Category Archives: stepmom

Tacos à la Shiela


Quintessential childhood foods.

As adults looking back, we often wonder, how in the world did my folks think it was ok to feed me that? Or why did I think that tasted so good? But they did and we did and we grew up healthy and happy, right? Well adjusted adults–regardless of the fried spam sandwiches and spaghettios.

Chef Boyardee. Campbell’s. Tony the Tiger. Squeeze its and Capri Suns. Push pops. Ring pops. Pudding cups. Most of it highly processed. Loaded with sugar, salt, fat, and gimmicks.

We survived, though–and I try my hardest to give the kids wholesome foods–hoping that those recipes will be quintessential for them when they reflect as adults.

And then sometimes, like tonight, I hearken back to a simple time–a time when it was perfectly acceptable to include cheese whiz in a recipe and feed it to your family. Tonight, I make tacos à la Shiela.

Shiela is my dad’s sister–and for all intents and purposes, she is my mom. The best memories of my childhood were with her–and some of my earliest and strongest food memories are with her as well. These tacos are simple, addictive, and trashy. Cheese whiz, browned and drained hamburger, and a can of rinsed kidney beans. Mix it all together, throw into a taco shell along with your regular cast of taco characters and you’ll have something that is salty, gooey, creamy, and crunchy. The best guilty pleasure I can think of. And now I get to share it with my family. I’d have taken a picture of it cooked, but it’s equal parts brown and gloppy–not exactly the most photogenic dish.


In other news, we are making garlic and onion wine tonight. Super excited!



A Day of Pizza


I am really going all out with pizza today. But not in the traditional sense.  I am taking the expected ingredients–marinara, cheese, and pepperoni–and using them in strange ways. First up this afternoon was pizza biscuits. I took the regular whomp biscuits, cut slits into them, and slipped in a spoonful of marinara sauce, spoonful of ranch sauce (why not?!), a pepperoni or two, and a large pinch of cheese. Then I sealed up the edges and baked them like normal biscuits. Henry said: Can you make these always forever? (not the child, the adult).  Needless to say, they were a hit.

Tonight, I am turning those same ingredients into Pizza Pasta. Here’s the breakdown.


  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta, your choice of style. I used penne.
  • some meat sauce I had in the freezer. Several cups? Use however much you’d normally use for a pound of pasta.
  • 1/2 cup ranch mixed with 1/2 cup ricotta
  • Grated cheese
  • Pepperonis


1.  Boil the pasta, but do not cook it all the way. Leave it a little raw. It will continue to cook in the oven.

2.  Layer the pasta down on some meat sauce in a baking dish. Half of the pasta goes down. Put down a sprinkle of cheese and all of the ricotta/ranch mixture. Then add the second half of the pasta, and the meat sauce on top of that. Then more cheese, and then your pepperonis.

3.  Bake it at 425 until it’s done. 30-45 minutes, I think. 

pizza pasta

Giada’s Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops with Bobby’s Greek Potatoes (and pie!)

Giada’s Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops with Bobby’s Greek Potatoes (and pie!)

This afternoon, I tried to drink a slimfast. The three year old slowly came towards me, licking his lips: “Is that called chocolate milk, Jenn?” He whimpered and crept closer.  I took a drink. He eyeballed me. The six year old corrected him: “No! It has protein. It makes Jenn strong.”

I just sat there and wondered if it would be ok to lock myself in my bedroom for the rest of the day.

Instead of running away for the rest of the afternoon, we took the kids to the park to play.  We amassed a snail army, ate blackberries we found, and took turns down the fireman’s pole.  and when we got home, I made Parmesan crusted pork chops, Greek potatoes, green beans, and a fairy pie (also known as a raspberry lemon refrigerator pie).


The kids wolfed it down. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Recipes are linked above. Changes I made were minimal. I added frozen raspberries to the pie to make it pink and that was about it.



Sometimes I’m a gourmet–and sometimes I write on the kids’ grilled cheese sandwiches with easy cheese

Sometimes I’m a gourmet–and sometimes I write on the kids’ grilled cheese sandwiches with easy cheese

You never know the depth or breadth of your stress and emotional triggers until you are crying over a burnt grilled cheese sandwich.

Tonight, I needed to make an easy dinner. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is that simple, satisfying meal that the kids and I both love. I set out punching geometrical shapes into the bread for their sandwiches. I toasted them. Dished up the soup. Had a flash of silliness–and I found the easy cheese in the cupboard. I wrote their initials into their sandwiches and arranged them on plates. I announced “Annabel’s restaurant is open,” which is the nightly dinner bell in our house.

I turned to show them their cheesy initials and in those 20 seconds, I burned my husband’s sandwich. And I cried. Moments from my childhood flashed through my mind–pressure, stress, cruelty at the hands of a cold, distant mother. Failure. I am not cut out for this. I am a bad wife and parent.  Crazy flooded my mind and I blinked and blinked until I couldn’t blink anymore and tears dumped in wet, sloppy puddles on my cheeks. Henry’s eyes flashed irritated and I reddened in frustration, emotion, and shame. The adrenaline of anxiety had taken oven and all I could do was ride the wave.

Reflecting now, I understand that even when the kids aren’t interested in my dinner, or a dinner ends up in the garbage, I am my own worst critic. The kids dance and laugh and hug me all evening. The husband thanks me and runs his fingers through my hair. And in a loop–like a scratched record–I hear my mother’s voice in my head. Until I take the time to let the little voices laughing drown it out. You cannot cry for long when a three year old is raising his eyebrows at you and winking.

How to cook for small children: a case study


The first meal I made for the kids was smothered pork chops. I coated lean pork chops in flour, seasoned with Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, and sage. Then I browned them in butter on both sides, moved them to a plate, made gravy in the pan I took them from, and then slid the pork into the gravy once it thickened. They loved it–I remember the six year old saying: “Jenn, I love your chicken!” I started to say: “That’s por–” Then Henry cut me off. “Say it’s chicken,” he said under his breath. From that day forward, I learned that feeding these kids involves a lot of fibbing.

Once I got confident in feeding them meals they’d actually eat, I’d start hearing: Well, Mommy cooks it this way…or Grandma does this…and then all of my new found confidence would disappear, leaving me like a deflated balloon. But I kept trying. For six months, I made them a different kind of muffin each week for breakfast. Cherry walnut, peach pie chia muffins–you name it, I tried it. And when I got home from work each day, I’d walk into the kitchen, where they ate, and step on the dried fruit and nuts they picked out of their muffins.

I learned that these kids will put away a dozen scrambled eggs like it’s no one’s business. I also learned that they would rather have plain pancakes, which they will eat by the stuffed mouthful, instead of whole wheat with blueberries.

I have learned that something they loved last month will be rejected this month. I learned that I can mature their palates by slowing introducing strange ingredients into their normal favorites. I learned that I can say: Eat it anyway.

I learned that half of their meal will inevitably end up on the floor or smeared into the seat cushions of their chairs. I have learned that if Daddy eats it, so will the three year old. i have learned that I have to give Daddy “the look” so that he takes some salad and eats it with forced cheerfulness. I have seen these kids inhale cornbread dripping with butter and honey–and feign interest in the chili just so that they get another piece of cornbread.


Pizza at Northfork Brewery

As I have learned to feed them, I have grown into this stepmommy role–and my confidence no longer hinges on whether or not they eat my dinner. Although some nights, when they turn up their noses at something EVERY OTHER PERSON IN THE WORLD WOULD EAT, I am tempted to open them up a can of dog food and go cry in my room. But that’s completely normal, right?