Process for Vacuuming a Room Without Kids:Step 1: Remove vacuum cleaner from closet. Step 2: Plug in the vacuum. Step 3: Turn on the vacuum. Step 4: Use the vacuum to suck debris and animal hair from the floor. Step 5: Unplug and return the vacuum to the closet. Approximate Time Required: 5 minutes
Process for Vacuuming a Room With Kids:Step 1: Remove vacuum cleaner from closet. Step 2: Rehang all of the jackets which the baby pulled from the closet while you were removing the vacuum. Step 3: Negotiate an argument over the remote between the two other kids. Step 4: Plug in the vacuum. Step 5: Instruct oldest kid to return the salamander to the outdoors and to stop squishing him. Step 6: Replug the vacuum which the baby unplugged, while you were trying to save the salamander’s life. Step 7: Return all vacuum accessories to their proper places. Step 8: Turn on the vacuum. Step 9: Begin vacuuming the room, while the baby rides on top of the vacuum, switching it off at intervals of 5 seconds. Step 10: Turn the vacuum back on. Repeat as often as necessary in order to vacuum first half of room. Step 11: Pause to console the child who is literally crying over spilt milk. Step 12: Clean up the milk. Step 13: Unravel the vacuum cord from the baby’s neck. Step 14: Resume vacuuming the second half of the room. Step 15: Revacuum the first half of the room after the baby spills goldfish on the floor, then crushes them riverdance-style. Step 16: Instruct the children to put clothes on before playing outside. Step 17: Accept that the vacuuming task is futile. Try again tomorrow.
Approximate Time Required: Unknown – This task has never been successfully completed.
The actual experience, when sandwiched between twenty other equally impossible ‘simple’ tasks, is only remotely comical in writing. Experiencing it is a heart-pounding, curl-into-a-ball-and-cry-with-frustration, exercise in futility. (Yes, attempting to vacuum a room has brought me to tears more times than I’d care to admit.) If only I could learn to accept this loss of control over accomplishing simple tasks. Each day feels like a mad rush of tasks, errands, and chores, yet there is scarce evidence of the work accomplished by the end. Even the process of writing this simple blog post has been overly complicated by a million micro interruptions of the salamander, spilt milk, and crushed goldfish variety.
But recently I have managed to find the most perfect peace in a somewhat unusual place…the gym. Many people dread going to the gym. For me, the gym’s bright, sterile environment invokes the same calm as a dimly lit spa with soothing water features. I feel my heart rate decelerate when I walk through those doors, because my gym offers childcare. So, every day, I have been shuffling the little ones off to the gym, where I claim one hour to use as I please. One precious hour, where I am the master of my time, to select a task and complete it with minimal interruptions. One hour where I can choose to move slowly between the strength training machines or to let my heart race with the endorphins of a good run as compared to the cortisol of home stress. That hour may not make vacuuming a room any less stressful, but at least I had that one blissful hour.
And truly, as completing any task is basically impossible anyway, that one hour removed from my daily duties, has made little to no difference with respect to the condition of my house. Now, if that daily hour manages to make a difference with respect to the condition of my waistline, that will be the icing on the cake.
Thankfully, the kids actually love going to the Kids Korner at the gym. There are novel toys and video games (which are a bit more violent than anything I allow in our home, thus exciting in an illicit way) and other kids to socialize with. So, in addition to my daily weekday gym escape, we’ve been taking a family trip to the gym each weekend. A post-gym stop at Panera for lunch, where we pick up salads and smoothies and other sorts of yummy feel-good food, has become part of our weekend routine.
I’ve been crushing on Panera’s Spinach Power Salad ever since they introduced it to the menu. I could eat it everyday, but that be bad for my wallet. So, I’ve come up with my own version of a salad inspired by Panera’s tasty offering. My salad features the same fresh baby spinach, topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions, crispy bacon, protein-rich eggs, and crispy garlic-pepper onion straws, tossed in a simple vinaigrette made with sweet caramelized onions and a touch of honey. It’s a near perfect combination of flavors and textures, the sort of thing which makes a healthful salad feel like a treat.
Today’s Focus on Technique – Mustard as an Emulsifier
I add a touch of mustard to almost every vinaigrette I make. In addition to adding a satisfying hint of flavor, mustard has the ability to act as an emulsifier, binding the oil and vinegar, so that the dressing is less likely to separate. This secret superpower of mustard occurs as a result of the ground mustard seed’s particles’ ability to coat tiny droplets of oil, allowing them to mix harmoniously with the vinegar or lemon juice in a dressing. It doesn’t take a lot, but has the best overall result with ground mustard powder or a good quality prepared mustard.
Spinach Salad with Bacon, Eggs, Mushrooms and Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette
Inspired by Panera’s Spinach Power Salad
- 8 slices bacon, cooked to crisp, crumbled
- 3 eggs, hardboiled and chopped
- 9-12 cups baby spinach leaves
For the sauteed mushrooms and onions
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, sliced
- Salt and pepper
For the dressing
- 1/2 cup caramelized onions (from the sauteed onions)
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Salt and pepper
For the crispy onions
- 1 large sweet onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup flour
- 1-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Vegetable oil, for frying
For the sauteed mushrooms and onions: Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and golden. Remove the onions from the pan. Set 1/2 cup aside for the dressing. Save the remaining onions for topping the salad. Add a touch more oil to the pan, if necessary. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 7-10 minutes, until tender and golden. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
For the caramelized onion vinaigrette: In a blender or food processor, combine the caramelized onions, vinegar, oil, mustard, and honey. Blend until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
For the crispy garlic-pepper onion straws: Soak the sliced onions in the buttermilk for 30 minutes or so. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. In a large fry pan, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil at medium/medium-high heat for a few minutes, until it’s good and hot. In small batches, remove some of the onions from the buttermilk, shake to remove excess, then toss in the flour mixture until well coated. Scatter the onions in the oil. If the oil is hot enough, they should sizzle instantly and cook to golden and crispy in about two minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain over a paper towel. Repeat with remaining onions.
To assemble the salad: Toss a generous serving of spinach leaves (3-4 cups) with a bit of the dressing. Top the salad with the sauteed onions and mushrooms, chopped boiled egg, bacon, and the crispy garlic-pepper onions.
Makes 3-4 large salads