Tuesday, March 27, 2012

VACATION! VACATION?

In the boys' short two year existence we've actually managed quite a few trips.  Big ones as far as Kansas, Florida, and Michigan.  And I've learned this:  Once we return home I need a vacation from vacation.

This year's trip to Naples, Florida to see Joe's parents, who are snowbirds there for six months of the year, was another success and we all survived enjoyed a week together earlier this month.


We SURVIVED.....

...An 18 hour departure trip through the night, during which Garrett cried most of the time until 4:30am.  And we were not above stopping at a truck stop at 2am or at a vacant shopping center parking lot to run around in our pajamas.  Note the boys were in fleecy footie pjs and it was 80 degrees in FL when we made the latter of the two stops.


...A doctor visit for Joe and Gavin on our second day there to treat persistent, nasty colds.  Thank you Z-pak.

...Numerous sleepless nights that usually resulted in sharing a bed with a toddler, which is pretty much like sleeping with a fish out of water.  Joe earned a scratch on his eye lid to prove it.  And did I mention Garrett learned to climb out of the pack n play and let himself out of the room mid-nap one day?  At least he restarted the Sleep Sheep and closed the door behind him and so Gavin could continue resting. 


...The stomach bug that hit Joe like a ton of bricks.


...Countless boo boos and scraped knees thanks to lots of trike riding.

...Frequent, inconsolable screaming fits and tantrums complete with Joe, Sr. asking, "Are they always like this?"


But we also ENJOYED......

...Time on the beach.
These shots are from our first night in Naples when we made our annual sunset beach visit.  It was chilly, but the boys seemed to love the sand between their toes and the drums nearby were an added bonus.
...Dinner out just for the adults (thank you to Joe and Karin's sweet neighbor, Elsie)!

...The amazing new children's museum in Naples.  Go figure I got some fun shots of the boys playing but my computer won't read the camera card.

image from pdnonline.com
...More time on the beach, naps included.


...Late afternoon dips in the pool. And what's a trip to the pool without fuzzy towels to snuggle up in after we swim?



...Happy Hours. 


...Visiting the botanical gardens (minus the fits mentioned above).  And yep, that cute little girl thinks Garrett's the best thing to see at the gardens.  Who am I to argue with her?

...Playtime with Oma and Opa and appreciating the new toys and clothes they gave the boys.



...Strolling 5th Avenue and indulging at Kilwin's.

image from newyork.seriouseats.com

...And more time on the beach.


Till next year, sandy beaches, homemade margaritas, and welcoming waves...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reality Check(s)

A few of the blogs I follow deal with the hard stuff, yet their writing and perspective happen to be the most uplifting and awe-inspiring despite the hands of cards they've been dealt.  It's these reality checks that remind me to cherish my own, sweet life that much more. 

image from jodibeacon.blogspot.com


This is my newest find, and if you read Momastery you might have come across it too.  The author a young mama, not too different than me. Until the recent discovery of cancer.

Enjoying the Small Things is another blog gone viral and it was shared with me two years ago when I was on bed rest.  I've mentioned her before because her zest, photography, and writing are decadent.

Kaitlyn's Korner was consistently shared by a friend on her Facebook page.  I found myself checking in daily to follow this sweet girl's progress. I was also blown away by the parents' strength and faith as they faced any parent's worst nightmare.
http://niemannpick.blogspot.com/2012/03/true-sleeping-beauty.html

People's faith and perseverance astound me.  I don't know that I'd be so strong.
http://sheldonandjulieo.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In the Kitchen - What's for dinner (and dessert)?

More recipes worth sharing...of course they're quick, easy, and tasty...and if it's 'crock potable' I'll let you know...because who doesn't love to have dinner waiting for them when they come home!?!?

GRANDMA SIMMONS' MEATBALLS comes from my friend ValerieHer grandma just uses meat and soup mix, but I added a couple things.  My favorite aspect of these is that I can use the meatballs for many different meals!  Make a lot, freeze, and use as desired.  Just call me the next Robin Miller (Food Network star whose platform is to have a well stocked pantry, cook a large quantity of a main ingredient, and use it different ways throughout the week).  Of course the most obvious uses for meatballs are over spaghetti or on a sub sandwich.  However you serve them, enjoy!

2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs (I just use croutons or stale bread and puree in the food processor)
1 packet onion soup mix

Mix ingredients and shape into golf ball size balls.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.  OR bake at 350 for 10 minutes and then transfer to crock pot and cook on low for 6 hours in spaghetti sauce (enough to just cover all the meatballs).  Use as desired or freeze for future recipes.
image from http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/beef-stroganoff-meatballs-10000001878483/
BEEF STROGANOFF...I adapted this from a Weight Watchers recipe and instead of using sirloin steak I used a dozen frozen meatballs I had on hand, which saved prep time and cooking time.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms ( fresh)
1 cup onions (sliced)
6 garlic cloves ( minced)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
6 tablespoons sherry wine (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
12 meatballs
1 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 bag egg noodles

Over medium high heat saute onion, garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil for about two minutes.  Add beef broth and next 6 ingredients, stir, and bring to boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.  In the meantime, boil water, cook noodles, and drain.  Remove sauce from heat and stir in sour cream.  Spoon over noodles and enjoy!

CREAMY ITALIAN CHICKEN (OR MEATBALLS)...When I lived in my first apartment out of college my roommates and I took turns cooking dinner for each other so we could try out new recipes.  We had a great booth from an old restaurant in our kitchen and on the nights we had dinner together we often got nothing else done after we ate because it was a chance for us to sit and catch up.  This recipe comes from my longtime friend and former roommate, Lori.

4 chicken breasts (or meatballs...10-12)
1/4 cup water
1 packet Italian dressing mix
8oz. cream cheese (fat free works just as fine as regular in this recipe)
1 can cream of chicken soup (fat free works just as fine as regular in this recipe)

Mix last four ingredients to create a sauce.  Bake chicken and pour sauce on top OR cook in a skillet for 30 minutes OR cook in the crock pot for 6-8 hours on low.  Serve as is or over noodles/rice.  If you're using meatballs, thaw ahead of time and stir into sauce or serve on top.  You could easily add in veggies to the sauce to make it more nutritious...I would steam broccoli, peas, or cauliflower and stir in before serving.

And if you're going to have some delicious meals lined up, you might as well have dessert on hand too.  An old favorite: FAMOUS AMOS RAISIN FILLED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.  I make the dough when I get a chance, bake a dozen, and then keep the remaining dough in the fridge or freezer for a single serving of fresh baked cookies anytime.  Your efforts last a lot longer this way too:)

image from http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/1864428-Famous-Amos-Raisin-filled-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies
1 cup butter, softened but not melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 oz. chocolate chips
2 cups raisins
1-1 1/2 cups nuts (optional)

Beat butter, sugars, vanilla, water, and eggs until light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  Gradually add to creamed mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips and raisins (and nuts if you're using them).  Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  Melt in your mouth good.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Green Grinch

I sense a little bitterness in the air, but with warm temps, an excuse to drink green beer all day, and lots of basketball to watch, what's to complain about!??!  Apparently plenty, according to three grumps I ran into today all before noon.  I hope the leprechauns don't leave them any gold, so there.

THE FAT BOY
For the past 8 weeks I've been helping coach a running team to get ready for the upcoming 10K race - a big deal around here.  There are quite a few coaches out on the course each week and we usually tag team at intersections to monitor traffic and cheer on participants so one person isn't in one place for very long.  This also means I consistently stay with the same bunch of participants for the morning too...run, monitor traffic/cheer, catch up to runners, repeat.  So at one corner this guy (ok, let me be honest, some young fat dude) says, "So you guys just stop at every light?"  "Just keeping tabs on everyone and cheering you along," I reply.  I pass him a few blocks later and he says, "There you go again lookin' all shamrocky!"  "Just a little St. Patty's day spirit," I say.  "Are you even Irish?" he asks.  "Haha nope!" I answer.  And then he shouts, "POSER."  I just keep running.  About a mile down the road I'm at a large traffic circle, once again directing runners where to go and offering up some encouragement, and I see 'Mr. Attitude' veer off on his own path. He wasn't even on our team!  Who's the poser now, fat boy?

THE SKIN HEAD GROUCH
After I got my hair cut today I was walking back to my car enjoying my stroll down memory lane, as I'd parked near my old apartment in the Fan.  Lots of drunkards happy, green-clad customers were already filling the corner bars and the Irish chants coming from inside made it sound more like midnight than mid-day.  At the back door were two employees taking a smoke break and all I hear out of the pale, scraggly guy with the unshaven face and shaved head who's squatting on the sidewalk taking a drag is, "Half these people aren't even Irish and they're in green.  It's so f'in stupid."  Where's the love, buddy?  How often do you go to church or say a prayer to the Big Guy upstairs?  But I bet you still celebrate Christmas and Easter.  And for the record, I hope bet those customers you're calling stupid are so tipsy later they 'forget' to leave you a tip. Oh karma.

THE ROAD RAGER
Then when I was in the Barnes and Noble Parking lot I was stopped (AT A STOP SIGN, no less) to let a few people cross the street.  Out of nowhere a white pick up truck peels around me, so I honk, and receive the obligatory arms-thrown-in-the-air gesture that says, "Oh yea?  What!??!"  I mean, I guess he could've have given me the finger.  As my dad would say, "That guy thinks he's extra special.  Stop signs don't apply to him."  He's probably the same guy that parks his car at the grocery store curb, clicks on his hazards, and runs inside to do his shopping for the week.

Anyway, here's to the rest of us who'd like to enjoy our spring/summer like weekend, donned in green or not!  HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the Kitchen - Oh Crock Pot, You Never Disappoint


Cooking dinner with two toddlers climbing up my legs (and often pulling down my elastic waist black running pants) during the crummiest hour (between 5-6pm) of the day is near impossible and downright NOT enjoyable.  And I love to cook.  So when I can put something in the crock pot early in the day, dinner by 6:30 (or later now that the time has changed and it's blissfully light and warm out) is a breeze.  And Joe returns home to a much happier household instead of two antsy kids vying for my attention and me barking, "Please play with them, take a walk, SOMETHING!"  Domestic bliss.

First up are GREAT AUNT CAROL'S ENCHILADAS that we had when we visited Kansas over Christmas They're cheesy, gooey, slightly spicy, Mexican yumminess and the smashed avocado on the side hits the spot.  The original instructions called for doing everything in a skillet on the stove top, but sometimes I can't bring myself to be that productive during nap time, so instead I threw everything in a crock pot, assembled the dish a little before dinnertime (this took about 20 minutes), baked (for another 20-25 minutes), and voila!  

A note about chopping onions and garlic....I just throw it all in a food processor and pulse a couple times until everything is chopped.  Spare yourself the tears and smelly hands. 

image from http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/moms_chicken_enchiladas/
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into chunks
3/4 cup water
16 oz. tomato sauce
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (I use the tubes of fresh herbs - super handy!)
1 (4 oz.) can chopped jalapenos, drained
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus 3/4 cup more for topping
10 six inch corn tortillas
cooking spray
3/4 cup sour cream (optional)
1 avocado, diced or smashed (optional)
shredded lettuce (optional)
2 limes, quartered (optional)

Combine first ten ingredients and pour into a crock pot.  Cook on high for 3 hours (I'm sure cooking on low for 6 hours would accomplish the same thing).  Shred meat with two forks and strain mixture into medium bowl, pressing on chicken to extract as much liquid as possible.  Set sauce aside.  Transfer chicken to another bowl, let cool a bit, and then toss with cilantro, 2 cups cheese, and jalapenos.  Heat oven to 300 degrees and place tortillas on two baking sheets, spraying both sides of the tortillas with a little bit of cooking spray.  Bake about 4 minutes until tortillas are soft and pliable.  Remove tortillas and increase oven temp. to 400 degrees.  Smear the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish with 3/4 cup sauce (reserved liquid from crock pot).   Place 1/3 cup chicken filling down the center of each tortilla, roll tightly, and place seam side down in baking dish on top of sauce.  Repeat until dish is filled, pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, using the back of a spoon to spread sauce so it coats each tortilla.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup cheddar cheese over enchiladas.  Cover baking dish with foil, bake 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted.  Uncover and serve immediately with sour cream, lettuce, lime wedges, and avocado.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN OVER COUSCOUS is a recipe that my mother-in-law shared with me and before it could get lost in my recipe binder I was determined to try it.  This would also be great as a vegetarian dish...leave out the chicken and use vegetable broth (or even a little wine) instead.  I think there's room for a little more spice, so feel free to add more if you like a little more kick.  Otherwise, this dish was a complete success for a few reasons:  1) Using chicken thighs is a cheaper alternative than breasts; 2) It's another delicious use of butternut squash; 3) I can't wait to finish off the leftovers; 4) Even the boys ate some squash (ok, so I made sure they got some raisins with it and stirred in a little apple sauce); 5) Totally yummy!

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chunked into cubes
1 cup broth
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or 12oz. frozen butternut squash cubes)
1 chopped onion
2 chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup raisins
1 can sliced black olives (optional)
10 oz couscous

Mix all ingredients, except olives, and transfer to crock pot.  Cook on high 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.  Prepare cous cous according to package directions.  Fluff with fork, serve immediately, and top with chicken mixture and juices.  Toss in olives, if desired.

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