Monday, November 23, 2009

Making up for lost time

Sorry folks! I'm a week late in posting and all due to a whirlwind of events. My work has gone crazy. With my boss leaving a couple weeks ago (no love lost there), I have had to take on his secretive duties as well as keep the operations moving. Secretive meaning, he just split without sharing any information of how or what he did on anything.

I also; just this moment, found out that I am losing another co-worker that handles the accounting and HR, so those duties will be flung at me as well. So far she's shown me a ton of things and I can't imagine how I'm going to get it all done. I am feeling completely overwhelmed and not feeling too confident in myself that I have the brain capacity to handle this. I need good notes and thorough instructions. I'm not letting her leave until I feel comfortable! Not like how my boss just up and left us here in the dark. Such as life I suppose. There's nothing I can do about it until I can free myself of this. Patience grasshopper.

I have also been in and out because of doctor's appointments. I have an impacted wisdom tooth causing problems and needing surgery, Kristjan had an x-ray on his arm for his mystery ailment (x-rays came out fine) and then I had to stay home with him due to a stomach bug. Basically, I have not had the time to blog or keep up with my pals in blog land. I'll try to do better. I have to! The holidays are here and I'm going to do all I can to enjoy the moment and the happiness of family.

I did manage to get some cooking in that deemed worthy to share. Other nights were repeats or just plain uneventful sandwiches and such. I did make and truly enjoy a dish inspired by Martha's baked penne with chicken and sun dried tomatoes recipe. I changed it around a bit by using ziti instead of penne (no big deal there), ham instead of chicken, skim milk instead of whole milk and Monterrey Jack cheese instead of provolone. I also did not use any mushrooms.

Basically I created a rue then added the cheese, ham, sun dried tomatoes, cooked ziti and baked until top was golden for about 25 minutes. One of those comfort meals that provides plenty of leftovers. Check out the recipe, it's wonderful.

Something free at Disney?

Downtown Disney and Disney Marketplace just recently had an art festival which also included activities for the kids. This was free to the public. We enjoyed a day of beautiful art displays, cute projects, plenty of window shopping and some relaxing.
Bella enjoying a little picture drawing project after designing her crown.

We met our pals Janet, Alex and their two lovely daughters, Kali and Hannah at the festival. We all brought our lunch to help save some money. We found the perfect waterside spot conveniently next to a margarita and beer booth.
Beauty with an awake Sleeping Beauty.
I think Chris's preferred kind of pet dog. One made with Legos. One day we will convince him to allow a puppy on board.

After a long day of browsing, playing, drinking and eating it was time for the adults to find a grassy spot to rest and for the kids to burn off some energy and...


What a wonderful day. I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the day was just chilling out in the grassy field just taking it all in. See, you can enjoy a little Disney without breaking the bank.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sounds of horror and the visiting angel

Sometimes events occur all at once. One moment things are calm and serene and the next complete chaos and madness erupts. That was my yesterday and this morning. Want the story? Well, here it is.

My mood and patience was fine and dandy up until my lunch hour at work. Then the inner walls of my happy little world started falling down. I usually eat at my desk and blog here or read a book during my lunch time. It's supposed to be my little break in the day. Still though, people transfer calls to me and come up to me for help or questions. "I know you are eating lunch but...."

It's not in my nature to be a bitch, but in my mind the expletives are vividly expressed. I've tried the diplomatic and "corporate" approach by stating that I was attempting to eat, please come back later. It works for a while, but never lasts.

Then later, after I picked up the children from my parents, I pulled into the drive and Bella began screaming in complete horror. I'm telling you, the sounds that came out of her mouth were more horrid than Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween". I immediately got her into the house before the neighbors called the police from all the noise and we then attempted to communicate with her and access the problem. She frantically pointed to her foot shaking and screaming and then after much sniffling and panting she said: "I got bit by a fire ant!". A fire ant? One little fire ant? Really? After a little TLC and stories of ant bites that both Chris and I had experienced as children, we finally got her calmed. Oy.

After that entertaining experience, my fun wasn't quite over yet for the evening. Kristjan decided it was a perfect time to go from pleasant to screaming tantrums without warning. He wanted to be held by me, which I happily obliged. A few minutes later when I attempted to put him down so that I could tackle dinner, the screaming resumed. He didn't want to eat, he didn't want to drink, just stomped and screamed. We placed him in his room until he calmed and then I thought it may be bath time. He usually really digs that. It wasn't the case, he continued to throw tantrums.

I grabbed a moment to update my status on Facebook. I commented on how my patience was withering fast. Twenty minutes later the doorbell rings and my good friend Kimberly was at the door with some fresh baked chocolate and craisin cookies. With her long blond hair blowing in the wind with a handful of cookies and a much needed hug, see seemed like an angel in the darkness for me. Her act of giving gave me that positive lift to get me through the night.

Chris and I poured a glass of wine, I completed dinner while Chris fed Kristjan his bottle (yes, still on it twice a day) and he finally calmed down enough to allow us to eat. After dinner we all enjoyed some of those delicious chocolate cookies and Kristjan finally settled down for bed.

Morning comes and with the roller coaster ready for more action. It began with me picking up Kristjan by his hands and wrists playfully to thinking I hurt him. He started crying while holding one arm and saying "Owie!". I began crying because I just hurt my child.

After dropping Bella off at daycare and realizing that Kristjan's arm was still bothering him I drove back home with him to pack a diaper bag before heading to the ER to check out his arm. Suddenly he started to use the arm freely without crying. He picked up some dinosaur toys and then proceeded to use that same arm to hoist himself up on the couch and said "Dinosaurs?".

I examine his arm again and realize that he's really fine. Back in the car we go; with his Spinosauraus in hand, back to daycare. He walks happily into the building before plopping down on his butt at the doorway of his classroom in a sudden screaming tantrum. I left him screaming and kicking in the arms of his teacher this morning. I'm sure he's fine now, but it kills me inside to see him like that. Days like this rehash that feeling of guilt of having to work instead of be home with my children while they are little.

I'll get through this and so will my children. I may have all my hair pulled out, but we'll get through this. In the grand scheme of things it's small in comparison. In the moment however, the screaming, the tantrums, the crying and the chaos takes its toll on me. Just as I'm sure it does every mother. I hope for a better evening. My angel can't come every time I need her.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A good deed or great marketing?

The grocery store is out to make money...period. But, I'll have to give them a tad of credit for once. Publix has these recipes that they feature each week, provide a recipe card, a pretty binder to collect your cards (there is a fee for the binder) and even a person there at the store making a sample dish to try. It's a great marketing strategy for them because most of the recipes feature specific brand name ingredients. I'm sure those brands pay top dollar to be featured in the recipes. Behind the counter where the employee is making the sample dish, they have all of the ingredients needed for the recipe coveniently available to just pick up and go.

I do have to give them some good marks for showcasing recipes to be made from home, even though at times processed items are used. At least there are more whole food ingredients being used which provides the customer with some practice and knowledge that goes beyond that box of Hamburger Helper or package of Hot Pockets.

Maybe with enough experience, someday a client may go beyond using a jar of "Acme" roasted red peppers and roast them on their own or use a spice combination from their pantry instead of a "taco seasoning" packet. In the long run; for perhaps a few, this strategy may hurt the store's profitability. I have hope for those few customers but know that when looking at the bigger picture they will continue to profit highly from their name brand exposures.

Every now and then a feature recipe catches my attention. This recipe was featured about a year ago and was featured again this weekend. I had made it before and we all liked it. Why not make it again? I especially love the cannellini beans, garlic, basil and roasted red pepper side dish. I could eat those beans alone.
This recipe is called Tuscan Style Chicken with Italian Sauteed Beans. It's very easy to make and is comprised of whole ingredients which I like. I do change out the cheese. The recipe calls for mozzarella and I use goat cheese. I also seem to use more white wine with the beans than the 1/4 cup it calls for. I let them simmer longer while I'm preparing the chicken.

One day I may actually invest in their cute little binder and gather up those recipe cards that look appealing. I do have a confession though. I did end up using a jar of roasted red peppers for this dish. I didn't make it to my produce market and wasn't going to spend $4.99 a pound on grocery store red bell peppers from South America. Scandalous!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another use for leftover pasta

Friday after work I was pretty bushed and couldn't think of a restaurant in town to pick up dinner. Honestly, the restaurants we have in our town are either chain restaurants with high calorie meals, all fried food buffets or fast food joints. None of which appeal to me. With no healthy option to be found, it's best to just eat at home. Which we do 99.9% of the time. But you know...there are times believe it or not, when I'm not in the mood to cook!
After giving up on my food hunt, I figured it would be best to clean out the frig of any leftovers before grocery shopping anyway. I had some leftover cacio e pepe and thought a minute. I know! Pasta patties or pasta crisps! Whatever we should call it, they turned out great! I mixed my leftover pasta with 2 eggs, 1 egg white, some chopped walnuts, chopped sun dried tomatoes and chopped chives. I then divided amounts on my skillet and turned them once browned. Turned out great! I made some seared eggplant, tomato and goat cheese sandwiches to go with it. I didn't get a night off, but I ended up loving dinner anyway.

My little ones enjoying a breezy afternoon.

Not good with rituals

A while back I said that every Sunday would be pizza night. It's not always the case. Things happen and it just don't get to make them each Sunday consecutively. So to take the pressure off myself, I'll just make pizzas if time or schedules permits. How's that? Yes, that feels so much better.
Chris's favorite: Carmelized onion, goat cheese and mushrooms.
Eggs, eggplant, pepper jack cheese, soy sausage and olives.

The cheese pizza for the kids.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Roman pasta

Found this Roman pasta recipe called Cacio e Pepe thanks to A Cup of Jo the other day and knew I had to try it right away. It's a super easy dish where you mix together spaghetti, Pecorino Romano, a little pasta water and lots of cracked black pepper. I'll have to make it for mom, she absolutely loves black pepper. This dish is for her. The pasta was quite good and Chris and I were surprised that so much flavor came from just three ingredients.

Bella helped me make the meatballs. We mixed together 1 pound ground turkey, 1 small onion chopped, 1 egg, 1/4 cup chopped bacon, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 3 cloves garlic minced, 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning and 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs.

Rolled them up and baked them at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes then added them to a pot with about a cup of organic beef broth and simmered another 20 minutes. I initially had the lid on so that they could braise a bit and get extra moist, then I removed the lid so the sauce could reduce a bit.


Just a little note on a little experience I had this morning on the way to daycare around 6:15 a.m. while sitting at a traffic light facing east. The light was taking forever, but I didn't mind. I was completely contented watching the beautiful sunrise. I've always loved the sunrise, it seems much more quiet and peaceful than sunset.

There was a slight mist on the little valley below and the layers of clouds reflected such brilliant colors. I sat there and looked upon the whole landscape, realizing how large this picturesque scene was and its complete beauty. I thought, "How many people just do their thing, and not see this and how many times have I done so as well?" I told myself to take it all in and never forget while promising to always appreciate what is always sitting right there in front of me. Whether it be the vastness and grandeur of the beautiful sky or the little giggles of my children playing in the tub, it's all here to be experienced and cherished. Be present, look and listen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Better in threes

Last night I created for the first time a trilogy of elements. The asparagus were a bit tart (from cooking in the champagne), the sweet potato was; well, sweet and the chicken had the saltiness. If I tried to just eat the asparagus alone, I was put off by the tartness and the chicken alone was a bit salty. However, when I made sure to get a little of each on my fork, a wonderful fusion of flavor emerged.

Chris said to me that it reminded him of when we watch Iron Chef and the chef instructs the judges to make sure to dab this along with that to taste the item together instead of separately.

I still had some leftover champagne and knew I had to make another sauce. It was one of those throw together meals that ended up turning out beautifully. I have to write it down before it's forgotten forever.

Herbed chicken with baked sweet potato and asparagus cooked in champagne reduction

  • 1 pound chicken breasts halved
  • 4 sweet potatoes well washed
  • 1 pound asparagus with ends removed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Herbs De Provence
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 cups champagne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. You will be baking your potatoes until they are soft in the center - about an hour. Season your chicken on both sides with the garam masala, oregano, Herbs De Provence, Cajun seasoning and garlic powder. Sear chicken on both sides until browned. Move to plate and cover with foil. In the same skillet add 1/2 cup of the champagne and deglaze the pan. Add the asparagus and the remaining champagne and cook until liquid is reduced about half and the asparagus is tender. You may have to add more champagne if the asparagus is not tender enough and the liquid is reducing too much.

Plate with baked potato sliced open with asparagus on top, served with a chicken breast with sauce poured on top.

I am planning on taking some photography classes soon. I am really interested in learning more about my camera and using it properly. I am sure I am missing out on some great photos. This will also hopefully aid in making my food pictures look a little more appetizing. That, or I will have to get a mini studio going with proper lighting as Chris tends to tease me about when I'm snapping photos in the kitchen. I see some beautiful captures of food online and from other blogs. I can't imagine everyone has a studio with controlled lighting. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling the majority of it is user error on my part with my camera.

Correction: The camera I got Chris for Christmas that I have basically confiscated from him ever since I took my first photo and realized how much I loved to use it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some tummy clean up

I try and eat healthy as much as possible, but at times I just fall off the wagon with blunt force. I'll stop by a Greek restaurant for lunch and grab a Gyro filled with meat and tzatziki sauce or have a giant grilled Reuben at my favorite German spot.

Even having too much red meat or meat in general makes me feel bad about my diet. Not just because of my cholesterol, but because of my conscience regarding animal welfare. Getting certified humane, antibiotic free, vegetarian fed, hormone free meats in restaurant fare in my neck of the woods is few and far between. My solution to feeling down about my recent eating escapades is a period of cleansing foods. The key here is to stay on these foods and not stray. Sure, that's it.

Quinoa is a super food in my book and I love the taste and texture. It contains a balanced set of essential amino acids which makes it a complete protein source. It's also a great source of dietary fiber and is high in magnesium and iron.

Sauteed vegetables with tofu sausage and red quinoa

  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 small yellow squash cut in 1 inch chunks
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1 orange bell pepper chopped about 1 inch
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts quartered or halved (depending on size)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 large pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 package "Gimmie Lean" soy sausage

In a large pan with a little oil cook sausage breaking it up until browned. Transfer to plate. In same skillet, saute shallots, peppers and brussel sprouts with a dash more oil. Meanwhile in a small pot add the water to the quinoa and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Once the brussel sprouts have browned a bit, add soy sauce, crushed red pepper and broth.

Once the liquid in the skillet has reduced by almost a half, add the squash and the cooked sausage. Simmer another 5 minutes. Serve on top of cooked quinoa, sprinkle cilantro on top.

Gimmie Lean can be found in most grocery stores. To me, it tastes just like Jimmy Dean! I'll have to do a taste test one day. Not sure if I could get my co-workers to oblige to such a challenge. None of them would touch a piece of tofu if you paid them.

Change in atmosphere

I found a way to add a little bit of relaxation into the house, while still remaining functional and not taking too much time. That is, I can still get a shower in, while not using up all the time it takes to take that relaxing bath and still feel relaxed in the process. Besides, the tub in the kid's bathroom is so shallow and short, I am practically in the fetal position while trying to bathe. Not a very relaxing pose.

Our shower has a window on one side (frosted of course) and a large clear glass window on the other (shown here). I've always felt a bit shy when showering at night because I know the bright light coming through the glass is reflecting my upper torso through the window outside. One night I just lit one candle and thought it may be enough to shower and still feel some sort of privacy. I loved the calm dim light verses the blare of the regular bathroom lighting.

The next night, I grabbed 3 candles that my mom gave me, lined them up on the shower window sill and really got into relaxation mode. It's my little getaway from the hustle and bustle of my crazy household. Just a few minutes of calm and peace helps me be a nicer mommy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Heidi, the medieval princess and the happy skeleton

Getting ready to venture out and see what excitement awaits.
The neighborhood clan: the devil, a gorilla man, a lovely senorita, one of the Mario brothers and a beautiful medieval princess.

Kristjan stayed indoors to hand out candy. He really digs that. I think next year, we'll have him run about and join in on the fun.

November is here and I am officially in the holiday mood. Time to gather those wonderful fall and winter recipes, experiment with Thanksgiving sides and desserts and then prepare for Christmas. The food, the decorating, the planning, the gifts. Even though it will be super tight this year, I still want it to be a magical time.

I took my mom out to visit a mall in town we both hadn't been to yet. This mall had plenty of wonderful stores. Gucci, Luis Vuitton, Chanel, Tiffany etc. Even though I couldn't buy anything, I still went in and looked at all the lovely items and beautifully made clothes. Luckily looking and dreaming are still free.

We did find a store called Zara which mom had shopped at while visiting in Malta. This store is all throughout the globe and carries the latest European fashion at very reasonable prices. We were surprised and delighted to find one near home. I swear we looked at almost every item. They were very nicely made, most coats and vests were tailored, (which I completely adore) and they were classic looks that can work with many variations. I fell in love with the store. What I loved more was that they had prices that were affordable.

After a wonderful time window shopping we went by a local Irish pub for some crispy fish and chips and I enjoyed a creamy Guinness on tap. What a wonderful day.