Monday, January 31, 2011

Chef Michael strikes again

Speaking of the kids' vocational interests... Michael really seems interested in creating unique recipes lately.

This is why I should never walk out of the room... He is an industrious little fellow.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shalom, Y'all

So, this afternoon we drove past the Catholic school the children next door to us attend and Leah asked, "Is that a school where they talk about God?" (She asked this because we had a discussion several months ago about private v. public education.)

"Yes," I said. "It's a Christian school - a Catholic school."

Bryan and I choked back laughter when Leah replied, "I'd rather just stay at my Jewish school." 

Leah's teacher is Jewish and taught them about dredels and menorrahs as part of a unit about how countries around the world celebrate different holidays in December. It was neat. And Leah has always had Jewish friends but never noticed until Ella got to check out of school early to observe Rosh Hashanah. (Leah was convined Rosh Hashanah included both cupcakes and ice skating and that it's horribly unfair we're not Jewish.) She seemed a little disappointed when we explained her public school isn't actually Jewish either.

I chuckle thinking about it. But can I just add that I am so glad her friends aren't all just like her?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Wednesday!

Bryan sent me flowers yesterday for no particular reason which is my favorite reason of all!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Careers that begin with "E"

It's really interesting to watch the kids' personalities unfold as they age. I am always struck by the things they say and what it says to me about their thoughts. Here are two examples:

Leah had a homework assignment for the 100th day of school and decided to build a tower with 100 straws. I told her Daddy would love working with her on that because it's an engineering project and he's an engineer. Leah's response was, "And I have an engineering mind." (Where did that come from?) I think of her as an artistic/creative type, but it matters more how she thinks of herself. Well, call me in 20 years and I'll tell you how it all panned out!

Future Engineer?!?

The other day, we were driving down the road and I wasn't really paying attention to the conversation in the back seat until Michael said rather insistently to Leah, "Jesus is part of God - and Jesus is God!" I have no idea who he's been talking to about the Trinity. What happened to Noah's Ark? Anyway, he's three, so who knows, but he seems like an analytical little guy. And he's very verbal (read: talks nonstop) so if we combine those traits...

 Future Evangelist?!? Theologian?!? Professor of Hebrew Religions?!?

Now watch him grow up to be a race car driver.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cooking Club

I am in a Cooking Club that meets once a month. The hostess selects the menu and then we pick which dish we'd like to bring. This month, I decided to make this Cherry Tomato Pizza Margherita from The Bon Appétit test kitchen. Well, I'll just say I was suspect from the moment I saw refrigerated pizza dough on the ingredients list - but the fun of Cooking Club is 90% about spending an evening with friends and 9% about experimenting with new recipes and 1% about how those recipes turn out.

Looks great - tastes blah.

So, next month it's my turn to host Cooking Club! I am trying to come up with a theme for my menu - leaning towards Austrian cuisine or perhaps Southern Living test kitchen recipes. (I know those two have more or less nothing in common!) I need 12 items: a drink, some appetizers, a main course, sides and a dessert. Any ideas?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Auburn's Ecology Park

When we visited Auburn last month, my dad and I took the kids to the Louise Kreyer Forest Ecology Preserve - a nature park managed by Auburn University's Department of Forestry. We'd never been before. The kids really enjoyed playing in the woods and on the really unusual playground.

 There was a little bubbling fountain coming up through the rocks.

 Paw-Paw (a.k.a. my dad) and the kids got into the Eagle's Nest.

 I loved the a-frame treehouse!

 Paw-Paw and the kids liked the treehouse, too!

 This was a "beaver dam" (I think).

 Note that Michael's face is covered in blue magic marker. When I asked him why he had colored on his face, he replied matter-of-factly, "I didn't have any paper."

Here's Leah and Michael in the amphitheater performing a dramatic re-enactment of the Rapunzel story - with audience participation!

I liked the way the shadows fell as we headed down the trail back to the parking area.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can you do it all?

Yesterday was one of those days when I was reminded mothers cannot do it all. I very much wanted to be four hours south of here at the funeral of one of the sweetest ladies I ever knew - but I couldn't be in two places at once and I didn't have anyone to dump the day's responsibilities onto. Everyone else is as busy as we are. Who can drop everything and give you 10-11 hours of their life? It got me thinking about my friends and their families and what they do when they're in a pinch. I drew the following conclusion:
  • Moms need to clone themselves.
  • Moms all need a sister who lives next door - with kids the same ages and in the same activities - so that they can cover for each other as needed at any time.
  • Moms need one or more set of grandparents living next door who relish any opportunity to come save the day.
  • Moms need lots of money to keep Mary Poppins on a retainer so she can watch the kids on a moment's notice - and they need their own personal Barefoot Contessa to magically deliver scrumptious meals right when everyone decides they're starving. Oh, they also need full time maids who do windows and put away all the clean clothes so the whole house will have that peachy perfection of a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog.
  • In the absence of one or all of these things, mothers cannot do it all. At least not this mother.
So, how does it work at your house?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chef Michael

Leah and Michael both love to cook, but Michael is the one who's most likely to stay with me in the kitchen and watch what I am doing. A few months ago, he came up with his own recipe for the best sandwich in the world. (If  you question whether or not it's the best sandwich, just ask Michael and he'll tell you.) So, without further adieu, here's his recipe:

Michael's Sandwich

Spread a generous layer of peanutbutter across a slice of bread. Cut it in half. On one side, sprinkle a handful of dried cranberries. On the other side, layer sliced banana and then drizzle with raw honey. Stack one piece on top of the other.


The other day, Michael was sitting quietly in the backseat (which is rare because he talks nonstop) and out of the blue he said, "When Leah grows up, she is going to be very interesting." Bryan and I got a good chuckle out of that one.

Bryan's Mini-Me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A long winter's nap...

We've been covered up in snow this week which just makes everyone want to crawl into a warm bed and take a nice, long nap...

Here is our sweet little Dizzy in bed with Leah. He has enjoyed sleeping inside again since the cold weather moved in over Thanksgiving.
Dizzy is still deciding whose bed is the most comfortable. Last night he snuggled up with me all night long.

We had a health scare with Dizzy over Christmas. Our pet-to-be, a sweet little black and white stray cat named Thomas who had moved into our garage, ended up being very ill and had to be euthanized... two days before Christmas. It was very sad - and it was very scary because Dizzy had to get tested and we thought we might lose him, too. 

Silly cat. I just had to stop blogging to scold him for scratching the rug - and he jumped into my lap to snuggle with me. Sigh. We sure do love him.

 Have a great weekend! Stay warm!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Blizzard of 2011: Day 4

Lessons Learned from the Blizzard of 2011: A laundry basket makes for a much more exciting sled when you brand it the SnowBlaster 5000...

Hold on tight, little man!!!

 Here's Leah after her face-plant.

Thankfully, several neighbors have let us borrow real sleds - better sleds than the SnowBlaster 5000. (This is Michael pouting when I said we were done sledding on Tuesday.)

Check out the little well-house at the top of the waterfall.

I can't say anything bad about the "blizzard". We've had such a good time being at home, playing with friends, sitting by the fire, going out sledding, watching movies, cooking... Plus, the snow is beautiful. I love it! It's making me miss Europe. I was actually day dreaming today about living in Scandinavia, having [apparently] concluded that Austria's 4 months of winter cold and snow isn't quite enough. Ha!

It hasn't snowed since Sunday night, but it hasn't warmed up enough for the snow and ice to melt so the schools are still closed. Between strep throat, the Christmas holidays and the blizzard, Leah has been to school 5 days in the past four weeks and Michael has been to preschool twice. Yesterday, Michael told me his name starts with L now. We need to get that boy back to school! Ha.

I have to say, we experienced some firsts this week: First time Michael got to go sledding. First time I have ever heard my famously hot-natured husband, Bryan, say he's cold and is going to go get in the car and warm up. Shocking.

The next time we get hit with a blizzard, we'll be prepared.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cranberry Bread Pudding with Amarula Sauce

It is perhaps cruel to share this recipe in January when everyone is on a New Year's diet, but I have decided I can live with the guilt. Afterall, winter will be over in a couple of months and bread pudding should be eaten in the winter! So you need the recipe now!

My recipe was heavily influenced by Paula Deen's "Best Bread Pudding" but I've made some adjustments - partly because we don't drink brandy and I hate nuts in desserts - and, despite my great affection for all things sweet, Paula's recipe is too sweet.

I made this as our Christmas dessert. Yum!

Cranberry Bread Pudding with Amarula Sauce

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 large beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • ½ stick of butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 small loaf of homemade whole wheat bread (or one round panne loaf from your bakery)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350° F (70°C). Grease a baking dish that is approximately 9x13 inches (23X33 cm). Place cubed bread in baking dish and sprinkle dried cranberries on top. Mix together granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, milk, cream, melted butter and vanilla in a bowl. Pour over bread and cranberries and let it all sit for 10 minutes. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until set. Remove from oven.
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Amarula ***
DIRECTIONS: Mix together the granulated sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir together until the sugar is melted. Add the Amarula, stirring well. Pour over bread pudding. Serve warm with a scoop of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Recommended flavors: Dulce de Leche, Crème Brulée, Vanilla – or all of the above!
***Variations: You can substitute another liquer for the Amarula – some recipes call for Bourbon or Brandy (if you like a real kick) but I think Bailey's Irish Cream would be tasty. And you could skip the alcohol altogether if you like! Another idea would be to swap the dried cranberries for dried cherries and then top it with a cherry syrup or warm cherry preserves. Mmmm!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cold weather cuisine

The Blizzard of 2011 (as we're calling it) hit this week which means the roads are closed and we're hunkered down at home. When we're not playing in the snow, we're inside by the fire. Hardly problematic! Actually, we've had a lot of cold weather this winter and a surprising amount of snow, which of course inspires a certain style of cooking...

Here's what we have been cooking lately:
  • Chili with shredded cheddar cheese, fritos, sour cream and lots of cayenne pepper sauce on top
  • Lasagna (without Bechamel - just to save time) served with caesar salad
  • Homemade mac and cheese with peas
  • Grilled pork chops with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and green bean casserole
  • Roasted chicken with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and green bean casserole
  • Chicken pot pie
Leah made snow angels while I baked Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins! They were killer. I followed my favorite muffin recipe, with these two small changes: I stirred 3/4 cup of chocolate chips into the flour before mixing the batter. And then I microwaved a ripe banana, mashed it and stirred it in with the butter before pouring the butter on the batter. They took 2-3 minutes longer to bake than usual. We baked a double batch and surprised a couple of neighbors with warm muffins for breakfast. Perfect on a snowy day!

Tomorrow, I'll share my recipe for bread pudding! Until then, check out this video of Leah and her buddy sledding yesterday...


Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I try to make New Year's resolutions that I want to keep - otherwise, what's the point? For example, I had a resolution for 2009 to book a babysitter at least once a month and go out with my husband. That was fun, so we kept it up in 2010 and hope to do the same in 2011, or at least until our babysitter leaves for college!

This year, I've found myself contemplating this quote an awful lot as I consider what I'd like to accomplish this year:
"It's never too late to be who you might have been."
-George Eliot 
As an optimist, I love the hopefulness of what Eliot is saying - the reminder that each year and each day is new and every possibility and eventuality lies before us.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snow in the Cove

The snowfall we enjoyed here on Christmas was great for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that the roads crossing the mountains into town were closed at various times - and suspect at others - so we were "snowed in" and forced to play and play and play in the snow!

 The whole neighborhood was so still and quiet - although we saw lots of kids out sledding on the hills.

 Snow was pounding down on us as my neighor Dawn coached her son and Leah on the fine art of sledding. She had her mother's 50+ year old sled in her attic.

 The lakes haven't frozen over yet this year.

Some evidence of our community's history as open farmland still exists.

 The ducks seemed to enjoy the cold!

I love the stillness and silence that snow brings.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The perfect Christmas

Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but this Christmas was perfect. First, there was the magic of Christmas with a 6 year old and a 3 year old. And if that wasn't enough, we woke up to snow on Christmas morning - lots of snow - and it kept coming down for two days. It was like being trapped in a Christmas carol - the best Christmas carol ever - one with stockings and presents and wonderful meals and snowmen and sledding and warm fires and hot chocolate... Bliss. Here's a recap:

 I made my mom's traditional Christmas Eve brunch for us: egg and sausage casserole with warm curried fruit and apricot rolls - plus banana and blueberry muffins.

 We got dressed up for church on Christmas Eve - an important reminder that although Santa is a peach of a guy and we appreciate him so much, he will always play second string on this special holiday.

 And more snow!
And lots of this... which is to say lots of not so much and you know how much we enjoy the not so much around here! We watched movies and played in the snow and drank hot chocolate and danced to Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus and the theme songs to several Disney priness movies. Oh, the bar was set very high. It will be hard to beat the Christmas of 2010.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A triumphant moment!

Before I tell you what happened on New Year's Eve, I need you to show you this giant blow-up walrus pool float - shown here in its unsuccessful maiden journey as a sled.
Michael on the walrus

I also need to point out that my little Leah is a tender hearted and gentle 6 year old who doesn't know how to stand up to her 3 year old brother. I grew up surrounded by older boys and learned how handle myself at an early age. No one ever picked on me. Watching Leah and Michael, I've been worried about how Leah would respond to teasing or bullying.

Well, on New Year's Eve, Leah was outside playing with some 2nd grade boys that she doesn't know other than having seen them on the school bus. I overheard sounds of discord and stopped to listen and watch. One of boys got in Leah's face and said something really mean. Then... silence. Leah reached for the walrus and just whacked that kid on the head! And then she whacked him twice more for good measure. The other boys became animated and were saying something and Leah shouted at them, "My brother is going to get you!"

Leah called for Michael and one of the boys yelled, "Run!!! Her brother is going to get us!" (I suspect they don't know Michael is 3 years old.) The boys ran off as Michael came running to Leah's aid.

We don't condone fighting, but felt Leah handled herself very well under the circumstances and told her so. I was just so proud of her for not running home in tears!

Two days later, Leah went out to play in the creek with two of the boys. (The "mean" one wasn't there.) And I should point out that in three years in this house, Leah has never played in the creek or come home muddy. She sounded proud of herself when she hollered from the garage door that she was too dirty to come inside. It was a triumphant moment - she knew she'd earned the respect of those two boys.

First fight. First time to play in the creek. First time to come home muddy. Now we can go back to pink and purple and princesses and fairies...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Liz's new blog

I'd like to introduce my friend Liz's new blog: Just a small town girl trying to see the world. Bryan and I met Liz when we were living in Florida and she was an aerospace engineering student at Auburn University (our alma mater). She spent one semester of each year in Florida doing an internship and used to have dinner at our house every Wednesday night. Liz was selected to represent the US in an exchange program to Germany her junior year and spent a year studying at a university there and working at an aerospace firm! Oh, and she had to become fluent in German - very quickly. How cool is that? (Here's the blog she wrote while in Germany.)

We think Liz is super cool. Hope you enjoy her blog!