Tuesday, January 27, 2009


i'm feeling a little hormonal or something today, so please excuse the following rantings and ravings and perhaps over indulgent pontifications. feel free to roll your eyes.

as our nation turns towards washington, whether each individual is expecting great things or disaster, one of the issues on the forefront of most of our minds is the economy. i don't know that anyone can argue that it's not a mess, and i think things are tight for a lot of us.

on my message board, we had a discussion regarding incomes and relativity. how $100,000 affords varying levels of financial comfort across different states, for example. a mid-level 4 bedroom house that could cost $1,000,000 in california might cost $400,000 in another state, or $200,000 in another. it's really kind of an interesting concept to think through, cost of living. it is something that, aside from our choice of locale (when possible), we don't have any direct control over.

then there are the things we do have direct control over - our monthly expenses. some things are required (such as a mortgage or rent, electricity, water), and some things, no matter how adamantly we say we can't live without them, are luxuries (such as cable tv). still, in both categories, we make decisions (to our varying levels of financial ability) on how much to spend.

could our mortgage be smaller? sure. we could have bought a smaller house (though the 4 rooms are filling up fast). we could have bought a house that needed work. or, we could be renting. there is a finite range we can operate in, but it is a range that offers us choices.

what our struggle right now is the way we buy food. we spend more than your average american on food each month. it is a conscious decision we made, in order to lead a lifestyle we think is important for our family, and for the earth. local and natural (not necessarily organic) is essential to us. we could probably nearly halve our monthly expenses on food if we shopped at the supermarket, and if we returned to buying processed foods, easily halve the bill.

before we were married, we began doing all our grocery shopping at atlanta's dekalb farmer's market, a place i still miss dearly. the ydfm is the mecca of food shopping in atlanta - they have everything, from all over the world. they are a literal warehouse. they have dry goods from everywhere, every nationality. their spice selection a dream (in both the actual selection and the price). they have produce you've never seen before. after shopping there, a supermarket's produce section is positively embarrassing; a pathetic display of sad looking produce, and a measly selection at that. the seafood, the meats, the cheeses. i miss our saturday mornings there. and we took full advantage of every department, spending quite possibly more at times than we do even now. but we could afford to (speaking just numbers): we shared a rented house with 3 other renters, so all our bills were fractions of a whole. looking back, i do wish we had worked harder to save more, but don't you always?

i remember when we were first married, we were serious pros at grocery shopping. we were renting our own house, our bills increased; we were trying to spend less. we would, on average, save 30-40% off our bill: spend $150, save $100. i meal planned by buying almost only things that were on sale, and more often than not, on sale AND with a coupon. but what products have coupons? things in boxes, packages. we bought lots of those frozen boxes of vegetables "with sauce", for example. we would still go to the farmer's market sometimes, we would still buy some things fresh. bryan was also working nights at the time, so we only ate dinner together a few days a week, which made cooking a lesser priority. was it healthy to eat those processed foods? no. but it was economical.

we moved, we got raises, bryan began working days: whatever the reason, we bettered our standard of living. we began shopping at the farmer's market again, and discovered the buford farmer's market as well. we had dinner parties. we only ate bell & evans chickens. my wine rack was always stocked. hannah, 4 years old at the time, had something click in her cute little head, and decided she no longer wanted kraft macaroni and cheese or chef boyardee - she wisely decided that whatever we were having was fine. we spent more than the average american on food. we were refining our lifestyle to that of a yuppie couple. but, it was more than that - food was our hobby. that's what we wanted.

and so it continued. when we moved to milwaukee, we struggled to find the same types of places to shop. there were no giant, indoor, year round "farmer's" markets (and if i'm wrong, please let me know!). last spring, we joined a csa with a farm we love (and have signed up with again for this year). bryan planted a garden, which will have more focus and, i'm guessing, productivity, this summer. but we didn't have the same resources. so we shopped at the "better" of the supermarkets, buying natural and/or organic where we could.

last summer, i read The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. while i knew some of the information presented by the book, and had an inkling about others, i had no idea about some of the details. it was by reading this book that it cemented in my mind that we had to do what we knew was right all along: buy local, buy natural, be conscious of the commercial machine. we joined the outpost, a local co-op linked into local resources, supplying with non-local products when local was not feasible (or economical, to a certain degree). all their products are natural (which, contrary to popular belief, is sometimes a stricter standard than organic). we didn't go into this blind. we knew it would cost us more. and we saw our food bill begin to rise.

but in now reading michael pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which goes into far more detail (and so if you don't want to know, then i highly suggest you don't read it, because once you do, you cannot forget, or look at some food products in the same way again), i know we have to do this. there are a lot of reasons why we make this commitment, and i won't go into them here, because that's not the reason for this post. suffice to say i realize 100% that this is our decision, our commitment, and that not everyone shares the same view. and i don't have any opinion on that one way or another; i certainly don't think less of anyone because they don't have the same opinion as me. and yes, i do realize that outside of eating only what we ourselves prepare at home, not all the "bad" things can be avoided. and that's fine. we just do our best, we control what we can.

my most immediate struggle is orange soda. silly, right? i love orange soda. when bryan and i were on isla mujeres, in mexico, it was the most popular drink on the island. so we ended up drinking a lot of it during our stay. when we got home, we found we had developed a taste for it, so continued to buy orange soda. we developed an affection for the sunkist brand, and so continued to buy it. i realized only the other week that while i desire to avoid HFCS (again, for possibly non-obvious reasons that i won't enumerate here), sunkist orange soda is loaded with it. which i wouldn't mind so much if it were an occasional treat. but, i like to bring an orange soda to work with me. it's something to look forward to with lunch. and i'll have a few on the weekends as well. i may be drinking less soda than the average american, but by drinking it every day, it was not an occasional indulgence. the problem is that buying orange soda made with actual sugar is over twice as expensive as buying one with HFCS. how can i justify spending over $7 for 12 cans of soda made with cane sugar, when HFCS soda is $3 for the same amount? it's a dilemna i haven't yet solved.

the fact of the matter is, it costs more to buy local/natural/organic. and that sucks, plain and simple. the decision to do this was in part simple, but also based on a complex set of details, but the immediate effect is quite simple - you pay more, and that sucks. i quite often hear a little nagging voice in my head, telling me how much we could save (literally right into our savings account) by not shopping this way. i could go back to the supermarket and get everything under one roof. i could try to not care about all the details. it's the longer reaching effects that aren't so simple to see, and it's those things i have to remind myself to consider at those times. not only is it our hobby and thus the thing we want to invest in, buy "only the best" for. but it's also so important to us, we believe, for both our personal health as well as the health of the earth. so it's a struggle, constantly. we are lucky enough (and i say luck, but we also worked hard to get where we are) to be in a position to mostly be able to afford to do so. but not everyone has the same opportunity or ability. we'll continue to limp along and make it a priority, and hope that the economy gets better, and things get easier. our garden will grow, we'll become more familiar with what we can attain locally on our own. we'll find new places and new ways to shop.

some people think i get crazy about all this stuff, and i guess i kind of do. i am very, very passionate about it. food is my religion. food is tied to the world population, her economy and politics, and the world itself - terra firma (and not so firma; water and air, too). in my mind, it's all part of the same whole and thus inseparable from my beliefs, spiritual and otherwise. whether you believe in god, allah, mother nature, or no one, whatever created this earth - divine or scientific - should be respected. it is the earth that nourishes us. and if you've ever had sugar snap peas directly from the vine and still warm from the sun, or fresh baked bread direct from the oven and slathered in sweet cream butter, or seen that guy at your local korean population's favorite noodle place literally beat and twist and cut noodle dough in a way that looks like magic, or listened the the abuela teach someone how to make a mole with all 38 ingredients and their measurements remembered solely in her head, or eaten bryan's chile paste or chicken jello or hot sauce or tamales - all grown and made and handled and shared with the intent of pure love - then maybe you understand me a little.

Monday, January 26, 2009

too tired for cleverness

so i realized i forgot to mention oliver's little mishap. two fridays ago, day care called right as bryan was leaving to pick oliver up to say that oliver had fallen. he was walking around with a duplo block in his mouth, and fell on his face. she said he bled a good bit and was quite upset, but that the bleeding had slowed and he seemed to be doing better. he was in a fine mood when he got home, but when we sat down to dinner, he cried when trying to eat anything or drink from his sippy. he was too upset to let me look in his mouth, and was eventually able to eat alright, although he still had problems with the cup. after his bath, while getting him dressed, he wanted his cup but started bawling. i took a look and sure enough - one of his front teeth was knocked backwards. i couldn't wiggle it, but of course touching it started it bleeding again. i gave him some motrin and we drove over to children's hospital urgent care. since we were there right at bedtime, i thought oliver was going to be a monster, but by then the motrin had kicked in and he seemed fine - smiling and playing and charming everyone (the doctor even said he made her night, being the only smiley patient she had). the doctor said, yep, he knocked his tooth back, but it's hardly loose and he should be ok, just keep giving him motrin and it should tighten up in a few days. of course, as we were there chatting with the doc (who we really loved, by the way!), he was walking around with a tongue depressor in his mouth (she gave it to him to play with while she checked him out) - and HE FELL. mother of the year, right here. luckily it was more of a stumble, and wasn't on his face, and the doctor has twin 2 year olds so she "gets" it. yikes. by the next morning, he was doing just fine (though i cringed every time a utensil or cup hit the tooth), and it seemed to tighten up very quickly. it's still pushed a tiny bit back, but he recovered just fine. and it turns out that as the mother of a daredevil little boy, i need to grow much thicker skin. i realized on the way to the hospital that it was the first in a presumably long line of trips to the hospital with this little boy. good thing children's is only a few minutes away, and the regular hospital is literally behind our house.

so let's get to the delicious things!

saturday, bryan and i made what he dubbed the perfect winter meal: lemon braised beef shanks with beer and bacon macaroni and cheese and sauteed lacinto kale. i made the shanks in a dutch oven on top of the stove rather than the crockpot. since we were planning on making the kale and pasta, i skipped the mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes the recipe called for. i also used 2 onions instead of 1. and since our shanks were bone-in, i skipped the flour, knowing the marrow would help thicken the sauce. i let it simmer for about 3 hours, and it was delicious. so, so delicious. and who can argue with beer and bacon mac and cheese?? for dessert, i made crockpot 5 layer brownies. the recipe calls for a boxed brownie mix, but i made my own (duh), and included chocolate chips. i don't have a small crockpot, so instead i layered the ingredients in a deep sided casserole dish, and placed that inside the corckpot, turned it on low, and let it cook for 5 hours. i loved them, though they were a little moist and rich for bryan. they were very fudgey, due to all the chocolate chips as well as the sweetened condensed milk, and i think they could have cooked a little longer. all and all, though, it was such a great meal.

for dinner last night, bryan proved how much he loves me, and made tamales. saturday, he boiled a pork butt with cinnamon, then yesterday, cubed it, roasted it, shredded it, and added a homemade ranchero sauce. we served those with more ranchero sauce, cilantro, sliced avocado, and homemade queso fresco (which i swear is ridiculously easy - just DON'T use a whisk like the recipe suggests, use a wooden spoon instead). bryan also made braised collard greens. oh, be still my heart. sooooooooooooo good. mom joined us for dinner, and was pretty darn happy she did. i managed to limit myself to only 2 tamales, in order to save room for dessert - mom brought banana cake with chocolate fudge frosting. the cake was so good, it nearly beat out the tamales. mom left the entire sheet cake with us, and based on the way bryan and i couldn't stop ourselves from picking at it last night, it will be gone in no time.

oliver has been having a bit of a rough go lately. he's getting his molars in. i've been waiting for and wanting this for some time, since it will make it easier for him to chew things (most notably meat), but why oh why does it have to take SO LONG?? and be so painful? saturday, i think was the worst yet for him. he had a whole body fever, and was positively miserable. he barely ate anything for lunch, and if that kid isn't eating, something is definitely wrong. as bryan finished dinner, oliver was sitting in my lap, leaning pathetically against my arm, and just crying quietly. he crashed at bed time, woke up around 3am, and bryan gave him more motrin. he woke again at 4, and i gave him a warm cup of milk and rocked him for a bit. he fell back asleep around 4:45 and slept until 9am, only waking because we went in there to rouse him from his dead sleep!!! that is insane - the kid has never done anything like that before (though i'm not complaining about getting to stay in bed until 8:30am). but no fever yesterday, and he seemed to be a little bit better. last night, starting around 12:30am, he was up every hour. ugh. COME ON TEETH!!

he was helping us cook last night. so cute. he was hanging out in his chef's hat, stirring some imagined creation in a sauce pan. he would pause and pretend to taste it - it was so adorable!! then he wanted bryan and i to try as well. doesn't get any cuter than that!

a few more pics in the january gallery.

WFD: tuna & artichoke casserole, from one of bryan's martha stewart living magazines. kinda excited.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

thank you, and goodnight

yesterday, the 44th president of the united states of america was sworn into office. a black man. a momentous occasion. a big note in the history books; and, hopefully, a big chapter. i still choke up thinking about the change america wants, the choice her people made, and the hope we can have for the future. i have to remind myself to be patient, but i am very excited. i haven't been proud to be red, white, and blue in a very long time, but watching the inauguration and seeing all the american flags, i have never been more proud.

another momentous occasion, to me if no one else, is that i stopped breastfeeding last weekend. thursday, january 15th was the last night i nursed oliver. it being nearly 15 months (next week saturday), i decided it was time. it was no longer necessary nourishment for him; i was only nursing him before bed (he gets cow milk the rest of the day), and he wasn't getting that much anymore. it was more for comfort. and i knew the longer we performed that ritual, the more attached to the comfort he would be, and the harder it would be to wean him. so, starting last friday night, instead of nursing for 30 minutes before bed, i gave him some [cow's] milk in his sippy, rocked and read him a story, and placed him in his crib. he wasn't very happy, but he wasn't nearly as upset as i expected him to be. he talked, fussed, moaned, and cried for awhile (close to 45 minutes), but went to sleep just fine after a visit from bryan and the magic water cup. last night and tonight, he didn't even cry when i put him in bed (he didn't go to sleep immediately, but i think him allowing me to put him into bed without nursing or a meltdown is a pretty major achievement). what i didn't expect was how hard stopping would be on me. i was ready to have my body back, ready to have those 30 minutes back, ready for oliver to go to bed on his own. but i wasn't necessarily ready to give up the 30 minutes of my day where oliver lays calmly in my lap, cuddled up tight to me, dozing off; or when he is done nursing, and breathing quietly on my shoulder. it's another milestone, yet another step to him becoming a toddler. so it's definitely bittersweet for me.

we haven't been up to much interesting. it's been nice to take it easy. this past weekend, we did have fun grocery shopping: we hit trader joe's for our staples (such as beans, bread, frozen peas, etc.), since their organic stuff is generally cheaper than at the co op; then we headed to el rey, a local mexican market; and finished the day off at the outpost. it was our first visit to el rey, and we went mainly for meats (why is it skirt steak is $12.99/lb at the supermarket and $4.99/lb at the mexican markets?), and to pick up some lunch out of their hot case/deli (pork enchiladas, bean and pork tostada, and tamales). overall, we weren't too impressed. i'm sure we'll be back to explore the dry goods some more, and possibly to get some meats, and certainly for the manteca (they do have it in giant buckets, after all), but i don't think we'll make it a regular stop. the hot foods weren't all that impressive, and they sure were happy to completely ignore us waiting to order and help their spanish speaking customers first. maybe we were just spoiled by atlanta's buford farmer's market.

this past monday i had the day off for martin luther king day. i hadn't known i had a free day until the friday before, so it was a rather pleasant surprise. i still sent oliver off to day care, and spent the day doing things i wanted to do: i cleaned the house, went to macy's, took a long soak in the jacuzzi tub, and worked on hannah's scrapbook. a few more hours in the day would have been nice, but beggars can't be choosers.

but surely, you say, even in all that boringness, you ate something good jen? of course we did, my friends. of course we did.

wednesday, january 7th: teriyaki chicken legs with rice noodles and bok choy. oliver was an immense fan of the rice noodles with teriyaki sauce, and i admit, they were quite delicious.

friday, january 9th: spanish tortilla, boring ol' buttered cauliflower (one of my and oliver's favorite vegetables).

sunday, january 11th: ropa vieja with caperberries, saffron rice, and peas.

monday, january 12th: fish tacos with horseradish sour cream slaw and a remoulade inspired sauce; pinto beans. this is my new favorite preparation for fish tacos.

wednesday, january 14th: andouille sausage with the leftover horseradish sour cream slaw on sprouted wheat buns, homemade steak fries with a gremolata style dry herb spice.

friday, january 16th: rib eye steaks (holla!) with baked potatoes and braised fennel with whole mustard seeds.

sunday, january 18th: chicken and israeli couscous with tomato and lemon, sauteed zucchini and sunburst squash. the chicken and couscous recipe was from the martha stewart living magazine, and was scrumptious. oliver gobbled up plenty as his bedtime snack.

monday, january 19th: garlic stuffed pork roast with braised red cabbage and potato pancakes. oliver, true to his roots, stuffed some serious pork into his belly. and i can't say bryan and i didn't do the same. this meal was very, very good. the potato pancake recipe we use is from milwaukee's historic turner hall; the recipe was printed in a saveur featuring milwaukee fish fries. (for those of you who don't know, the friday fish fry is big in milwaukee. if you are a restaurant and don't do friday fish fry, you might not last.)

wednesday, january 21st: big boy burgers with pasta salad and chocolate shakes. we were out of potatoes (how did that happen?), so no fries as usual. instead, i made up a pasta salad with elbow macaroni, mayo, sour cream, peas, celery, red onion, and a few shakes of downer avenue seasoning from the spice house. it worked. oliver had *2* helpings along with his cheeseburger. no chocolate shake for him, though. yes, i am a mean, mean mommy.

tomorrow? i'm thinking brats on pretzel rolls with the leftover braised red cabbage. yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees?

and, not wanting to break a good tradition, here's your round of cute baby pics (a few more are in the january 2009 gallery):

fee fi fo fum, i smell the blood of an englishman (oliver sucking a chicken bone clean)

me llamo senor crankypants (oliver throws a fit)

now which alien movie was that again??

a series of baby blue eyes shots:

bathing booty

that's all from me, folks. i'm off to fall asleep in bed while watching this season's crappy top chef cheftestants put out uninspiring food that, at worst, i can make far better at home, and at best, i can make as well at home. is it so wrong to expect brilliance? i don't want to watch someone cook what i could cook better. le sigh. have a nice weekend!

Monday, January 5, 2009

5 christmases

christmas has come and gone, and with it, lots of full bellies and fun times. christmas is my favorite holiday, and was especially wonderful this year having oliver to celebrate with. having a child makes you see the world through new eyes, the holidays being very special. oliver was positively enchanted with all the christmas lights everywhere. it delighted me just to watch his little blue eyes go wide as we drove home from day care in the dark. i am so excited for christmas this year, when he'll understand the concept even more.

christmas eve, we made our traditional dinner of shrimp and grits with bacon and sherry, as well as some carmelized brussel sprouts. since oliver is but a babe, he had fish sticks instead (they were organic, so does that count for something?). he did help me finish my grits, though; a true southern gentleman.

after dinner, we opened one present each. bryan, eager as always, likes opening a gift on christmas eve. i prefer to do them all on christmas day. i buy the family new pjs every year, so our compromise is to open those on christmas eve. i sent hannah hers in the mail, so we could all wear our new pjs on chritmas eve. oliver wasn't entirely clear on what to do with the gift, so we helped him open it. we all got changed into our new cozy pjs, and cuddled up to read some bedtime stories.

after oliver went down, bryan and i set up all the presents (just a few, you know). then we crawled into bed to wait for santa.

christmas morning, oliver woke up around 6 as usual, and took a little time to wake up fully. i had bought him a stuffed blue from blues clues, his most favorite show, and he was throwing a hissy fit sitting about a foot and a half from it. he finally saw it, stopped crying, got a big grin on his face, walked up to blue, squeezed her, and said "boooooooooo." CUTEST. THING. EVER. that pretty much made christmas morning. then he walked around the house for awhile, dragging blue, and saying "boo, boo, boo!" we got him interested in opening presents, and by the 3rd gift, he had it down pat (and once he made it through his presents, he proceeded to help us with ours, then go after hannah's).

after we got through all our presents, we sat down to breakfast - pork pie and sour cream twists, courtesy of mom. this is the traditional christmas breakfast from my childhood. true to form, oliver gobbled up the pork pie. i'm pretty sure he has a genetic predisposition to love pork.

we spent the day playing with oliver's new toys. he received an adorable chef's outfit, and wandered around the house in the full getup for awhile, which was pretty much ridiculously cute. at some point, he lost the hat, mits, and apron, converted the spoon to a sword, and picked up the lid to our hamper and used it much like a shield - it was sir oliver in action! he even chased the dogs around for awhile. i couldn't tell if they were his trusty steeds, or the dragons.

after oliver's afternoon nap, we loaded everyone up in the car (including the dogs) and headed to mom and dad's house for christmas dinner and even more presents.

christmas dinner was perfect. mom made glazed ham and her rolls, and we helped shannon with roasted asparagus and roasted green beans. shannon made mashed potatoes and butterflied fresh polish sausage sauteed in butter with onions (yes, it's as good as it sounds). bryan and i agreed it was the perfect amount of food - usually for holidays, there are so many options, you eat but a tablespoon of everything. this was the perfect amount of variety, resulting in a true meal. for dessert, shannon made a flourless chocolate cake with pomegranate gelato and a warm chocolate sauce, topped with fresh pomegranate seeds. it was positively divine, and so we all found room to have a hearty helping.

after dinner, there were more presents with dad's family, playing with toys, drinking wine, and chatting. oliver was fascinated with my cousin's son, ryan, who is 2 weeks older than him. although oliver has 6 young children to play with at day care, they are older than him, so i think kids his size are an exciting thing. at one point oliver was petting ryan and giggling wildly. cute kids!

the next morning, hannah arrived! while she was prepared for how much oliver has grown since she last saw him in august, we were not prepared for how much she had grown in the same amount of time! the girl had a serious growth spurt. she's going to be a tall lady. i can't believe she'll be double digits in august. we came straight home to open presents.

that night, we had mom, dad, and shannon over for dinner. at hannah's request, i made her favorite macaroni pie, a baked pasta dish with ham, peas, and plenty of cheese. i even made a dairy free version of a cream sauce for dad, using lactaid milk and a cornstarch slurry. it was a big hit with everyone. after dinner, hannah got her presents from mom and dad.

we spent the weekend hanging out. shannon had us over for dinner that saturday night, to make pizza (another request from hannah). shannon makes a macaroni and cheese pizza, which sounds like carb overkill, but it's really just very scrumptious. shannon, ftw.

sunday was mom's family christmas party. hannah had a blast running around with all the cousins (they spent a lot of time outside even though it was about 10 degrees), and oliver had a blast cruising around the party, trying to make friends with the older boys (and their toys) and generally charming everyone. some of the aunties even slipped him some chocolate treats, much to my chagrin. i had a lot of fun chatting with my cousins.

i had taken the week off of work, but monday bryan took oliver to day care since i had to get a few things done for work, including a 2 hour afternoon conference call. first, though, hannah and i made our own homemade marshmallows. they are very easy to make, and infinitely better than store bought ones. where store bought marshmallows are dry and spongy, these are rich and creamy. i'm pretty sure that i will never again buy marshmallows. the toughest part was cutting them into cubes ones they had set, as they are very, very, very sticky. a quick roll in confectioner's sugar helps deal with that for storing. i finally got around to trying some with hot chocolate just yesterday, and they puff up and melt into a delicious goo all across the top of the drink. jen, ftw.

monday evening, hannah got sick. my cousin jamie was also sick so we think they picked something up at the party on sunday. poor girl was up most of the night. luckily, it was a 24 hour thing, and passed relatively quickly.

the following day, tuesday, mom came to babysit oliver while bryan, hannah, and i went downtown to the history museum to check out the titanic exhibit. while some of the things they had were pretty neat to see, and we read some interesting facts, i was very glad that as members we paid a discounted admission price to the exhibit, because if we had paid the $60 or so it would have cost us full price, i would have been very disappointed. hannah got to touch a large piece of ice simulating a glacier, though, so she was thrilled.

after the museum, we headed to glorioso bros. italian deli. this is the kind of store bryan and i love. meats, cheese, wines, dry goods - all sorts of things to get excited about. it's the kind of place where we have to constantly remind ourselves not to get too carried away in. we bought some aged provolone, coppa, calabrese, dry salami, prosciutto, olives, octopus salad, and a red table wine for our new year's eve meal.

i also went to the greek deli around the corner, and picked up some freshly baked pita bread, feta, grape leaves (which bryan stuffed with rice), tzatski, and kasseri cheese and ouzo, for bryan to make a saganaki with.

for dinner that night, we had homemade chicken fingers with homemade honey mustard, homemade thick cut french fries (i'm noticing a pattern here), and spaghetti squash, another of hannah's favorites. turns out oliver is a fan, too. and yes, i eat my fries with mayo.

hannah helped give oliver a bath after dinner, and he finally got the mohawk bryan's been begging me to let him have:

the following day was new year's eve. mom, dad, shannon, and her boyfriend david joined us for dinner. in addition to the aforementioned goodies, we had some dried fruits and nuts, an italian pickled vegetable salad, roasted red peppers, and hummus. mom made rosemary foccacia and ciabatta breads. everyone stuffed themselves. for dessert, mom brought a gluten free berry pie, to celebrate dad's birthday. we gave him a frame with pictures of me and oliver, and poems about being a dad and grandfather. no one made it until midnight. hannah crashed around 9:30, and i think we were in bed, asleep, by 10:30. what can i say, we're boring.

the next morning, we celebrated by having french toast casserole for breakfast, at hannah's request, along with sparkling grape juice and bacon. i made a blackberry sauce (instead of raspberry, as called for in the recipe). we all liked it, but i think i can make it better. i have the distinct feeling that bryan won't mind me practicing. once again, oliver delighted in his bacon. really, who in their right mind doesn't delight in their bacon??

for dinner, we had our traditional new year's day meal, to bring luck: corned beef (homemade), greens (mustard this year), black eyed peas, and sauerkraut (also homemade). shannon and david joined us, and brought the makings for blackbery mojitos. they can come over whenever they like.

friday, we headed back to the museum, this time with oliver in tow, to check out the normal exhibits. we got to check out the hebior mammoth, a pretty cool local find with some serious historical significance. we let oliver out of his stroller to run free for awhile, and run free he did. he had a blast running up to each display case to peer in for about 3/4 of a second, then run off to the next one. bryan likes to take his time in museums, and thinks i'm fast. oliver put me to shame. we also went into the butterfly room again, where one landed on hannah and two landed on oliver (presumably they didn't know he is a 14 month old boy with a penchant for exploring things in detail). he had a LOT of fun running around the room trying to catch them all - again, very, very cute!

as it was shannon, david, and hannah's last night in town, we went to mom and dad's for dinner, where shannon made her most awesome pesto lasagna, using some of bryan's pesto (made with basil from our garden). cheesy goodness, that's about all i can say. so good. oliver scarfed down a whole piece himself. he had fun chasing the cats around both before and after dinner (in his super cool new rock star pjs).

hannah's flight left early the next morning without a hitch. as always, we were sad to see her go - she is fun to have around, and such a BIG help with oliver!

that night for dinner, i made a taco soup. i had gotten the idea from a crockpot recipe, originally intending it for an easy weeknight meal, but since i was making it on a weekend, i changed it some. i did the entire thing on the stovetop, and instead of using ground beef i used a chuck roast, which was cubed and coated in a seasoned flour before browning (the better to thicken the soup with, my dear). i also added a can of beer. i omitted the kidney beans called for in the recipe, since that seems more like a chili ingredient to me. the pinto beans broke down and helped thicken the soup as well. so it turned out close to a chili anyways. the chiles lent a good kick to it, but some sour cream, cheese, and lime-y tortilla chips helped with that.

yesteday, our friend dirk drove in from madison and gave us both massages. i really can't think of a better way to spend a sunday afternoon. i have a feeling that we may need to hire him on full time.

many more pictures in the december and january galleries, of course.

well that took me roughly FOREVER to post. i need to do this more often i guess. someone make an extra day in the week for me to do that, k?

i'll leave you, as usual, with some cute baby pictures. happy new year, everyone!