Rita and her husband, John, adopted their two sons, ages 6 and 4, as toddlers from China.

She writes about adoption, parenting after infertility, and other topics relevant to Catholic families. Follow her on Twitter: OpenWindow_CR or email her at openwindowcr@gmail.com  Also check out her Facebook page


July 2014
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Recent Comments

Melody, it is so difficult when God's plans don't match ours, or at least His timing. You are in my prayers. P.S. I have been enjoying your NFP posts!


This is great Rita, thank you. My husband and I are discovering we may not be as fertile as we'd hoped and it's so good to be reminded that it's God that's in charge and not us and that we need to give up control and let Him work.



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Open Window

NFP is not just birth control; how infertility deepened my appreciation for natural family planning

It's NFP Awareness Week, and I'm reading a lot of posts about natural family planning. I worry that in all the advocacy to encourage people to exchange artificial contraception for NFP, people who are unfamiliar with NFP will think it as just another form of birth control.

What I love about NFP is how it reminds us that we are not in control.

Two people don't make a baby.

Men and women don't have the ability to create another life.

Only God can do that.

That is how using NFP has enriched my faith and my marriage. Through NFP you can discover precisely what you can do to give yourselves the best possible chance to conceive a child--without any intervention that interferes with the actual marital act.

But in the end, you have to recognize that a couple can only conceive a child if the third person in your marriage, God, steps in and adds that life-giving spark. Only He can create the soul, the tiny life that grows into the beautiful child you will hold in your arms one day.

My husband and I have never conceived a child. And so it's true that we have never experienced a surprise pregnancy at an inopportune time when finances were tight, when our house was crowded, or when we were completely overwhelmed. So it would be easy to brush off my perspectives on NFP as those of a mother who longed to conceive and can't imagine trying to prevent conception long term.

But even through our infertility, NFP has enriched our lives.

NFP, after all, is not about saying no to God.

It's about saying yes.

Using NFP leaves a window open, a door ajar.

NFP says to God, "We recognize that we are not in control. We are going to do the best we can to make what we feel are the best decisions for our family, but we are also leaving this in Your hands. You are the giver of life, the One who knows better than we do what we can handle, what lies ahead, what plans you have for us."

NFP says, "Jesus, we place our trust in You. And we will be grateful for any gift you give, especially the gift of life."

God sent our children to us in a different way. And we endured years of infertility before we started down the road to adoption.

So I can't credit NFP with creating our family. But I credit it for assuring us that we had given our own fertility every chance, with helping John and me grow closer as a couple through prayer and discernment, and with reminding us to treasure, even more deeply, that the gift of life is never, ever to be taken for granted.

I am so, so grateful that we never said no to God, that we were always open to His plan. When we finally began our adoption journey, I believe we were able to see the path more clearly because we had always been open to life.

And adoption was just another step along the way to creating our family.

We are not in control.

Two people do not bring a child into their family from the other side of the world.

Only God can do that.

You might also like to read: 

July 23, 2014 11:21
By Rita Buettner

Z is for zucchini season! Having fun with our favorite squash

You’d really have to be a meanie

Not to like this sweet zucchini.

When, with a bow, our friend arrived,

Our interest in the squash revived.

It was so large, so vast, so ripe,

We leapt into zucchini hype.

How should we cook it? Quick sauté?

In cake or brownies? In flambé?

Diced or sliced or grilled to brown?

Stuffed and baked, then served around?

A Pinterest search just made us drool

And wonder how to use our jewel.

But someone had another thought

And soon enough the deed was wrought.

Two eyes and glue gave him a face

And we danced ’round this crazy place.

When all the silliness was through,

Our sons said, “Now let’s have fondue!”

And so we dined with our green friend

But that’s not quite the story’s end

Since summer’s young and gardens grow,

And there will be still more, we know!

What is your favorite way to enjoy zucchini?

July 21, 2014 10:58
By Rita Buettner

Full of Grace: Feeling blessed in my vocation as a working mother

I was always sure that I would be a stay-at-home mother, especially when my children were young.

It was only after becoming a mother that I realized that those were just hypothetical plans, not based in reality.

The truth is that not every family can afford to live on a single income.

So when we became parents, John and I realized we had no choice. I had to work. People talk about how some mothers choose to stay home and others choose to pursue careers. For many mothers there is no option. There are groceries to buy and a mortgage to pay.

So I kept working. And I worried. Should I be spending more time with my son? Was I missing all the best moments of his childhood? Would he come to love other people more than he loved me? Was he getting all he needed?

Gradually, bit by bit, I started to see my answer. And I began to feel God’s hand reassuring me that everything was fine--and maybe better than fine. Because whenever I look at my son--and now when I look at his younger brother--I can see that our children are thriving.

Would I love to spend more time with our boys? Absolutely.

Would I enjoy being a stay-at-home mother? Of course.

Do I worry that I could be a better mother than I am? All the time.

But do my sons need me and only me at this moment? No. They have a network of people--teachers, extended family, and others--who are supporting them, educating them, celebrating them, and partnering with John and me in helping them become the men we hope they will be one day.

I came to realize that for me, the desire to be a stay-at-home mother had much more to do with my personal hopes than with our children’s needs. And when I saw it that way, I started to come to peace with it. Because if it’s a matter of giving up what I wanted, and it’s not that our boys are suffering as a result, then that’s something I can handle.

We all have crosses to bear. We all find ourselves on paths we didn’t expect to walk. God gives us the strength for those journeys. When I see it in those terms, my yoke feels easy, and my burden light.

The truth is that I am serving my family, just not in the way that I expected. I do wish I could work less (doesn’t everyone?), but I have a fantastic job that is meaningful and rewarding. And, as our older son started kindergarten last fall, I found myself realizing that as they get older, they are more independent, and I am even more at peace with the path God has chosen for me.

It’s not always easy. In fact, it can be incredibly hard. I feel scattered and disorganized and tugged in different directions. Some days I can’t believe how much I am doing for so many people, including the three most important people in my world. And I know I fall short in so many ways.

But I am so, so honored to have been given this role as a wife and a mother. And I am also extremely blessed to have a job working in a family-friendly workplace where I am valued and can make a difference through my work.

As I look back on my first five years as a mother, I can see God’s fingerprints everywhere. And I know I am where God wants me to be, both in my career and in my role as a mother of these two magnificent children.

I am filling a role He carved out for me. And, as I place my trust in Him, I feel an overwhelming sense of encouragement, strength, hope, and peace.

July 20, 2014 11:04
By Rita Buettner

An open letter to the mouse in our kitchen

Dear Sir/Madam,

Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the human who was sitting in the kitchen chair the other night when you decided to see what crumbs my sons dropped during dinner.

Yes, I'm the scary person who banged on the table so you would run back under the stove.

And I do need to thank you for running away, just as I need to thank my husband who came running to see why I was making so much noise while writing a blog.

Let me get to the point. You need to leave.

A few things for you to consider:

1. It's gorgeous outside. Have you noticed? This is the best July weather Baltimore has ever seen. It's barely humid, more like late April than July. You should stay outside where you can frolic and play in the sunshine.

2. Our crumbs aren't that great. The neighbors have to be better cooks than I am. And besides, the gardens are full of delicious food. We even have two tiny green beans growing in ours. Help yourself. Leave my son's bag of marshmallows alone.

3. Our little boy desperately wants to catch you and keep you forever as a pet. And, if he gets his hands on you, he will--at least until I scream, "GET THAT THING OUTSIDE!" I should have listed that as number one.

4. This is not a mouse-friendly household. My niece who lives out of town has three rats. They are elegant, delightful creatures, and we have great respect for mice and rats in the world. We just don't want them in our house. But I am happy to provide her address if you are interested.

5. I am allergic to mice. Or at least that's why our son thinks I get upset about the idea of having mice in the house. And chances are I am allergic since I have plenty of other animal allergies. Let's keep this house mouse-free.

6. We aren't just sending a letter. We've also left a few calling cards for you and your friends to find.

Thank you for taking this letter to heart. We do love all God's creatures, especially "da little guys," as our son says. But it's time for us to go our separate ways. I'll stay here and you go anywhere else.



P.S. Please feel free to spread the word to your immediate and extended family.

July 19, 2014 10:45
By Rita Buettner

Bowling angels, cousins, an invitation for some extra blogging fun, where there's fire there's smoke, girls' Lego sets, and deciphering words (7 Quick Takes Friday)

~ 1 ~

When the thunder was so loud one night this week, Daniel started complaining.

“I don’t like the angels and the bowling,” he said.

“They are making a lot of noise,” I said.

"Mama,” said Leo, “what if the angels are bowling Jesus' rock that rolled away?"  

~ 2 ~

When the boys’ cousins came to town last week, they brought along a pin art toy

It is amazing how many different ways you can play with such a simple toy, and perhaps not as surprising how hard it was to pry it from the grown-ups’ hands and chins and noses.

We can’t wait to see the cousins again when we go to the beach together in a few weeks. As I told Leo and Daniel the other day, all the cousins will be at the beach.

“Well, except for Georgie, of course, because he’s in heaven,” I said.

“Yes,” Leo said, “but I think Georgie will be with us at the beach, too. Because he can be wherever he wants to be, and he’ll want to be at the beach with us.”

I don’t know where our 6-year-old gets his theology, but he certainly knows how to make me smile.

~ 3 ~
Although our nephew Georgie passed away last fall, his grave marker was just installed this week. My mother and sister had visited the cemetery over the weekend and told us that the ground had been prepared for the marker to go in--and our flag and pinwheel were gone.

So Daniel and I went to the cemetery on Tuesday afternoon and there was the marker.

After so many months of marking Georgie’s grave in temporary ways, it felt good to see the stone. It also made me sad. I knelt on one knee and he sat on my other knee and I said to our 4-year-old, “What should we say?”

“Hail Mary,” he started, reciting his go-to prayer. “Full of grace. Mama, did you know that grace is in this one?”

Thank goodness it is.
~ 4 ~

Next weekend, July 25-26, many of my fellow Catholic bloggers are headed to Edel, a conference that is sure to be wonderful. I’m not going, not because I wouldn’t like to go, but partly because we already had plans, partly because it's my birthday weekend, partly because it costs money, and mainly because I don’t like to be far from my family.

After all, I might miss out on ironing-board surfing.

While I was talking online with other bloggers who will not be attending the conference, I proposed that we hold a virtual online conference, sharing our thoughts on faith and family as if we were giving a conference presentation. It might make readers laugh or cry. It might be witty or profound or joyous or eye-opening or just an ordinary glimpse into life.

I’m calling it, “Full of Grace: Finding Divine Inspiration in the Dandelions and Dust Bunnies,” and I’ll open it for posts early next week.

I’m a little nervous, as if I’m sending party invitations and maybe no one will come. If you have a blog, I hope you’ll join me. And even if you don't have a blog, I hope you'll stop by for the fun. It's the right price and no travel needed.

~ 5 ~

While we were hanging out with the cousins over the weekend, my father decided to perform a science experiment in the backyard. He’s a physicist and I think he focuses on ignition, though as Leo points out, “Mama, if he’s your father, shouldn't you know what he does?”

Anyway, Grandpa burned what I believe was some copper oxide and the children were quite impressed by the flame and the puff of smoke.

Then he decided to burn a larger amount, but the flame didn’t quite light properly right away. Suddenly there was a huge bang and a flash of light and an enormous black cloud in the sky.

It was quite dramatic. Even though no one even lost an eyebrow, our children are still talking about it.

I’m not sure what other grandfathers do to get their grandchildren’s attention, but I suspect Grandpa won’t do that again any time soon. He'll come up with something else.

~ 6 ~
Another thing I won’t do any time soon is request a “girl’s Lego set” from Pley.com, the Lego rental service we use.

The Dolphin Cruiser looked wonderfully elaborate, so I had added it to Leo’s wish list. When it arrived, he looked at it and said, “Why did you order me a girl’s set, Mama? Put it back in the box and send it right back.”

To me a Lego set is just a 3D puzzle, but to him it’s a toy to assemble and play with.

“How do you know it’s a girl’s set?” I asked, flipping through the pink and purple manuals.

“Because it has girl mini-figures,” he said

“But the dolphins are boys,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Well, are they wearing pink?”

“No,” he said.

“It’s probably too complicated, anyway,” I said. “It has two manuals.”

“It does?” he said.

Then he came over to look. And the next thing I knew he was assembling it. Still, even though he spent a lot of time building, he didn’t really enjoy it. I guess we’ll stick with “boys’ sets” from now on.

~ 7 ~
For the past few months Daniel has been referring to something he pronounces “KAY-buh-kye-uh-NY-ah.”

I had no idea what it was. The context never helped, and it started reminding me of when he was much younger and he said a phrase that we just could not figure out.

He mentioned the Kaybuhkyeuhnyah again this week, and I said, “What is it?”

“I draw it for you, Mama,” he said.

As he reached for the marker and started drawing, I got all excited. Finally I would know what it was! Then it occurred to me that chances were the drawing wouldn't be very enlightening.

As he finished, he brought the drawing over and I saw this.

Aha. So that’s a Kaybuhkyeuhnyah. Of course. Aren't you glad we know what it is now?

See more quick takes at Jen’s Conversion Diary.

July 18, 2014 12:05
By Rita Buettner

When life gives you blueberries, make homemade blueberry cake

Our 4-year-old son is considering a career as a construction worker or “a science,” but he's also thinking of being a chef. I am always happy to have company in the kitchen, so he and I have been doing a lot of baking together this spring.

And, although Daniel and I enjoy making pies, my husband really loves cake.

For butter or for worse, you know.

Besides, my mother has a blueberry cake recipe that my grandmother got from a friend decades ago. I’m not sure where she found it, but it’s simple and delicious and the berries are ripe and on sale.

When Daniel and I started stirring the batter the other day, however, we couldn’t find our tube pan. Apparently I had left it at my parents’ house. So we made our cake in two round pans.

I actually think I might like making it that way even better--partly because then we had a second cake to share with my sister and brother-in-law.

It occurred to me that you could also cut the recipe in half and make it in one 8-inch round, but then you only have one cake.

Decisions, decisions.


½ cup butter

2 cups sugar

3 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

4 tsp. baking powder

1 cup milk

1 pt. blueberries


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan. You can also make the recipe in two 8-inch round pans.

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl sift flour with baking powder. Add to butter mixture alternately with milk. (I usually do it in three portions, stirring each in completely before adding the next.)

Roll blueberries in flour and add to the batter.

Bake 1 hour for tube pan, or 45-50 minutes for the 8-inch round pans.

Let the cake(s) cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and flip onto a plate.

The cake is perfectly delicious after it cools, but you won’t wait that long to try it. You’ll slice a warm, crumbly piece right away, perhaps burning your fingers in the process, and you’ll inhale it.

Maybe you'll even eat it this quickly.

Oh, and Daniel will tell you that a slice of this cake is better with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. But I’m betting you could have guessed that.

Linking up with Try a New Recipe Tuesday!

July 15, 2014 10:56
By Rita Buettner

Celebrating life: How to plan a prayer gathering for a mother-to-be

One of my friends is expecting a baby. As we were thinking about how to celebrate this little one, her second child, another friend mentioned that she had recently attended an evening of prayer for an expectant mother.

I loved the idea of coming together in prayer to celebrate this new life, and so did the expectant mother, who is Catholic. We considered several different approaches, but we decided to go with simple and turn to a traditional Catholic prayer, the rosary.

Everything turned out beautifully, and not because of my efforts. The rosary is such a lovely prayer, and coming together to pray it for a common purpose felt so right.

As we were praying, I looked around our circle and felt such a sense of connection with our group, with the Blessed Mother, with her Son, with the saints in heaven, and with the little one we are waiting to meet. I have prayed the rosary in a church full of people, and I have prayed it in a small group with my family. But this was special.

Tips on planning your own prayer gathering:

1.       Choose the date. Since it isn’t a baby shower, you can hold your prayer gathering as soon as your friend announces that she’s expecting. You don’t need to wait to find out a gender, or give her time to register. Bring on the prayers!

2.       Decide on the guest list. My friend helped me choose a small group of close female friends and family who would be comfortable praying together. Ten people came. We could have had a few more, but I think the event worked well because it was so intimate.

3.       Select prayers. We prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, using brief meditations we found online. I inserted the names of the mother, father, and baby, and printed them. Right before we started praying, I asked whether any guest would like to lead a mystery, and four people volunteered. That left the fifth mystery for me.

4.       Explain the event on the invite. I called the event a prayer gathering and said that we would pray the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. I wanted to make sure the guests knew what to expect, especially since I had never attended an event like this myself. That took away any potential awkwardness, and most people arrived with rosary in hand.

5.       Invite guests to bring a spiritual bouquet. Since the day was focused on prayer rather than presents, I invited each guest to bring a flower and a spiritual bouquet—a set of prayers for the baby and the parents-to-be. The flowers made a lovely bouquet for the mother-to-be to take with her. And she can hold onto the spiritual bouquets and know how loved and anticipated this child is already.

6.       Select a menu. I was considering making a rosary out of cupcakes or even out of fruit. Then I thought of making a cake and putting a rosary on top of it. Then I started thinking about how warm it is in July, and I decided on ice cream sundaes.

The guests were excited when I invited them to assemble their sundaes. And that was before they saw that I was offering cut-up Bergers Cookies as an ice cream topping.

I also offered some crunchy appetizers, mainly eaten by my children when they arrived for the end of the event. And I made a blueberry cake because I didn’t want to assume everyone would like ice cream. If I were to hold a similar event in the winter, I might serve tea and hot chocolate with cookies or cake—something simple.

7.       Create a holy card. A few weeks earlier I asked the mother-to-be to pick a favorite prayer. Then I created holy cards for each guest to take home to pray for the mother and baby in a special way. I made them in Microsoft Word and had them printed on card stock.

8.       Offer a little something extra. We bought glass ice cream dishes for the ice cream bar and the guests each took one home with a holy card. It wasn’t necessary, but I liked the idea that each person would have something special to remember the event by, and perhaps to say a small prayer for the baby and parents each time she uses her dish.

As I was washing the dishes after everyone left, I found myself thinking about how absolutely pleasant the whole experience was.

By making prayer the focus of our gathering, we were able to turn everything over to the Blessed Mother and then just enjoy our time together. We didn’t ooh and aah over gifts, and we didn’t debate the wonders of breastfeeding or swaddling—which would have been fun, too, but it also meant no delivery horror stories. The mother wasn’t really in the spotlight, which she loved.

I also like that you could hold this type of event for any pregnancy—whether a first or a thirteenth—or while waiting to adopt. You could have a similar event before a wedding, while trying to sell a house, celebrating a new home, sending a child to college, or for a thousand other reasons. My mind is turning, thinking of the possibilities.

Of course, I won’t have time to plan another prayer gathering any time soon because I didn’t listen to Leo when he helped me make my spiritual bouquet. He told me we should just write “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” on each petal, but I didn’t feel that looked like enough.

So I’ll be pretty busy praying—while I eat that extra ice cream.

July 14, 2014 01:30
By Rita Buettner

Lego camp, Fourth of July pies, a TV on the wall, how evaporation is like a seat belt, and tarantulas in the sandbox (7 Quick Takes Friday)

— 1 —

Five-day work weeks after holiday weeks always feel especially long.

We made it feel a little longer this week by adding a Lego camp for Leo, which meant extra driving and losing my lunch hour to my part-time job as my children’s chauffeur. It was worth it, of course, because our 6-year-old got to join forces with one of his friends to build a robot.

And a house.

And a maze.

And a spaceship and some transmissions and a conveyor belt and part of a bridge and a car and probably other things I never heard about.

“How was Lego camp?” I asked him at the end of the first day.

“Mama, it was medium,” he said. Today on a scale of 0 to 10 he ranked it “between a 5 and a 6.”

That’s high praise from our boy, especially since he had argued with me about even doing the camp. And I watched him in action yesterday. He loved every minute.

He’d just rather be at Grandma’s house. But who wouldn’t?

— 2 —
We celebrated the Fourth of July with pie.

Daniel and I also went to our neighborhood bike parade, though we didn’t take his bike. We’re still figuring out how to work the brakes.

Because our boys are a little older this year, we decided to try to see fireworks. We climbed in the car and drove to a spot where I was fairly sure we could see them. I was right. There were people sitting there in lawn chairs, waiting for the show to begin.

Then we turned around and looked at the boys. They were fast asleep. So we drove home.

At home Daniel woke up just before the fireworks started. And it turned out we were able to see some fireworks from our front yard.

This is what they looked like.

I don’t think we’ll be selling tickets next year, but Daniel could not have been happier.

— 3 —

I have no idea where to put the furniture in our living room. But my husband resolved one question when he installed our TV on the wall this week. Daniel helped him. He just loves to work.

“I want to be a workerman,” he said yesterday as we drove past some construction workers. “But I don’t want to sweat.”

It’s a fine goal.

Now if someone in the family would just become an interior designer and help us figure out where to put the sofa.

— 4 —

Our friends invited us over to swim in their pool the other day, and the boys had as much fun as you can imagine.

Afterward I asked Daniel what he liked best about swimming.

Daniel said, “1. The big fish. 2. The big boat. Second, the water guns.”

My favorite parts? 1. Seeing Daniel showing off his swimming skills. 2. Enjoying our friends. Second, I liked hearing our little guy show off his growing vocabulary.

— 5 —

I see photos of many children who need families, and sometimes I can’t get them out of my mind. This is one that is tugging at my heart.

Read this little boy’s story. I want to go bring him home. Maybe he could be your son? 

— 6 —

It was raining the other day and when it stopped, the sun came out and the rain started evaporating into the air. When Daniel and I walked outside together, we thought smoke was rising from the road. I tried to explain what was happening, and yet again I wished I had paid more attention in middle school science.

As we started driving, Daniel said, “Mama, what’s evaporation?”

I gave a feeble explanation I won’t offer here since my father (and most third graders) would be appalled.

“So…is evaporation like seat belts?” he said.

“Um, no, not really,” I said. Wow, I thought. I am even worse at explaining this than I thought.

“But the water comes down from the sky,” he said, “and then it goes back up. Like a seat belt.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes, that’s right. OK, so yes. I guess it is sort of like a seat belt.”

Maybe our children will teach me some science after all.

— 7 —

The other day Daniel mentioned that there were fire ants in the sandbox at school.

“At least I think them are fire ants,” he said. I am going to be sad when he starts saying "they" instead of "them." “Them are red.”

“Really?” I said. “Did you tell the teachers?”

He said he did. Then a few days later he announced that they have tarantulas in the sandbox, too.

“Them have hairy heads,” he said, “and two or 10 eyes.”

And here I thought the biggest risk of playing in the sandbox was bringing sand home in his shoes.

Bees by our 4-year-old; can you tell he used bubble wrap?

Read other quick takes at Jen’s Conversion Diary.

July 10, 2014 10:49
By Rita Buettner

Ready or not, here I come

Daniel loves to play hide and seek.

When it is his turn to hide, I know my role. I check all the wrong places first, ignoring the feet sticking out from the blanket or the thumps and giggles behind the door.

The other day we were playing and it was my turn to hide from him. I stepped into the bathtub and pulled the shower curtain across. He called to me and I called back, but it took him a while to find me. When he did, he laughed and laughed. When I stepped out of the bathtub, he jumped into my arms for a hug.

Then he became stern.

"Mama, I show you where to hide," he said. He took my hand and led me to a closet. "In there."

Then he disappeared to count down and yell, "Ready or not, here I come!"

I heard his feet pounding the floor as he ran straight to the closet, the one he had picked for me. Flashlight in hand, he threw the door open and shrieked in delight. He knew where I was hiding. There was no surprise. But that only added to his joy of discovering me.

No wonder God tells us we need to become like little children in our faith.

We know what we need to do to find God. We know where He is and what He's asking of us. He's hiding in plain sight, everywhere we go. He loves us completely, and waits to rejoice and celebrate the moments when we discover Him.

He knows us already, better than we know ourselves. And He is calling to us, nudging us, whispering to us, sometimes even shouting for us. Yet even when we discover Him, how often do we show that joy in the moment we encounter Him?

How fortunate we are to find God in a thousand different places and people and moments all the time. Yet how often do we squeal in delight and leap into His arms?

Today I am going to try to be more like our 4-year-old son and rejoice in discovering God wherever I can find him.

Today I will be a seeker, looking for God in every experience--and rejoicing when I find Him.

And I'll be listening for God's voice saying, "Ready or not, here I am!"

How are you encountering God today?

July 07, 2014 08:13
By Rita Buettner

When trying a sushi recipe, we’re on a California roll

The other day at the store Daniel was begging for sushi--which he had had only once before--so I picked out some that was fully cooked to take on our picnic the next day.

When Daniel pulled his sushi out of the cooler, Leo's friend wanted to taste it, but she has a sesame seed allergy, so we couldn’t share. And that got me thinking.

Our 4-year-old loves preparing food, and sushi is something I have never tried to make. Why shouldn’t we invite our friend to make sushi with us--without sesame seeds--and see how it turned out? Her mother loved the idea, and my online research made me feel confident we could pull it off.

We just needed to find a bamboo mat, and the sushi-making sites said you could find them in most grocery stores.

I decided we would make California rolls, where everything is cooked, and where we could use crab and avocado--two foods Daniel and I happen to love. We bought some carrots, too, because they looked so pretty at the store.

And, although I couldn’t find the bamboo mat at a department store or an upscale organic grocery store, I did track it down at our ordinary grocery store. And it was less than $4.50. The store also had everything else I needed:

Plastic wrap
Rice vinegar
Nori (seaweed)
Sushi rice

The prep time here is listed at 20 minutes. I just laughed out loud when I saw that because I’m pretty sure it took us more than an hour. Still, we made a lot of sushi and we were also feeding bits of crab and avocado and seaweed to our assistants who kept stopping by to help and hover and taste.

After we started, I regretted not splurging on a second bamboo mat since we could both have been rolling at the same time.

But overall I have to say we were both surprised at how doable it was, and we would absolutely do it again. I would never delve into the world of raw fish, but I would definitely try other vegetables and cooked fish. It required some artistry, some direction-following, and a little bit of adventure, and then we had fresh, delicious, lovely sushi.

Here is how to make a California roll:

1.       Cook your sushi rice according to the instructions on the rice container, adding the rice vinegar it asks for on the instructions at the end. (Because we didn't have seasoned rice vinegar, I stirred in a little soy sauce.) Although many sites said we needed a rice cooker, I cooked it in the pan. Some of the rice burned on the bottom, but I figure my measurements may have been off. We had more than enough rice to work with.

2.       Slice/dice all your vegetables while rice is cooking.

3.       Place plastic wrap on the bamboo mat and place a half-piece of seaweed, shiny side down on the plastic. (We cut ours with scissors.)

4.       Spread a thin layer of sushi rice on the seaweed. If you are using sesame seeds, you can add them to the rice now. You will need a bowl of water with a little vinegar in it to dip your fingers in to get the excess rice off of your hands as you work.

5.       Then flip the whole piece over so the rice is against the plastic. (You can also make the rolls with the seaweed on the outside, but we liked how they looked with the rice outside.)

6.       Place the vegetables and crab on the seaweed. 

You will want to put a lot on because it all looks and smells so wonderful. Resist the temptation to stuff a lot. You have to roll them and there’s only so much space inside those rolls!

7.       Then you start rolling from the bottom, rolling the bamboo mat over the roll, and tucking the ingredients inside as you go. As the roll forms, you use the mat to press the rice so it comes together and joins the rice on the other end.

This was one of our first, and we put it back in the plastic wrap
and kept rolling it inside the bamboo mat. It turned out just fine.

8.       Our rolls slipped right out of the plastic wrap, and my friend was amazing with her cutting skills, slicing the pieces off beautifully and making them look good on the plate.

We didn’t include wasabi inside ours, but you could add it easily while placing the vegetables inside. We offered ours with the soy sauce for dipping because I wasn’t sure the children would like the spice--though Leo does love his spicy food.

We served our sushi immediately, and it was delicious!

Then I covered some with plastic wrap and saved it for John to try that evening, and it was still quite good. I think this would be a fun, different appetizer to bring to a party, and you’d get to spend 20 minutes explaining how you made it.

After all, the only thing that might be more fun than making sushi might be talking about making sushi. And suddenly it occurs to me that I can't recall the last time we were invited to a party where we brought anything other than juice boxes. I wonder why....

Have you made your own sushi rolls? I'd love to hear from you!

Find more new recipes at Try a New Recipe at Home to 4 Kiddos

July 06, 2014 12:14
By Rita Buettner

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