Thursday, November 27, 2008

giving thanks

i am thankful for bryan, who always helps with a smile, who always tells me he loves me, who is a great father, my best friend, and the one i love to make laugh the most.

i am thankful for oliver, who is the most amazing, precious, wonderful, beautiful boy. i am thankful he is healthy, and smart, and silly.

i am thankful for hannah, who has taught me much about myself, and who loves me even though she doesn't have to. she brightens our home when she is here.

i am thankful for my parents, who have been wonderful role models, our coaches, and our pillars of support. without their love, help, and guidance, i wouldn't get much done.

i am thankful for my sisters, for being close with them, and for never losing our silly childhood selves.

i am thankful for my in laws, whose generosity and love know no bounds. they are a wonderful and balancing force in our lives to whom we owe much.

i am thankful for friends who have withstood time and distance. they are the ones who brighten my day with a note in the mail, an email, a phone call. these are the people that no matter the distance, i can't live without.

i am thankful for my job, because i really and truly do love it, and for the people i work with, who are pretty darn great.

i am thankful for a group of moms who feel the way i do, who have provided support, advice, and a shoulder through the toughest times of learning to be a mother.

happy thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

time keeps on ticking

it seems the older i get, the faster time flies, and the less time there is to do things. surely i'm not the only one who notices this. if only there were a few more hours in the day. of course, i'm usually too tired to do much in the evenings anyways, so i'm not sure it would matter. too bad i don't drink caffeine. perhaps that would help. i did get a large hot chocolate the other day, and i swear that had me buzzing and jittery, so i'm not sure what a cup of coffee would do to me. anyways. onwards.

way back on monday november 3rd, we had daal for dinner. bryan added chiles, so it was a bit too spicy for oliver, but boy did we ever love it. with some sour cream, lime, and cilantro to tame the heat, and puffy pita bread, it was a delicious dinner. definitely one we'll add to the menu to keep our bellies warm on these cold winter evenings. perhaps next time we'll do one less spicy, because i have the sneaking suspicion that oliver would love lentils.

friday november 7th, bryan came up with an on the fly dinner to use up some things we had in bulk. he made a deconstructed chicken cordon bleu, using chicken breasts, fresh mozzarella, some muenster, and ham. he served that with sauteed yellow summer squash, and potatoes. a hearty and satisfying meal. oliver enjoyed some leftover ground beef and beans instead, since we ate later than he needed to.

that saturday, the 8th, i made posole. oh posole, how i love you. pork, green chiles, bryan's homemade chipotles, onions, beer, hominy, oregano, cumin, bryan's homemade chicken stock. topped with sour cream, shredded lettuce, radish, sweet golden tomatoes, and a squeeze of lime. fantastic.

that sunday, mom and dad came over for dinner. in addition to bryan's traditional aztec squash (with zucchini, yellow summer squash, tomatoes, and epazote), he made a variation on sopa seca. i wasn't able to find the rice vermicelli noodles, so we adapted and just used rice noodles. instead of smoked turkey, we used leftover shredded chicken. it was a big hit. a very satisfying, comfort meal.

the weekend itself was fairly normal - running errands and hanging out. i got a cute new hat at target, so i can be a hip urban mom.

monday the 10th, we had a scrumptious pork tenderloin with maple mustard sauce, smashed red potatoes, and bryan's carmelized brussel sprouts with toasted bread crumbs. would you believe oliver enjoys brussel sprouts?

a few cute pictures of him being a ham that day:

why, no, mom, i'm not squishing my potatoes on the back of my chair, why do you ask?

look ma, no hands!

the next day, tuesday the 11th, we had - wait for it - chicken fried rib eyes (inspired by kristi's brother). why bother to chicken fry a rib eye, you may ask? because it's out of this world delicious, that's why. definitely better than the traditional cube steak, i'm not sure we can do it any other way now. we had that with some simply blanched carrots, mac and cheese, and of course, white pan gravy.

saturday the 15th, we got around to picking up some chicken wings so we could try them with bryan's homemade super spicy hot sauce. definitely hotter than normal. bryan liked them better than wings with his normal hot sauce, and they were quite good, but i like the normal hot sauce better - with less spice, it's more flavor.

last week sunday, the 16th, we started out the day right. i made breakfast sandwiches of waffles, grilled with ham, cream cheese, and apricot jam. everyone loved them. bryan and i indulged ourselves with some mimosas. our realtor had given us a bottle of champagne when we bought the house, but as i was pregnant, we stashed it. so we celebrated making it through the first year, just a little late. oliver tried to celebrate by stealing my orange soda, but too bad for him it was empty.

here's a random cute picture of ollie napping - he crashed out for a seriously LONG afternoon nap, which he wasn't too thrilled about being woken up from.

we used the leftover champagne tuesday, with some tuna steaks we had bought at trader joe's. bryan's champagne buerre blanc was spot on, but the steaks were a little dry and could have had better flavor. now we know not to buy cryo-vac'd tuna from there again. brown rice and carmelized turnips rounded out the meal.

we introduced oliver to peanut butter and jelly this past week. he's a fan.

friday, bryan had the day off so at&t could come and install new tv/internet/phone. day care had the day off, so oliver was home as well, and i worked from home to help out. for lunch, i gave oliver a bean burrito. at no point did it occur to me that this would be messy. i'm not sure why. but, he had fun eating it, and he loves beans, so i guess it worked out in the end.

that night for dinner, i made crock pot lasagna, which was an interesting concept to me. i had decided to use the crock pot a lot this winter, and wanted to branch out beyond roasts, soups, and stews. i didn't have very high expectations (it is lasagna in a crock pot, after all), but this turned out really delicious. i used a spaghetti sauce i had already made, and froze, with ground beef and italian sausage. the ricotta fluffed up, the cheese melted and even turned golden around the edges. definitely adding this one to the permanent roster. i picked up a rosemary herbed ciabatta for garlic bread, and made one of oliver's favorites - cauliflower.

oliver has been sick. it started last weekend with a runny nose, to which a dry cough soon added itself, which has turned into more of a hacking cough. friday i was worried he had pink eye, as while we were at target shortly before bed time i noticed his eye was weepy and a little goopy. saturday morning it looked much better. he's still feeling pretty crappy, though. he wouldn't eat much for breakfast or lunch yesterday (he did much better with dinner). he went down for his afternoon nap yesterday early. i thought we would sit and cuddle in the rocking chair, read a few books, but when we sat down, he simply curled up close to me, hugged his blanket tight, and immediately started to doze off. it breaks my heart to see him feeling so terrible. we picked up some hyland's homeopathic honey cough syrup for him, which seems to be helping. hopefully today he'll continue to feel better.

many new pictures have been added to the november gallery, including some cute video of him walking around.

the plan for today is to lay low at the house. bryan and i are going to marquette university this afternoon to see a play, chekhov's the cherry orchard. mom has graciously offered us 2 tickets and her babysitting services. we're pretty excited to get out of the house and take in some culture together. tonight, mom and dad will be joining us for dinner. bryan is making souvlaki (pork kebabs with cucumber–mint yogurt sauce), one of his favorite greek dishes. we have some pita bread, beans, and i'll be making some delicata squash fries, one of our favorite sides. the pork has been marinating since yesterday. it should be absolutely delicious!

we hit up the outpost yesterday to do some of our shopping for thanksgiving. they were having a sample day, with thanksgiving foods. so there were a lot more people there than usual, which i wasn't too happy about, but i did get to delight in feeding oliver tastes of things you'd never expect a 1 year old to like - such as wild rice, and leek stuffing. that's my boy! shannon arrives in town late wednesday night, and katie and kevin are flying in that night as well. unfortunately adrianne's car broke down, so it looks like she won't be able to make it. i'm really excited for the food; i think we have a pretty good "new american" (if you'll excuse me using that silly term) menu:

Waldorf Salad, which will be prepared by shannon

Salted Roast Turkey with Herbs and Shallot-Dijon Gravy, which is bryan's project

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bread Crumbs, to which we'll add some bacon (only because the brussels will carmelize better in pig fat, i swear), also to be prepared by bryan

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding, which will be a joint effort between shannon and bryan

Green Bean Casserole, using a slightly different recipe than you usually see (no cream), which shannon will make

bryan will make his corn budin, of course (else i probably would make him sleep on the couch)

aunt debbie will be bringing a sweet potato dish of some kind

mom will of course bring her delicious yeast rolls

and for dessert: i'll be making my apple and fennel pie, debbie is bringing brownies with apples, caramel, and snickers, and shannon will be making a dessert as well

yummy, no?

Friday, November 7, 2008

the birthday boys (and girl)

the past 2 weeks have flown by! we've been pretty busy, with guests in town and oliver's first birthday party!

last week monday, we pulled out a jar of homemade escabeche from the cupboard to try for dinner. and what goes better with escabeche than tacos?? the escabeche was sweet and delicious. bryan was especially a fan of the little green tomatoes i included in it. i only canned a few jars, so hopefully i'll get a chance to make a few more.

last week wednesday, we had a perennial favorite: fried chicken and biscuits. oliver enjoyed it as well. bryan made cauliflower to go with it, but as you can see, it's not your ordinary cauliflower. this is roman cauliflower (or possibly romanesco broccoli). it is a bright green with spiraled florets in perfect fractal patterns. it had been delivered in our csa box the previous week. it's a bit sweeter than your standard white cauliflower, and very tender. oliver loves cauliflower, so this did not disappoint him either.

last week thursday, bryan took the day off, as his dad and linda were flying into town. they spent the day buzzing around, and bryan made wheatberry chili for dinner. he had found a wheatberry chili mix at the outpost, and was intrigued. since we are snobs and don't make food from packaged mixes (where's the fun in that?), he bought some bulk wheatberries and decided to go that route. he did not add meat; the wheatberries provided the substance. i made my ever popular golden sweet cornbread, which was a hit as always. it was a great meal to have on a cool fall day to welcome bill and linda to town.

friday was oliver's 1 year birthday! my little boy is 1! i'm still in a little bit of shock about it. bryan and i both took the day off, but oliver still went to day care. am i a horrible mother or what?? we had a lot to do in order to get ready for the weekend birthday festivities, though. i got to take linda to the outpost, so i could do my grocery shopping and she could explore. i also needed to hit up target for party and house supplies, and pretty much ran around busy all day. bryan and his dad were busy doing projects around the house, including mounting our old kitchen cabinets in the basement and installed temporary MDF countertops on them. so now we have some extra storage in the basement, yay!

we did all manage to take a break and go have lunch together. we drove out to haute taco, a relatively new chi-chi taco place out in brookfield. overall, we enjoyed our meal quite a bit. we shared a bowl of guacamole, which was well flavored and seemed to be done right. we tried a variety of the food: linda had some of the tortilla soup, which she said was very good. bill had a burrito which he enjoyed. bryan and i tried a variety of tacos: duck (which bryan found greasy), fish (which i found bland), al pastor (which bryan found to his liking), and braised short rib (which i found delicious). i also had a side of elote mexicana, which i think could be improved on. a traditional street snack, elote mexicana is usually an ear of corn, roasted, with mayo, salt, lime, and chile, and sometimes crumbled queso fresco. i've made a version in the past where i've sliced the kernels off the cob and mixed with some mayo, lime juice, salt, and black pepper. the corn at haute taco was an ear cut in half with mayo squirted on the top, chili pepper, and cheese. it wouldn't have been half bad, if it weren't for the mayo glopped all on the top. having to bite through a mouthful of commercial bulk mayo (which i generally find too sweet) wasn't exactly pleasant, and i love mayo. i ended up cutting the kernels off and enjoying it a bit more. we were too full for dessert after all that food (and the piƱa jarritos, YUM!). after lunch, bill & linda took us to babies r us to buy oliver's birthday present - a fancy new umbrella stroller! we needed something smaller than the full size one we've been using; we love it, but now that ollie's a bit bigger and more mobile, it was time for something a little more portable.

that evening for dinner, we pulled together a quick and delicious meal. i picked up some italian sausages at the outpost, which we served on bryan's favorite - pretzel rolls. i also did some sliced potatoes and onions pan fried in the cast iron, and a celery root and butternut squash gratin with walnut thyme streusel. i don't like butternut squash at all, but i *loved* this dish, and so did everyone else. it sounds fancy and looks like it takes 2 hours, but it is incredibly easy - just slice the celery root and squash, toss in some heavy cream, pour into a baking dish, and top with breadcrumbs you've mixed with butter, thyme, and walnuts. bake. TA-DA.

saturday, i had to get the house clean, clean CLEAN! in preparation for the birthday party. linda made everyone a big breakfast as fuel for the day. i also needed to bake! i made a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting for oliver. i roasted my own pie pumpkins rather than using canned filling. the plan was to do a blue's clues theme, so i made a single 9" cake along with a pan of cupcakes, and dyed the frosting blue. i laid the cake out on a sheet pan, and arranged 4 cupcakes along the top to make a paw print. mom's birthday was sunday, the day of the actual party, so i wanted to make her something that i knew she would really love. lemons are her absolute favorite, so i searched for lemon cakes, pies, and tarts, and found the absolute perfect pie - shaker lemon pie. the filling is actual sliced lemons, and it can't get any lemon-y-er than that. so saturday, i zested and sliced thinly the lemons, and placed that in a bowl along with sugar to macerate at room temperature for 24 hours. bill's birthday was saturday, and a little birdy told me that he loved cheesecake, so i made mascarpone cheesecake with an almond crust. i was a pretty busy girl!

the weather had been absolutely gorgeous - perfect fall weather. it reminds me why i love this state - perfect weather, beautiful fall foliage - fall here can be really wonderful. i'm glad it was so nice while bill and linda were here so they could see it and enjoy it too. oliver and i decided to walk up to the park saturday before dinner to play. we tried out the new stroller, which was very much to both our likings, and oliver had a lot of fun talking to the geese at the park (which was pretty darn cute to watch). we spent a lot of time on the swings. oliver was having so much fun i had a hard time leaving. he actually cried when i took him out
of the swing!! a few short trips down the slide helped him get over that, though. we stopped to watch the geese on the way home, and i swear he was trying to say
"geese" after me - he kept making a sound like "geet! geet!" it may be my silly mommy brain, but lately it seems like he is trying very hard to repeat the sounds we are making. i have this feeling he is storing everything up and we'll see an explosion of vocabulary in about 6 months. lots of incredibly adorable pictures from the park are in the october gallery, along with a *very* cute video of ollie swinging and laughing.

for bill's birthday dinner, he wanted some of the local lamb we're always raving about, so i got some fresh cut lamb chops from the butcher at the outpost. bryan did a greek lamb chop, the same he made when chris was visiting - marinated in olive oil, garlic, and herbs, and served with a similar sauce. i picked up a mixed bunch of olives, and soft, fluffy pita bread (not the pocket variety). bryan made a tzatiki, and a greek salad (tomatoes, feta, cucumbers, red onion, and a vinegar dressing). we also did roasted potatoes, and i selected a lovely red wine. everything was sublime. bill loves greek food, so it was a perfect birthday dinner for him. the cheesecake was delicious as well. since it was half mascarpone and half cream cheese, it was smoother and less tart than regular cheesecake. the nutella cream topping pushed it over the top, and everyone was happy. after dinner, everyone gave bill his gifts. linda had bought him some travel books; they'll be traveling to someplace new in the u.s. for the rest of his birthday present. oliver, bryan, and i made him a craft - a framed picture and footprint from oliver, with a poem. why i thought a baby + paint wouldn't be incredibly messy, i don't know, but i thought it was a genius idea. making the craft itself was messy, but fun, and it turned out really cute.

sunday was THE BIG DAY - oliver's birthday party!! i baked mom's pie that morning (nearly forgetting it in the oven but luckily it was saved), finished up cleaning, and generally rushing around like crazy. bryan worked on completing the cleaning of the kitchen, and bill and linda pitched in and helped get everything ready too - we never would have finished if it wasn't for them!! i really needed oliver to be on his schedule so that he would actually be awake and not melting down during the party, and everything worked up great. he woke up around 6:30 that morning, and took a great morning nap. while he napped, i decorated with some blue streamers, and print outs of blue and blue's friends. oliver was VERY EXCITED when he saw that - he knew exactly who it was!!
people started arriving, and oliver was a little overwhelmed. he's generally not shy, but i think all these people he didn't know many of were a little much for him. luckily, he got over it pretty quickly, and was visiting, flirting, and playing with everyone in no time.

for lunch, we decided on tacos, since that would be something easy to serve a lot of, and sure to be a crowd pleaser. bryan boiled 2 fryer chickens, along with mexican spices, and shredded the meat. he browned ground beef with onion and spices. he also made charro beans, which involved him cooking an entire pound of bacon along with onions that morning (our house smelled AWESOME). we served those, kept warm in mom's nesco (a prized family heirloom in our family), along with all your standard taco fixin's: hard taco shells, flour tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, and chips. i had planned on making a mexican squash casserole, but it slipped my mind that morning. we had plenty of food, though. can you believe i forgot to take a picture of the spread, though??! everyone ate a ton - including oliver. he loooooves beef and beans.

after lunch, it was time for cake! oliver was pretty fascinated by the candle, though was pretty clueless about blowing the candle out (even though we've been practicing with the birthday book that brent & jess sent us!). i think he was too full from lunch to enjoy his cupcake too much, though he tried. i think he had more fun squishing the frosting between his fingers, actually. to my surprise, the lemon cake was the biggest hit! although i knew both mom and i would love it, given our lemon obsession, i didn't think it would go over as well with everyone else. i was very wrong, and it was demolished very quickly. we also pulled out the leftover cheesecake. bryan and i thought the pumpkin cake was superb as well - it was so moist and delicious! and who can resist cream cheese frosting, even if it is blue?

i forgot to take a picture of the cake before we cut it, but i think you can get the drift:

after cake was presents, and oliver got a lot of great stuff. he was in need of some new toys, since he's a big 1 year old boy now, and he still had a lot of baby toys. he also got a bunch of new clothes and books, which we can never have too much of. the kid cleaned up!!

we also gave mom her present, another craft project. we did oliver's handprints in the shape of a heart on an apron, along with a poem about little hands. the red paint for that project got *EVERYWHERE*.

all in all it was a very successful day. he even went down for a nap after all the excitement, with minimal fuss.

bunch more birthday party pics in the birthday party gallery.

thanks to everyone who came to the party and who sent their good wishes through mail!! you helped make oliver's first birthday very special!

oh, oliver is walking now, did i mention that?? 2 weeks ago, he took his first few steps (in an attempt to eat dirt), and has been taking a step here and there. last week friday, he got a little bit bolder, and would practice to 2, 3, 4 steps all weekend. sunday at the party, i think he was inspired by my cousins' kids (who are 4 and 1) and now is toddling all over. we went to dinner at mom and dad's house on wednesday (for mole, YUM) and he was walking all over the house! crawling is still faster, and he's still prone to fall, but he is WALKING. unbelievable! it's amazing how fast they grow!!

additional pictures from recently are in the october gallery.

OH! our john boos arrived yesterday! happy happy joy joy. it looks soooooo pretty! the more i look at it, the more i like it, i think. we still need to move our old breakfast table and benches out of the space, and organize the new table, but i think it will be perfect. i'm so happy we worked that into the new kitchen!!

no big weekend plans here. hopefully it does NOT snow like they are predicting (and it would be nice if it didn't rain either). i'd like to get in a few more trips to the zoo before it gets too cold, if possible. other than that, hopefully we can just play around the house and maybe start thinking about things for the holidays. we'll be hosting thanksgiving, and i think we have most of the menu planned for that. i'd like to do some crafts for the table (yes, i'm totally turning into martha stewart. ok ok - turning back into martha stewart.). also would like to nail down a few more gift ideas. and maybe we'll go look at christmas trees. since oliver is so very into EVERYTHING right now, and he's a pretty clever boy who likes finding his way around any obstacle we provide, we won't do a full size christmas tree this year. i'm thinking a miniature one on the piano, and bryan wants to convince me to get a silver aluminum one. we'll see.