Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thirty Five.

Today is the last day of January.  The month I always consider to be the one lazy month of the year just flew by.  We kept it calm and did it right as the time to chill after the chaos of the holidays.  Filled it with tucked in weekends with family, lots of playing in the snow and not much else.  Now we are heading into February.  This is a month that for most may seem like just another long winter month (even though it's the shortest month of the year).  However, I love February for two reasons.  One of course being it's the month of my birthday and you have to love the month of your birthday, right?  Second, I really like Valentines Day.  I love it for all its Hallmark holiday, cheesiness.  What is not to like about a holiday that is all about love, hearts, pretty colors, flowers and chocolate?  I tend to be a bit of a romantic, so it makes sense that I enjoy this holiday.   The only Valentines Day I haven't enjoyed was when I was in 1st grade.  
The day started out well.  I was so excited with my backpack filled with silly Valentines ready to hand out to my classmates.  I was wearing a purple shirt with hearts all over it in honor of the "holiday".  I was sitting happily on the bus with thoughts of hearts and candy in my head and all of a sudden I threw up all over myself.  Oh, sad day.  I got to the school and had to change into some spare clothes from the office and now instead of my beautiful heart shirt I was wearing an ugly green boys t-shirt while I waited for my mom to come get me.  You would think that would ruin a persons view of Valentines from that day on, but not me...I knew there was still good in it.  Anyhow...back to the first reason I love February...my birthday.

This Sunday I turn 35.  As I mentioned before, I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I don't know why it seems like such a big one to me.  Why "mid-thirties" sounds just a smidgen worse than early thirties.  Maybe because it sounds kinda old...I remember being in my early twenties and thinking 35 sounded ancient.  And, then just a hop, skip and a jump later, I'm there.  Maybe it's because for the last few years whenever I went to my Doctor for a check-up she would say "Everything is great...we don't need to do anything more right now.  When you're 35 we like to start doing some more tests but you've got awhile before that"  And, now here I am.  Maybe it's because these damn grey hairs are getting harder and harder to ignore.  I fear professional hair dyeing is in my near future and I'll have to get a second job to afford this "luxury".  (Funny how in my mid-twenties the once a month hair salon trip to touch up highlights seemed so much fun.)  I think the main reason I am not fully embracing this mid thirties thing is because it means my babies are also getting a year older soon.  When I think about wanting to go back in time it is not my college years I want to re-live (although they were a riot), it's the time of holding a tiny newborn in my arms for the very first time.  I know those times were exhausting and it is easier to look back and only remember the fond memories of it.  

I remember the peacefulness of rocking a baby to sleep in the middle of the night.  Not falling asleep sitting up in a chair and waking quickly feeling relieved that I hadn't dropped the baby on the floor. 

I remember taking a stroll to the park with a newborn in the stroller and a toddler following behind on a lovely afternoon.  Not the hungry newborn scream and the toddler tantrum that happened when we stayed ten minutes too long.  

I remember the feeling so proud when Matt would get home and I had successfully gotten dinner on the table and two kids to nap at the same time.  Not the fact that the house was a wreck and I was in the same pj's I'd had on when he left in the morning.  

Those are the times I want to go back to...I want to freeze my babies in time, not myself.  Those were yummy times...
Look at those cheeks on Layla...you just wanted to squeeze them

Last I checked I can't stop time so I guess I just have to try to age gracefully.  This is the side I feel okay with.  Life is really good and each year continues to get better so I am excited for what this new year will bring.  If my sister has taught me anything this year, it is how truly precious each day can be.  How you never, ever know what the next day will bring.  How one day you can be super mom running the world and the next your world is rocked and you are in a hospital bed not knowing you are about to embark on the biggest fight of your life.  And, when babies get older it's still pretty great.  When they can hug ya, and say I love you and leave adorable little notes on their door because they don't want you to come in...
Ava was in birthday gift making mode and didn't want me to see.
Seeing them grow into young ladies is pretty cool so I am going to embrace 35 and run with it.  The thirties have been awesome so far, so I can rock it.  Like my Grandma has said to me "It's fine getting older, what's the alternative?"  Wise words. 

The week has been good.  Complete with a night of birthday drinks and looooong conversations with my sister one evening.  As well as pizza night with the family, always a favorite at this household.  We make all sorts of pizzas, but this night we decided to go with our old standby.  The Yippie...

I stumbled upon this combination of garlic stuffed green olives and artichoke hearts one random pizza night and it was a hit.  It is simply the yummiest combination...so good it needed a name.  After a little thought I came up with the yippie.  It's kind of what I consider myself and our lifestyle.  It's hippie and yuppie combined.  Taking only the best attributes of each.  Hippie in that we like to grow our own food, recylce, use re-usable bags at the store, try to stay away from chemicals in cleaning and body products, etc.  But not in the wear Birkenstocks and not shave your legs way.  And, yuppie in the get dressed up and go to a fancy schmancy restaurant and eat small portions of well made food paired with the right wine way.  But, not the drive a Range Rover and spend hundreds on shoes or handbags way.  (Although, I would totally drive a Range Rover if someone, like, gave me one and told me I had to.)  And, with all that the Yippie was named.  I use my pizza sauce and dough recipe from here and then sprinkle with a hearty dose of mozzarella cheese and top with the artichoke hearts and garlic stuffed green olives.  Bake at 400-degrees until crust is done and cheese is bubbly.  Oh, so good.  

I've also been thinking this week about trying to do a little more fundraising for my sister.  We were pretty successful with it this summer and now with the talks of her leaving I started thinking about it again.  Thinking of a "Get Her the Heck out of Freakin Montana and to a Bigger Hospital" type fundraiser.  Although, that may be a little too long to put on fundraising type stuff.  Maybe I'll just stick with "Hope, Love and Funds for Kori"  Lots of thoughts in my head about this...I'll keep you posted.  

Happy Thursday to ya.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Weekend. (I know, really original title)

I had a bit of a heavy heart this weekend.  My sister went to see a new neurologist Friday to get yet another opinion on her healing brain.  You see, she has not been getting better as quickly as she or any of us think she should be.  Finally tired of hearing "let's just wait and see" she decided to get another opinion.  Unfortunately the "waiting and seeing" hasn't gotten her anywhere and things seem to be exactly the same.  They want to send her to a bigger hospital to try to figure this thing out.  They want to possibly do another surgery to try and find out what the heck is going on.  I am very glad she will be going someplace else, someplace bigger, someplace where maybe they can give her some answers.  However, it is so frustrating and scary for her to be back to the not knowing.  The waiting.  After talking to her and her husband on Friday evening I wasn't quite ready to think about it.  I pushed the thoughts to the back of my head and Matt and I went ahead with our planned date night.  I did well repressing those thoughts for the evening, but the next morning and throughout the weekend, Kori was not far from my mind.  Thinking about her next steps in this battle.  I don't question her fight...she has been amazingly strong through all this.  You don't hear her complain or whine.  She just puts on a happy face, even when she feels like crap.  Even when she feels scared.  She's a rock star.  I just wish she didn't have to be anymore.  

This morning after waking up to fresh snow, Matt suggested we skip out on church and stay inside.  I said we had to go, I had some serious praying to do.  I needed to have a few words with God.  I had a bit of a bone to pick with Him.  I want to know why she is back at the bottom of a mountain, getting ready for another climb when she has already done Everest once or twice this year.  I spent the entire service thinking of my sister.  Even if it didn't make sense, I managed to make the words the pastor was saying relate to her.  I prayed hard.  I felt a little better after.

The weekend was still a very nice one.  It can't all be worry and heavy hearts.  As Kori says "Life has to go on."  Here's a bit of the life going on....

-More cousin time-

Man, these four littles just melt my heart.  I know they aren't really the "littles"  anymore but they always will be to me.  We had a fun afternoon playing in the snow.  They got to play three days in a row...good catch up time since they have been missing it a bit.

-Beautiful spring like afternoons.  Saturday was glorious...sun shining, roll your car window down type day.  A day where I can taste spring even though it is months away.  It's okay, I just need a taste once in awhile.  After spending the morning at my sisters, Matt, the girls and I wandered downtown to do a few things.  We ended grabbing some pizza and I snapped this shot of my favorite sign in the place...

Love it.  (I did tell the girl they can't actually call people sissies.  Especially a certain grandma who buys a lot of frozen pizzas)

-Night skating with friends under a full moon...
Not the best photos, but you can see the beautiful moon peaking through the clouds
Last weekend when we went ice skating, Ava noticed the lights and asked why they were there.  We told her they were for night skating, and that was it...she had to do it.  Saturday night was the perfect night for this.  It was still warm (which didn't make the best ice, but we're not talking Olympics here), the full moon was out and we had the whole place to ourselves with our friends.  It was so fun.
These little ladies are getting good!

"Catching Matt" was the game of the night

Making a train...I like Amy's shadow in this one
-Date at the best restaurant in town...

Ava and Layla love to play restaurant so Matt and I get to "eat" a lot of food.  This time was adorable because I told them we were on a date.  Ava ran and grabbed the candle and flowers.  Girl knows how to create some ambiance.  And, I love their menu.  Yes, I'll have some woofls and riss please.  (That's waffles and rice for those of you who don't read 2nd grade.)  

Today we were reminded that it is still very much winter when we woke up to a blanket of white snow.  My in-laws are in Florida and I got this picture from them this morning...


To which we responded with this one...

What are ya gonna do?  We live in Montana so you make the most of it.  We bundle up, grab our sleds and head to the nearest hill.  (While secretly wishing you were at the beach)

Now, it's the beginning of a fresh week.  It's my birthday week as I like to say (I believe everyone deserves a week, not just one day).  One final week of being 34 and then I will officially be in my mid-thirties.  Not too sure how I feel about that one.  I do know I am not happy about sharing my birthday with Super Bowl Sunday.  (My brother-in-law, however thinks this would be the greatest thing ever.  I told him we can trade...I'll take his summer birthday anytime)  And, if we actually do go to Buffalo Wild Wings for my birthday like Matt keeps joking I will be starting my mid-thirties a single woman.  

Have a happy week and if you are so inclined send some healing thoughts and prayers to Montana.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Working Mom, Stay at Home Mom

This week I have been filling in while someone is gone at work and getting a little taste of a more full time working mom life.  It has gotten me thinking a lot about working mom versus stay at home mom...something that gets a lot of debate and judgement on both sides.  I have been very fortunate to have the worlds most understanding employers and have worked a very part time, flexible schedule since Ava was born.  If every mother could have a boss like mine (and husband) there would be no more debate.  I get the best of both worlds.  I often wonder why there is so much judgment about the working mom versus stay at home mom.  Last I checked we were all on the same team of mamahood.  However, we don't live in a perfect world (if we did ice cream would be a health food and the ocean would be in Montana...right next to the Bridger Mountains).  I often feel like I identify more with the stay at home mom side and I feel very comfortable with that.  It certainly wasn't something I expected.  Oh, I had grand plans of taking a 6-week maternity leave and then going back to work and maybe cutting back just a little.  How very silly of me.  The moment I held Ava in my arms that was it.  I was done for.  Back to the having a good boss part, he was okay with me taking 3 more months off and then coming back only ten hours a week.  It's like I had finally found what I was meant to do.  And, even though it was the hardest thing, I was good at it.  Problem is, mamahood is not a career path.  Yes, I'll get to do it for the next 13-15 years fairly full time, but then I'll be a by-stander.  Watching to see if all the hard work and hours pay off as I watch my little birds leave the nest and test their wings.  And, just like there has been no pay for this 24-hour/day job there will be no retirement package when they leave.  Which is why it is nice to be a part time working mama.  Sort of like term limits for a politician...right now I'm in my second term but know I need something to fall back on when I'm done.  Having had the luxury to do both things, I see the pros's and con's to both.  I have gotten to experience everything with my girls by staying home with them.  First smiles, laughs, steps, days of school and will continue as the firsts keep coming...first loves, heartbreaks, proms.  I know them better than anyone and can tell just by the type of whine if Layla is tired, grumpy or getting sick.  I can tell by looking in Ava's eyes that she is nervous about something.  I love getting to be present for them and be the one they look to for answers, love and comfort.  I also know what a thankless job it can be.  How exhausting.  In the early days the sleepless nights, feedings and wondering how to get a baby to stop freakin crying.  The days of not bothering to get out of yoga pants because  the ones I had on already had spit up on them.  The days when I left the TV on all day so it felt like I had some company with me.  (It must be why I still think of the Kardashians as my long lost really screwed up family, I watched way too much of them during my sleep deprived days)  I know if I didn't have the escape to work during those days I may have gone crazy.  Going to work gave me a chance to have some adult interaction.  It gave me a chance to feel like I was useful for something other than running a household and wiping snotty noses.  It gave me a chance to contribute intelligently to conversations...things beyond what the kiddos did all day.  But, it's hard to be a working mom.  Getting a taste of working more this week made me realize just how exhausting it is.  Working full time you have to give it your all during the day and then still be the one to do the homework routine and get dinner on the table and leave a little energy for bedtime stories and snuggles.  I understand the guilt of a working mom...sending your child who's just a little under the weather to school with a dose of Tylenol because you have to get to work.  There is no right way to do this working mom/stay at home mom thing.  I'm happy with the balance I have found with it.  I also have a lot of respect for those who choose to stay home and raise babies as well as for those who choose to work full time.  When I see my happy girls, I know we're doing something right...
This is them playing one of their favorite games...mommy and baby.  And, yes that is Ava "texting" someone on her toy phone.  Hey...if she's gonna play mommy sometimes you gotta send a text or two.  They pack up diaper bags and strollers and each usually has at least two kids.  One has always "just been born" and one is a "two year old"  They wander around...one room is their house, one is where they work, one is the babysitter so they can go to work and there is of course a park.  They go from place to place with their kids and do the mommy thing.  I love observing this.  My sisters and I used to play this sort of game also.  We called it playing "house" and it was a favorite.  Kori and I were talking about this last week...how we used to play this all the time and now we are just living it.  I told her I thought it was pretty cool...how many people actually get to be what they want when they grow up?  We obviously wanted to be mamas and that is just what we are getting to do.  

Speaking of playing.  We took advantage of the early release day from school today to get in some cousin time...
Running to meet them at the bus stop
It's been awhile since we've hung out and the girls were missing their Kim and Greg.  Today the pack got back together and crammed a lot of playing into two hours.

On the way home Ava complained we had only been there for "like ten minutes"  I guess time really does fly when you are having fun.  

I suppose that's all for tonight.  I'm happy tomorrow is Friday, I am ready for a weekend.  The weather has been so nice...giving me some spring fever like nobodies business.

Enjoy your Friday and Happy weekend to ya!



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lazy Weekend Goodness.

Matt and I sometimes have different ideas of what makes a good weekend.  I'm usually ready to get out and do stuff.  I like to make plans, create adventures, get out of the house.  As the self proclaimed event coordinator of the family I usually do just this.  Matt, on the other hand, generally prefers a more low key weekend.  Staying home, strumming his guitar, hanging with the kids are his ideal and if he gets a nap squeezed in he is one happy guy.  This weekend was definitely Matt's pace.  And, just like he always enjoys the ride when I have a full weekend of activity planned, I welcomed a lazy one.  I have to admit that is one thing so nice about winter here...it's perfectly okay to stay in and be lazy.  This would never fly for me in the summer.  Mainly because there are only a handful of warm weather months so I always want to squeeze everything out of them.  But not in the winter...you're not missing out on anything out there.  (Says the girl who doesn't ski or snowboard)  Stay inside all weekend?  No problem.  Don't bother getting dressed?  No worries...no one is going to see you.  Only see the sunshine through a window?  Just fine...it's not as warm as it looks anyways.  I'm slightly exaggerating there-we did venture out a couple times...once for ice skating and once for sledding.  I believe strongly in fresh air and sunshine on your face so we got a little of both.  Beyond that all the entertainment we had was within our own four walls.  Things like baking with my eldest while my baby girl took a nap...
Cinnamon Shortbread Cookies...perfect with a cup of hot tea!  (Recipe at the end)
Layla was a little off...maybe tired from a busy week at school or fighting something.  Nonetheless, I took advantage of her taking a rare nap for some time with Ava.  Problem is, it is getting harder and harder to pull these girls from their imagination play land.  They are way into Barbies and ponies and Polly Pockets and will play in their own world for hours.  Matt and I are not invited in this play world.  I love seeing this, but sometimes feel a little nostalgic for the days we were needed more.  Baking is always a way to get them back so baking we did.  Added benefit of filling the cookie jar with these delicious treats.

Besides baking, we did little else this day.  At first I struggled with this...thinking we should be out doing something.  Matt then pointed out "Why can't you just relax instead of always thinking of your next project?"  I took this to heart, grabbed a blanket and curled up with a book while he played his guitar and little girls frolicked in a land of make believe.  It was very nice.  I am re-reading "Eat Pray Love" for the third time, one of my favorites.  Since starting this new yoga class I wanted to re-read it for the meditation portion of it.  Because of how my brain works, I had to start at the beginning and not just skip to the India section of meditation.   Because of our lazy weekend I finished the Italy section which inspired our Gnocchi con Ragu dinner we had tonight.  (More on that later)  Matt was right...it's important to just chill out sometimes.  Everyone doing their own thing but enjoying this separate togetherness.  Something I need to get more comfortable with as the girls continue this whole growing up thing.  We were social Saturday evening, but again it was within the comforts of our home.  Our friends came over for dinner and because Amy and I voted we should order in and not cook my laziness continued.  

Sunday...another day of nothingness.  A day that revolved around cooking a long, slow meal.  Like I mentioned I was inspired by the Italy portion of my book to cook something fabulous.  There is something about cooking a meal that takes most of the day.  The time you put into it, the smells, the build up.  I started by baking some bread which in itself is a process.  The rising, kneading, punching down, more kneading and rising and finally forming and baking.  I love the process.  Then came the gnocchi...boiling the potatoes, mixing with flour, more kneading, forming little pillows of loveliness.  And, finally the ragu.  A very simple rich sauce, but one that simmered for hours just building anticipation to dinnertime.  The ragu recipe is one from an Italian woman from years and years ago.  What was really cool about it was how similar it is to Matt's Grandmas spaghetti recipe.  As I was putting the ingredients together I realized this.  Matt noticed it as well when he took the first bite.  Pretty cool that two very old recipes, from two different cultures are so much the same.  It's comfort food that warms your soul.
Recipe at the bottom
While all this cooking was going on the girls were in yet another fantasy world all their own.  This one began when I brought out four new containers of play dough.  Play dough is one of those things that sits in the cupboard lonely most of the time.  They both got dough for Christmas but haven't bothered to play with it.  However, today it was hours of entertainment.  Something about brand new play dough I think.  They seriously played with it from lunch time to dinner time.  
Lots of "food" play...cookies and cupcakes.  Love it.
I find myself feeling very relaxed at the end of a Matt type weekend.  Sometimes I over schedule us and it feels good to be busy, but you end up feeling like you need a weekend for a weekend.  It was calm and quiet.  I had told myself Friday evening I was going to disconnect for a couple days.  I like to do that once in awhile...just say no to the Internet...no facebook, no instagram, no blogging, not even Pinterest.  I find it cleansing.  There were a few times this weekend I was challenged by it because of all the downtime, but I stuck it out.  I find that at the end of it...that whole world is still there waiting for me.  I didn't miss out on anything.  In fact I think I gain a little because I get to focus more on this, without distraction...


This was a little Friday afternoon treat.  Every once in awhile during the winter months the girls and I go for ice cream instead of something more appropriate like hot cocoa.  We sit in the ice cream shop and pretend it's summer outside.  We talk about what we should go do next on this beautiful summer afternoon.  Layla said go to the dino park.  Ava said go float the stream like we did this summer with Dru and Graci.  I said go hang out in the back yard.  We take it seriously...make comments like "Oh, I wish I would have worn flip flops today, it's just too hot for Boggs"  or "I don't know why I brought my winter coat with me, I don't need it"  It's fun to pretend for that short time.  Pretend when we leave we'll be hit with hot air and warm sunshine on our skin.  I try to encourage the girls to appreciate winter and enjoy things like sledding and playing in the snow.  However, I'm season biased, so chances are these little girls are going to long for the summer months like their mama.  That's just fine.

Hope you had a lovely weekend and here's to a new week.  Cheers!
Yummy new wine we had on date night...organic grapes and sustainable vineyard.

Cinnamon Shortbread Cookies
-2 Cinnamon Sticks
-2 1/4 cup flour
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-2/3 cup butter, softened
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-1/2 cup sugar
-2 tbls cinnamon
1.  Preheat oven to 325-degrees.  Put cinnamon sticks in a sauce pan with 1 1/2 cups of water.  Boil for around 15-20 minutes to make a "tea"  Put in the fridge to cool.  It will have reduced down, this is ok.  You only need 1/4 cup of it
2.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt and set aside
3.  Cream butter, vanilla, 1/4 cup of the "tea"  and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in flour mixture.  Roll in 1 inch balls, dip in cinnamon and place on cookie sheet pressing down slightly
4.  Bake 15 minutes, cool and enjoy!

Gnocchi con Ragu  (From Cooking with Italian Grandmothers"
Make gnocchi from this recipe and set aside until ready to cook.
Ragu:
-2 tbls olive oil
-1/2 red onion, finely diced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tbls fresh parsley, chopped
-1 bay leaf
-1 cup ground beef
-1 cup tomato paste
-1/2 tsp sugar
-7 cups of water
-s & p
1.  Heat oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Add onion, garlic and parsley and cook 5- 10 minutes.  Add beef and cook until browned.  Add all the remaining ingredients.  Heat to boiling and then reduce to simmer.  Simmer, stirring occaisionally 1.5 to 2 hours.
2.  When ragu is almost done, boil salted water for gnocchi.  Once boiling add gnocchi and cook until they begin to float (just a few minutes).  Remove with a slotted spoon and put in the ragu sauce.  Cook for a minute more and top with parmesean cheese.  
SOOOO good.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Really Can't...

I was perusing Pinterest the other day like I occasionally do.  
Okay, fine...daily do.   
I came upon this little inspirational quote...
Taken from this Blog.

Um, perfect right?  Simple, but so true.  No one has ever said "Dang it, I'm just so happy today."  I've been feeling especially happy lately and I am not complaining about it.  I've been feeling this despite the yucky cold winter we've been having. Things feel calm, life is quiet and unhurried and I am totally embracing it.  January can be depressing to a summer lover, but I'm cool with it right now.  Maybe because I know in just a couple short months I'll be laying on a beach in Florida.  It's when we return from there the winter blues will really set in.  Here's what has been making me smile this week.

1.  The arrival of our 2012 Photo Book.

In the middle of 2011 I decided instead of printing photos I would just make a photo book each year.  I have a ton of old photo albums that I treasure.  However, they are bulky somewhat disorganized and take up a lot of space.  I have found doing a digital photo book is the way to go.  It's kinda like scrap booking for the digital age.  Scrap booking was never something I could get into, but this I can do.  This was the first year I did a full year beginning to end and I was like a kid on Christmas morning when it arrived in the mail yesterday.  I put a lot of hours into this...organizing photos, creating pages for each section, adding comments...it can be really time consuming.  It can also be frustrating when the site is down.  Or when I realize I've played all summer instead of working on it and then it takes forever to get caught up.  However, when I got it in the mail it was all worth it.  Best memory book ever.  The girls and I spent almost an hour yesterday devouring it from beginning to end.  All 80 pages of our year.
It is worth it.  As soon as I finished the New Year's Eve page and ordered the book I felt such a sense of accomplishment and relief.  Until I realized it was now time to begin our 2013 book.  Sigh.  At least January and February aren't filled with much so it's a bit of a break until March.  Re-living memories and having something for my girls to remember their amazing childhoods is priceless.

2.  The return of yoga to my life.  I have been doing yoga on and off for the past dozen years.  I started taking classes with my older sister and some friends and was totally hooked.  When we moved to Michigan and I found the most amazing yoga center this addiction deepened.  Once we moved back to Bozeman and started having babies I missed out on it for years.  Not that I wouldn't occasionally dabble in it, just nothing serious.  A couple years ago I began to go to classes again.  Every time I go I wonder why I don't do this all the time.  But,time, money and busy lives always seem to get in the way.  It's so much easier to throw on some running shoes and take a quick run than to find a class to work our schedules.  My younger sister and I just signed up for a class and I'm so happy to be committed to it again.  It is different than any yoga I've taken...more of a meditation type yoga than ashtanga or vinyasa classes I normally have done.  I've decided it doesn't matter what type of class it is, yoga is good for the soul.  It settles my mind, helps me focus and feel peaceful.  We did this mediation last night..."Raa Maa Daa Saa, Saa Say So Hung"  It is a meditation for healing yourself and others.  Literal translation is sun, moon, earth, totality of experience, personal sense of identity, infinite vibration. I love the words.  I've always been big into yoga, but not the meditation part.  I look forward to learning more about this.  When you are doing it you are supposed to send healing thoughts to yourself, then others you know, then out into the community and beyond.  Last night I sent a whole bunch of healing to my sister...I wonder if she felt it.  I know it may sound silly to some, but I dig it.  

3.  My sister.  Speaking of my sister, I got to spend the whole afternoon with her yesterday.  It's been a couple weeks since I've hung out with just her because of the holidays and getting back into school stuff.  I went there yesterday to see if she needed help with anything.  Instead of helping her we sat in her kitchen and talked and talked and talked.  One of those days where five hours went by and it felt like I had only been there fifteen minutes.  It felt good.  A day of catching up.

4.  New kitchen addition.  Since we painted the kitchen I had to get rid of a few things that didn't go with the new look.  There was an empty space needing to be filled.  I found this happy little sign tucked away on a clearance shelf...

Enough said.  When Ava read it she told me she didn't understand so we had a little chat.  I asked her if she would rather have a new doll or her sister Layla to play with.  She answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world "Layla"  I asked if she would rather spend a weekend camping with her family or have a new car.  She answered "camping, Silly"  I told her she knew what it meant.  It means family, friends and memories are the best things.  Things like this...

Layla snuggled up with her cousin reading him a book she brought home from her classroom.  You could just see how proud she was to be able to read a book to someone else.  And, he was quite the captive audience.  Yep, those are the best things.  

The week is coming to an end and the weekend is right around the corner.  Another weekend of nothingness awaits us.  Possibilities are wide open.  

One other Pinterest quote I found, I can't resist ending with it...
From Blog "Goodbye until Tomorrow"
I wish you a lovely day.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dream Homes and Exotic Sea

Somehow our family got on a conversation about dream homes at breakfast yesterday.  It went something like this.

Ava:  We can't tell what our dream homes would be or they won't come true
Me:  Sure we can...my dream home would have a huge wrap-around porch and a swimming pool in the backyard.
Ava:  (Deciding that it must be okay to talk about them)  Mine would be big enough to have horses, a pool and statues.
Me:  Statues of what?
Ava:  Horses of course!
Matt:  Imagine if we all ended up with the house we wanted when we were 7 (at this point I began picturing a 20-something Ava with giant horse statues all around her home)
Layla:  (Wanting to get in on the action) My house would have a pool, statues, an ice cream shop and a giant cupcake in it!

It was pretty funny...I think it means we should get a pool.  Since that isn't going to happen anytime soon we decided to do a little home improvement project this weekend.  It all started because of the freezing cold temperatures.  I thought we would brave the cold and still go sledding or something.  After a couple rejections from invitations to join us, I decided maybe below zero was too cold to play outside.  Boo.  I started to get my first case of the winter blahs...knowing we were stuck inside.  The girls were happy playing but I was feeling antsy.  I came up with the brilliant idea to paint our kitchen.  Nothing like a stay inside project.  It didn't take much to convince Matt to jump on board and we were off to the paint store.  We were on the same page as far as color went.  A couple weeks ago we bought some new stools in a beautiful turquoise color...we knew that was the color we wanted to add to the kitchen.  Knowing the color you want and actually picking it out are two different things.  Some were too blue, some were too green.  I found one I liked, but then Matt said it was not turquoise, it was blue.  Which I responded "No, it's not...it's swizzle stick."  Who comes up with these names?  We finally found our color...Exotic Sea.  I think I would have picked it just for its name.  Fortunately it was a great color also.  Once home, little girls went right back to playing and we went to painting.  I say "we" loosely here...Matt paints and I clean the disgustingness that is lurking  behind the fridge and oven.  
Putting my man to work
I also bought some lime green paint to color some old vases I had to compliment the new color.  Now there are pops of red and lime green along with the turquoise...I love it!  It's bright and cheery and totally makes me smile.

To stay with the idea of dream homes...one day I would love to add some beautiful Mediterranean tiles and have all matching appliances.  Some day.  For now I don't mind our mis-match look and the idea of getting rid of an appliance that is still working seems wasteful.  We've had enough appliances break on their own, it seems wrong to just throw one away.  

Anyways.  Before the weekend of home improvement projects we had a lovely at home date night.  It was my turn to cook and I wanted something simple.  I like the idea of taking very simple, good ingredients and turning them into a delicious meal.  

When you make homemade noodles, anything you put on them is good.  For the first time, I added fresh chopped basil to my pasta dough.  It added just a little something to them.  For the sauce, I roasted two heads of garlic for about 30 minutes.  Once done, I mixed them with some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt & pepper and red pepper flakes. I tossed the sauce with the noodles, topped it with Parmesan cheese and voila!  It was a very light, yummy sauce.  We had some rosemary focaccia bread with a balsamic dipping sauce.  Great date night food...except for all the garlic.  I guess when you've been together as long as Matt and I have you can get over a bit of garlic breath.  We topped it all of with the chocolate chunk cookies the girls and I had made earlier.  Which is another story in itself...

It was cold and snowy when I picked the girls up on Friday...seemed like a good day to go home and bake.  The girls were all about it and excited to get to use my new KitchenAid I got for Christmas (Yes, I have the best in-laws ever)  They were being silly, pretending they were working so hard when really the mixer was doing everything.  It was all fun and games until Layla added the cocoa powder and turned it on high instead of low and there was a poof of cocoa-flour mixture everywhere.  All over her, the wall, the counter, the floor.  (The next day when we moved the stove for painting I think I swept up about a cup of it)  It was hilarious.  Ava, my little optimist, told Layla "at least you learned a lesson from it...don't turn it on high!"  Despite the drama the cookies turned out fantastic.

While on the subject of food I had a first this week.  I grilled a pizza.  Now, picking one of the coldest days of the year to choose to grill a pizza was not the best idea, however it turned out great.  I looked into bar-b-qing pizza this summer one time when I was having a pizza craving but it was too hot to turn on the oven.  I never ended up trying it.  Now that I have done it, I know it is the only way I will cook pizza this summer.  It gives the pizza the flavor of coming out of a pizza oven (I'd like to add outdoor pizza oven to my dream home list...it can go next to the pool)  I used a different crust recipe for this one.  It was a beer risen crust...who knew beer could be so tasty in bread?  And, it was a Miller Light!  I will admit that I'm somewhat of a beer snob...I prefer micro brews so wasn't sure what I would do with the Miller Light that ended up in my fridge.  Now I know...put it in pizza dough!  It made a great crust...chewy but still crispy on the bottom.  I will be making it again fo sure.
Pizza Margherita.  I'll put the recipe at the bottom
Today the temperatures warmed up to a balmy 7-degrees so we decided to brave it and try sledding.  It was chilly, chilly.  Nothing a little hot cocoa couldn't take care of when we got home.  I'm kind of over the cold and snow.  This is not a good attitude for January, when there will still be months to come of this.  I will try to stay positive about it.  After all I wouldn't have a new splash of color in my kitchen if it wasn't cold, right?  And, I wouldn't have stayed snuggled in with my babies watching old movies with popcorn.  We watched Parent Trap, my all time favorite childhood movie.  My sisters and I used to watch this movie over and over and over.  Sometimes at night Kori and I would try to recite it from the beginning to the end.  We never made it.  We usually fell asleep by the time they were leaving camp.  The girls loved it as much as we used to.  I really enjoy watching old movies with them...there is something so charming about them.  The humor, the lack of any special effects, the language...as Hayley Mills says, it's "simply sensational"

I end with a little sunshine that brightened a cold, snowy weekend...
Thank you Matt...it's the little things that mean so much.
Have a happy week...stay warm.

Grilled Pizza
Dough:  Microwave 3/4-cup beer for 30 seconds.  Stir in 1 package of yeast and 2 tsp olive oil and let sit for 5 minutes.
In a bowl, mix 1 & 3/4 cup bread flour with 1 tsp salt.  Add the beer mixture and knead for around 5-7 minutes until you have a smooth dough.  Divide in half and place each in a lightly greased bowl (with olive oil).  Cover and let rise 1 and a half hours, or for a slow rise in the fridge for the day.  (Take out around 30 minutes before you want to use it)
Sauce:  Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 cups of grape tomatoes (halved), 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/2 tsp basil and a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes.  Cook around 10 minutes, stir occasionally.  Remove from heat
Grill:  Pre-heat the bar-b-q to medium-high.  Take your  two dough balls and roll out to a circle on baking pans (make sure to dust the bottom of the pans with cornmeal so it won't stick)  Brush the top of each dough with olive oil.  Flip each dough onto the grill, oiled side down.  Grill around 5 minutes.  At this point you can put the dough back on your pans and bring them inside to put the toppings on or if it's warm, just do it right on the grill.  Spread the tomato mixture on each dough, add sliced fresh mozzarella and torn fresh basil.  Cook 4-6 more minutes until cheese is melty.
Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hump Day Happies...

I really despise the term "hump day", yet felt compelled that it was the perfect title for this post.  It just had a better ring to it than Wednesday Happies, or Middle of the Week Happies...had to be hump day.  I wish I could think of a better term to describe this day in the middle of our week and use it all the time to completely erase the other...hmmm, something to work on.  

Anyways.  

We are in the midst of the quiet of January.  All has calmed down after the chaos of the holidays and everything is slow.  I used to really dislike January.  It always felt like a let down after Christmas and spring still too far away.  Now, I really treasure this time of nothingness.  As I've gotten older it seems like time just goes so fast.  I like how January feels slow...a time to regroup, a time of no plans, no holidays.  I find contentment in this calm time.  Because things are quiet right now I have no huge events to write about.  Just a simple list of things that are making me smile this week.

1.  Back to normal routines.  I know I was just complaining about the girls going back to school and how much I enjoyed having them home.  This is still true.  But just wishing I could keep them home forever is not going to change anything so I've happily jumped back into our school routines.  I loved the break and no schedules, but let's be honest...I love routines.  In just a few days we've gotten right back into homework, after school snacks, early bedtimes and I'm cool with it.  Except the making lunches part...that I could do without.
Happy girls after a long day of school
2.  Mid-day run.  Today was a really beautiful day out.  Things were melting everywhere with the temperatures warming things up.  I had about an hour before I needed to pick up the girls and decided to take advantage and go for a run.  There are rumors of a big snow storm coming and temperatures dipping down again so I knew if I wanted a run, now was the time.  It was glorious.  So nice to be able to go for a run without a hat, gloves and two layers of clothes.  The one bad part of this was tripping and almost breaking my neck.  Now, I know what you are thinking...that's just part of running outside in winter-the risk of slipping on the ice.  However, the sidewalk was perfectly dry.  Being my usual graceful self I tripped on my own shoelace.  I was actually thankful for the snow on the side because it broke my fall as I flailed down.  I also am thankful for the cable guys who pretended not to notice as I picked my embarrassed self up and set back to running.  It was still a good run.  Gotta be able to laugh at yourself, right?

3.  Adding a new family picture to our wall of photos.

We use our hallway to display some of our memories.  I really love it.  It makes me smile walking down the hall and seeing smiling faces of all my favorite people back at me.  Today I got a frame for the latest addition.  It's a group shot of all the cousins running through the snow.  It was one that didn't make the cut for the photo for my parents for Christmas, but for some reason I was drawn to it.  They are holding hands, everyone has a silly smile on their face, the sky and snow look perfect and it's just fantastic.  It is now the biggest photo in our collage and rightfully so.  It's the nine cutest kids ever.

4.  Treasures.  I took a hiatus during the holidays from my online Etsy store, Savvy Chic.  I sold out of most of my items right before and when it appeared the Christmas shopping was over, I backed off to enjoy my own family.  Now I want to restock and jump back into it.  Today I found some total beauties and I can't wait to add them to the store.  The only problem with this has been I end up wanting to keep everything I find!  Especially this one...
I just love the green and the gold and it is so adorable on.  Perfect length.  A hidden jem that was tucked in the back of an antique store, that will now find a new home and get the attention it deserves.  Love it.

5.  Grilled Cheese with pickles.  

I recently pinned this idea on Pinterest and it is pure genius.  Yes, I know it sounds a little like something a pregnant woman would eat but they shouldn't get all the fun. Thin slices of dill pickles with a layer of cheese above and below and grilled until melty. So good!  It even tastes good dipped in tomato soup.  (No, I am not pregnant)  Girls loved it also...simple dinner success.

6.  Cheesecake.  This is a last minute addition.  Matt went out tonight for dinner and came home with this for me...

I am a sucker for cheesecake.  Matt is not a fan, so I don't make them very often.  Very nice of him to not only bring me dessert, but to bring one he doesn't even like.  I don't even care that I already had a cookie after dinner, some nights two desserts are just what you gotta do.  Matt said it was a pretty big piece and I could save some of it.  Does he know me at all?  It will be gone in the next five minutes.  If I save it until tomorrow I will have to share with two little girls and some things are too good to share.

With that, I must end because that cheesecake isn't going to eat itself.

Happy Wednesday!  (Still haven't thought of anything better than hump day so just going with Wednesday.  Any ideas???)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Food, Food, Food.

I realized that with all of the holiday type things going on I haven't been cooking or sharing as many recipes.  I wasn't adventuring much in the food department.  There was of course a lot of baking, but those aren't usually my recipes to share.  Now as we kick off the new year I've been back to cooking.  With some new cook books and cooking appliances I got for Christmas, I have been freshly inspired.  Because of the lack of food the last month, I felt it was time to dedicate a post to one of my favorite things...food...cooking and eating.  

I'll begin with this amazing dish I made last night....Lasagne al Pesto, or pesto lasagna.  This one was inspired by the Italian book I got from Matt and let me tell you, it was fantastic.  It is not like any typical lasagna you would think of.  It was more a rich, creamy, pesto pasta dish...warm and cheesy and perfect to share on a winter night with friends and a few bottles of vino.  We didn't plan on having company...I don't usually like to try something I've never made before when other people will be over.  However, we ended up having an impromptu dinner with neighbors so suddenly I had a bigger audience.  It took most of the afternoon to create all the components and I even had to have Matt help.  I am just not strong enough to roll out the pasta dough thin enough for a lasagna dish.  I love a lazy afternoon of cooking a long, slow meal.  Kids all playing happily, music on and me in the kitchen.  Happy girl.  What we ended up with was worth every single moment of cooking...
Making the pesto portion, putting my man to work and the final product.  (I'll put recipes at the end!)
It is layers of homemade pasta sheets, a pesto bechamel sauce, lots of fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese all baked to bubbly perfection.  Again, I was a little nervous serving it to guests without trying it (especially when one said guest is a restaurant owner himself) however there was no need to worry...it was a total hit.  (Said restaurant owner even said it was "f-ing awesome"  I'll take that compliment)  It was one of those really nice evenings of great food, wine, company and lots of happy kids playing around.  

That was the biggest hit of the week, but there was definitely more good eating going on.

First, the giant burgers. I had to throw a little meat in.  We probably eat red meat a couple times a month and it is almost always a hamburger.  It has been almost two years now since we started a more vegetarian type diet.  Within the first couple months of that, I knew hamburgers would have to come back to my life.  I have not missed chicken or pork in the least, but I need a burger once in awhile.  I like to experiment and try them all different kinds of ways.  This particular night I roasted some red peppers and sliced them to go on top and really spiced the burgers up.  It was a take on a Rachel Ray recipe...someone who I go back and forth between thinking is totally adorable or completely annoying.  Either way, the burger was delish...especially with the ketchup/sour cream/pickle sauce we added to it.  Burger craving kicked for another week or two.  

Next was date night food...Mediterranean Mac & Cheese.  It was Matt's turn to cook and I have to say he's getting good.  It's funny when we first got married Matt did most of the cooking.  At that time, my specialty was Hamburger Helper's Four Cheese Lasagna.  That made Matt's chicken stir fry's seem very impressive.  My how times have changed.  Once I had Ava my entire perception of food changed and I started to enjoy cooking.  Now, besides Sunday breakfasts Matt does little cooking.  It's been nice having him join in some of it for date nights and this mac & cheese was fantastic.  I don't have the recipe for this one because it was his dish.  However, I know it was full of tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta cheese...very nice combination.

Last was gnocchi.  Now, I make gnocchi a ton...at least once or twice a month.  But, I have never made it without using potatoes.  This one was made using semolina flour and baked instead of boiled.  Totally different, but so so so good!  You still get the fluffy texture, just with a crunchy bite to it.  It was also pretty simple and there was no need for sauce.  I just topped it with some Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs before baking and it needed nothing else.  I love how the simplest ingredients come to together to make amazing food. 

That's a lot of food talk, but I thought it was time.  I've been neglectful in that area.  We've just been busy with Christmas break type things.  Things like a whole lot of sledding and ice skating.
Up the hill and crashing down.  "Kaboom" as my nephew would say

We haven't had much new snow so it's more like flying down an icy hill.  I try really hard to not freak out as Matt spins them and sends them flying down the hill.  Especially when you hear their squeals of excitement.  I can't help it, I'm the mama...it's my job to worry.  

We've squeezed in some cousin time.  Baking, playing, sleepovers and such.
All snuggled watching Garfield

Silly girls
Using up some Christmas M&M's
Now it is the night before school starts again.  I'm with Ava...she doesn't want to go back.  It has been such a wonderful two weeks with my girls.  I like having them home.  I like lazy mornings, staying in pj's, playing with friends and cousins.  Going back to reality sucks.  I am not ready to make sack lunches, homework, early bedtimes and all that.  I feel the apprehension of sending them coming back to me.  Time has passed since the horrible shooting, but it is still in my mind and I can't help but have the worry in my head.  I really liked knowing they were home safe with me or if I was at work they were just playing with Grandma.  I know it had to end and school is good, blah blah blah...but I'm not ready.  I want another week.  

I'll put the recipes I've mentioned here at the end in case you want to give them a try.  (And, I strongly encourage you to try the pesto lasagna...you will not be disappointed.  Just make sure you have time)  Before, I have to share a photo of my girl that I just love...
I totally dig her rocker chick style with the tee and stone wash jeans.  She's like the cool girl I want to be friends with.  I think stone wash could make a total come back.

Pesto Lasagna (From "Cooking with Italian Grandmothers")
PASTA:
-2 Cups plus 6 tablespoons flour (use type 00 pasta flour if you can, but plain works fine also)
-3 eggs at room temp
Put the flour on a clean surface and make a well in the middle.  Crack the eggs into the well and with a fork start beating the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour into the well until it starts to turn into a dough.  At this point, I put it in my kitchenaid with a dough hook and let it go for ten minutes.  If you don't have one, just knead for ten minutes adding a little water if it seems a little dry.  You should end up with a nice elastic dough.  Cover and let rest for at least 15 minutes.  Slice into four pieces and roll each out as thin as you can get it.  (Paper thin)

PESTO:
-3 cups fresh basil leaves
-5 cloves of garlic
-3/4 cup olive oil
-1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
-2 cups fresh grated Parmesan cheese
-lemon zest from one to two lemons
-pinch of salt
In a food processor mix basil, garlic and olive oil until pureed.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until you have a nice paste.  Set aside

BECHAMEL SAUCE:
-1/2 cup butter 
-5 tbls flour
-4 cups whole milk
-1/8 tsp nutmeg
-salt and pepper
Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy pot.  Stir in the flour and stir continuously for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the milk VERY SLOWLY, stirring continuously.  You have to go SLOW for this...adding just a couple tablespoons at a time for the first 1/2 cup.  Then you can pour the remaining in a slow drizzle.  Once all the milk is in, bring it to a gently simmer for about 20 minutes until it thickens a little.  You need to stir it every few minutes so it won't stick or burn.  Turn off the heat, whisk in the nutmeg, s &p and put a lid on slightly ajar and let cool until you are ready to assemble. 

Other ingredients:  2 balls of fresh mozzarella (thinly sliced), 1 cup Parmesan cheese

Put it all together:  lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.  Whisk the pesto into the bechamel sauce.  Ladle a scoop of it onto the bottom of the dish.  Place one pasta sheet on top.  Put another ladle full on top of that and sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese and slices of mozzarella.  Continue to layer that way ending with the bechamel pesto and the cheeses.  Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour until it is puffed up and the cheese is golden brown.

Pepper Burger
-Roast a red pepper until blackened and blistering.  Remove the skin and seeds, cut in slices and set aside for toppings.
-Melt a tbls of butter in a skillet, add some chopped onion and garlic and cook until soft.  Add around 1/4 cup of a dry white wine, stir.  Remove from heat and let cool
-In a mixing bowl combine 1 pound ground beef, 2 tbls paprika, 1 tbsp marjoram, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp all spice and some s&p.  Add the onion/garlic mixture and mix well.  Make patties and grill.  (of course add some cheese at the end!!)
-Top the burgers with the roasted peppers and any other toppings you like.  And, this sauce:  Mix 1 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup ketchup, 2 tsp hot sauce and diced pickles.

Flour Gnocchi (Also from "Cooking with Italian Grandmothers"
-1 quart milk
-3 tsp salt
-1 cup semolina flour
-1 cup Parmesan cheese
-2 large eggs
-1 tbls butter
-bread crumbs
Heat the milk and salt in a sauce pan over med heat.  When it starts to simmer sprinkle in the flour whisking constantly.  Reduce to medium low and whisk for 7 to 10 more minutes until it is thick.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese, the eggs and putter.  Pour the batter into a large, shallow baking pan and spread it out to 1/2 inch thickness.  Set in the fridge for about an hour.
Cut them into gnocchi using a shot glass or 2 inch cookie cutter.  Dip the glass in water to help with sticking.  Lay them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and bread crumbs.  Bake at 400-degrees around 30-40 minutes...until brown and crispy.  We ate them just like that, but you could top with any sauce you like.

Enjoy and Happy Eating!!!