Monday, March 30, 2009

Bella's mountain retreat

I had to display this picture that Bella did for me. I was so impressed by her depth of field (hope that's the right terminology). She layered the mountains without crisscrossing them, she put the tree and house in front of them. There are no lines going through the tree or house for objects behind. I find this fascinating for a child so young.

Of course, if I try and compare her to me at this age...there is no comparison. I was still finger painting and playing with "The Letter People". She's reading, writing and can count to over 100.

Wishing I could bottle up a Sunday afternoon

Yesterday started out with some much needed rain. We slept in and then Bella came and we all goofed off in bed for a while. As soon as Kristjan started fussing for his morning bottle, we knew it was time to get up and start the day. I had a mountain of laundry to climb, the house to pick up and Chris needed to pack for his trip and bottle his beer.

First the bottles are sterilized.
His carboy is brought in to the kitchen from the fermentation frig in the garage. He lets it sit on the counter a while to make sure any yeast that may have floated around settle back down.

After siphoning the beer into a sterilized bucket he adds sugar to reactivate the yeast that does still exist in the beer. He then siphons the beer into the bottles. With his handy dandy tool he caps them.
Ready to be placed in the dark closet to age and carbonate. Four weeks later and we should have some yummy English IPA ready to enjoy.

My tomatoes have doubled in size and the buds are growing. I hope these three plants can give us a great supply this summer. I may get a couple more just to be on the safe side. Any extras can be cooked and put in the freezer.

I need to get more peppers. I know my hot peppers will provide plenty for us. One bell pepper will not be enough. The squirrels are still digging in them I think. At least I think it's the squirrels. I have not seen one in action yet.

After the rain had cleared we were left with a cloud free sky with little humidity. It had cooled some and the breeze was very pleasant. I opened all the windows and had to go outside and experience the afternoon. My favorite time of the day is about an hour or so before sunset. The sky is so blue, the air has usually cooled from the heat of the day and it seems the colors on the trees are so vibrant and green.

Krisjtan loves the outdoors as much as I do. He is perfectly content outside. There is so much to explore.
Bella was dancing and singing to "Annie". I am sure the neighbors were amused!

Off for another adventure.

Speaking of bottling. I wish I could bottle up days like this. It would greatly help on days at work when I am feeling down. Just open it up and bring me back for a while. This blog helps me. I come back here for a moment or two when "corporate society" gets too overwhelming.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The zoo

Yesterday we visited our local zoo for the day. The kids really enjoyed themselves. Cate was a little under the weather though, we hope she feels better soon.
Emily and Bella

Beautiful little Cate.


Kristjan loved the goats. Most were trying to take their afternoon nap so it was easy for him to get close.
Emily really loves the goats.

The carousel is Kristjan's favorite ride so far. The ride is always to short and he doesn't like it when it's time to go.
Speaking of rides. Bella really wanted to ride log flume ride. Until she got on it.

The carousel is more her speed still.

Right before we left we let Krisjan cool off in the little fountains.
He lost his balance and fell right on top of it. As you can see it didn't phase him in the least. He could have played in that water all day.

We hope to see Caroline, Neal, Cate and Emily again soon. If I have my way, we'll be driving up there to see them really soon. Just have to save the money, get the time off work and butter up the old man a little (11-15 hours drive; depending on traffic, with a little one that tends to protest after being seated so long). I think I have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The garden, the streaker and the mystery rash

The few plants I have so far in my garden are doing well. My basil will be plucked today for dinner and hopefully I will get some time this weekend to sow more basil seeds.

The sage is really taking off! It seems to love the location we placed it. Now to gather some recipes that use sage. I know of a succotash recipe that calls for a bunch of it. Left over succotash makes the best mix for pot pie too!
Oh no, it's the streaker again! Streaks all over the house anytime he's naked. Dashes to the tub when he hears the water going and runs from you when it's time to get dressed. I'm sure he loves that free feeling without that darn diaper on.

We believe that he may be allergic to the oak tree pollen. Well, to start with. The doctors can't give me a definitive answer so we are all playing the guessing game here. We were at the doctor's again yesterday as a matter of fact. You know, it's a heck of a lot cheaper for me to guess than us taking him to their office almost every week and paying an insurance co-pay, the time away from work, gas going here and there and occasional prescriptions just to hear "It may be...".

For the past couple of weeks he's been rubbing his eyes, scratching his head, sniffling and has watery eyes. Also he has what looks like heat rash on his neck and face. At first we thought it was from his recent vaccination but now we are thinking allergies. The rash on his face has subsided mostly but now he has some bumps along his belly. Looks like all of the places his clothes rub.

It was recommended to go the "all clear" route on detergents and stick to Aveeno or Dove unscented soaps for him. I'll do that and see if it helps.

If this continues I will ask for him to be seen by a dermatologist. It's time to find the culprit. It worked for me. If it's something he's eating I want to know and avoid it. Same with the detergents, or any other allergen it may be. I was told by my allergist when I was suffering from black mold exposure to also get rid of all cloth furniture, get covers for your mattress, get rid of carpet etc. This is because of dust mites, dander, pollen, and chemicals.

I'll pull up all the carpet if I have to. At this rate, replacing the carpet with wood floors may end up being kinder to my wallet than all of these doctor's visits!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another weekend gone in a flash

It's time to put the screens in and maybe even keep the windows closed in our eating area. These windows face the pool which is screen enclosed already. We don't need him climbing over and getting out there near the pool.

I was able to get my "Martha" on Sunday. I made:

My dough ball for the week. Here it has risen to twice it's original form. I'll keep that in my frig and take what I need out for baking.

Loaf out of the oven for dinner.

Made a batch of brown rice to portion and freeze for easy grab and heat during the week.

Cooked a batch of dried cannellini beans and portioned out for freezing. These I overcooked a bit.
Made some vegetable stock for the freezer. Just simmered a mirepoix (celery, carrots & onion) with some asparagus stems I had saved with garlic cloves, pepper and salt in my big stock pot with water.
Lastly, two batches of pasta.

For dinner I made Skillet vegetables on cheese toast. You can check it out on my food blog if you like.

Tonight Caroline, Neal, Emily and Cate will be arriving to stay for a few days. I am looking forward to it. I only wish we were the ones driving up to Tennessee to see them! I feel horrible that we won't be able to go up there this summer and it has been over two years since we visited the Smokys. I long to see the Smoky Mountains again. That place brings me such happiness and peace and is oh so beautiful. I hate being so far away. Someday I'll be closer to my mountains.

They are going to bring one of their little puppies with them which will please Kristjan and Bella is looking forward to playing with Emily. Cate is a year old and I am sure will have fun being entertained by Kristjan. One day we plan on taking the kids to the zoo. Pictures to come!

Speaking of zoo. My house is like that sometimes. Actually, I think a circus is more like it! Here Bella is cuddled up yet ready to play while Kristjan and Donald attempt to chill out or even grab a nap. This attempt failed and back up and away they went.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Something positive

I found an article in our local paper this morning that impressed me.

I was surprised to see our county listed and actually proud that they are participating. That's good news for all little ones and helps with the animals. Not just that they are offering meatless protein alternatives but that more vegetables and fruits are available for the kids. Kudos to Pasco County. (Click on blue link above to read full article)

Bella participates in the school lunch program. We put money in her "account" monthly on average. She has to enter her pin number when she gets her food and all of the foods she picks up go online for us to monitor. If we see too many bad choices (like ice cream for lunch), we can remove that item so when she selects it, they will inform her she can't have it. We seem to notice that they make the children select items from each food group with their meal so actually they would not allow her to just select ice cream or sweets alone. So far so good. She's eating what I would normally make her for lunch each day (her love for pb&j) or better and the cost seems the same.

So far I can't get the little man to eat any meat. You can hide it in other things all you want. He chews it then spits it out. Not sure if it's a taste thing or texture thing right now. Won't hurt my feelings if he doesn't like meat. What he does love is fruit. He'll shove it in by the handful. He's my little fruitarian.

He loves sweet foods and Bella loves salty foods. Now to get them to eat both flavors together. That's the challenge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where do we get off?

Ok, before I get going here I want to say that this post is regarding Factory Farming and animal cruelty. I might go mental on this one. So if this does not interest you in the least, please wait until my next post.

I have always been an animal lover and I have always wondered where we get off as humans thinking we have the right to treat animals inhumanely. They are living, breathing creatures just as we are. Sure, there are plenty of other humans being treated inhumanely, but that's a different post for another day. This post is about the animals and how outraged I am regarding factory farming. I am becoming aware of the absolute horrifying conditions that these poor animals live in and are killed in for our greedy stomachs. Stomachs, intestinal tracts and well being that do not require meat consumption on a daily or even weekly basis. Yet we feel the need to prepare some kind of meat for every meal? Look at a typical restaurant menu. How many dishes have no meat? Not very many or they will be labelled "vegetarian".

Last night Chris and I watched this HBO documentary called Death on a Factory Farm and it caused inner outrage for both of us. I was brought to tears several times. This documentary chronicles an investigation into alleged abuses that took place in a typical hog farm. Over the course of six weeks Pete (fellow working undercover) secretly filmed many scenes which included little piglets being tossed from across the room into boxes being piled on top of each other. Sometimes they hit the sides or even missed the boxes. Sows were held in pens that prevented them from even turning around and were forced to nurse without being able to move. Any unhealthy piglets where slammed against the wall to euthanize them which was absolutely horrible. Downed sows where cattle prodded, and then slowly hung by a forklift.

Each year around 10 BILLION animals are raised for our consumption in the United States alone. Most of them are raised in industrialized farms under horrific conditions where there are virtually no federal laws mandating how the animals are treated. State laws are ineffective and as long as the all mighty dollar and lobbyists are involved nothing will change until we as consumers take a stand and change our purchasing habits. One of the worst realities of this documentary is that the farm owner and persons prosecuted for their abuse were found not guilty. Why? There are too many people making too much money. Animal welfare is insignificant.

I am growing more and more aware of what's going on and I DO care. I am a bacon and ham lover and I admit I used to just pick up whatever meat I needed and went on my merry way with my blinders on. Well not anymore! I will not be involved in animal torture any longer. I just can't do it.

I might have to become one of those annoying vegetarians that people snicker at for being different, difficult and weird. I have been getting "Greenwise" meat from Publix that is antibiotic free and "all natural" but I don't know how the animals were treated. I will have to go back to only getting certified humane meats for the family. I am not going to force anyone in my family to eat or not eat meat. It's up to them. I am going to take a break and just eat my Alaskan wild fish, organic eggs, and organic cheese when I want animal products.

I guess I write this in hopes that people will just read, see and learn what's going on as far as how that bacon, ground beef or chicken got to the grocery store and what is really in them. That's all. Be informed and perhaps make a difference in your life and for the lives of the animals.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring is in the air

Lately it's been quite hot outside to be honest. We have great breezy mornings and late afternoons, but mid day is already getting steamy here. The oak tree pollen is outrageous and covering everything. Rain is needed down here badly.

We are slowly getting the backyard back into shape again. We had a lot of interesting plants back there from the previous owners. Interesting because half of them were indoor plants planted outdoors and the rest were just sporadically planted with no even spacing or theme.

Chris has been removing dangerous needle like plants and other shrubs that did not survive this winter. We are going the climate friendly and low maintenance route along with pine bark mulch instead of the regular because it lasts much longer. I don't want to have to cover tons of plants every time we have a freeze and we really like plants that can handle the wide spectrum of weather here. We are taking it a section at a time as we can afford to.

Here are my three tomato plants! I already have one tomato growing. They are looking happy and healthy right now. Hope they can continue this way. Daylight savings helps because we still have light after getting home from work. I need to thank Chris too because he goes out there and tends to them when I'm busy or not home yet.

We currently have three peppers. Serrano, Jalapeno and Green bell pepper. I hope to get a couple more regular bell peppers. We use at least 5 of those a week it seems.

We have all of the veggies and most herbs in pots because our soil is not soil, it's sand. Better off in pots I think! I do have the sandy soil lovers in the ground like the oregano, rosemary and lavender.

My new basil and sage are doing fine. Looks like I need to clip off some basil already before it flowers on me. I have some basil seed to plant so that I can have a constant supply available. I could use all of the basil in the picture to make just one batch of pesto.

So far it's a small start but hope to add as we go without going beyond our control or budget.

Professor Kristjan at your service! He likes to put on Bella's safety glasses from her dinosaur fossil dig toy. Just walks around knowing he's a cool cat.
And their out folks. Dad and Bella crashed out on the floor. Was she cold or perhaps daddy is has more cushion going on? She should have laid on me...plenty of cushion.

We had a pretty busy weekend. Saturday we splurged a little and grabbed breakfast from this great family owned restaurant called Cafe Fresco & Bakery where Chris enjoyed their banana nut bread french toast, then the kids got their hair trimmed (Kristjan didn't care for the experience), popped in the pet store for some entertainment, went grocery shopping and later that evening went to a friend's house for dinner. Sunday we visited Mama Ruby then came home and finally reorganized a couple of closets, cleaned the house, visited with Nanna & Nannu and then ate dinner.

The kids went to bed early so Chris and I got some grown up time and watched a movie. It was a good weekend. I am already looking forward to next weekend (Hell, I'm always looking forward to the weekend). I am thinking about celebrating St. Patrick's day on Saturday. Need to get some authentic Irish recipes and some good beer and have a little fun!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mommy dinner is burning!

What's wrong with this picture? Take a look at the setting on the knob for the burner that is glowing red hot. It's on Lo....the burner is not. I caught it in action this time.

Sometimes after cooking something on med-high heat and I go to set it on low to simmer, the burner decides to revolt and goes the opposite direction to blaze on super high heat for about 3 minutes or so before deciding to actually go down to low. I have burned many a chicken breast or vegetable due to this possessed stove. Someday I'll have my gas Viking 48" Custom VGSC Range along with an in wall Vicking VCSO Combi Steam/Convection Oven. Whoa? Wake up? I can still dream...

Sometimes with little ones you just can't wait for certain milestones. You can't wait for them to smile, which is always good. You can't wait until they can walk, then you realize you're in trouble. You can't wait until they can talk, then you can't get them to be quiet. Well, I think Kristjan himself wished he could talk yesterday.

After Nanna picked him up from school yesterday he was happy and fine. He fell asleep and took a little nap. I arrive to gather the critters and he's not himself. He's moaning, crying, fussy and generally miserable. I am thinking....please not another ear infection!

He begins to then start scratching his head and fussing. He didn't want to play outside, didn't want a snack or juice. So, I bring him home and think he may immediately need a bath because he's just scratching away on his head and fussing. I then strip him down to his diaper while Chris starts the bath (now, the bath is Kristjan's FAVORITE thing and usually wants to jump in) and he starts screaming and plops on the floor, head down while slapping the floor. He was pissed folks.

Ok, so he didn't want the bath! So let's warm up a bottle of milk. He quickly slugged down that milk faster than it warmed up and then suddenly... "Da da?" He was instantly better and playful again. Just needed that milk. All that time he was trying to tell us what he wanted and we didn't understand.

Now that I think back about it seeing him on the bathroom floor so frustrated and gesturing away. The dude was at his whits end because we just didn't get it. I got it now buddy. Next time, I'll warm up that bottle first.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Need a day off

Here we go again! I am back to feeling completely overwhelmed with my "to do list" and how I can't seem to get anything done! New "need to do" tasks keep creeping up before I can get to the old ones.

I am at peace when I look around and my house is tidy and everything is organized and in it's place. I know it's nearly impossible right now with a toddler who's climbing the furniture and a 6 year old that's always in the pantry.

I need a day where I am home ALONE so that I can actually get something done. I am thinking a day off or a 24 hour flu is in order here.

Here she is all proud and happy to have her tooth out. It's in the area I circled in blue. She was so happy that the Tooth Fairy came. She received another reading award yesterday. She is excelling so well in reading. It's very exciting!

Here's a mess I can handle! Nothing like a little ravioli facial treatment for healthier skin.

I actually won the Clarisonic Skin Care System the other day from Martha Stewart Radio (Sirius) for having the winning appetizer-dinner-dessert recipes for under $25. That was exciting because I have never won anything before and I got to briefly speak to her. Working in Martha's test kitchens and conjuring up delicious recipes would be my dream job.

So if it makes me look like I'm 16 again, I'll make sure to spread the word! If not, I might just try the ravioli facial.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Another milestone

Bella got her first visit by an ethereal creature last night. The tooth fairy came, gently took her tooth and then left one Abraham Lincoln and one George Washington in it's place.

Last night while she was eating some buttered bread with dinner, her tooth finally dislodged in her mouth. She let out a scream and then said "Mamma"! When I saw her call my name I could finally see the gap! So I told her to spit out in my hand (gross I know) what she had in her mouth and I then fished it out! Voila! She was so excited about it! Chris and I let out a big *sigh* that it had finally come out. Pictures to come.

Saturday I went over to my friend Janet's house for some marathon cooking. The kids and I had a great time! Alex, her husband took the girls to the park and then for some ice cream and Kristjan stayed behind and teased the cat and took a cat nap.




We put together some bulk items and split them for freezing for future meals. We made rice, pasta, meatballs, red sauce and Janet made this amazing Rosemary White Bean soup. Now I have some premade items for faster meal prep.

Let me tell you about that Rosemary White Bean Soup. It's so delicious that Chris and I had two helpings Saturday night along with some fresh baked bread. We were both so full we could not move. I have a little left in the freezer but want more! I actually have some dried beans soaking to make this soup tonight! Thanks Janet for introducing me to that soup. Wow!

Here's the recipe from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) at foodtv.com if you want to try this heaven in a bowl:

Rosemary White Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 pound dried white cannellini beans
4 cups sliced yellow onions (3 onions)
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large branch fresh rosemary (6 to 7 inches)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions
In a medium bowl, cover the beans with water by at least 1-inch and leave them in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Drain.

In a large stockpot over low to medium heat, saute the onions with the olive oil until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are very soft. Remove the rosemary branch and the bay leaf. Pass the soup through the coarsest blade of a food mill, or place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely pureed. Return the soup to the pot to reheat and add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve hot.