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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cookies and presents

The holidays are coming! Actually, they’ve been here a while. But I can feel myself getting sucked in to the madness, so that’s how I know the season has truly arrived.

I tested a gingerbread recipe tonight for the Holiday Party/Cookie Swap with The Moms. They tasted fantastic, but lost their shape quite a bit after cooking. Maybe I’ll try less baking soda, or colder dough. I guess even if they look like fat gingerbread people it’s the taste that counts, and this recipe from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen nailed it. Soft and chewy texture too, perfect. Where’s the picture you ask? I only baked 4 cookies, the rest of the dough is waiting in the freezer. “But certainly you didn’t eat all 4 cookies?” Yes, I did. In my defense I had a salad for dinner!

Found a cute homemade gift to give to friends and family this year, crossing that off the list feels good. I made my mom a photobook (I can write that here because it’s not likely my Mom will go online and read this before 2012). A few other people are getting gifts similar in sentimentality.

I’m buying Leia an easel from IKEA, a big box of crayons, maybe some paints. I’ll probably snag a recordable storybook from Hallmark too. I think that’s plenty.

Then I flip through the Toys R Us ad that came in the mail. I see the toy aisles out of the corner of my eye when we’re walking around Target. I feel this itch to buy her more. A kitchen set, a rocking horse, even noisy light up plastic toys seem less annoying during the holidays.

Usually the fiscally conservative Sarah screams in the background “don’t do it, just keep walking!” and I obey. I still think Leia is a little young to really get into the appreciation of more than a few gifts. I don’t have the money. If I did have the money I’d feel wasteful.

Now for me on the other hand…mama needs a new iPhone! That is my Christmas present to myself.

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Black Friday

Today was Thanksgiving #2. Leia and I had a fantastic time in Julian with John’s (Racheal’s boyfriend) family, they’re such good people. The drive was pretty with all the golden trees and open space. Dinner was delicious and Leia had a blast playing with the dog. On our way home we stopped at Carrie and Racheal’s for a second helping of dessert, ending the night with lots of laughs. We’re heading to Orange County for Thanksgiving #3 tomorrow morning. Surprisingly, I’m not tired of turkey and stuffing!

Like every year, the news is buzzing with Black Friday craziness. My inbox has a dozen or so emails with deals –  50% off kids clothes, buy one get one free shoes. A handful of friends braved the 10 p.m. and midnight rush at Wal-Mart. I don’t know anyone who lined up all day, which seems kind of sad to me (miss family dinner for a TV deal?).

I was pretty sure I wanted nothing to do with the chaos. I went to Target at 5 am one year, and was disappointed in the sales/selections. Here’s more specific reasons why I won’t be participating this year:

1. I hate navigating crowds. Black Friday at Target or Wal-Mart is going to be like Costco on a Saturday x 20. No thanks. It seems like some stores are already offering deals online, and discounted or free shipping.

2. Who is going to watch Leia? There’s no way I’m going to wear her or let her walk around pushing a cart in that madness.

3. I don’t need anything. I was eyeballing a $10 crockpot on the Wal-Mart ad. The easel I want to get Leia from IKEA is $10 vs. $15. I really really love scoring stuff for cheap. I avoid paying full price for anything. So I am easily lured in by the sparkly marketing promising me half off or more on things I want, things I justify as Christmas presents, or things I should get now because I’ll need later. The reality is I don’t need anything. So saving 100% is the best choice. If your family needs a new TV and you’re willing to wait in line then trample through a crowd to get one for $200 vs. $500, kudos to you my friend.

4. I believe with a still sluggish economy stores will continue to offer great sales through the end of the year. I’m not convinced if I don’t break down the doors at 4 a.m. I’ll miss out on super deals.

That said, I’m still curious. Part of me wants to brave the mall or Target in the afternoon to see what’s left. I’m practicing my “Just Say No” mantra.

My house smells delicious!

It’s Thanksgiving all week long, and I couldn’t be more excited! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (yes, even better than Christmas). It’s all about warm comforting food, remembering what we are grateful for, spending time with people we love. Joy! I guess that all applies to Christmas too, but Thanksgiving has no pressure for presents or religious undertones.

This year I planned on cooking dinner at my Grandma’s house. Who knows how much longer it will be in the family, so I want to make memories there while it lasts. Then Uncle Randy decided he’s going to spend Thanksgiving camping with friends in the desert. John and Racheal were invited to his parent’s house in Julian. Mary Jo is cooking dinner in celebration of her first grandchild, Johnny (or JR as I plan on calling him). That leaves Leia, my Mom and myself. So we decided to join Racheal and John in Julian on Thursday.

But…I love cooking Thanksgiving! So we’re doing a dinner together on Tuesday. The neighbors across from my Grandma’s house surprised us with a huge turkey, pumpkin pie, whipped cream, potatoes, onions, butter, and milk. I guess their plans changed, they wouldn’t be at home and didn’t want the food to go to waste. Score!

Someday I’ll get all fancy and try variations of the traditional dishes. Maybe when Leia is older and can help me prepare things. Although between helping me push the grocery cart in the store and mixing pretend meals in tupperware bowls with wooden spoons on the kitchen floor – she is already a huge help. For now I’m just sticking with the basics: roasted turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie.

The beauty of all this is I get to make a bunch of it the night before! Here’s the plan: Cranberry sauce is made first, it’s better the next day anyway. The sweet potato and green bean casseroles can be made and stored in the fridge (without toppings) then popped in the oven to heat up when the turkey gets out. Stuffing and mashed potatoes can be made on the stove while the turkey cooks and rolls heat through when people are serving.

Cranberry Sauce

  • Two bags of cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice (I just use the juice from the two oranges I zest, if it’s not a full cup just add water)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • zest of two oranges
  • two tablespoons grated ginger
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar

Helping sort cranberries.

She liked to pinch the mushy ones.

Toss in a pot on medium-low until berries start to pop open. Cook longer if you want a more mushy sauce, take off the heat if you want cranberries intact. I like to let mine go until about half the berries have popped. That’s it! So easy and much better than the canned gelatinous stuff. This makes a lot of cranberry sauce, you can bring me the leftovers if you don’t want them.

Almost done...

Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Banana (Tyler Florence)

Tyler is hot. He can cook, which makes him even hotter. With that said, I modified his recipe a little.

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 large bananas, unpeeled
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (he used honey, I didn’t have any)
  • salt (I had sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped (damn, a 1 1/2 cup bag of pecans was $7!)
  • mini marshmallows

Put the potatoes in the oven at 375 until they’re soft. How long is that? Probably 60-90 minutes. It depends on how big they are so just check after an hour. They’re done when a knife slides through the potato easily. During the last 10 minutes of baking time put the two bananas on the baking tray with the potatoes. The skin will get black and they will be mushy inside.

When the potatoes and bananas are cooled peel them and add the flesh to a big mixing bowl. Add 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of butter, I melted mine to make it easier to incorporate. Add brown sugar or honey and a sprinkle or two of salt. Mix with a spoon until blended and fluffy. Put in a 8 x 8 casserole dish. At this point you can cover it and put it in the fridge until an hour or so before dinner time.

To make the topping put 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans in a big ziplock bag. Add flour and shake until nuts are coated. Chop remaining 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter into pieces and add to bag. Seal the bag and mash it with your hands until the butter and flour mixes with the nuts. Tyler’s recipe calls for brown sugar but I’m adding marshmallows so I didn’t want to overdo the sweetness.

About an hour before dinner I’ll pull the casserole dish out of the fridge and let it come to room temp. After the turkey comes out I’ll add the topping and put it in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes (or long enough to heat through). I’ll take it out and add the marshmallows, then back in the oven it goes until marshmallows brown and melt. Yum! A layer of sweet potatoes and banana, a layer of crunchy pecan topping and a layer of gooey marshmallow. Two perfectly healthy produce items beaten into Americana submission.

Burning my "Thankful" Yankee candle. The color is off, it's an iPhone picture. The potatoes are a brighter orange, much more appealing.

The Best Ever Green Bean Casserole (Alton Brown)

Oh Alton, you’re the man! I’ve never had a bad recipe from him, and his cooking science is awesome. In a perfect world I’d look like Giada, cook like Paula, and be married to a hybrid of Tyler and Alton. Dear Santa…

Campbell’s can keep their canned soup, this version is so much better and worth the effort. I don’t like mushrooms so I made some modifications. I use the French’s fried onions. I know I could probably make them from scratch, but I like to save the time. I made a double recipe to fill my big casserole dish.

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved (I trimmed them by hand, Leia helped, it was beyond cute)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 large white onion sliced thinly (love my mandolin!)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 14 ounce can low sodium chicken broth
  • Approximately 2 cups half-and-half (I just fill up the chicken broth can after it’s empty)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar

Mmm, green beans and clementines.

Boil water, add beans and cook for 5-8 minutes (less time for firmer beans, more time for softer beans). Drain and add to an ice bath. This step is important to stop the cooking so you don’t have mushy beans. Drain again and lay beans out on a towel to dry.

Melt butter, salt and pepper in a big pan. Add onions and cook until they start to soften. Add garlic and nutmeg and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle flour in and mix until combined (you’ve just made an onion roux!). Add chicken broth and simmer for a few minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low, add half-and-half, and stir until thickened. Add cheddar and stir until melted.

All I need is crunchy onions and a hot oven!

Spray pan with nonstick coating, add beans and pour sauce on top. At this point I cover the dish and put it in the fridge for tomorrow. It will get topped with an entire can of fried onions and go in the oven with the sweet potatoes at 375 degrees until bubbly and the sauce has reduced to a cream. Another perfectly healthy vegetable, smothered with fatty goodness.

Roasted Turkey

I don’t have a recipe for this. I just go by what my Grandma did. The big ass bird is 22 pounds (the same as Leia!) so it will need to cook for at least 4 hours at 325 degrees. I remove all the gizzards – such a fun word – rinse and dry the bird. Then I give it a liberal shake of salt and pepper. I cut up carrots, an onion, some sage and rosemary and toss it in the cavity. I soften some butter and add chopped rosemary, sage and thyme. Then I coat the outside of the bird with the butter mix. The bird gets covered loosely with foil for the first 3 hours. Take the foil off and turn up the temp to 400 for the last hour, basting with the melted butter and juices every 15 minutes. Use a thermometer to check the thick part of the breast, it’s done when it hits 165. Take the bird out and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. I’ll probably cover it loosely to keep it warm for 30 minutes while the beans and sweet potatoes heat up. How to carve a turkey.

Gravy

I usually make the packet stuff but I might get my roux on and try to make it from scratch.

Mashed Potatoes

I’m not a huge fan, this is just to appease the family and for tradition. While the turkey is cooking I’ll do the standard boil water, add potatoes, mash with butter and milk, add salt. I might use half and half since I’ll have some leftover and they won’t know I’ve added a “fancy” ingredient. I’d love to add some onion and chive cream cheese and bacon pieces, but that might be too much.

Stuffing

I used to only love StoveTop. It’s what I grew up on, all I knew. Then I tried a homemade sage and ground pork stuffing and I realized I was dating the wrong stuffing. However, like the potatoes, I need to please a more traditional palette. I also don’t have a second oven to cook stuffing in. So the box it is! But I’m going to modify it a little. I’ll add some dried cranberries, fresh sage, extra bread and sauteed onion. I might pick up some ground pork to brown with the onions and add in.

Rolls

I’m torn. I’ll either throw some crescents in the oven while people are plating, or just heat some dinner rolls. Depends on timing and how the meal is coming together.

Pumpkin Pie

It feels wrong to not make dessert from scratch. Desserts are my favorite thing to make. But in the interest of time (and the wonderful free pie we were given), I’m going to just relax and not worry about it this time. I have plenty of holiday baking on the horizon…

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Tell the people you love how important they are in your life. Make time for hugs, stories, pictures, making memories.

Past and Present

Who is that adorable baby in a cloth diaper? Oh, that’s me.

I love this picture because I see my two little teeth and it looks like Leia with her two little teeth. Speaking of teeth, her top two have finally broke through! Hooray, she’ll have more than two teeth into toddlerhood. How did my fingers not get pinched off with metal hinges like that? Same science that kept me alive without seatbelts for the first decade or so of life.

Circa 1983

Same sink, 28 years later.

The San Diego Zoo, entertaining our family for generations. Grandma is rockin’ the multicolored polyester head to toe. We used that bag for beach trips well into my teens. BOB has nothing on that sturdy stroller!

A very serious face…

Goats!

Seaworld opened in the late 60’s. Here’s a picture from the 70’s (I think). I want to say my Aunt worked there when she was young, but I could be wrong. Either way, it’s neat to see how much has changed in nearly 40 years.

Exhausted.

I’m pooped.

Maybe I’m having sympathy exhaustion for my friends in their first trimester (hello SDFTM – soon to be STM – moms). I don’t think I caught Leia’s cold – no cough, no runny nose. I’m not depressed. Life is good, I look forward to family dinners, play dates, seeing my silly daughter chase our cats, etc. So what is wrong with me? I can’t put my finger on just one thing.

I just feel like I could really use a whole day to lounge on the couch, watch a movie, burn my to-do list, drink a glass of wine and have dinner delivered. This is what people without kids get to do on the weekend. I think about moms that are juggling work, school and mommyhood and my jaw drops in awe. I tip my hat to you ladies, rock on.

I haven’t been writing as much here, it felt like a chore for a while. I kept a list on my iphone of cute things that happened that day or thoughts I had with the intentions of blogging later. Then I accidentally deleted the note while editing that damn to-do list and got frustrated with the whole thing.

I know a source of my exhaustion is overextending myself. I put too much on my plate.  My to-do list is a little neurotic and I need to learn how to better use my time and how to say no (to others and myself). I find myself laying down with Leia to nurse her to sleep for naps and falling asleep right next to her for a few minutes. Then I wake up in a slight panic – what to do first? Laundry? Dishes? Pick up the tornado of books and kitchen utensils? Every now and then I remember to paint my toes and pluck my eyebrows – things I can’t do when she’s awake.

I think I’m going to ask my mom to watch Leia when she has a day off and I’m going to get my hair cut and go see a movie (yes, Breaking Dawn, stop laughing). I think I need a little personal time out of the house. Usually my only personal time is when my Mom watches Leia so I can go to the gym.

I’ve been stressed about money. Craigslist doesn’t have many options for part-time, low hour, work from home jobs. I’m grateful for getting to stay at home with Leia. Mike pays the big living expenses (rent, utilities, cable, car repairs on the car he paid off) and I pay for the other things (food/toiletries, gas, phone, entertainment, clothes, diapers, cat food/litter, car insurance, etc.). I’ve been managing okay with unemployment and savings from this years tax refund. I budget myself, only buy things on sale, etc. But on playdates I splurge on buying lunch. At Target I know I’m wasteful. Those are areas I’ll need to reign myself in. I actually brushed up my resume and sent it to a job on craigslist looking for someone to transcribe records part-time. Haven’t heard back, not holding my breath. Taking care of Leia is the most important job for me right now, but I would like the cushion a few hours a week of work would provide. When she is school aged and I go back to work full time I have no idea what I’ll look into – but that’s a whole other conversation.

I think I’ve gained about 10 pounds in the last few months. This is very frustrating. I know exactly why I’m gaining weight – I’m eating like a fat kid. No second thought to what I’m putting in my mouth, overeating (probably emotionally), not taking a mental note of what I’ve ate that day. My weight has always been a struggle for me. Between the beginning of March and the end of July I lost about 65 pounds. I busted my butt working out and kept a food journal. I ate healthier versions of desserts, no candy, no fast food. Lots of fresh, real food at each meal. I was really proud of what I accomplished. I enjoyed eating healthier. I felt stronger. I bought a bunch of clothes in a single digit. Mostly I was proud that I was setting a healthy example for Leia. I’m still working out regularly, but the food is an issue. It was a downhill slope from when I went on vacation in August. I “gave myself permission” to eat whatever, and I never really reigned it in after that. Everyday I wake up with intentions to restart my food journal, knowing being accountable keeps me on track. And each day I end up eating something crappy and saying “fuck it.” My pants are starting to get tight, but mostly I’m upset at feeling out of control. I thought for sure I had things figured out, that I could eat like a normal healthy person and be happy. I’m terrified of struggling with this as Leia grows up.

 

On a lighter note, my mom went with Leia and I to the zoo this week which was really fun. Leia loves to say the sounds the animals make (mostly cats, her favorite word is “meow”). She could spend all day at the petting zoo, and this time she really liked the playground next to it. She climbed up herself and went down the slide over and over. Yes, her fluffy blond mullet is pretty awesome 🙂

Poops or toots?

 

Other fun shots from this week:

"Hey Mom, good call on the white shirt for our walk on the dirt trail after it rained..." She sat in the mud and it looked like poop the whole way home.

 

One. Two. She can stack them four tall, I'm proud.

 

Yankee Candle deal

Code: Q4B2G2

Buy 2 large Yankee jar candles and get 2 free! They’re a pricey investment but the large candles last for months with daily use. Yankee candles are the only candles, in my opinion, that actually make the whole room smell delicious.

A big thank you to Melissa for her addiction inspiring me to spend money I probably shouldn’t but still feel good about! They’re normally $26 each, I got 4 for $60 after tax and shipping.

What scents did I buy you ask?

Heritage Pine: Traditional greetings in boughs of pine . . . cool, crisp air with birch, pinecone and fir needles.

Fireside: Cozy and rustic . . . the scent of a warm, crackling wood fire.

Holiday Home Sweet Home: A familiar, welcoming seasonal blend of cinnamon, cloves, pine, cedar, smoked firewood and vanilla.

Be Thankful: It’s easy to appreciate nature’s goodness in the warm, inviting aromas of a Thanksgiving kitchen.

So very excited for how delicious my house is going to smell for the next several months!

 

Pumpkin bread – original and healthy makeover

I had leftover canned pumpkin in the fridge, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Since I’m always cooking for 1 (and a mini), I often have leftovers so I’ve learned to love them. I hunted down this recipe for pumpkin bread from My Baking Addition. Her blog is great, lots of things I want to try, like mac n cheese with roasted chicken, goat cheese and rosemary – yum!

So I made a half version of the pumpkin bread recipe exactly as written and it was delicious! Leia ate two big slices and I ate…well, I’m not going to admit how much I polished off because it’s embarrassing. It was even better the next morning with – you guessed it – cranberry sauce on top. If you’re looking for an easy treat to give for holiday gifts or to bring to Thanksgiving dinner, look no further.

The downside? The full recipe has 1 cup of oil and 2 1/2 cups of sugar – yikes. Especially if I wanted to make this for Leia, I really wanted to try a healthier version.

I had two old bananas in the fridge (see, I told you I can’t throw things away), so I thought they would be a good substitute for the oil. Normally when doing a substitute I only do half (so half banana, half oil), but I really wanted to use up both the bananas. Will swapping banana, or any fruit puree for that matter, for oil change the texture of the bread? Yes. Normally I’m picky about texture, especially in cookies and brownies. I’m okay with the changes in a bread. I used less sugar, hoping the sweetness of the banana would come through in that department as well. I used half whole wheat and half all purpose flour. I was out of pumpkin pie spice (gasp!) and nutmeg so I just guess on the amounts of cinnamon and ginger. The measurements are for a half size of the original recipe.

Preheat over to 350. Spray a bread pan with nonstick spray (liberally).

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 really ripe bananas (which measured about 3/4 cup, more than the 1/2 cup of oil required for a half recipe but darn it I’m using all the bananas!)

2/3 cup white sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 eggs (mix in a small bowl separately before adding)

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup all purpose flour (I didn’t level the top, so it’s probably a little more than 3/4 cup)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (ditto)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1 tsp baking soda

I didn’t use a mixer, I just dumped the wet ingredients in a big bowl and folded it together with a spatula then dumped in the dry ingredients and folded until everything was moist. No over mixing here. Bake for 50 or so minutes. I take mine out when it’s still a little wet in the center (a little, not a lot) and let the residual heat cook it through.

It was pretty good! Not as sinfully good as the first round with the oil and more sugar – but definitely good enough to make again. The banana flavor sort of overpowered the pumpkin so I might try it again with 1 banana (or make a full sized recipe). The bread was still moist and sweet.