November 28, 2012

Menu of the Week

images (clockwise from top left) via martha stewart, real simple, cooking light, and cooking light

I haven't posted one of these in a while.  I go through phases, as I'm sure we all do.  After a gluttonous holiday, I felt ready to get back to cooking healthy dinners.  These are all recipes we've had before, with the exception of the rigatoni.  I love feeling prepared for dinners.  It just makes the week that much calmer.

Panko-Crusted Fish Sticks, Rice, Corn and Peas
Always a hit.  Coming back from being out of town, we had almost nothing in the fridge.  But I usually have fish and veggies in the freezer, so I was still able to come up with a good dinner.

Quesadillas (finished up the leftover turkey), Yellow Rice, Black Beans
Never fails.  I made Nathan cheese quesadillas, veggie for me, and turkey/cheese for Aaron and Kevin. Easy to please everybody this way.

Rigatoni with Broccoli and Sausage, Salad, Crusty Bread
This was a new one, and it was a definite hit.  Also allows flexibility, which I love.  Nathan doesn't eat much meat in general, so he didn't want the sausage.  He ate lots of pasta and broccoli.  I left the sausage out of mine as well and added some walnuts to it.  Aaron and Kevin ate it all.  

Potato, Leek, and Corn Chowder
The boys are doing well with soups, so I feel like I need to try some more soup recipes.  This is an old one, but it's a good one that's full of veggies.  

Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Ricotta
This is on the menu for the weekend.  Not really sure how it's going to go over.  You'd think it would be a sure thing, but then I thought that about lasagna too.  They may balk at the green, they may think it's too just never know.  But I know I love this dish, so they can deal.

November 27, 2012

Bake-Off 2012

image via dessert girl

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that every year I participate in a baking competition with my sister-in-law.  It has evolved over the years, but it is a fun tradition, and I'm happy we've kept it going.  

This year, Amber made a bourbon-cranberry bread pudding.  It sounded amazing, and the flavors were good, but the texture was extremely dense.  That may or may not have been impacted by a little oven mishap while the bread was baking - my mother-in-law didn't realize anything was in the oven and turned it off!  So it had baked for a while in a warm oven until Amber noticed and turned it back on to finish cooking.  I'm not sure it would've made a difference in the overall result, although it makes a fun story.  It wouldn't be the Annual Bake-Off without an accident of some sort!  We named this dessert "french toast", because that's essentially what it tasted like.  I like french toast, but it's not what I want for a holiday dessert.  It did get one vote, though - Aaron liked it!

I made a chocolate mint cream tart.  It was very good, impressive looking, and relatively easy to make.  It takes some time, because you have to let each layer cool before adding the next, but the overall effort is not intimidating at all.  This is a winner!

We also had an honorable mention this year.  I decided to make a pie as well, just so we had another dessert.  I had one last large butternut squash left from my garden, and my sister suggested I make a butternut squash pie.  I honestly never would've thought of making a pie out of a squash.  I roasted and pureed it a month or so ago, and I stored it in the freezer.  Then I followed the usual pumpkin pie recipe, replacing the pumpkin with my own squash.  I wasn't too sure about it - it was a beige color instead of the usual dark orange, but I had no reason to worry.  It was awesome!  I honestly may like it even butter than pumpkin.  It has a lighter texture, and it is equally good for dessert or breakfast.  I think this may be a regular Thanksgiving dessert from now on.  

I wanted to try to document the entries and results from past year's Bake-Offs.  Winners are in bold.

Amber/Tracie - Can't remember...some kind of tall cake that required a last-minute run to the grocery store to buy store-made frosting.
Mary/Kevin - Chocolate Pudding Pie

Amber - Chocolate-Cranberry Torte
Mary - Raspberry-Almond Torte with Chocolate Ganache

Amber - Chocolate Glazed Hazelnut Mousse Cake
Mary/Kevin - Devils Food Cake with Peppermint Frosting

Amber - Black-Bottom Raspberry Cream Pie
Mary - Pumpkin Cheesecake

Amber - Chocolate Mascarpone Pots
Mary - Pumpkin Cream Pie

Amber - Spicy Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese and Coconut Frosting
Mary - Chocolate Pistachio Torte

Amber - Bourbon-Cranberry Bread Pudding
Mary - Chocolate Mint Cream Tart

I will need some help remembering pre-2006 entries and results, so I will update this at some point.  I seem to recall an apple pie with way too much lemon juice.

November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Highlights

We brought our camera with us but somehow never pulled it out.  Thank goodness for my phone for capturing a few highlights from the awesome weekend...

A couple new additions to the house/fire station/garage, making it even cooler.

An unbelievably long line that was totally worth it at the local cheese shop - 
I may have overdone it just a tad.

Roasting s'mores over a fire in Aunt Amber's fireplace.  The perfect first-night dessert.

I loved the addition of having Aaron write what we are all thankful for on each feather.  
I especially loved that one of his feathers says "my brother" on it.  
One of Nathan's says "dump trucks".  Love.

Quality outside time, climbing a tree.  

November 23, 2012

Wilco, Nick Lowe & Mavis Staples - The Weight

I've watched this video at least a dozen times, and it never fails to make me smile.  This, to me, is music at its best.  A group of people in a room, creating beautiful, meaningful sounds and having fun

Wilco backstage at Chicago’s Civic Opera House with Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples.

November 22, 2012


Thanksgiving is absolutely my favorite holiday.  It's an entire holiday centered around giving thanks for all you have.  It's about family and friends and gratitude.  How wonderful is that?  I will be spending mine at my sister-in-law's house.  We will enjoy good food, plentiful wine, time with family, games, movies, and more food.  The annual bake-off will occur on Thursday, which is always fun.  Amber is making some kind of bourbon cranberry bread pudding, which I will admit sounds pretty awesome.  I will make a double chocolate-mint cream tart.  Yum.  I will of course report the results here next week.

september, by livia s via flickr

While we cook and eat and play and talk, I will also stop to give thanks for all I have, because it is a lot.  Good health, beautiful boys, a fun and handsome husband, a nice house, an awesome family, loyal friends, and of course the list goes on and on.

This reminds me that I want to clarify one of my posts from last week - the list of things that stress me out.  My friend Sara posted a link to it, and it solicited a comment that made me go back and re-read it.  In doing so, I can see how somehow would think that it was somehow a list of complaints, when in fact, it's the opposite.  The entire list consists of things that I love - singing, entertaining friends, being fortunate enough to volunteer at my son's school...  It has more to do with being out of my comfort zone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, you should "do one thing every day that scares you."  In this regard, I'm doing pretty well right now.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  (Even if you're not American, you can still celebrate.  Just pause for a moment today and be grateful.)

November 21, 2012

A Few Links...

photo credits from top left:  1), 2) Rolling Stone, 3) Sannah Kvist, and 4) Williams-Sonoma

Thought I'd share a few things that caught my eye this week:

The hater's guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog - Read this and laughed out loud.  Repeatedly.

Cameron Crowe's interview with Joni Mitchell - the cover of Rolling Stone, 1979.  I adore Joni Mitchell, and this is a great article.  I particularly love this snippet from the end:  "It’s a funny thing about happiness. You can strive and strive and strive to be happy, but happiness will sneak up on you in the most peculiar ways. I feel happy suddenly. I don’t know why. Some days, the way the light strikes things. Or for some beautifully immature reason like finding myself running to the kitchen to make myself some toast."

NPR - What to Enjoy and How to Enjoy It - I am not a music snob, but I do have opinions.  I liked this, especially the answer to the first question.

Stephmodo is having her annual La Maisonette giveaway.  She is giving away a week in France!  The house is gorgeous, as is the region of the country where it's located.  Awesome.  Go enter if you must, but then you have to take me with you.

Feeling down?  In a bad mood?  Try this.

An interview with First Aid Kit.

November 20, 2012

House Update

Just a couple updates to report on our progress towards making this house a home.  The Murphy Bed arrived, and it is installed and ready for use.  The long-term goal will be to paint it white, but I am of the opinion that while the boys are so young and destructive, we should leave it as is.  It is in their playroom, after all.  The walls and floors in this room are already taking a pretty good beating.  In the meantime, the natural color actually goes pretty well with the rest of the big toys in the room.  

Here's a view of the bed pulled down.  The boys had a lot of fun testing it out for us.  Now all we need is a visitor!  It will be a great space to have when we have guests.  

This room is coming along.  We'd like to get a small table for one side of the bed, for guests to be able to use as a nightstand, and we still need some additional organization solutions (another big basket, a bookshelf) for the toys.  But it's working.

The other update is that we now have kitchen stools!  We spent a long time searching.  Because of the wood on the island top, we wanted to steer clear of another wood finish.  We started looking at metal options, and there are some really cool ideas out there.  We didn't fall in love with any of them, though, and if you're going to spend $750 per stool then you should really be in love.  So we backtracked and decided that we should stay simple.  I have always liked these easy, backless stools, and they coordinate nicely with the black table in the seating area.  Plus they were significantly cheaper than most other options.  The boys love this space, and they've been eating lunch at the island every day since they arrived.

Little by little...  Up next:  Living room furniture!

November 16, 2012

Ivan & Alyosha - Easy to Love

Have you listened to Ivan & Alyosha yet?  They're a fun band, and they released their first full-length album this Summer.  You can't get it on iTunes or Amazon, although you can pick up their EP, which is great.  

I pledged to support the release of their album via Pledgemusic, which is an awesome way of supporting emerging artists, or artists who may otherwise not be able to pull together enough advance money to create an album. An added bonus - proceeds above their target go to charity.  You should check it out - it's a pretty cool model.  I also got Juliana Hatfield's covers album this way, and that is a ton of fun.  

November 15, 2012

Cassis and Pinterest

Paul Signac - Cassis, Cap Canaille, 1889

I ran across this painting on Pinterest, and I thought it looked familiar.  I pulled up our honeymoon pictures and found the one below.  This was the view from our hotel in Cassis, France.  

Good memories.  I remember really good, crisp white wine.  Cute little boats jammed into the harbor.  Seafood at every meal.  One particularly memorable dinner where Kevin ran out of patience trying to speak French.  The woman at the restaurant just laughed at him.  She brought us good food and more wine and chatted with us a bit. 

Fun thoughts provoked by a picture found on Pinterest.  Yes, it can be a time suck, but it can also be fun and thought-provoking and even useful.  

November 14, 2012

Long Afternoons

Aaron's hiding inside, but he wasn't up for peeking out the window at me while I snapped this.

We got a big package today, which was perfect for an early-release day at school.  This box filled the afternoon.  I can't believe I ever admired this store-bought variety.  This one is so much cooler.

November 13, 2012

Things That Stress Me Out

Just a few no particular order:

*Entertaining friends.  I am so in awe of people who graciously open their homes, have the skill of small talk, and know the perfect low-maintenance yet impressive recipes that will please people.  I am determined to have people over more often; but I am a big old stress ball the entire time, even with good friends.  I stress, especially afterwards, about words I should have said, things I should have offered, food I should have served.

*Volunteering at school.  I worked at a bake sale on election day, and I swear I was more stressed out about it than I ever was before a big meeting at work.  What to bring, how to present it, how to manage small talk with the other mother working with me...  I was stressed before the nature walk too, and all I had to do was walk around the woods with a few five-year-old boys.

*Singing by myself.  Even though I love to do it.  Singing is one of my favorite things to do in the world, and yet when I sing by myself I can feel my cheeks getting redder with every word.

*Choosing gifts.  I have fun with my immediate family, but buying presents for other occasions is much more stressful.  Hostess gifts are the worst.  Baby presents.  Knowing who to buy for and what to buy.  Etiquette.  Ugh.

*Activities for the boys.  I usually don't stress out about the fact that the boys have not been involved in a ton of extra activities.  But every now and then, I get together with friends, and they talk about the soccer, gymnastics, art, music, etc, classes that their kids are in, and I freak out just a little - just a little - about the lack of involvement on our part.  This is one I can generally get over quickly, but it's there.  Just a little nag in the back of my mind.

*Dressing and shopping.  Deciding what to wear to just about any event is cause for some anxiety, but the more formal it is, the worse the stress.  I'd love to have a personal shopper and stylist.

What are the things that get your blood pressure up?

November 9, 2012

Band of Horses - Slow, Cruel Hand of Time

Another favorite new release.  Band of Horses' album, Mirage Rock.  The reviews are somewhat mixed, with many saying it's not as great as their other albums.  I suppose that may be true, since Infinite Arms was awesome, but it's still a great album filled with beautiful songs.  I love the blend of voices and guitars.  My favorite song is "Everything's Gonna Be Undone", as it's a bit more uptempo, but this one is gorgeous as well.

photo from

November 8, 2012

Thinking About...

*The weather.  I still can't get New Jersey and New York off my mind - those poor people without power and gas and food.  This second wallop that they received this week was really unnecessary.  For us, it was another fun day - the first snow of the season is always exciting, and the boys couldn't wait to get out there with their snow boots on.  

*The election.  Actually, now that it's over, it feels blissfully quiet.  No more polls, no more of the endless phone calls, no more pundit predictions.  It's nice, although the initial optimism has worn off much more quickly this time around.  All of a sudden, everyone is focused on the "fiscal cliff" we are all doomed to fall off at the end of the year.  Sigh...

*Holiday food.  My sister-in-law, who is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, emailed me her grocery and recipe list.  She is a lot like me in this regard.  I love it.  My mind is focused on making a good dessert contribution - I've decided on a mint chocolate tart.  

*Christmas presents.  I started my list for the boys, and I think I've decided what their "Santa" gifts will be, so I decided to go ahead and get those.  It was a little harder this year, but I'm excited and I think they will be too.  

*Aaron's birthday party.  I try so hard to keep it simple, but sometimes I think it's harder to have a simple party at home than it is to rent out a big place and invite the whole class.  I still maintain that it's worth it to have a simple party at home, though, so I will forge on.  He has requested superheroes, so that's what he shall get!

*Cloud Atlas.  Since the movie is now out, I decided I really needed to go back and re-read it.  I want the images in my head to be my own and not from the movie.  It's an amazing book, but it is a tough one.  It's worth a second look.

November 5, 2012

Weekend Recap

sorting and counting

The weekend was a good one, filled with family and friends and candy.  Thankfully, most of that Halloween candy is gone now - I think they each have a couple more pieces to enjoy.  The day after Halloween, I took them to a book store and told them they could "buy" books, for 20 pieces of candy each.  I was so happy they went for it, and they even chose relatively cheap paperbacks!  It put a nice dent in their giant piles of sugar.  Still, I'll be happy when all of it is gone.  

On Saturday, the boys and I enjoyed a birthday party at a nearby farm.  They got to visit animals and even ride a horse.  Very cool.  

We were paid a visit by my very talented cousin, Erin.  She is a professional photographer, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to do a family session with her.  I can't wait to see the pictures!  She also happens to be a very sweet person, and it was awesome to be able to visit with her while she was in town.  The boys were instantly smitten.

Sunday included a family open house at Nathan's school, a visit to the community farm to feed our jack-o-lanterns to the animals, a trip to the playground, and then a cozy evening at home.  

The temperatures are falling, and I can feel Winter coming.  I am researching skis (thinking it's time I buy a pair), making Christmas wish lists for the boys (oh heck, for me too), and choosing recipes (even though I'm not hosting a crowd this year - I am still cooking on Christmas Day).  I know I need to get organized now so that I can enjoy this happy season and not get overwhelmed by it.  

November 1, 2012

A Pirate and a Train Engineer

I'm so happy to report that Sandy was completely gone in time for Halloween.  We went to a nearby neighborhood, and it was a lot of fun.  They went all out with decorations, and there were tons of kids (and adults) out enjoying the night.  My little pirate and "train driver" were super cute, polite, and excited.

Happy All Saints Day!

Sera Cahoone - Deer Creek Canyon

I am loving Sera Cahoone's latest album, Deer Creek Canyon.  Check out the title track above.

Can you believe it's November already?  I have this sudden urge to start Christmas shopping.
Have a happy and fun weekend!  

Photo credit:  Hilary Harris


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