Archive for the 'Been there, done that (experience, not just advice)' Category


Fall and Winter is birthday season in my family.  Between November and February, all of us celebrate our birthdays.  This year, my girls turned 16 and 13, so each has their own special significance.  For my 16 year-old, her girlfriends threw a surprise party, which my ex helped plan.  I split the cost of the present and the meal, and baked and decorated the cake.  It was a wonderful day, and everyone worked hard to make it a special evening.  My youngest is turning 13 this weekend, and she’ll be in New York with my former in-laws.  She is very close with her cousins and is going to see a show on Broadway.

We are very close and I’m going to miss her.  But I also know that this birthday, like all birthdays, is about her, not me.  I will celebrate her birthdaywith her next week when we go on vacation together with my family.  So she shouldn’t feel bad, and neither should I.  But that’s not how these kinds of things work out for many families. 

Our family is no model of how get divorced, but I try to remember who I am compromising for and how the alternative worked. 

So my contribution today is the Tunnel of Fudge: a wonderful cake from my childhood that has been “reengineered” by the Cook’s Country Test Kitchen.  For us, it was the ideal “not quite a birthday cake.” My view is that you can get a lot of great baked goods at the store, so if you are going to go to the trouble at home, it better be worth it.  Cake and box isn’t better than cake from a bakery, so it doesn’t make it into my house any more.

I don’t recommend a lot of baking here, since it is a site for beginners and baking from scratch often requires technique that is not ideally communicated in writing.  This cake takes time, mostly waiting for things to cool, but it can be mixed with a standing mixer, a hand mixer, or just a whisk and a spoon.  There’s no folding, no kneading, and no egg whites.  It is virtually idiot-proof.  The only trick is allowing enough time for the cake to cool so it comes out of the Bundt pan in one piece.  It also requires having the right ingredients, so a trip to the grocery store may be in order.  Rather than making the icing, I’d suggest warm hot fudge or Hersey’s chocolate sauce on top.  It is also amazing with vanilla ice cream, which I’m quite sure is how they serve it in heaven!


Stormy Monday Blues

Why has no one ever written a song about how much they love Monday mornings? If you’re a single Dad with kids in school, you probably have no idea either.  Shifting from the pace of the weekend, even with a schedule packed with soccer games, parties and mall outings, to the blur of activity between my 5:30 alarm and the car line,  I can hear Eric Clapton belting out the line “Lord, have mercy! Lord have mercy on me” as I sit here. 

The trick to getting showered, shaved and ready for my day, waking up the kids, preparing their breakfast and lunch, and getting them into the car on time to drive across town and sit in the car line without a meltdown by anyone, especially me, is planning. Remember the 5 P’s of parenting:  Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  With that in mind, here’s how I navigate through the typical Monday morning.

5:00 am – My alarm goes off.  I do not hit the snooze button, since I know that the real name of the button is “Have a Lousy Day”.

5:05 am – In the kitchen making coffee.  I’m going to need all of the help I can get, so I take my vitamins and make my own breakfast.  I also do about ten minutes of prayer and meditation to start my day.  Please remember to place the mask on yourself before assisting others.

5:30 am – Feed and walk the dog.  This is my morning workout.  If I don’t do it now, neither of us get to it later. 

6:00 am – I take my shower, shave and brush my teeth before first reveille for the kids.  This way, if the schedule gets thrown, I’m still ready.  See airline safety card instructions again, if you have further questions.

6:30 am – I wake up my oldest daughter.  She has claimed first dibs on the shower and I don’t interfere with negotiated settlements between competing nations and teenage girls.

6:31 am – I start making the kids lunches.  Each bag gets an ice-pack, a back of crackers, a dessert-like substance in a foil wrapper and a piece of fruit. 

6:35 am – I wake my oldest daughter again. I am told she is already up though she hasn’t moved yet.  I am not told this in the same tone that I was greeted at door when she was 5.  Let’s just leave it there.

6:36 am – Back to lunches.  Each girl gets a water bottle and a sandwich, or something like it.  Whenever we order pizza, I get an extra one, and individually wrap and freeze each piece.  The frozen pizza in a lunch bag defrosts by noon.  They also like fluffer-nutter sandwiches (recipe to follow soon), peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese and cucumber, and cheese quesadillas (recipe to follow as well).  Since cold cereal is always an option, and I only make eggs or pancakes if we are well ahead of schedule, I do lunch first, breakfast later.  Hot lunch days (when the kids eat the cafeteria lunch) are also good days for a hot breakfast.

6:40 am – Wake my oldest daughter again.  She is not grateful that I have her back on this one, but the third time is often the trick.

6:41 am – Continue making lunches.

6:45 am – Wake my youngest daughter.

6:46 am – Lay out breakfast.  I set up bowls for cereal, spoons, napkins, juice, and dry cereal. They get the milk and cereal themselves.  In the future, I will walk us through making a hot breakfast in 7 minutes.

6:49 am – Tell my youngest daughter that she is late.  (She is not, but the fear stimulates adrenalin production and she is out of bed in about 60 seconds).

The nine minute lag between wake up times allows for the fact that the girls share a bathroom, and a 16 year old takes longer to get ready for school than a 13 year old.  Adjustments in timing to be determined later.

7:10 am – Everyone is done with breakfast and have their backpacks ready to go.  By 7:15, we are off the driveway with plenty of time to make first bell, even with a little traffic.

7:15 am – I wake up.  It WAS a dream.  I hit the damn snooze button!  I shout at the top of my lungs, GET OUT OF BED, WE’RE LATE.

“They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad. Wednesday’s even worse.  And Thursday’s oh so sad.”

Friday Night at the Grocery Store

So you have the kids for the weekend and you’ve just finished a long week at work.  You meant to get to the grocery store last night, but you had to work late.  If you go now, your ex will have fed the kids and you’ll be putting them to bed.  They’ll be tired, angry at both you and your ex, and not in the mood to like anything you make, even if you had food in the house and time to cook it.  You’ll also have a problem in the morning:  no breakfast and they’ll get up first.  This scenario is easy to fall into and ensures that you are behind the Eight Ball all weekend.  So despite the title, my recommendation is the perfect dinner to make for the Friday night is reservations.  Seriously, transition nights suck and transition mornings, the first morning waking up after switching to your house, isn’t a helluva lot better.  This is the perfect night to go out to dinner, but no dessert.  On the way home, stop at the grocery store, and buy dessert there, or better yet, buy the ingredients to make your own at home.  The kids, having just been fed, will be much easier to shop with, as will you, and the delay to make dessert, if that’s what you do, will be much more manageable.

This list will get you started with what you need for your first weekend with the kids.  Over the next two days, you’re going to make two breakfasts, two lunches and at least one dinner, plus dessert.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Half gallon of milk.  2% is a good choice for cooking and cereal, but get whatever they are used to if they have a preference.
  • Half gallon of Orange Juice.  Make sure you know if they like “lots of pulp”, “some pulp” or “no pulp.”
  • Apple or grape juice, if that’s what they like
  • Hot cocoa mix in single serving packets, if it’s Fall or Winter
  • A French or Italian baguette bread
  • A loaf of white bread.  If your kids have a more sophisticated pallette, go for the grain, but most American children keep it real simple.
  • Hamburger meat.  Get 85-15 (85 percent meat, 15 percent fat) or 90-10.  If it’s too lean it won’t taste good.  You’ll need atleast two pounds, one for spaghetti sauce and one for burgers.
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Head of Garlic
  • One dozen large eggs (most recipes call for large eggs, so stick with the standard size)
  • One pound of unsalted butter (four sticks in a box)
  • Cream cheese
  • One Cucumber
  • Three tomatoes
  • A half-dozen apples
  • A half-dozen bananas
  • Bag of romaine lettuce, pre-cut and pre-washed
  • Caesar salad croutons in a resealable bag
  • Caesar salad dressing (Newman’s Own and Cardini’s are both excellent)
  • Ranch dressing
  • Nestle Toll House cookie dough, sold in a tub in the refrigerator section.
  • Cereal that they pick out.  Let each child pick out his or her own box.  Get one for yourself.
  • Three bottles of Marinara Sauce.  We’ll make our own later, but for now, a good bottled brand like Newman’s Own or Prego will get you started and it’s always good to have a couple of extras on hand.
  • Peanut Butter (smooth or crunchy, depending on what they like)
  • Jelly (ask them what flavor and brand they like)
  • Cream of Tomato Soup (one small can per person)
  • Potato Chips
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Hot Fudge
  • Hershey’s chocolate bar (3)
  • Graham Crackers
  • Fluff
  • Bag of large marshmallows.
  • Whipped Cream in a can.
  • Sliced American Cheese, or mild Cheddar, if they like it.
  • Hamburger Potato rolls
  • Spices: Italian Seasoning, Steakhouse, Cinnamon. I’ll recommend other spices later.
  • Bag of Sugar (granulated)
  • Bag of Flour (all purpose, unbleached)

Keep moving down the aisles.  Kids bet bored fast and it’s as easy to get lost in the grocery store as it is in the hardware store!  Now that you have the basics, you can keep a simple list in the kitchen of stuff you run out of or decide you want to add.  So next time, it should cost half as much and take half the time.  Well, it should anyway.

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