Friday, March 30, 2012

Hello weekend....

At our house we really like books.  Kid books, magazines, chic-lit, serious literature…just about anything.  One of my favorite kid book characters is Fancy Nancy, a little girl who likes to do everything in a fancy way.  So, in the spirit of that I think this is going to be a spectacular (that's a fancy word for great) weekend.  On Friday afternoons I try to do something fun with the girls…we call it our "Friday Fun"  Ava gets done with school early, there is no housework to be done, no homework and dinner is usually something simple for the girls and at-home date night for Matt & I, so there is no food prep going on either.  Perfect time to kiss the week goodbye and the weekend hello.  What we do varies…sometimes it's a tea party at home (we get all fancied up for those), going for frozen yogurt or ice cream, a trip to the park, etc.  Today the weather didn't cooperate for ice-cream so we headed to Barnes and Noble for some hot cocoa and books.  A very simple thing, but back to our love of books, the perfect way to spend an afternoon with my girls.  That, and a double chocolate chip cookie split by three!  In the spirit of the spring & upcoming holiday we read books about Easter, jelly beans and some Fancy Nancy in there for good measure. 
After that we stolid through the toy store for some little girls to give me some ideas for their upcoming birthdays.  Taking these guys to the toy store is always fun…there's a lot of "oooooh, look at this!  Layla come here check this out!"  "AVA you would LOVE this!"  I really like how they look for things for each other…so precious.
The spectacular weekend holds little plans which I am looking forward to.  Our April weekends look to be very full with birthday parties and Easter so this calm before the storm is a welcome one.  I like the weekends when we have nothing going on and we just kinda see where we end up.  We are being neighborly and having dinner with not one, but two of our neighbors on Sunday.  We've lived in the same house for around 8 years and just recently started doing more with our neighbors and I dig it.  It feels like a very "suburbs" type thing to do and I always say I think there's a 1950's housewife trapped in me.  (but not in a submissive way…I'm pretty bossy.  Just in the liking to stay home with the kids, cook meals and do laundry sort of way)  I'm going to make pizza for the occasion and I love making pizza…all different kinds and I have finally, after trying several recipes and variations perfected my dough and sauce.  Recipes will follow later this weekend!!
Tonight will be at home date night…we're having open face tuna sandwiches with sweet pickle mayo on ciabatta bread…it is SO good.  The key is buying a really nice piece of tuna which can be tricky here so far from any water, but we usually do pretty well.  I season the tuna with some salt and pepper and a little Italian spice mix and then Matt grills it Medium Rare.  While it's grilling I take the ciabatta and drizzle it with olive oil, put some sharp white cheddar on it and broil it until the cheese melts.  Then I slather on some of the sweet pickle mayo (Mix real mayo, not miracle whip or fat-free or light) with chopped up sweet pickles & a little s&p).  On top of that I put some sort of greens…arugula is great but spinach or romaine is good as well, then the grilled tuna.  Yummy…kinda hard to eat but so worth it.  We'll have that along with some potatoes au gratin and artichoke (I boil artichoke with a little lemon juice, olive oil & s&p for about 25 min…perfect) and of course a nice bottle of vino.  Mmmmm, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!!

Happy Weekend!

Have a Fabulous (that's another fancy word for great) weekend!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Random thoughts and Lebanese food

Good start to a new week.  The blog thing is going well…I have been going back and forth on it.  I enjoy the writing and sharing recipes part, but a part of it makes me feel very vulnerable…putting all your thoughts out there.  Like who cares what is going in my life?  But, then I get some really positive feedback from friends and I feel really good about.  I'm gonna just keep taking it day by day and see how it all goes and what it all turns into.  I know that I will always write cuz I love it, I'll just see how the blog thing goes.  If I find I am not writing true to myself because I am thinking about what people will think of it then I gotta stop.  (That's why the first few posts are soooo honest, I wrote those long before I thought about putting them out there for everyone to see, but they explain so much about who I am)

Anywho…It is another beautiful Montana day.  Yesterday there were signs of spring everywhere.  There was the first thunderstorm of the year followed by a down pour.  We had the windows open in the house and the rain smelt so good.  (Amy has me totally addicted to the rain…I always think of her!!)  Then we took an after dinner walk and we saw our first robin!!!  Yay!  Total signs that spring is coming.  (and dandelions!!)  One of the reasons we had the windows open (besides the fact that it was over 50-degrees, which in Montana terms might as well be 75) was because Matt painted one of the walls in our living room.  We've been making little changes in the house this past winter…freshening things up, but staying on a budget.  We have the wall that our fireplace is on that sticks out a bit and we thought we should paint it.  It all came up because I bought a new clock for above the tv and it didn't look quite right with the light tan walls.  So, instead of getting a different clock (I really dig the one I got) we decided to paint the wall grey.  It turned out nice.  Only problem is now we desperately need to get new curtains for the living room…they just look so horribly cheap and wrong.  (And probably were cheap considering we bought them when we bought the house and realized how expensive window treatments for an entire house were)  So…now I continue my mission to find nice, affordable curtains that actually fit our windows without me having to hem them…sewing is not my thing.  

Other random things I'm loving besides the sunshine….Layla's sleepy-waking-up face after nap.  She has two ways she wakes up…one with a total grump face on and she needs a few (or 15) minutes to snap out of it.  Or, totally happy and full of love and snuggles for you.  Today was the latter and I soaked it up.  

Another thing that has totally been on my mind today is that we are talking about getting Ava started in soccer.  She didn't mention it, but we kinda want to get her involved in something.  She was really into dance for a couple years, then got over it so we've taken this year off.  We tell her that if there is something she wants to get involved in just let us know, but I kinda think after full days at school and homework she just wants to come home and play.  I go back and forth on this…part of me wants to just let her be a kid in her downtime.  She has this amazing imagination and can turn anything into play.  (Most recently is "cooking" outside…using rocks as eggs and all the debris from the yard …she even took some old leaves and made "grape leaves"  too cute!)  Then the other part of me wants to expose her to different things so then she can decide if she likes it or not.  She tends to be on the shy side, so I think it could be really good for her.  Not much time to decide…we have to register her today.  Layla wants to do soccer, but she's so busy with dance.  I am gonna stick with my one activity at a time rule…otherwise it can just be too much.  

This morning I did my weekly routine of making a menu of meals for the week before heading to the grocery store. I enjoy this and dread it at the same time.  I LOVE cooking and food (as I've mentioned) however, sometime I feel a little overwhelmed trying to decide what to make, which night depending on what activities we have that day or if I'm working, etc.  And-adding variety-this has become even more difficult this past year since we have gone semi-vegetarian.  We eat a lot of fish and a little red meat, but since we don't do chicken or pork anymore there are a lot of things I used to cook that I don't anymore.  So...e once a week I pour through cook books to try to decide what new things to try and old ones to go back on.

Soooooo long ago I really disliked Lebanese food, but man has it grown on me and I find myself craving it!!  And, after years of practice-I'm getting pretty good at making it.  Layla loves it and will try anything...Ava is a little reluctant, but I think like me-it'll grow on her.  She does love the spinach pies....'s the recipes for this Lebanese feast:

-Place 2 cups of warm water & 2 tbls sugar in a large bowl.  Add 1 pkg of active dry yeast.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup canola oil, a couple tsp of salt & 1 egg.  Slowly start adding flour, a cup at a time (usually 5-6 cups total) until it begins to form a dough.  Knead until the dough is smooth.  Rub a little oil over the dough, put in a bowl, cover with a towel and let it rest around 40 minutes.
-Toast 1/2 cup pine nuts in a pan on med. heat until brown, set aside
-Finely chop (I use a food processor to make it easy) 1 bunch of spinach, 1 bunch of parsley and 1 large onion.  Put them all in a large bowl with the juice from 1 lemon, 1/2 cup olive oil, the pine nuts, salt & pepper and 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese.  (I know cheese is not typical in Lebanese dishes, but I think cheese makes EVERYTHING better!!)  Mix it all up and you're ready to fill!
-Divide the dough in half and use half at a time.  Roll out on a well floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into a 3-4 inch round and fill with a spoonful of filling and fold in three sides to form a triangle.  Pinch the seams.  Place on a greased cookie sheet.  Cook in a pre-heated oven (400 degrees) for 20 minutes until golden brown.  You can serve them warm or cold....preferably with hummus!!

RICE AND BEANS  (This recipe came from my mother in law.  We all love it when she makes it, so I finally had to get the recipe so I could make it!!)
-Brown 1 diced onion and 1 diced garlic clove in a pan with oil.  Add 1 "15" ounce can tomato sauce, 2 "15" ounce cans diced tomatoes, 8 oz of water, 1 1/2 pounds fresh green bean, salt and pepper.  Cover & simmer on low heat until beans are tender.  (Around 30-45 minutes)  
-Serve with rice (she uses Uncle Ben's Rice-it's the best for this recipe!)  And, if you want top with sauteed pine nuts to the rice mixture.

Last random thought-I was talking to my mom about  Ava's birthday .…we had talked at one point about doing pony rides for her birthday and we would have to do it out at my parents because we don't have room her.  So, my mom said she had told my dad that and about how much Ava wants a horse for her birthday.  Well, my dad was like "she can have a horse, she can keep it here"  So, I was like "Ummm, no…we can't move a horse to Florida"  Gotta keep mentioning it once in awhile so if by some chance we actually did move, my mom can't say she didn't know.

That's all I got for today… it's time to go pick up little Miss Ava! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pasta, bowling and all things weekend

The rest of the weekend was wonderful... we got to eat outside for the first time of the season last night…woohoo!!  We had Greg and Kim over and we bar-b q'ed and it was a perfect night to enjoy our back deck.  Afterwards we strolled to the park and played a crazy game of red-rover.  It was hilarious…Layla kept running under your arms if you called for her…lots of laughs.  We didn't stay too long because as the sun went down it cooled off fast.  Once home it was time for me to take Greg and Kim home…of course they did not want to stop playing…they are quite a team those four.  It fills my heart watching them all play and the relationship they have together.  

Sunday was one of those lovely slow mornings…we all stayed snuggled in our room watching a movie until breakfast.  Outside it was really foggy…not something we get a ton of here and I always love it…something about it being kinda eery and quiet.  Matt took the girls to Sunday School and I stayed home and made some homemade pasta for our dinner…pasta pomodoro.  I started making homemade noodles about a year ago and now anytime I make store bought kinds both Ava and Matt ask me accusingly at dinner "Did you make these?"  I have turned them all into pasta snobs…but I have to admit they taste SO much better.  You could  heat up ketchup and put it on them and it would taste good.  (okay, that may be reaching a bit)  At first it seemed like a big project to make them, but now I find it really easy and not all that time consuming so it is usually the only way we have pasta.  Bonus-the girls LOVE to help do the unrolling part which is a huge help.  I so enjoy cooking with my girls.  I try to not be controlling about it and let them just make a mess and go with it.  Usually, I'm pretty good about it…I want cooking to be an enjoyable experience for them because it is something we can share together as they get older.  Luckily, they both seem to love to help.  One day this year Layla had a school day and Ava didn't and all she wanted to do for her special time with me was make noodles.  (And, it is what they both requested for Birthday dinner this year, so that's gotta say something!)  

Homemade Pasta
(I have combined several recipes I have tried, so things may not be kinda gotta play with it to see what works...I tend to estimate when I cook!)
-1 and a 1/2 cup semolina flour  
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-2 eggs
-2 tbls olive oil
-1 and 1/2 tbls water
*On a work surface combine flour and salt...make a well in the middle.  In a bowl mix eggs, oil and water and then slowly add to the well of flour, mixing with a fork as you go.  Once it starts to become a dough begin to knead it for around 8 minutes.  Cover with a towel and let it rest 20-30 minutes.  Divide dough into 4 sections and work with one at a time.  Layout a couple towels and sprinkle with flour (I use just regular flour for this).  This is where you will lay them out to dry.  Take your first chunk of dough (I am not a technical cook...I use words like chunk and glob)  roll it out to your desired thickness.  (I keep them kinda thick...Matt likes a meatier noodle)  Be very generous with your flour as you roll your dough to prevent sticking.  Once it's rolled flat, roll the dough up (like a jelly roll) and then slice it about 1/4 inch, unroll each section (this is the part the girls help with) and lay out on the prepared towels.  You can cut them here thinner or thicker, depending on what type of noodle you're going for.  do the same with each of the remaining sections of dough.  Let the noodles dry out for 2-3 hours and then cook in salted, boiling water for around 10 minutes.  (depending on how you like your noodles cooked!)

We went to a friends birthday party…bowling for the first time.  It was a riot.  I didn't know a bowling ball could actually go down the lane that slowly and still hit a pin.  The girls loved it…thank goodness for the bumpers though or there may have been a lot of gutter balls.  We'll definitely have to take them to do that again.  The party was up at the MSU Sub, so that was like a trip down memory lane…being back up on campus.  (especially because we were with so many of our friends from college at this party!)  Such fond, fond memories of my college years.  Too bad you don't realize just how carefree that time is until later.  I wander around up there and feel like we should still be young enough to be college students…where does the time go?  We wandered around campus a little after the party, let the girls feed the overfed ducks at the duck pond.  (they didn't even want our pizza, those are some picky ducks)  It's fun to be up there and just see how it's changed and how it's still the same.  Awww…memories.

Now it's time for another week.  We are in full on party planning mode for the girls.  We even picked up some of the things for Ava's cowgirl party.  I love planning their parties.  They are never anything huge or crazy, but I try really hard to make them special.  Hopefully the spring weather will continue and things will start turning green.  I miss the greenery and flowers of Florida.  

Have a fantastic Monday!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mango salsa, guac, date nights & other weekend fun...

So at home date night turned into an impromptu "real" date night...gotta love that!  Here's how it came about.  The girls and I spent the afternoon helping my sister sort hundreds (it felt like hundreds) of girl scout cookies, because on top of raising a family of 6, a full time job and being a girl scout leader, she thought she needed to be the cookie mom as well.  (I have NO idea how she does it all, she's amazing)  So, we're sorting and moving boxes, etc while the kiddos play and when we are done I tell the girls it's time to go.  This was met with four little pleas of "Noooooo, we don't wanna go, can we please play a little longer????"  Kori and I looked at each other and said "why not do date nights?"  We try to do date night swaps with them every once in night Matt and I go and they watch the kids and the next night vice versa.  Usually these are planned a couple weeks in advance because as I mentioned above she's gotta  lot going on, this time it just happened to work spur of the moment.  So with kisses to my little loves, I was off to pick up my other love for a night out!

The other great thing about this being impromptu is I didn't spend the week leading up to it trying to plan out how we could spend an evening without children, searching to see if there's anything going on in town, thinking about which restaurant we should go to.  (I'm such a planner, it's good for me to get thrown a wild card once in awhile) I just picked Matt up and we headed downtown.  We started at the new R Bar for drinks and decided maybe we are getting to old to hang out there so we thought we'd go to our favorite sushi place "Dave's"  Unfortunately, this place is getting more and more popular and there was a long we ended up at Starky's, which in my opinion has the best fish tacos in town.  

Because we ended up going out, I didn't make my salsa and guac so we had it today for lunch, and mmmm was it good!  I have tried several salsa recipes over the years and one day just kinda made my own up and is now the only one I make.  I threw in some mango this time to give it a fruity kick and it made it so fresh and Delicious!
And the finished product....

Between Matt and I, we ate it all.  (maybe just a touch of salsa left)

Here's the recipes~

-3 or 4 tomatoes
-Juice of 1 lime
-1 Jalapeno (I take out some of the seeds and leave a few in...depending on how hot you like it)
-1 bunch of cilantro
-Around 1/2 an onion
-1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves
-Mango (if you want a fruity kick)
-Sprinkle of Salt & Pepper, Celery Salt and Cumin
Combine all of the above in a food processor and chop it up.  I usually try to let it chill for an hour before serving to let the flavors blend, but you can serve it right away!

Guacamole (This one is my sister, Nicole's recipe, so simple and good)
-1 or 2 avocados
-1 chopped tomato
-Sprinkle of celery salt, cumin, paprika
Crush the avocado with a spoon and stir in the rest!  So easy!

Tonight we get to have the cousins over for our turn of babysitting while my sister and her husband get the date night.  The girls and myself are looking forward to it.  Any chance for the four littles to get together and play like crazy. In the spirit of my spring like mood we're going to bar-b-q hot dogs and veggie burgers.  (these are not veggie burgers like you get in the frozen food section at the grocery store...they are made from scratch and so, so good..let me know if you want the recipe to try!)  Ironically, when I was trying to find my veggie burger recipe in my organizer it was under "Meat"  I guess when you eat as little meat as we do, veggie burgers qualify.  Then tomorrow we get to take the girls bowling for the first time for a friends birthday party...I can't wait!  Photos of this sure to be funny event will follow!  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Food and Fashion for Friday!!

Best way to begin a Friday??  Dancing.  I could hear music and thumping coming from Ava's room this morning as we were doing our usual getting ready for school/work routine and I opened the door to find the girls dancing it up to one of my old "NOW 7" cd's  (Yes, I still have all my old cheesy cd's and still occasionally listen to them).  All rosy cheeked and out of breath-Ava told me "We're going to start everyday dancing...we just wish we had all Michael Jackson CD's"  Too funny!!  Well, do have a birthday coming!!

Another lovely way to start a Friday??  Talk of weekend weather in the 60's!  I would prefer the 80's we were enjoying in Florida, but I'll take what I can get.  It's funny how crazy we all get here in Montana at the first signs of warm weather.  Everywhere you looked yesterday you saw flip flops and shorts.  I guess when you have a summer as short as ours ya gotta start early! 

So...a little food fun...last night I tried a new recipe-Lentil and Pasta soup.  Matt loves lentils (good Lebanese food) however, I haven't quite jumped on board with it.  But, if you add pasta and cheese to it I figured it's gotta be good and it was.  It was a hit with the whole family (and that can be tricky!)  I didn't take a photo because it doesn't look as pretty as it's the recipe if your wanna give it a go.  (Bonus-it's super healthy!!)
Lentil and Pasta Soup
-Heat olive oil in a big sauce pan and toss in a couple cloves of garlic, some chopped onion and chopped carrot...saute around 10 minutes.  (You could add any other veggies here also)
-Add 6 cups of water, 2 cups of veggie broth, 1 can of whole or diced tomatoes and 3/4 cup lentils.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and some dried thyme
-Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer covered around 20-25 minutes
-Toss in 1 cup of dried pasta (we used bow tie) and chopped chard (I used red chard)...cook around 10 minutes until noodles are done
-Stir in some torn basil and shredded Parmesan cheese and serve with bread

Tonight is "at home" date night as Matt and I call them.  We put the girls to bed early and have a nice dinner and some together time alone to catch up from the week.  Because I'm feeling freshly inspired by the raise in temperatures we're gonna do some homemade salsa (with chopped mango-I've never done it so we'll see how it goes), guac and some crab empanadas...yummy!  If all goes well, maybe we can enjoy this little spread on our back deck.

Happy Friday!!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Home from Vacation Slump...

It is the first day of spring and I feel in a bit of a funk.  It could be because this first day of spring comes with a foot of snow.  It could be because vacation is totally over and we are back in the reality of school, homework, early bedtimes, work and cleaning.  It could be because we keep chattering about moving and that kind of talk gives me all sorts of anxiety.  It could be a combination of it all, whatever it is, I've got the funk and can't seem to kick it.  Usually getting back into routine after something crazy is comforting to me…and being back in our house has been, sleeping in our own beds, eating our own food…that's all been great.  But, there is something lingering.  The snow storm we got is not helping.  To go from wearing flip flops and sundresses for a week, to back to snow boots and hats…well, that's just cruel.  Every spring is a little tough for me because I'm always ready for summer to be here long before Montana is, this just seems worse and I think its because we saw how beautiful it is in other parts of the world!  
That leads me back to the talk of moving.  That is really rocking my world.  I have been very, very content with the idea of raising our family in this wonderful little Bozeman community.  So many things we love about it…the vibrant downtown with good restaurants and things to do, safe and wonderful schools, beautiful mountains for us to play and explore in and family and friends.  I've even been good about being totally positive about the snowy winters and embrace it by getting the girls involved in ice skating and sledding and trying to enjoy it all.  Even when Matt talks of wanting to leave I could always think how happy I am here and seeing the girls thriving.  Then we had to go and have them fall in love with the ocean.  Playing on the beaches all day, going in and out of the ocean, learning to swim on their own…I got to see a different life we could have.  One that is completely different than the one we live, that I had growing up.  It is exciting, but oh so scary at the same time.  I have found now that we are home, I don't have that content feeling anymore, I have this nagging feeling of "yes, let's do it, let's go!!"  but that feeling is followed by "no, we can't do that, we can't disrupt everything these girls have known to go someplace that we don't know anything about except we like the weather better"  Oh, it is such a conflict in my head.  Part of me wishes, I could just go back to feeling totally content with our little world, but i don't feel like I can.  We've both made the decision to check into things like schools and the area and really think about our decision and we'll see what happens.  That is hard for me.  I'm good at the researching part…checking things out, looking at real estate, schools etc.  I'm bad at the emotional part…the reality of packing up this house (the only home the girls have ever had) to move someplace where we know NO ONE.  That is some scary crap.  We have had the support of family and friends since we had the girls.  If we need a babysitter, I make 1 phone call and it's done.  If we want to have dinner with friends…one call to Amy and it's "your house or ours?  usual time?"  I take such comfort in that support.  The kids don't have play dates with friends from school, they just play with their cousins every week at family dinner and that is good enough.  They seem like small things, but they are huge.  HUGE.  And, it is easy to say we'll try it for a year and we can always come back.  This is true.  We know this, because we've done this…twice.  But, we've never done it when there were two other lives involved.  Before it was just us and the cat (poor cat…she may not be able to handle another move)  This time, there is so much more involved and I find myself wishing that if we were gonna do this, why didn't we do it before???  Before kids and a dog and a fish???  However, I know that I wouldn't take back having my babies here in Bozeman…no matter where we end up, this is where we were meant to have babies and the early part of their lives.  I just wish I knew where we were supposed to end up.  I have a feeling this will be the topic of a lot of my writing over these next few weeks.  Maybe some of it will fade as the tans from our vacation do, or maybe it won't.  I think it is good to take some time to think about it once we have a little emotional distance from it.  See if the thoughts and desires to leave are still there, especially as we come into the summer months of Montana.  If we still long for the beaches when we are enjoying the beautiful summers we have here than that will be a better indicator.  Writing about it helps pull me from the funk for some reason.  Just getting the back and forth that is going on in my head out…it helps.
The girls do are doing a much better job embracing the recent snowstorm than me.  Last night they begged to go sledding and how could I say no?  We haven't had this much snow all winter, so we bundled up and headed for the snow hill and I smiled while listening to their squeals of happiness going down the hill.  The snow makes them happy, I have to remember that as well and continue to embrace what we have right now, right here.  I don't want to get lost in the thinking of the future to forget about what is happening here in our present.  I've been through Montana springs for 33 years (I had one spring in Michigan) and it is the same every year…the deep longing for summer…I can handle this one.  Especially when I have two little snow bunnies that dig it.  Happy spring.