-year hiatus, I recently caved to the purchase of a beautiful, lovely, glorious paper day planner again. I’m eyeing an enormous whiteboard calendar to fill a wall in our kitchen, to help with the question my kids ask every morning at breakfast, “Where are we going today?” Bedtime, nap time, quiet time, and wake-up time are all coordinated by the Okay to Wake clocks in each kid’s bedroom. (Well...maybe those times aren’t quite as carefully coordinated as I would like them to be.)

So it should come as no surprise to you that as a stay-at-home mom I’ve given a similar structure to the planning of our days. I thrive on routine and my own kids, like most kids, do too. They anticipate the ordering of our days: wake-up, breakfast, get ready, preschool or other activity outside the house, lunch, nap and quiet time, screen time, snack time, playtime, dinner, clean up, pajamas, bed.

Afternoon playtime can be the longest and most tedious part of our day. With a two-year old who caps out at a 60-minute nap and twin four-year olds who don’t really nap anymore, the afternoon hours from 2-5 pm can drag on as we all go slightly stir-crazy from the close proximity to each other. In the summer we find relief in gathering with neighborhood friends to go run around outside, burn off all that energy, and splash in the pool until it’s time to prep dinner. It’s these cooler months, the ones that have all too soon arrived this year, that really take a toll.

Enter: art time. Four o’clock is art hour at our house. Despite the name, it’s nothing too creative. Nothing too novel. Come 4:00 pm, whatever we’re doing, I stop and call out “It’s art time!”

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!