Little Fingerprints on the Door

fingerprints on the door….prior to cleaning 🙂

As I made my way up the stairs and into the hallway, I noticed them. They were on the door at three distinct levels. One set representing the oldest el, a first grader. Most likely, his are from the dirt outside, last night’s dinner or a special dessert. Then, there are the middle set, belonging to our second oldest el. His are probably from tooth paste, which he wastes as he tries to apply some to everybody’s brush. And, from peanut butter on his favorite lunch sandwich. And, then there are the ones belonging to tiny t. Hers are probably a mixture of food, markers, paint and anything she can get her little hands on. As I look at them, I contemplate whether or not to wipe them away.

As I head back downstairs to grab my magic eraser, wet it, and head back upstairs, I’m still trying to decide if it’s okay to leave them there. They definitely make the door look dirty. It is the door to the boys’ room that they share along with Baby L. But, I don’t want to forget what those little fingerprints represent. I know there will come a day when I will wipe the  last little fingerprint off of the door and they will be too big to return. I want to appreciate the fingerprints, the children that leave their mark everywhere in our house and the season of life we are in. I know I’m going to miss this.

I decided to clean the door. It only took a few seconds to wipe away the fingerprints. I know they will be back soon, this time.

Our afternoon experiment with HUMMUS!

Whipped Hummus- a delicious and nutritious snack! Made with garbanzo beans (low in fat) and fat free greek yogurt. So tasty!

So, I pretty much make Hummus all the time. My husband would say I don’t make it enough. He would like fresh hummus in the house daily. However, I think he appreciates the fact that I make it about once a week. Considering, all of my other responsibilities, that’s a lot. Well, I’ve been making hummus basically the same way for the last couple of years. I found a blog that I like http://www.dedemed.com/ and I pretty much follow her recipe to the t, except I don’t really measure anything. But, recently, I decided to try making hummus using a bag of garbanzo beans instead of a can. It required overnight soaking, changing of the water and boiling the beans. I really didn’t like the flavor. I later read that it is a good idea to change the water when you are boiling them as well and if you don’t you get a weird after taste. Considering it was more of a pain to make hummus this way, I probably won’t try that again. I really like the drained canned garbanzo beans just fine. However, we have been to a couple of local restaurants that serve a very smooth almost whipped hummus. I’ve tried putting the hummus in the mixer to see if that would “whip” it, but that didn’t seem to do anything. Then, my husband, because of his love of hummus, read online that some people boil the canned beans and peel the skin. And, that makes really smooth “whipped” hummus. So, me and Miss Trinity tried that this afternoon.

Garbanzo beans after being boiled, drained, washed, and peeled

First, I drained the beans- 2 cans. And, rinsed them a few times. Then, I placed them in a pot with water and brought them to a boil for a few minutes, stirring occassionally. Some of the skins came right off and floated to the top. Others, were not so easy. So, I drained them again and washed them removing as much of the extra skin as possible. I basically did this until I got tired of doing it, feeling that I had removed a substantial amount, so it had to make a difference.

Then, I placed the beans in the food processor and added the remaining ingredients- yogurt, garlic, salt, citric acid, lemon juice, tahini

I just throw all of the ingredients in together before processing



 To say it was worth the extra work is a little bit of an understatement. It did take an extra 20 minutes, but it was well worth it.


the result- whipped hummus!



Happy First Birthday to our son, Leeland Thaddeus! We hit a grand slam with you, kid!

Last week our youngest El turned 1. It was a really exciting time for all of us. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had baseball themed parties for our other boys when they turned one. But, this was the first time we had a birthday during baseball season. We decided that we would celebrate with immediate family-only, that’s 28 people, with 24 that live in town and 4 that live out of town. So, we had a small party for 24 people! WHEW! It was tons of fun. Here are pictures from our afternoon/evening. We served hotdogs, chili dogs (I found a really great chili recipe online for chili dogs, which I normally don’t eat. But, I ate 2 cause they were delicious!) chips, fruit and fresh homemade lemonade. After dinner, we sang to the birthday boy. Notice how he covered his ears when we sang to him! It was hilarious. I think it was just too loud, but he never stopped smiling. Then, we had cake and headed over to the Ballpark to watch the Astros play. After the game, they have a fireworks show on Friday nights. So, we stayed and watched that. It was a Queen inspired show and it was probably the best fireworks show we have seen there. It was really impressive and ended with Bohemian Rhapsody. Awesomeness.
So, everything was great. We had a wonderful time. And, Leeland managed to stay awake and didn’t go to bed until 1130 that evening. Waking at nearly noon the next day. He’s pretty cool.
So, we want to say happy birthday to our little Leeland, lovebug, little boy. You are amazing. We are so proud of you. We love you, we love being your parents and we love watching you grow. You rock, kid!

Me with my 1 year old son, Leeland. LOVE!
Grandmother giving him cereal before the party

LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cutie on his new ride

New present from Grandmother and Grandfather

Birthday boy with El Momma

The food was delicious if I do say so myself.

Happy boy with his Jiddy

with my Jiddy

Playing cars with my cousin

Look at my two teeth!

the crowd gathers for the birthday song

almost ready to sing

the song begins

covering his ears

covering his ears for the birthday song

the crowd waits

ready to blow out the candles

Big boy!

Cake!

Grandma love

You’re one!

bitter cake?

Princess T and the birthday boy ready for the game!

daddy’s little boy

the party at Minute Maid Park

our view

can you say “cotton candy?”

pretty

Fireworks with Momma

Ready for Birthday Fireworks!

Rockin  out with Christian to Queen during the fireworks show!

Leeland’s Birthday Painting, the Third Painting in the series

When I began painting the first of what would eventually be three paintings, I had no idea that I would be painting variations of the same painting more than once. The first painting was for our first son, Bakri, when he turned one. We planned  a baseball themed birthday party. I made him a cake shaped like a baseball and decorated like a baseball and I painted a baseball jersey on canvas for his wall in his room. I used the painting as part of the decoration for the party and I made a cake that matched the jersey. That was all for the first birthday of the first child. Little did I know, God would bless us with 2 more little boys with first birthdays! So, this week, I began the fun job of painting Leeland’s first birthday painting to go with the paintings for Bakri  and Maddux. Here’s how it went:

And, here they are all together….Leeland’s is nearly complete. My blue paint was old and didn’t offer much coverage. It was the day of his party when I made this discovery. So, we just went with it. I’ll finish it soon. I promise. As for the significance of these paintings, well they are very important to my babies. I realized that this week when working on Leeland’s. It was so cute to watch the other children light up as his painting became more and more finished. In fact, Bakri (our 6 year old) now wants me to find a way to make real jerseys…hmmm…I’ll have to think about that one for a bit. Maybe when they stick with one size for a while.
Leeland’s painting with a cake ordered from H.E.B. They do a good job with the jersey, don’t they?!
The famous baseball cake by El Momma. I really do enjoy making this cake!
The Happy Birthday side of Leeland’s baseball cake.
Pictures from Leeland’s first birthday party and day to come soon! We had a great time celebrating our little Leeland!

El Momma- the political/ civic duty side

If you know me very well, you probably are familiar with most of my sides.

There is the mother of four side. A little bit quirky, allowing a drum set to be played regularly in my living room. A little bit of a rule follower, believing a nap is the key to a happy life. And, a little bit of a mess, believing that if I spend too much time cleaning, we’ll never have as much fun as we are meant to!

Then, there is the wife side. That one goes hand in hand with my mother side. She is loving, patient, and sometimes driven crazy by her husband. The wife side of me is very happy and in love and grateful to my very loving and supportive husband.

Next, there is the art/music/creative side. She bakes, she decorates, she paints, she sings, she writes music, she leads worship, she plays the piano and sometimes does nearly all of these at once.

The side you may not know, is the civic duty/ political side. I’m not talking about Republican, Democrat, Independent or whether my daughter’s tea party was a political statement. No, I’m talking about local politics in Houston. I’m interested in it. I love to work with my neighborhood and have been active in my civic association since we moved here at the end of 2004. This year, after thinking I would take a break, I am serving as President of the Civic Association. I have really enjoyed it. Last week, in particular was a big week for me and for our neighborhood. I spent a lot of time with my stomach in knots, but in the end, it was worth it.

Here’s what happened in a brief synopsis:

The City of Houston offers neighborhoods inside the loop the option to protect their blocks with the Minimum Lot Size Protection. City of Houston Planning Our neighborhood is fairly small. We are approximately 8 residential blocks. We are now nearly all protected by the minimum lot size. It sets a lot size minimum for the next 20 years and restricts development to single family residential on the lots that are currently undeveloped or were being used as single family at the time the application was put forward. Being that our neighborhood includes some non-deed restricted properties, this protection is huge for the residents. It protects them and gives them certainty for the next 20 years.

In September, we had an application denied by the Planning Commission. It was heartbreaking. My husband and I had spent countless hours on the application for this one block and in just a few minutes, we were denied. It was hard. Thus, began the process to get a new application in and approved. So, I continued having conversations with the neighbors on the block who helped with the first application. I met with our district councilmember. She met with the director of planning. I wrote letters and received a direct response from the mayor of Houston. After the dust settled, it was clear, our only option was to complete and submit a brand new application.

What does that mean? It means that we had to contact every supporter on the block to get an updated signature of support and we would need to increase our support by adding more support signatures. It seemed a bit daunting. There are 45 properties on the block. But, we believed we could do it and we did. One of the active supporters on the block started us off with a signature from a recently sold property. This was a new signature. So we started off strong. And, we went after every signature. We got them. and we did it fast. We gained more support and ended up with 62% of the entire block supporting the application. But, this was not enough. I continued to have conversations with our District Councilmember, the planning department and I reached out to the Mayor, asking neighbors to join in. I even attended a fundraiser for the Mayor knowing I would have her attention for 2 minutes and used this time to talk to her about this application. The Mayor was a part of the drafting of this original ordinance when she was a Councilmember. I believed strongly that she would support our application. I then met with the neighbors and we organized a presentation to use our time wisely before the Planning Commission. We presented very well. And, the Planning Department did a great job explaining our application to the Commission. We had 6 speakers in total speak in support of the application. We presented pictures, evidence of complete compliance with the standards of the ordinance and testimony by neighbors. You can click here:
http://houstontx.city.swagit.com/Council_Commissions/ Select July 7. Item IV. to view.

In the end, the hard work paid off. We were rewarded with the minimum lot size protection which is in addition to the setback already on the block. I am thankful to all of the support we received from the city of Houston, from the neighbors on the block and in the neighborhood. We are going to benefit greatly from the protection for the next 20 years. Congratulations, everyone!

And, so, there it is. A little taste of my political/ civic duty side.

There are many more sides to this El Momma. But, for now, I will give in to my calm side, take a  break and rest before doing my daily routine of Yoga. Namaste.

Bakri and Maddux are "DYNAMITE!"

After taking the older boys- the six and four year old, to see the Newsboys a few weeks ago, their interest in being a “rock band” has intensified. The Newsboys opened the concert with a song by Taio Cruz called “Dynamite.” The boys loved it and immediately got hooked on the song. We found it when we got home and I started teaching them the piano part. Then, I was asked to contribute a song for a concert at our church where the music would be from Musicals or popular music. I asked the boys if they wanted to perform “Dynamite” and they of course wanted to. And, so it began. Here is the video of the boys performing last night. Maddux (four and a half) starts the song off with the piano part. He very cutely shakes his head to tell me he’s not going to sing that part. And, when the song gets going, it is amazing. And, yes, that is their dad excitedly recording and singing along. Way to go “Capital Els!” El momma is so proud of you. We had a great time.

How does a Momma grocery shop for her Els in the Summer?

This is a question that has me a bit perplexed this afternoon. Most of the Els are finished with school and out for the Summer. The oldest has his last day of kindergarten tomorrow.

What I am wondering about is: how I will manage to get any grocery shopping done this Summer? Yes, I know I always have the option of bringing four children with me to the grocery store. And, I exercise this option when I “have” to. With this option comes a lot of work, a lot of evil looks, many “are you nuts?” looks and the occasional “I’ve been there” smile. I don’t mind any of the responses, really, I don’t. But, it is SO MUCH HARDER to take four kids to the grocery store with me than say, three kids or two kids or miracle of all miracles, I get to go A-L-O-N-E! That’s a vacation. And, it’s fun. If, you get to go grocery shopping alone, appreciate it. You can have a really great time talking to strangers, sampling food and buying things you don’t need. Enjoy every second!
Back to my original question: How will I grocery shop this Summer?
First of all, I must realize that there are times I may head out to the grocery store and not ever get there. And, that’s okay. I spend a lot of energy planning things and then even more energy being super flexible. It’s a necessity of being a momma who doesn’t want to be stressed all of the time. Today, in fact, I was in the car headed to the grocery store twice and twice we didn’t make it there. Once, because my oldest was asleep when we picked him up from school. He’s not feeling well. So, I was not going to drag him to the store when he obviously needed to be home in bed. When I planned to go earlier, we were also in the car on our way there and pulled into a parking space only to realize the car next to us was parked to close. So, I went to move the car, so I could get the kids out, nearly getting hit by another mom travelling way too fast through the parking lot in her large SUV. I looked back and Baby Leeland was asleep. So, I decided to take him home and let him nap in his crib. By the time we got home, two of my other children had woken him up. But, it was too late to go back.
Second, I may not go to the grocery store any of the weeks when I have all of my kids with me 24-7. I’ll try. But, it just may not happen. I will have to plan ahead when I have the older ones in camps or VBS. So, I can have a pleasant quick trip to the grocery store with only 2 Els.

Finally, I am going to ask for help. It’s the only way! My husband is amazing about shopping for me. I prefer to do it, because, honestly, I don’t get as distracted and only buy what’s on the list. But, he is always happy to help me and so he is probably going to have to do more of the shopping this Summer. And, I may end up with a few surprises in the pantry!

Here’s to a successful Summer of cooking and eating well with the Els! And, to many happy, tantrum-free trips to the grocery store!

love,
El Momma

Happy birthday to the Daddy El or El Daddy or El Husband! We love you!

Happy birthday to my husband, Moustapha today!



Our family, May 30, 2011

 Moustapha’s parents took us to Maggiano’s last night on Post Oak. One of Moustapha’s 3 sisters joined us with her family. We had a great time celebrating Moustapha’s birthday. We ended the night with an impromptu dance session. It was fun. We are so thankful for Moustapha. He is a wonderful daddy, husband, friend, attorney and person. He is a genuinely good man with a heart of gold. Today and every day we are thankful for him and love him very much.

El Momma and Leeland

Miss Trinity telling us how to dance

Leeland and Jiddy enjoying the music

more dancing

The “kids” dancing

we came to “dance dance dance”

look at that smile! so happy!

Candles and singing!

Maddux sporting a tie for the occasion

Birthday boy, Maddux, Jiddy, our nephew and Trinity

Graduating from Kindergarten, playground or ceremony? Is it all the same?

In my day, we graduated from kindergarten. Complete with graduation caps and gowns. Our families attended, cheered us on, and it was the only graduation until the completion of high school. I can’t say for sure whether I remember it or whether it sticks with me because of the photos. Either way, it was, and remains an important day to me.

My friends who are raising their children in the same school system we grew up in are getting to experience this as a parent. Their children are graduating from kindergarten. It is a big accomplishment. A lot of changes take place that first year of elementary school. I, for one, am not getting the same child this Summer that started school last Fall. He’s matured and grown so much.

So, why are we not celebrating this accomplishment with a graduation ceremony? Our school graduates students when they complete fifth grade. I think that is fine. But, in my opinion, we’re missing an important milestone by not graduating them from kindergarten. We, instead, are celebrating with all of the kindergarten classes in the neighborhood park with a playday in the sun. It will be fun. But, will it be as memorable and special as a kindergarten graduation would be? I suppose we’ll find out. I’m up for the challenge of trying to make the end of the year and all that he’s accomplished be a big deal to him so that he is motivated to accomplish so much more with his future.

Happy graduation party day, kindergarten class of 2011! We are proud of you and we wish you a bright sunny future!


Bakri, playing Ode to Joy for his first piano recital, age six.

El Momma's Lebanese Grape Leaves

How To Make the Best Lebanese Grape Leaves- UPDATED- RECIPE and directions

WATCH THE VIDEO DIRECTIONS HERE:

I made this instruction video with the Els through FB Live in 2015. Hope you enjoy it!

UPDATED BLOG POST with Ingredients list:
I make this recipe several times a year, including Easter lunch for the last 10 years ! They are so delicious. (Dare I say that they are even better reheated the second day?!) This remains my most viewed blogpost. I know exactly why- these are the most amazing to eat and well worth all the work, love and effort to make them.

These are directions on how to make the BEST LEBANESE GRAPE LEAVES IN THE WORLD! Seriously, they are so good.

<<El Momma Tip>> If you don’t want the history behind this recipe, or you’ve read this before, please scroll on down to The “INGREDIENTS List.” The ingredients are separated by what we need for the rice lamb mix, boiling the lamb shanks and the final touches for cooking the grape leaves and serving.

After the ingredients list, I’ve included photos of all the items you will need to shop for. You will also need a large pot for boiling the shanks and cooking the rolled, stuffed grape leaves. Be sure to clean out the pot in between. You will also need small plates to place on top of the pot of grape leaves. This will hold them down in the water, while letting them cook fully.

Let me give you a little history as to why you won’t regret making this recipe and consider this a recipe from an expert. After 10 years making these several times a year, I now am officially a Lebanese Grape Leaf making expert!

My husband’s father’s family is from Lebanon. My father-in-law moved to the United States in the 70’s to attend a university and met my mother-in-law. She is a fifth generation Texan. She was an adventurer and loved to travel abroad. So, while dating my father-in-law, she took off on a great adventure to meet his parents and learn about the Lebanese culture. While in Lebanon, she embraced the culture and his family. His family loved her, taught her many things and she was a bright shining star (and a blonde -aired beauty) who they enjoyed having in Lebanon very much!

Luckily, for all of us, she married my father-in-law and is an amazing cook! Many years later, she continues to be an expert in cooking Middle Eastern faire. I asked her to teach me and this is the result. I continue to look back at this recipe each and every time I make Grape Leaves. 

Please note, if you have ever had grape leaves that were cold at a restaurant- you probably did not have grape leaves like this. These are served hot and they have lamb and rice in them- they are not vegetarian.

If you decide to try this, please reply to this post, comment here or on pinterest. I’d love to hear how it goes!

The first challenge: What to buy and where to shop. If you are in the Houston area- there are many grocers that specialize in Middle Eastern foods. A great one is Phoenicia. It is like a Sam’s Club for Middle Eastern food. It is huge. Their westheimer location even has fresh pita bread that comes down from a conveyer belt in the middle of the store. It’s entertaining for adults and kids alike.

INGREDIENTS list for 2 lbs of ground lamb mixture:

  • 2 lbs of high quality ground lamb
  • 2 Tablespoons of 7 spices for lamb/rice mixture 1T per lb of ground lamb)
  • 2 Tablespoons of salt (1T per lb of ground lamb)
  • 3 cups of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)
  • 2 jars of Orlando California Grape Leaves, 16 oz. each (rinsed thoroughly with stems removed)

INGREDIENTS list for boiling lamb shanks

  • 4 pounds of lamb shank (approximately 4 shanks will fill the bottom of a large boiling pot or dutch oven)
  • 1 Tablespoon 7 spices
  • 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt

Remaining INGREDIENTS to prepare for serving

  • Juice of several lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice to pour over pot just before serving
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves for garnish
  • 1 or 2 bunches of green onions for garnish
  • optional to serve with Labne (A Lebanese Yogurt spread) (top with olive oil and sliced tomatoes)
  • arabic bread
  • fresh lebanese hummus (recipe and How to Video HERE)

Grave leaves. Buy 2 jars of Orlando California Grape leaves. They are stored in a jar so that they will remain preserved. I used 2 jars of grape leaves to roll approximately 150 grape leaves. Remember the grape leaves must be washed thoroughly before you cook with them, or your result will be REALLY SALTY grape leaves!
7 spices. We will use this to season the lamb and the rice. I have made this in the past. Search up “Lebanese 7 spices” for recipes.

5 pound bag of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)

Lamb Shanks
Ground lamb

Lemons for garnish and lemon juice (which we will use for the last few minutes while cooking the grape leaves.)

We also need salt. That’s all we need for our ingredients. Now, it’s time to get to work!

First, we must rinse the grape leaves. As I mentioned above, this is a crucial step. Without rinsing the leaves, they will be very salty and not taste good at all.
Now, let’s boil the lamb shanks. Get a large pot of water.
Add one tablespoon of 7 spices

And add one table spoon of kosher salt. Place the lamb shanks in the pot and bring water to a boil. Cover and simmer for half an hour. (if the shanks are frozen simmer for 1 hour) The shanks do not need to be completely cooked at this point, because they will cook more with the grape leaves.

In a separate bowl, we will make the rice/ground lamb mixture. We will start with rinsing the rice. Use 1.5 cups of rice per pound of ground lamb.  Add water to the rice and rinse. This will make the rice easier to work with. I usually rinse the rice in a very fine colander.
Add the ground lamb and a 1 tablespoon 7 spices per pound of ground lamb to the drained rinsed rice. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of ground lamb. Mix this together well.

Lay the grape leaf (shiny side down) on a plate with the stem at the top. Cut the stem off the top. (To simplify this step, I pull off the stem as I wash each leaf individually)
Pinch a small amount of the ground lamb/rice mixture, as pictured and place in the middle of one grape leaf

Wrap the grape leaf, like a present, bringing up the sides first and then loosely rolling the entire thing together. The shiny part of the leaf should be down so that it is the outside of the roll, once the grape leaf is rolled around the ground lamb and rice. Make sure to roll loosely. This will give the rice room to expand as it cooks in the grape leaf. If you roll too tightly, the grape leaves will not be able to stay together and they will pop open as they cook.Always remove the stem. Also, if the grape leaves are too large they can be cut in half.
Carefully place the rolled grape leaves in a container.

Once the lamb shanks are finished with their first stage of cooking. Remove them from the pot.

Cut some of the meat off of the lamb shanks. The goal is to place the shanks and meat evenly at the bottom of a clean pot to make a nice even layer to place the rolled grape leaves. You can use the same pot where you boiled the shanks, just be sure to clean it before this next step. I usually just wipe it clean. 
This photo demonstrates the lamb shanks and meat in an even layer at the bottom of the pot.
Ready to add the grape leaves.
Take the rolled grape leaves and place them as evenly as possible in the pot on top of the lamb and lamb shanks. Make sure to place the rolled grape leaves down on the point of the leaf so they will not come unrolled while cooking.

The result is a beautiful pot full of grape leaves ready to cook! Add water to the pot until the grape leaves are completely covered. Place the pot on the stove top until bubbly. Simmer on medium to medium low for 2.5-3 hours. While cooking, place small plates (instead of a pot lid) directly on the grape leaves. This keeps them under the water, allows them to breathe and cook perfectly. The grape leaves must remain covered with water while cooking. I use a tea kettle on a separate burner to boil water on the stove top. and add this to the grape leaves pot as needed.
Once the grape leaves are finished cooking turn off the stove (approximately 2.5 – 3 hours). Pour fresh lemon juice over the entire pot. Use a liberal amount of lemon juice- at least one half cup or one cup if cooking in a large pot. When the grape leaves are finished cooking, tender, delicious, easy to cut them with a fork, turn off the burner and pour the lemon juice over the top of the grape leaves.

To serve, slice lemons and wash and cut green onions. Grape leaves taste great with a sqeeze of lemon juice and a green onion.

Ready to serve. I’ve removed everything from the pot and placed the lamb in the center of the serving dish and the grape leaves around. It makes for a “wow” presentation. Save the juices from the pot. My husband likes to pour these over his grape leaves. You can also save the pot juices for later (leftovers) in the fridge and the oils will harden, so you can easily scrape them off the top.
Grape leaves are also served with mint leaves. I’ve placed them in a small vase, so they double as decoration and as a garnish.
I am so happy with the way my grape leaves turned out. They are so amazing. Thank you, Mary for teaching me this amazing skill. I promise to teach this to my children and grandchildren. Love, El Momma