The Breakfast Bandit

I'm so sick of making food my kids don't eat.

This morning, as I do every morning, I asked them what they wanted for breakfast. And after vetoing all the stuff that they know that can't have but suggest anyway ("Fruit snacks!" "Cupcakes!" "Ramen noodles!"), they requested oatmeal (or "meat-meal," as Coby pronounces it, which makes my stomach turn every time). Only they can't make it simple, you know, and all want the same flavor. There's one request for strawberry. One for peach. One for blueberry - two packets, he insists, because he's staaaarving - and please Mommy can you make it extra runny like Nana does?

So I fill all the orders like a waitress, and I put the steaming bowls of goodness in front of them at the table, and then they eat one or two bites and then slide off their chairs and run around like madmen and decide that closing themselves into the bathroom and brushing their teeth with half the tube of toothpaste and getting it all over the mirror in the process sounds like a much better idea than eating their breakfast.

So there it sits. Getting cold.

... Until Mr. Goldilocks himself, my cat Thurman, makes an out-of-nowhere appearance on the chair. And this is how it always starts out. Notice how he looks all nonchalant, like, "Oatmeal? What oatmeal? I'm just sitting here trying to sleep, yo."

"I am at this table for no other purpose than to take a nap. See how convincing I am?"

And then it turns into this ...

"Why, what a surprise! There is a bowl of oatmeal in front of me!"

And inevitably, that will turn into this:

"Nom nom nom ... oooooatmeeeeeal."

And while I didn't take a picture, what happens next is just as inevitable. The barf. Because, you see, Thurman has always had a weak stomach and literally barfs up everything he eats that isn't his special "sensitive stomach formula" cat food. Yet he still insists on scavenging leftovers every chance he gets. Usually, that isn't very often, because due to my deep hatred of cleaning up bodily fluids I maintain a hyper-vigilance and shoo him away at the first inclination that he's creepin' on a bowl of something.

Anyway, all this goes on until I finally get tired of chasing the cat away and decide to chalk it up to a loss and dump the bowls of oatmeal (or omelets, or cereal, or pancakes, or other uneaten goodies) and clear the table. And then at like ten o'clock, one or more of the boys will wander in to the table and be all, "Wah!! Where's my breakfast?" and I'll be like, "Dude. You didn't eat it. I threw it away." 

And then, after a disappointed pause, they'll say, "Oh. Well ... can I have fruit snacks, then?"

The "Mm-Hmmm" Maneuver

I'll admit it: at least 30% of the time, I have no clue what my kids are talking about.

They'll tell me something and I'll be all, "Mm-hmmm" (with the "hmmm" part rising an octave or two so that I sound extra-interested), even if I don't know what in God's name they're going on about. Because much of the time, if I actually ask them to clarify, I get a lengthy and drawn-out explanation that doesn't really explain anything at all. And then they get mad when I'm still clueless.

The "Mm-Hmmm" Maneuver works well with the little ones. But now, at almost seven, Colin is getting old enough to where a simple mm-hmmm doesn't cut it any more. Unfortunately, out of all my boys, he's the one who seems to come up with the most out-of-the-blue observations - and the one who gets the most peeved when I'm left scratching my head.

Most recently it's his stubborn insistence that he remembers going to a restaurant called - get this - Carotch O'Body. It's in Las Vegas, he says. That's where he was born, and we lived there until he was three, so he does recall several things about the city and the places we frequented. And if there ever were a restaurant whose name so closely resembled "crotch," it probably would be in Vegas. However. I'm 100% positive that we never ate at anyplace by that name (and, really, who would?).

When he tells me this, I ransack my brain for names of places that sound anywhere near "Carotch O'Body." And aside from probably a few strip clubs in the area, I've got nothin'. I'll toss out a few names, and he swiftly and grumpily vetoes each one. And then launches into more details in hopes of jogging my memory.

"The hallway was on this side, not on this side," he'll say, gesturing. "And there were restaurant lights all over. And TVs. And when the chef took off his hat, his hair was spiky." With each detail he gets more insistent, more impatient, like why haven't you remembered this yet? and looks at me as if I have early-onset dementia.

"What did we eat there ... crabs?" I joke to Curtis out the side of my mouth.

"No," grouses Colin. "Chicken fingers."

The kid does have a memory like a steel trap - I'll give him that. One time like a year ago, we were eating some nachos, and Curtis and I recalled going to a restaurant where the tortilla chips were blue ... but we couldn't for the life of us remember where. Then suddenly, Colin piped up, "It was the Harley-Davidson Cafe. Their chips were blue and red and white!" ... And he was totally correct. Even though he was probably two, maybe barely three, the last time we ate there.

But Carotch O'Body? Doesn't ring a bell.

Eventually Colin gets frustrated with my inability to remember and drops the subject. But inevitably, it comes back up. And he's as insistent as ever. And we go through the whole process over again, because he just doesn't lose hope that someday, some day, one of his details will spark some recognition within his poor forgetful mother.

I should have just said "Mm-hmmm" when he was young enough to be satisfied with that.

(PS - Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who responded to my last post. Ironically, the day I posted it, we got called to an emergency parent-teacher conference in the middle of the day because of Colin's use of "inappropriate language." The offending phrase? CHICKEN POOP. I'm officially tired of public school.)

First Grade Makes Me Feel Stupid

Sometimes when I think about all the things I need to say, I don't even know where to begin. Kinda like when my kids have been "playing quietly" in their room for the last half-hour and it's been so nice and then I realize that their playtime has included soap or markers or a meat-tenderizing mallet and things are dripping from the walls or staining the furniture and the mattress is pulled off the bed and I can't see the floor because they've strung out all the toys from their closet in an attempt to make a "clubhouse." And then I stand there like a slack-jawed moron unable to say or do anything for a few moments because, well, some things are just totally freaking overwhelming. You know?

Hey, it happens. The boys' wooden bunk bed has the meat-mallet marks to prove it.

But I digress.

This is going to be a long post because I have a lot to mull over. Lately I've been overwhelmed not by messes (although as usual, I've still got more than my share), but by Colin and his never-ending struggle with school. You might remember that last year, when he was in Kindergarten, I wrote this post. And things haven't changed much from Kindergarten to first grade. Initially, I thought he was doing better ... but as the year has progressed, he's slid back into the same old patterns. I dread picking him up from school because nearly every day, there's a new and disappointing note written in his planner: "Colin had a rough day today. He was acting very silly in art." "Colin was bothering other students while they were trying to work." "Please remind Colin that he needs to follow procedures." We've had missed recesses. Chats with the teacher. He's always getting seated separately from the rest of his class or having to eat by himself at a solitary table ... most recently because he said "pile of poop" at lunch.

I don't want to be one of those parents who sends a straight-up brat to school and then tries to make excuses for his bad behavior. I'll be the first to admit it: Colin can be annoying. He can. Number one, he's a six-year-old boy, and spends a good amount of time at home perfecting the art of annoying his little brothers. Number two, he likes to make people laugh (wonder where he gets that?) and will be silly when he shouldn't, just to get a chuckle from his classmates. I am totally admitting all this.


I can't help but wonder how much of his acting out can be attributed to sheer boredom. He's reading far beyond grade level. He complains to me that his math sheets are too easy, but he says when he asks his teacher for harder work, she just gives him more of the same stuff to do. He brings home a reading book that says, "Look, look! There is mama duck. See mama duck with her babies," and then wants to Google information about the Higgs boson or watch a video about parasitic wasp larvae on YouTube. See the discrepancy? The things Colin wants to do at home - the things he willingly, voluntarily seeks to learn, the information he hungrily devours - are vastly different from the stuff he's doing ad nauseum at school.

Not too long ago we got a call from his teacher, who suggested that we have him tested for ADD. And y'all? I refuse. Because I know he is capable of paying attention and staying on track. I know he can. I see him do it all the time at home. When he's engrossed in something, he will even tune out his little brothers - which, I can attest, can be nearly impossible. And while I understand the school's need to have all their little lambs in a line, I cannot bring myself to medicate my son just so he'll act the way he's "supposed" to - especially if the reason he's acting out is because he's bored to tears.   

Last year he started seeing the gifted (TAG) teacher twice a week. At first, it was with a small group of other kids - but then the TAG teacher emailed his classroom teacher with the suggestion that she see him one-on-one because he needed more advanced instruction, saying, "I imagine we will have to make concessions throughout his school career." But that was last year. This year, some district-wide changes to the TAG program were made, and now he only sees the TAG teacher once a week - for half an hour - with a group. It's frustrating. The need for "concessions" has apparently been forgotten.

We talked about accelerating him a grade last year, but decided against it because we were afraid he wasn't mature enough to fit in with kids who are a whole year older. We were basing that on his tendency to act out in class, though. Maybe we made a mistake. Because if that tendency is due to him not being adequately challenged, it might have disappeared had we sent him directly to second grade. Who knows?

I'm not saying all this to brag about how smart or advanced my kid is. Trust me: this is not an easy thing to deal with. I'm saying this because I feel clueless and dumb, and I don't know what the eff to do, and I'm hoping one of y'all can shed some light on the subject. Because I? Am floundering. Someone is dropping the ball here. Is it us? Is it his school? I don't know. I really don't. All I know is, I can't shake the sick feeling that we're not doing him justice, and that his bright little brain is dimming by the day. Like we're trying too hard to stuff him into some box that he just doesn't fit into.

I thought about homeschooling him, but haven't had the confidence to make the leap. I mean - I've read a lot about it, but that's different than actually doing it. You can read up on surgical procedures, too, but I'm pretty sure performing one is a whole different ballgame.

But then I stumbled across this article in our local paper. It's basically opening up an option that I hadn't heard much about before: an online public school. Essentially, it's like a public school/homeschool hybrid. They provide you with a curriculum, a teacher, an agenda - and it's up to you to make sure that the work is done and help with enrichment.

There are pros and cons to this. First, it involves me trying to keep Colin on track with his schoolwork for five to seven hours a day. I have trouble getting him to do his homework right now without an argument - but then again, that's the standard first-grade drivel that he hates. As far as I can tell, acceleration is a definite option in this online school setup; it seems to be easier to customize the work than regular public school.

Second, I'm going to have three more kids to deal with while I'm trying to supervise school. Three boys ages four and under. Is this even possible to do, unless you're Michelle Duggar?

And third? If we're going to do it, we have to enroll by March 1st. That's like, one week away. We have to decide all this in a week.

My head hurts.

But as much work as this new setup sounds like it will be for me, I can't help but think of the profound relief I'll feel when I don't have to worry about a new note in the planner every day. My heart won't have to break when I think of my little man being ostracized from the rest of his class because he "can't pay attention." I hate that they don't understand him, or see how he can be, or notice his potential, and that there aren't enough available resources to give him what he really needs.

So what do you think? Is this a good option, or am I just so desperate to break the cycle of bad notes that I can't see clearly?

Help us, y'all. Please.

"H8ERS" Gonna Blog

Let me take this opportunity for a good old-fashioned rant. Or two.

First of all: if you've been with me for a while, you know how I feel about "nesting." You know, that overwhelming urge during pregnancy to clean/organize/micromanage every last particle of your household? I've had it before, but it always strikes in the last few weeks before delivery.

Except this time. Because my super-annoying "urge to purge" has already started, and I've still got until the first week of June.

I guess I could look at that as a good thing. I mean, I have plenty of time to drag out every last item from my cluttered kitchen cabinets (which not only includes small appliances like toasters and waffle irons, but bills, coupons, and other paper that has fallen through from the overstuffed drawer above). I've got months to go through my closet (seriously, y'all, it looks like a hoarder has taken up residence in there ... minus the vermin and old food and dead animals, natch). I've got three and a half months to clean the floor between my refrigerator and the wall, and to move my washer and dryer out and scrub underneath them, and do all the other ridiculous things that nesting requires you to do with near-obsessive fervor.

But why? If I clean and organize things now, it's not like anything will stay clean until Corbin is born. And even if it does, it's not like he's going to burst forth from my womb and be all, "Hey mom, thank goodness you straightened up the storage closet underneath the stairs even though I have nothing to do with that area and won't even be allowed to enter it."

And even the people who do use, and contribute to the cluttering of, these areas (coughCurtiscough)? Will likely say nothing short of, "Wow, you cleaned." And then, "Where'd you put the ...?" And then when they locate and use the item they were looking for, they'll likely put it back in the unorganized spot where it was located before, hence foiling my efforts.


Oh yeah - and if you were wondering? We didn't win our local paper's "Cutest Couple" contest. Thanks to everyone who voted, or attempted to vote, in this whacked-out excuse for a competition. An overwhelming number of people reported that they had trouble voting - even Curtis couldn't ever get registered to vote for ourselves. (Lame!)

But you wanna know what the absolute worst part of losing is? It's losing to a very young couple (like, don't-even-look-old-enough-to-drink-their-free-champagne-young), with no kids, who haven't been together for long in the grand scheme of things, who likely have every chance in the world for a damn date night. A couple who, when people on the contest forum were complaining about the voting difficulties, responded with a rude and juvenile diatribe which ended with - and I quote, misspellings and improper punctuation and all - "H8ERS KEEP HATIN because were gonna keep bein cute."

So yeah. Consider me a "H8ER." It's never fun to lose, especially in such a frustrating contest - but I much rather would've lost to a more deserving couple. Like the grandparents who had been together for fifty-plus years ... or another couple with kids, like us, who haven't seen a date night since Bush was in office.

Call me a sore loser if you want, but ... bleh.

Okay, I think I'm done for today. I've got to turn my crankiness to four-year-old clinging to my arm whining something about "Scooby Doooooooooooooo."

... Oh yeah, and clean.

A Drink of Diet Peps-pee

So the end of today marks the end of the voting period for the Cutest Couple Contest I wrote about in my last post. People are allowed to vote once a day, and between myself, my family, my husband's family, our friends, and my blog readers and Twitter followers, so far we have .........

.... sixteen votes.

And what's worse? Four of those are mine.

Wah-wahhhhh. (That was that disappointed-trumpet sound, in case you couldn't tell.)

Anyway, I'm not seeing a fantasy suite in my future. I'm disgusted with the voting process anyway, though. It's ridiculously complex to begin with, and to top it off, many people are having problems getting it to process correctly.

So I'm telling myself that if everyone's vote would count, we would be the winners. Right?

... Right??

*cricket, cricket*

Anyway, if you decide you wanna help the underdogs catch up, Seabiscuit-style, you can toss us a vote here.

In other news ...

The other night we were sitting around the table eating dinner when Cameron says, "I need to go pee." And because Cameron needing to pee at inopportune times isn't a rare occasion, I nodded my approval and he left the table and headed toward the bathroom.

But on his way out of the kitchen, I heard him say quietly, "... and get a drink of Diet Pepsi."

Wait a minute.

.... Diet Pepsi?

We don't have Diet Pepsi. Nobody around here drinks Diet Pepsi. I shudder at the thought of Diet Pepsi. And if we did have it? We wouldn't keep it in the bathroom.

I looked quizzically at Curtis. He looked at me. And in a silent moment of mutual understanding, he got up and followed Cameron down the hall.

It's a good thing he did - because Cameron was in the bathroom, head-deep in the toilet, saying, "I'm going to get a drink of Diet Pepsi!" into the echo-ey recesses of the bowl.

Yeah. He was preparing to drink from the toilet, y'all ... despite the full glass of milk awaiting him at the table. I don't even want to know whether he peed in it first. And where he got the "Diet Pepsi" reference, I have absolutely no idea. But then, obviously, logical explanations of Cameron's behaviors are few and far between.

Do you ever look at your kids and think, "Who are you? How did you get this way?" Because he certainly didn't get all that crazy weirdness from me. Although I do agree on one thing: diet soda and toilet water would probably taste pretty much the same.

Date-Night Dreamin'

Let me tell you about this hot date my husband and I went on.

It was, um ....

It was, ah .....

.... errrr .....

Okay. It was so long ago I don't even remember. I know: pitiful. You wanna know how pitiful? I was excited for parent-teacher conferences this year (which was in October, mind you, and lasted all of thirty minutes) - because it meant that Curtis and I would actually get to go somewhere without hauling three kids around. No matter if it was Colin's elementary school and we were sitting in tiny chairs with our butts hanging over the edge and our knees up to our chins: it was half an hour of time I didn't have to chase anyone, threaten anyone, or remind someone for the umpteenth time that "things don't go in our noses." Just my man and me (.... well, and the first-grade teacher, but whatever). Tres romantique.

I'm well aware that all the relationship experts stress the importance of reconnecting through the occasional date night. But I don't think they mean once a year. I'm sure many of you can relate, though: first we have to find a babysitter, which can be next to impossible when you have three boys six and under (for some reason, people seem intimidated by this - hmm, think they've read my blog?). Once you find a sitter, you've got to schedule around the sitter's work/school/extracurricular activities, then make sure their free time meshes with yours. And then by the time you set aside the money to adequately pay the sitter for watching three kids, your date-night options are narrowed severely. To, like, dollar-menu-at-McDonalds-and-then-walking-around-Target status.

Date nights might work for some couples, but our money seems to go to boring things like groceries and utility bills and did you seriously just rip those brand-new jeans and outgrow those four-month-old shoes again?

Which is why I'm begging pleading groveling asking y'all for a huge favor.

Our local newspaper is having a "Cutest Couple" contest. And while I'm not sure how "cute" we are, I do think we're pretty deserving. The winners get a whole bunch of awesome stuff: a two-night stay (in a "fantasy suite," ooh-la-la) at a real live hotel, several dinners-for-two, and a free photography session, among other sweet prizes. (Also known as "stuff we'd never be able to have without winning some sort of contest.") Anybody can vote (once a day!), and seeing as it's only the second day of voting and we're already getting our arses handed to us, we need some help.

I'm not gonna lie: they don't make it easy to vote (of course). It's actually kind of a pain, which is why I will be eternally grateful for those of you who brave the voting process and give us a fighting chance for an actual date.

Anyway, if you're still with me (thanks), here's what you've got to do: find the photo of Curtis and me in the right-hand sidebar of the blog (the one that says "Vote for Me!" above it), then click the "Curtis and Rita" link right beneath the picture. It'll take you to the site, where you can vote. Every day if you want to! (Hey, if you take the time to do it once, you may as well do it again ... right?)

You could also click right here and it'll take you to the page; select "Vote," then "View Gallery"; we're on page 9.

So help a sista out, will ya? I could seriously use some quality time with the baby-daddy before our chaotic three-boy household becomes a massively chaotic four-boy household (and our chances for a date diminish even further). I will love you forever. And vote relentlessly for you in the contest of your choice if given the opportunity. I'm desperately in need of a fantasy suite in my life that's, well, more than just a fantasy.

Thanks a bazillion, y'all!

Clip, Clip ... Crap!

There were several things I did not realize about boys until I had them.

1.) They enjoy getting into makeup as much as girls, but only because it makes good fingerpaint.

2.) They may be boys, but you do NOT save money on toilet paper. (Especially when one of them eats it ... cough*Cameron*cough)

3.) They mysteriously wear out the knees of jeans and the toes of shoes on a very regular basis - I'm talking every couple of months. It's like when you're not looking, they get around solely by crawling. On asphalt.

4.) They require CONSTANT HAIRCUTS. Like, you can have their hair perfectly short and literally within a week or so it starts to grow out in a funky manner. (Which is pretty frustrating considering the abysmal length of time it seems to take my hair to grow. Hmmph.)

Which brings me to why I bought some clippers a few weeks ago. Because I've had it, y'all: boy haircuts are just sooooo expensive, especially when you have multiple boys. I feel like a terrible person because I have several stylist friends whose services I should be using, but I can't help it. At $10-$13 per haircut, plus tips (tipplural, because to get them all done relatively quickly, it takes more than one stylist), for three boys and my husband - every two or three weeks, when they start looking shaggy - it adds up. I don't even want to do the math but trust me, cha-ching. It hits this mama right where it hurts.

So I did the thing that any cheap frugal mother would do: started giving my boys home haircuts. At first I tried to use scissors, but ... yeah. Let's just say that attempt would've looked much better if bowl cuts were still in style.

That would be sweet.

So I bought the clippers and just buzzed the boys. Not bald or anything, just short. They don't look all that awesome for now. I mean, I'm supposing I'll get better at it over time, but I'd say a trained chimpanzee could produce comparable results. (This is especially evident when we visit our families and my mother-in-law says pointedly to one of my sons, "Who has been cutting your hair, honey?") I bought the Wahl ColorPro, which at least has color-coded guides to lead me in the proper direction so I'm not all, "Buzzzz ... buzzzzzz .... oops." And the kids are pretty much too young to be embarrassed about their hair yet, so that's good; I've got time on my side. The only iffy one is Colin, who never fails to huff, "But you're not a barber, Mom," as he slumps sullenly into the chair for his cut.

He'll get over it.

The good thing about boys is - even if you mess their 'do up a bit, you can use gel. So even if their haircuts are a tad bit uneven and/or choppy, I can "rough up" the style with gel and make it look, you know, cutting-edge. It really isn't too bad. And if it saves me over $50 a month? That could make any 'do more attractive.

Except for this:

There's just no excuse for that.

... Hence the clippers.

(PS - See that new photo of Curtis and me over in the righthand sidebar? The one that says, "Vote for me?" I'll explain it more in tomorrow's post ... but for now ... wanna toss us a vote, pretty please? Just click on the pic ...)


Bad: hearing the phrase, "Mommy, we made glue out of eggs!" from your two youngest dudes.

Good: peeping cautiously into the fridge and realizing that isn't true, the eggs are fine.

Bad: realizing that the "glue" in question is not actually eggs, but is in fact peanut butter. All over the tabletop. Like 1/8" deep.

Think about that for just a minute. Peanut butter. On a wooden tabletop. Gumming up the surface, settling into each tiny groove. It's less like glue and more like ... well, paste. And when you try to wipe it with a paper towel? It just smeeeeears dryly all over the place. Peanut butter doesn't exactly absorb, you know?

I had to use a plastic scraper, y'all. And then tackle it with cleaner and paper towels and enough force to make my arms feel like they were gonna fall off.

... Twice.

These boys are lucky I like 'em.

Nag Hag

Hey you. Stop slumping. And wipe that smudge off your monitor.

Sorry, sorry. You're an adult. Slump all you want to, you and your dirty computer screen. Forgive my nagging ... it's just a force of habit. Because, y'all? It's ALL I SEEM TO DO ANY MORE.

As much as I'd like to quit, it seems virtually impossible. I mean - how can I, when 90% of the stuff that goes on in my house requires a reprimand? Quit hitting your brother. Don't throw that. Wipe that up. Close the lid. Use an inside voice. Stop chasing the dog with your scooter. No pinching. Quit hitting your brother. Keep the milk in the cup. Stop pulling on that. Stop hanging on that. Stop climbing on that. Don't color on that. Don't spit. Get your coat off the floor. Close the refrigerator. QUIT. HITTING. Your BROTHER!

I swear that my family - husband included - thinks that it gives me some sort of pleasure to nag all the ever-lovin' time. But OMG. It's freaking exhausting. I get so tired of nagging. Yet what's my alternative? It's either nag, or find myself with (extra) messes to clean, (more) broken stuff (like the mini-blind that I found mysteriously dangling from the effing ceiling fan the other day), and a houseful of dudes who leave the seat up all the time. Sure, I could let them make the messes and suffer the consequence of cleaning it up themselves - but then I'd have to nag them through every step of the cleaning process.

It's like I can't win.

I've tried replacing the nagging with positive reinforcement, praising my children for good things instead of pointing out all that they do wrong. This sounds fabulous in theory. But honestly? For every one share, every unprompted cleanup, every single sweet brotherly moment, there are ten (okay, twelve) incidents that require some sort of reprimand. I mean, what am I supposed to say? "Gee, son, I couldn't help but notice as you lifted your arm to backhand your brother that your muscles are looking very strong these days. Way to go!" ... or maybe, "Wow, what a great job you did making three separate puddles of pee on the floor around the base of the toilet instead of just one!"

It doesn't help that two of my three kids are going through this phase lately where they DO. NOT. LISTEN. It's like they don't even hear me, like their little ears have stopped registering the tone of my voice, and it's just so much more background noise they tune out. So whatever I have to tell them? I have to tell them, like, a hundred times. And even if the first time it's a gentle reminder, it doesn't come out as nicely the second or third (or fourth) time. 

As if that's not bad enough, I have a hard time switching effortlessly from Mommy-mode to wife-mode. So the nagging often extends (inadvertently, I swear!) to my husband. I try to keep it in check, to be mindful of who I'm talking to (stop laughing, Honey, I seriously do), but ... yeah. Like my efforts with the kids, that doesn't always work.

I'm a nag. And I hate it. And I hate that everyone seems to think I like it. Like it's part of my motherly identity. I don't want that.

But I'm fresh out of ideas as to how to kick the habit, or turn things around so that I don't need to nag. There's got to be some way. I mean, Michelle Duggar has tons of kids, and she doesn't nag.

... At least not on camera.

French Onion Soup a la Frumpy - a Tutorial

It's not even nine o'clock in the morning, and I just finished a bowl of French onion soup: the breakfast of champions, y'all. And seriously, if I hadn't just polished off the last of the leftovers, I would probably have it for lunch too. (Just like I did yesterday.) Because I love me some soup - but I looooooooove me some French onion soup. Which is why I have made it and made it and made it, time after time, slowly but surely tweaking the recipe until I have what I feel is the perfect version.

Yeah, I said it. The perfect version. I know, it's a bold claim, but trust me: I have tested and re-tested this recipe and the techniques used therein. I eat French onion soup at literally every restaurant I go to that offers it, and have done so in more than one country, so I'm pretty sure my taste buds are what you'd call "experienced" at distinguishing a good French onion soup from a mediocre one. And this recipe, my friends, makes a goooood French onion soup (in fact, I just gave the recipe to someone recently who enthused that it was like restaurant soup). Trust me: I've come a long (long long long long long) way from the days when I nearly got my kids drunk from it.

So in the style of (a bootleg, knockoff, wannabe) Pioneer Woman, I'm going to share with you my FOS recipe, complete with three exclusive never-before-seen photos of onions (that I snapped with my glamorous cell phone camera)!! Why? Because you're my peeps, and even though I rarely post recipes, I can't hold out on sharing such a delicious FOS any longer. (See what I'm doing here? Substituting "FOS" for "French onion soup?" I feel that's the cool thing to do from this point on.)

There is no special, secret, have-to-climb-the-French-alps-to-get-it ingredient; in fact, for something that tastes so deliciously rich and complex, this recipe has surprisingly few ingredients. Simple is divine! The biggest "secret" is actually patience - but we'll get to that in a minute. First: the onions.

I just use plain ol' yellow onions, although you could use whites or Vidalias or whatever you've got. But I think the yellow ones are the best. And rather than painstakingly chopping them by hand (and crying my eyes out the whole time), I use the mandolin slicer of death to just slicesliceslice them quickly into thin rings. If you want more bite-sized pieces you could just cut the rings in half, but they cook down so much anyway that it's not like they're hard to get in your mouth. Unless my mouth is just, like, super-big. Which it very well may be.


While you're slicing your onions, melt some butter (real butter thankyouverymuch, not margarine or any other substitute) in your soup pot over low heat. I use about half a stick, but it's not a precise science: if you want to use more, use more. You could also use half butter, half olive oil. Put your onion slices into the melted butter/oil/whatever until you've got a full-ish pot, like this:

It takes about six big onions to fill up my pot. You want a LOT of onions, because they will shrink to teeny-tiny proportions once they're properly cooked. So even if it feels like you've got enough onions - keep adding until your pot is brimming with 'em. Then give them a toss to coat them with the melted butter. At this point, you can add a pinch of sugar if you want (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't) - but don't add salt just yet.

Now comes the fun part: waiting. It takes time, and lots of it, for the onions to properly cook. Now a lot of the websites I looked on while I was researching how to perfectly caramelize onions said something like, "This will take at least twenty minutes." But I? Have never gotten perfectly caramelized onions in twenty minutes. Or half an hour. Nope. I prefer to cook mine looooow and sloooooow: on a "3" or "4" heat setting for like two hours, give or take a bit, stirring them every fifteen minutes or so. Once they start to cook, they'll look like this:

See how much they've cooked down? But although they might be soft and golden, they're not done yet. Ohhh nooo. More time is needed, my pretties. At this point, you can add a couple teaspoons of minced garlic (I just use the pre-minced kind from a jar ... but never garlic powder or garlic salt. Ick. Use the real stuff, please). Stir it into the onions. (Did you know that garlic can caramelize, too?) Caramelization is an amazing process. It takes sharp, pungent, crispy onions and turns them into tender, sweet-savory, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Like magic.

Now more waiting (and, if you're like me, impatiently peering into the pot and trying not to drool into it because OMG, the smeeeeellllll). You've got to cook those babies until they look like this:

Actually, you could wait even longer - until they're even darker than that. Because the deep caramelization of the onions is what gives this soup its awesome yum-factor. Just make sure you're watching and stirring occasionally so they don't burn. Because burnt onions aren't where it's at.

At this point, sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of flour and stir it around. It will look kind of like a pasty mess - that's okay, bear with me (you can add a little more butter if you want to loosen it up a bit, but it isn't necessary). Cook for about two minutes, stirring it around some.

Then comes the alcohol! Margaritas for everybody!

Just kidding. Well, about the margarita part anyway - it is time for some alcohol, but it's going in the soup. I use this: Holland House brand cooking sherry.

It's fancy stuff. I get it at Walmart, y'all.

If you want, you can use red wine. Get all expensive if you desire. But I've found that the cooking sherry works just fine. Now: stir about a half-cup of it into the floured onions. Turn the heat up a little bit (just a smidge) and cook it for at least three or four minutes. Because if you don't? You risk getting tipsy from your soup. Seriously. If you haven't read the post about this that I linked to earlier, go back and do it now. Consider it an integral part of your FOS lesson.

Once you've cooked it for a few, stir in some beef broth or stock. Some recipes call for chicken, but I've found that beef lends a much deeper flavor. For this, splurge on the decent stuff. I mean, it won't be disgusting if you use the generic white-carton "BEEF BROTH" ... but it makes quite a difference, so get the best you can get. Pour it in slowly, stirring as you go. I use about one and a half of the beef broth that comes in the 32-ounce boxes ... so approximately 48-50 ounces. Use your own judgment.

Next, grab a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. I use Lea & Perrins, but I'm not sure the brand makes a huge difference. Add a few glugs - I'd say maybe 1/8th to 1/4th of a cup? - to the soup. (Don't you just love my precise and scientific measurements?) And when you've done that, add some salt (I use kosher salt) and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper. It's important to taste-test at this point. A lot. Much like when you make, you know, dessert or something.

Although theoretically you could eat it right this minute (and trust me, it's hard not to), it's much better if you let it simmer for a while so all those elements can marry into a flavor that makes your eyes roll back in your head.

Now this is where my recipe differs from the others. Traditionally, FOS is served with a piece of bread on top, smothered in melted cheese. But I have a thing about soggy bread. Bread + liquid = not delicious. So you're welcome to take the steps of putting the soup into the ovenproof bowl, laying a slice of bread over it, and broiling some cheese on top - but I'm not going to. Instead, I like to put some cheese (Gruyere or Muenster) in the bottom of my bowl and ladle the hot soup over it, making it into one big melty, gooey, cheesy, heavenly mess. No soggy bread needed.

I don't have a picture of the finished product because, well, I was too busy shoveling it in my face. But I did try to put together an actual recipe for y'all to follow rather than the sometimes-vague proportions I referred to in the tutorial. However, even my proportions vary from day to day, so tweak it the way you see fit. Anyway, here you go:

French Onion Soup a la Frumpy

5-7 yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 T. butter
a pinch of sugar, optional
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 T. flour
1/2 cup cooking sherry or good-quality red wine
48-50 oz. beef broth or stock (almost two cartons)
1/8 - 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a soup pot (mine is either 3 or 4 quarts) over medium-low heat. Add sliced onions and a pinch of sugar, and toss to coat. Let onions cook, stirring occasionally, until deep brown in color (be patient, and don't be tempted to turn up the heat!). Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of flour over the caramelized onions and let it cook another 2-3 minutes more. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup cooking sherry, scraping up brown bits with the spoon; cook for 4-5 minutes or until liquid is slightly reduced. Slowly stir in beef broth; add Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Simmer. Add cheese (I prefer Gruyere or Muenster) and croutons/bread if desired to individual bowls before serving. Enjoy!!

I can't even tell you how many people this recipe serves because I eat this soup like a total pig and can polish off multiple "servings" in one sitting ... plus I like leftovers. I'd say you could get six to eight normal-sized servings out of it - maybe more if you're using bread - but don't quote me on that.

Happy eating, y'all!


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