Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

Lighter General Tso’s Chicken (gluten free)


In the interest of full disclosure:

1) This is NOT my recipe. I found it on Kitchen Simplicity and that blogger adapted it from Martha Stewart. But I thought it looked yummy and I had every thing on hand to give it a try last night (that never happens).

2) This tastes very little like General Tso’s that you find in a Chinese restaurant. BUT I think after playing around with the sauce it could get there if you wanted it to…I personally liked it despite its very distant relationship to what I think of as General Tso’s and think with a little sriracha in the sauce it could be a favorite. (I left the heat out so that the kids would eat it. HA! Like the spice is the reason they would turn it down. They just refuse to eat to torment me.)

3) I’m always encouraging you to use fresh, real ingredients.  (Walk away from the garlic powder! Go buy a bulb!) Don’t tell Martha, but I don’t like fresh ginger. It tastes like I’m eating flowers.  So I used powdered out of my spice cabinet. Use the fresh if you like it – if not, go with the stuff in the jar. I  won’t yell at you.  But if Martha finds out, you are on your own. Biotch has been to prison – I’m not telling her fresh ginger is gross.

Lighter “General Tso’s” Chicken

For the chicken:

1 lb chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces

1/2 cup Egg Beaters (or 2 egg whites)

3 Tbl cornstarch

Salt & Pepper

Couple of tablespoons of oil

Whisk the egg beaters, cornstarch, salt and pepper until smooth.  Add the chicken and stir to coat. Heat a pan (med-medium high) with a tablespoon or 2 of olive or vegetable oil.  Once the pan is hot, add the chicken pieces one at a time. If you put them all in together, they all form 1 large chicken pancake. (Notice in picture – there isn’t much oil – you aren’t deep frying the chicken.)

Cook on both sides until done. Remove from pan. Repeat if necessary – I did 2 pans full of chicken pieces.

I’ve never done chicken this way before but it was an easy/less horrible for you way to get chicken with a little coating on it. I see this being the basis of some other chicken dishes in the future.

For the Veggies & Sauce:

2 Cups fresh broccoli, snow peas, carrots, etc – whatever you have on hand and like in stir fry dishes (I used broccoli…the original recipe used snow peas – next time I will use a mixture)

1 T cornstarch

1/2 cup cold water

4 cloves garlic

3 green onions, sliced

2 tsp ginger

3 Tbl brown sugar

3 Tbl Tamari (check the brand to be sure of it being gluten free)  or regular soy sauce if you don’t have a gluten issue

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or Sraracha or other source of spice to give it some kick) – I left this out for the kids. It was still good but I like the spice!

Mix the corn starch and the water. (Always use cold/cool liquid to mix cornstarch or you get lumps.) Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.  Toss you veggies in your hot pan (you’ve taken the chicken pieces out so it is hot but empty).  Pour the sauce over the veggies and stir fry until veggies are nearing done.  Add chicken back in and stir to coat with sauce.  (My sauce got too thick too quickly and I added a little more water to the pan to loosen it up.)

The chicken was moist and yummy.  The sauce was nice without being the gooey overly sweet stuff I get from the take out joint (don’t get me wrong, love me some General Tso’s now and then).  I served it over brown rice – quinoa would also be good.  Verdict: I really liked it. The girls didn’t hate it but didn’t really eat it – par for the course these days.

posted under food | 2 Comments »

Can we just go already?


The girls weren’t quite as cooperative with the photos on day 2 of school.

They both had a great second day. And both were complete cranks for most of the afternoon and evening. Hopefully, they will get used to the schedule soon.

And the car rider line at Sabrina’s elementary school is almost awful enough to convince me to let her ride the bus. But she just seems too little to navigate the bus!

posted under family | 3 Comments »

A love affair


I love office supplies. When my mom finds a great brand of pen, she emails me to tell me about it. I’m the dork in the office who uses funky colored paper clips bought at her own expense instead of the standard boring silver ones provided. When I quit working, I was still using a paper and pen calendar because I loved my pretty red leather Franklin Covey organizer too much to give it up for an electronic gadget.  (Although my mom now uses a pretty system, also paper based, that I covet because it is so pretty.) My desk was always stocked with a large pencil cup (always a large OU mug – gotta represent for my alma mater), well out of the reach of “borrowing” fingers, jammed full of fun pens and pencils in every shade.  I only signed things in black ink when it was absolutely required. I kept a smaller cup filled with stolen hotel and drug rep pens for other people to use. There were always a variety of note pads in easy reach – some had cute shapes, some cute sayings, and some had pretty designs but they all made me smile.

When I was in school, the best day was the first day of school (okay, that is a lie…the last day was the best day but the first day was a close second). I picked out all of my school supplies with care.  I loved organizing my new supplies whether they be a big new box of crayons, pencils, scissors, and glue in the prettiest pencil box I could find or a few years later my super cool purple trapper keeper in my red Jordache messenger style book bag. I just made me happy to see all of those pretty supplies which seemed to hold so much potential at the beginning of each year.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: my daughter’s kindergarten class is likely using the Communist Manifesto starring Dick and Jane for a reading primer.  I was given this extensive and very specific (colors and brands and sizes) list of items I was required to purchase for her.  I was rather taken aback – would they really use 5 boxes of crayons (Crayola, 24 ct) and 9 glue sticks (Elmers, .77 ozs) and 24 pencils (Ticonderoga, sharpened) over the course of the year? After spending over $100 when I added in a lunch box and back pack, I had the required items.  Then I learned that she wouldn’t even get to use the items I purchased.  Everything goes into a community basket in the classroom.  The only items she can claim ownership of are her backpack and lunch box.

While my little bleeding social worker heart is happy that if a family is unable to afford all of the items on the list that child will never feel inferior because we all bought more than was needed and pooled it all together, my office supply loving self is sad that Sabrina doesn’t know the fun of lining up her new supplies and looking at them daily in anticipation of the beginning of the new year.  The list seemed excessive and the lack of ownership seems to encourage a lack of love and respect for the supplies.  I guess she will have to console herself with the new box of 64 crayons (sharpener included) I bought myself her to use here at home.

posted under parenting | 4 Comments »

First day


I had a bit of a melt down last night. I put the girls to bed and started packing their backpacks for school.  I started to cry and could not stop. I called STeve, mid-sob.  I couldn’t even answer him about what was wrong at first until I managed to snuffle out “MAH BAYBEES!” He had the typical man response “Yeah. How did they both grow up so quickly?” (Sounding bored.) That made me cry harder because he wasn’t taking it seriously enough in my head. On top of the “I’ll blink and they will be moving out” thoughts in my head, I was also having a pity party because I was having to do this alone.  I wanted my partner here to listen to me sob and whine and cry.  It was quite the waterworks show. But I managed to either dehydrate myself to the point of not being able to cry anymore or get it all out because this morning I was okay.

I walked Sabrina into her classroom.  Her best friend from pre-school is in her class so she barely said goodbye to me.  Then, I took Tessa to her class.  She was excited and in full on “I do it myself” mode. She had toys in each hand before I walked out.  I might have gotten a little teary eyed when I returned to my empty car but it passed pretty easily.  I had breakfast with some other mommas, came home for a little more than an hour, then returned to pick Sabrina up (it was a half day).

I took her out to lunch, just the 2 of us which she thought was fabulous.  Then we picked up a few new books for the girls because if I have to read 1 more Dora or Max & Ruby book I might go around the bend.  Then we picked up Tessa.

Sabrina reported that she had a great day and can’t wait to go back for her first full day on Thursday (they stagger start this week and then next week go full time).  Tessa’s teachers reported that she did great.  She had fun and talked a lot.  She didn’t nap (which made for a lovely afternoon – she fell asleep in my lap for a little bit and then resumed her grump reign of terror) because she was missing me a little but otherwise had a great day.  She also can’t to go back.  I’m so thankful they both had great first days.  And I’m ready for a little more time to myself.

posted under family, parenting | 1 Comment »

Kindergarten Eve


I know all moms do this but wow it is hard. Letting my oldest baby go off into the world. All day. Every day. Letting other people teach her and help her form opinions about things. Allowing her to possibly be targeted by mean girls. She is excited, as she should be. And I am excited for her (and nervous). But there is this little voice in my head screaming “NO!” This is the beginning and the end.  The end of me being the center of her world.  The end of constant carefree days. The end of our little family making plans when it wants to rather than around a school calendar. The end of me being the smartest person she knows. It is the beginning of at least 13 years of education. The beginning of her looking forward to snow days and teacher in service days so that she can sleep in.  The beginning of her figuring out what she is good at. The beginning of her finding her passion in life.  The beginning of making friends and memories. The beginning of becoming her own person so that she can eventually leave us.

5 years just wasn’t enough.

posted under parenting | 8 Comments »

Our week in random shots


After we returned from our trip, Abuela came for a quick visit.

Raising the next generation of geeks (although now I guess it is more normal than geeky)

School shopping (more on that later) confirmed that we have at least 1 very girlie girl in our house.  Sabrina picked out a Princess lunch box and the pinkest, most sparkly back pack ever.  Tessa chose a cute lady bug lunch bag and we haven’t gotten a backpack for her yet (they are as big as she is!).

The girls were incredibly delighted to get close to this fearless butterfly.

posted under Misc. | 4 Comments »

The Trip and The Vacation – Now with more photos!


The girls and I had a pretty easy and uneventful drive from TN to Pittsburgh.  Traveling alone adds its own unique challenges to a road trip.  I learned to change a DVD while hurtling down the highway.  I also learned there is no easy way to take 2 young children into a public restroom – it is infinitely ickier than taking 1 child in with you.  But it was all the good.  We spent 2 days in Pittsburgh. One of those days, my girls hung out with their grandparents while Steve went to work.  I slept in, had lunch with my husband, then went shopping all by myself. I went into Pier 1 with no intention of buying anything but just because there would be no little hands touching things. It was lovely.

We only had 1 child with us on the way to the beach (Sabrina road with her grandparents).  Tessa liked getting to choose all of the movies but after 8 hours of Dora episodes I was starting to get a twitch in my left eyelid. The trip to the beach was long but fine…until we were about 80 miles from our destination.  Then traffic just stopped.  We crawled along for the next 4+ hours to go those last 80 miles.  We were all a little stir crazy by the time we got out of the car.  (This was the first time we’ve ever gone to Corolla during the Peak Peak season so we were shocked by the volume of traffic. It usually isn’t quiet that heavy.)

Tessa loved the ocean.  (Tessa called the ocean “Pool! Big!” So stinking cute it made me melt every single time.) She loved the waves knocking her around.  It required constant vigilance to keep her from trying to swim to Africa. Sabrina wanted nothing to do with the ocean and cried anytime we tried to get her in deeper than her ankles.  She did like playing in the sand. But both girls agreed that the pool was the most awesome of all.  Sabrina refused to try to swim without her floatie despite her swimming lessons but Tessa would have jumped in the deep end without it if we had let her.  She was paddling around independently (with her floatie) and jumping off the side and off of the steps – she kept us on our toes.

We celebrated Tessa’s 3rd birthday (a week early) with cupcakes and bubbles and a pinata and noisemakers.

I took over 125 shots one evening at the beach trying to get just 1 or 2 really nice photos of the girls together.  It wasn’t very successful. The best of the bunch are a little out of focus. Sabrina lost patience with it quickly and is scowling in the last 100.

The girls’ almost 7 yr old cousins were there.  All the kids shared a room together.  I don’t think the older kids loved having to be quiet early because Tessa was sleeping but they were all so good with and to Tessa that it was kind of amazing.  And they let Sabrina be one of the big kids for the week.  Sabrina was simply over the moon and the couple of times that we had to say no to something because she wasn’t quite big enough (a late night beach walk, etc) she almost lost her mind but she was so tired from trying to keep up that she usually passed out before she was able to complain to much.

I’m big enough to admit when I’m wrong.  And while the total trip experience couldn’t be called a vacation, my week at the beach was definitely a vacation.  My husband made sure that I was able to sleep in and take naps.  My inlaws were so excited to spend time with my kids that I didn’t get to see much of the girls.  The girls were over the moon with all of the people to play with them (including cousins) that they checked to make sure I hadn’t left the state but otherwise wanted very little to do with mommy.  By the 4th day at the beach, Steve started to give me a back rub (he gives the best massages – I carry my tension in my shoulders) and said he couldn’t remember ever feeling me so loose.  It was fabulous.

The trip back from the beach was long but fine. We left just early enough to miss most of the traffic (FYI that would be 6am).  We stopped very minimally and it still took 11 hours. We determined that if we can find something 8 hour or less that has big homes with pools for rent we might change the venue next year.  It is just so dang far to OBX.  We love Corolla (it is impossible to find such a quiet, family oriented beach anywhere else drivable) but just such a long drive.

After a very warm Sunday in the ‘Burgh, the girls and I bid farewell to the Pittsburgh contingent of the family and headed 2 hours west to see my sister (and her husband and my nephew) and step-mom.  We had a lovely day with them then packed up early on Tuesday for what should have been a relatively easy drive home.  Except it wasn’t. It should have been 8ish hours.  Instead it was 14+.  Traffic was insane.  We hit 4 large different jams.  At one point, I might have been in tears out of shear frustration. But, we arrived home safely.

My sister with the girls

My nephew is 17…the phone only leaves his hand when he is on his laptop.

It has taken Tessa almost a week to really recover sleep-wise.  Sabrina seemed to bounce back in just a few days (but the attitude lingers on).  It was interesting taking an extended road trip with my girls but it was fabulous to get home to my own bed.  Now if we can just arrange it so that we live in the same city as my husband, life would be grand.

posted under family, travel | 5 Comments »