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Friday, December 31, 2010

Classic 2010

This little benign video pretty much summerizes the past year for me.  Enjoying the sweet babyness of Charlotte, her smiles and coo's and sunny personality, and just trying to keep up with Sam as he gets more active and into things.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

And Yet

I have been berating myself the past few days.

For dropping the ball on some things, mainly gift related.
For putting too much on my plate.
Foregoing parenting for baking/shopping/errands/wrapping/cleaning/making lists of what to bring/etc.
For allowing myself to succumb to the stress I'm feeling, reacting with crabbiness and a lack of patience, especially to Sam.
Resenting Scott at times, because it doesn't seem fair that he just gets to "show up" to the holidays.  (And yet knowing he works hard all day, and that I don't want or expect him to take on buying and wrapping gifts for everyone.)  I'm irrational about it.
Not enjoying enough moments in the last month with my children, day to day.  I lost track today of how many times Sam asked me today to, "come play with me, Mom."  I told him I would, "in a second, Buddy.  I have to finish making the potatoes for tomorrow."  And then, "after I clean up."  And then I forgot.

And yet, and yet there have been great moments since the beginning of the month too.  A thoughtful Vesper's service at Moody on the 19th, focusing on our unfAithfulness towards God, our intense need for Him, our rejection of Him.  And yet, He came.

Moments spent in the city, eating yummy food, watching my children's faces light up, creating new memories and traditions all our own.

A two hour conversation by the fire one afternoon with Rebekah recently, in town for a few days.  A precious time that kickstarted my journey back towards a more grounded Christmas.

Anticipating the time spent with family tomorrow and Saturday, family that we don't get to see nearly often enough.  Pouring into those relationships and friendships and hoping it will be enough to tide us over until the next time.

Lighting the advent wreath at home each night at dinner, hearing Sam explain in his piping voice, with a little lisp, what each candle is for.

I need accountability.  Next fall, I am going to try and write out what our true priorities are from November-December, so they don't get buried in the onslaught of my thoughtlessly added "responsibilities" and urgency to have things just like they always were.  Things change.  Children come.  People change.  Needs change.  None of this is even ABOUT what we eat (it kills something inside me to admit that), what we give each other, how we decorate or how clean our house is.

God becoming man,
Infinity bound,
Humbling Himself,
for me.

I read something this week that stopped me in my tracks, it took me off the hamster wheel and forced me to take a deep breath and examine myself.  An email from a woman who recently lost her husband, now a single mother to two small boys, as she processed her upcoming first Christmas alone, without him.

"I hope in this season Christ is wooing you.  That you hear a soft, calming voice amidst the chaos.  That you are able to breathe in the life He offers, and let all of the other stuff fade into the background of the beautiful lights.  That you can believe God's plan is good....To me, that makes all the other stuff tolerable.  It allows me to truly have joy this Christmas, and to still feel the wonder of a child."

Kicking off Christmas-Our First Family Vacation

Last weekend the four of us spent the night at the fabulous Trump Hotel downtown Chicago.  A few months ago I was filled with the desire to carve out a little time for our immediate family to be alone, just us, and see alittle of the city at the same time.  The internet was helpful in finding a dirt cheap rate on one night, and we figured out ahead of time where we wanted to park, and eat (always of utmost importance to me).

Timing things around the kid's naps was tricky, but the memories and time away were so worth the effort it took to pack and get there.  We left our house in the late morning and stopped first at the Macy's (it physically hurts me to say the store's name, I am still bitter about the Marshall Field's sell out) on State to shop for an ornament to help represent 2010.  No luck, even after scouring seven floors.  We did get to visit the three story Christmas tree in the Walnut Room, where I reminisced about eating pancakes with my cousins year after year until we got too old to want to crawl out of bed at 5 am to be the first ones in line for breakfast on a cold Saturday morning.
 Next was lunch at Rick Bayless's Frontera Fresco, also on the Seventh Floor of Macy's.  We got there right before the lunch rush, and only had to wait in line 10 minutes.  You pay at the cash register and stand there with your tray, watching the line cooks prepare your food.  The prices are unbeatable, $7 for two pulled pork tacos with pickled onion, fresh house made cheese and avocado, $4 for chips and fresh guac, a whole line of freshly squeezed sparkling juices (raspberry prickly pear, mango lime) and a mind boggling $3.50 for a VAT sized bowl of tortilla soup, $2 extra for chicken in it.  My favorite thing however was the corn and chevre tamale.  So so good.  I think all four of us ate to the gut-busting level for $32.  Not bad for Frontera Grill food.
 After lunch it was nearing Charlotte's naptime, so we drove a few blocks north and checked into our hotel room.  I was stunned to see the size of our room, truly one of the biggest I've ever seen in the city.  It even had it's own kitchenette, complete with silverware, cups, fridge and dishwasher.  Over the top.

We called down to request a pack and play, and within 5 minutes there was a knock on the door.  The guy brought up a beautiful wooden crib, filled with a mini terry cloth bathrobe, mini slippers, rubber ducks and bath toys, baby toiletries AND a diaper genie.  Seriously.  This hotel is so kid friendly, I'd almost leave my children there.
Charlotte fed and rolled around in her crib for an hour while I played in the gorgeous bathroom.  Scott took Sam down to the 14th floor to explore the pool and the $15,000 Kohler Shower in the lockeroom.  Not even kidding, it had somewhere around 10 spigots, changing colored lights and music.  It kept Sam busy for 45 minutes, chasing balls around in there and playing with the bath products.  They came upstairs and he fell sound asleep for an hour.
  Dinner was next.  Call us crazy, but we brought the kids to Ovengrinder's, notorious for no reservations, multiple hour waits, zero room for strollers and cash only.  But the food!!  The food!  We went early, around 4:45, and had no wait.  Scott found street parking, Charlotte's car seat propped up in the booth and Sam was happy to cozy up next to me in the corner, playing with my phone.  He ate the black olives off the salad, that was it.  Charlotte ate everything.  I think she liked it, judging by her smile, don't you think?

 After dinner, originally we were going to walk over to Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo.  However, the 10 degree temps and tired kids led us to decide otherwise.  We drove by it, sighed at how cool it looked and pulled up in front of Fox and Obel where I ran in to buy cookies, chocolate Oberweis milk bottles and gummy bears for our movie.  Santa had delivered a wrapped copy of Toy Story 3 to our hotel room for Sam, it was all he wanted to do/see after he opened it.  "Sam, do you want to go swimming?"  "No, can I watch Toy Story 3?"  "Sam, let's go to the zoo and see the animals!"  "Can we go back to our sleepover room and watch Toy Story 3?"  Remind me next time to not let him open something until right before he can enjoy it.  Stupid.

We got back to the hotel around 6:30 pm, ready to get cozy, and found these trays of hand crafted treats for the kids.  Are you kidding me?  Is that Sam's name scripted in chocolate??  Who are these people?  It was the cutest thing ever, I think I took more pictures of these bedtime treats then I did of our family.  So impressive and fun.

Tub time next, and after putting Charlotte down in her crib, where she peered at us through the slats for 90 minutes, we all cuddled up into one of the queen sized, incredibly cozy, covered-in-inches-of-down beds, surrounded ourselves with gummy's and cookies, and watched the movie.  Looking around at my little family, at Sam's rosy hot cheeks and the look of utter contentment on Scott's face, I felt happier then I think I've ever felt, aside from my wedding day and the births of our two children.  Such joy, to have it be just us, something we've never experienced before.  Lights out at 9:15pm and all's well.

Until 1:15 am when I awoke with a start and couldn't for the life of me fall back asleep.  Why is that?  Is it because you're in an unfamiliar place?  My children were sound asleep, the bed was comfy, I had no good reason.  Oh well, I laid there until 6 am when I couldn't take it anymore and whispered to Scott that it was my turn to enjoy the $15,000 Kohler Shower.  

60 minutes of pure joy, I think that was the most pampered I've ever felt in my life.  Aloe face mask on in the steam room?  Check.  Wash it off in the shower?  Check.  Hang out in the sauna?  Check.  Lovely exfoliating body scrub in the shower?  Check.  Little wooden bowl of extravagant body butter to smear on last?  Check.  And it was all "free!"  Well, included in the cost of the room at least.  People, you need to go to this hotel, Orbitz, Priceline, however you do it, GO THERE.

Kids were up when I got back so we dressed and headed out to breakfast at our favorite spot again, Fox and Obel.  We always make a point to stroll by their famous meat section, one of the few places in town that the retail person can buy prime, dry aged beef.  The butcher had a sense of humor today, someone took the time to sculpt a pig's head out of their house made sausage.  Ha. ha.  French toast, caramel lattes, double baked almond croissants and whoops, my pants suddenly felt tight and it was only 8:45 a.m.

Sam and I headed out into the cold, quiet city that Saturday morning, looking for something to do while Charlotte took her morning nap in the room, Scott reading the Wall Street Journal beside her.  Not much is open before 9 am in the Loop on a Saturday.  Borders was open though, and after a six block freezing walk where my 36 lb. toddler made me carry him most of the way (helping to burn off a croissant, hopefully), we holed up on the 2nd floor in the Children's section, reading books, playing with toys, and chasing each other through the empty store.

We waved at the Channel 7 News anchormen and women on the way back, one of the cameramen turned around and pointed to the ground where Sam had lost his mitten.  Maybe that's why my poor kid was so cold.  Oh well, he survived.

We packed it up, said goodbye to all the doormen who called to us by name and begged Sam for high fives, chose an ugly, bright green glass ornament with Donald Trump's name all over it to remember the trip by and headed home.

I told Charlotte not to get used to the high life, but she didn't listen to me.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tea Party

Another 5:45 am wake up call a few weeks ago.

 "Mom, I made you a tea party!"

I groggily head up to our third floor playroom and come across this spread.

"Sit down Mom, have some tea!"
Yawn.  I rub my eyes. "What kind should I have, Buddy?"

"Chocolate Mawrshmallow."

Chocolate marshmallow it is, Sam.

What can I say, he's a renaissance man.
Someday he'll be the complete package for a lucky lady.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

First Snow Day

We got our first official snowfall of the winter on Saturday, gorgeous fluffy white flakes that covered the trees and yard, much to our delight.

Sam could hardly get through his breakfast before wanting to don all the gear and roll in the snow like a puppy.  Charlotte, unfortunately, had to observe from the inside while I made carmelized nuts, rosemary parmesan crackers and salty sweet brownies for a great party that evening.

The peach fuzz of her hair was cracking me up, just floating there in the shadows.

"Hellllooo?  Helllooo?  Anyone remember me?"

"Rats.  Now what do I do?"

Today at Breakfast

Sam:  "I think I have a baby in my tummy."  He then proceeds to lift his shirt, peering down at his belly.
Me: "I don't think so buddy."
Sam: "Can boys have babies?"
Me: "Nope, only girls have babies."

Semi long pause.  The sound of pancakes being chewed.

Sam: "I want twenty-FIVE babies!"
Me: "Wait, you want to be a BROTHER to twenty-five babies or a DADDY to twenty-five babies?"
Sam: "Da big brodder."
Me: "Gee buddy, I don't know if we have room for twenty-five babies; where would they all sleep?"


Sam: "Well in da crib!"
Me: "Aw honey, we can't fit twenty five babies in Charlotte's crib!"

Another pause.

Sam: "We can stack them!"

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Thanks Sophie!

My friend Sophie took some great pictures of our family last month, here are a few of my favorites:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

New Favorite Discoveries

...this year.  The following items have brought my family and I (as well as a few friends) much joy.  I thought I'd make a list to share with some others.  Credit goes to Alison Chino for the FANTASTIC recommendation of item #1.

1. Slugs and Bugs Lullabies CD
Don't question this, just buy it if you have children under the age of 12 in your home.  I cannot think of another music CD where I both laughed out loud, spitting my coffee all over the car, (Tractor, Tractor; Beans) and cried with a lump in my throat (Hey Beautiful Girl) from the same record.  Alison says it's her favorite baby gift.  Be forewarned, it is now mine as well.
They're coming out with a Christmas CD this year too...

2. Smitten Kitchen's Apple and Cheddar scones
Need I say more?  Made them on Monday, froze them shaped, in dough form, then baked them right before Bible Study on Thursday morning.  Awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I did not eat three.

3. And another food item of Smitten Kitchen's, her Sour Cream Cheddar Biscuits and the Beef Chili that went with them.  I diced the carrots small, how she recommends, and added ketchup to taste.  Added about a 1/4 cup of sugar to the biscuits, because we like things sweet in our house.

4. Stacey Kent's music.
Got her name from our fabulous friend Anthony, who is in tune with so much more pop culture and great music then I am.  She is my favorite artist discovery of this year, and we've bought three albums.  Listen to Ice Hotel on her Breakfast Tram one, it reminds me of a lighter, more cool and lyrical-french, Diana Krall.  If you like the sound and feel of Diana Krall, you will love Stacey Kent.

5. Bearpaw Boots for kids.
Thanks to my friend Katie P, I bought these boots for Sam this year and spent about half as much as what Ugg boots would have cost us.  They have a nice rugged sole, great for traipsing over ice and through Chicago snow, and are made of sheepskin, just like Uggs.

6. Intelligentsia's Black Cat Espresso Coffee Beans
Have I written about these coffee beans before?  I feel like I have.  They are a local Chicago roaster, and Rick Bayless uses these beans for making the espresso in his restaurants, Frontera and XOCO.  I love them as well, and it has been a saving grace on many a morning here, when getting in the car and driving to Starbucks (and shelling out $3.78 for a latte) is not an option.  I buy them at Whole Foods.

7. "Baked" Cookbook
This fabulous little bakery in Brooklyn came out with their first cookbook in 2008 and just released their second one this year, which is on my Christmas list.  (Ahem, Scott.)  I've noticed that this cookbook is the first one I've reached for this year when needing to make a dessert or breakfast goody.  Items that I could not live without, having now tasted them: the Baked Brownie, their chocolate chip cookie, Sweet and Salty Cake, and the Sour Cream Coffee Cake with chocolate cinnamon swirl.  Amazon sells it for $19.77 right now.

8. Lastly, (completely unrelated to music, food or clothing) How GREAT Clean Baby Peach-Fuzz Smells in the Sunshine.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Video from Halloween

For the five of you who might care, here's a video from the kiddos on the Friday before Halloween.  It involves words like "poop,"  "cow pies," and "moo."  And rolling babies.

I'm sorry for the bumpy camera work and the annoying voice over.  Hope it's worth it.

The Farmer in the Dell and his Cow

Here are our family's obligatory Halloween photos.  Sam was an "O'ganic day-wry farmer" and Charlotte was his cow.  And no, they did not have any choice in the matter.  Sam wanted to be Spiderman when he heard that there were four other spidermen in his preschool class, but I had his entire costume around our house and found Charlotte's at Costco for $13.  So they paid homage to agriculture this year.

I'm especially proud of the homemade decals taped to Charlotte's belly and Sam's hat.

Sam, I promise, you can be whatever you want (within reason) next year.  Thank you for indulging me.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

8 months

Our little Charlotte is 8 months old.  I finally had time to get some pictures of her Sunday afternoon, by myself on our bed.  Thankfully she has the sparkling blue eyes of her father, and her great-grandfather's endless eyelashes.  Oh how I wonder who she will be someday.

For now, I am content with my joyful, giggly, squirmy baby who just finally popped her two bottom teeth and learned to clap this week.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Boys Go "Camping"

So all summer Scott has been wanting to "sleep in the backyard" with Sam.  It finally happened last Friday night, when the temperature dropped to a low of 39 degrees that night.

The evening commenced with a trip to Walgreens for s'mores ingredients.  All of this was conceived and executed by Scott, by the way.  The boys made a fire and roasted marshmallows.  Sam decided he just wanted to leave his on his stick, unroasted, and just look at it.  Not sure where he gets that.  After much dancing around the fire, stick in hand, Sam asked to go inside and watch a movie.  Not much to do in the backyard after it gets dark, evidently.  So, sandwiched between us, he happily watched the 92nd showing of The Incredibles.

And then, after a cozy bath, be-jammied and wool-socked, Sam and Scott headed out into the night.  The tent we received as a wedding gift almost 8 years ago finally had its virgin voyage.  And much to both our surprise, our son slept the best he has in months, OUTSIDE in near freezing weather.  He didn't move until 6:45 am, and popped up, happy as a clam.

I guess that's the key, keep the house at 45 degrees at night and he'll begin to sleep past 5 am.

I, on the other hand, woke every hour that night, looked at the clock, wondered if they were cold and would come in any minute.

And Charlotte slept like a baby.  Wait a second, she is a baby.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking a Sick Day

Sam woke up at 2:30 am this morning, projectile vomiting all over his bed and pillows.  Scott took the first shift of changing and rinsing and soaking and wiping down.

I took the next three.  And so on.  Evidently the stomach flu is making its way around our community and it was our turn to take it for a spin.  To put a kicker in it all, our gas line has been turned off since yesterday so there's no hot water for laundry or showers and the temperature in the house is edging down towards 65 degrees.  Nicor picked a wonderful week to dig a massive hole in our front yard to replace some pipes.

Will this bug plow through the entire family?  Oh I am feverishly hoping not, selfishly I have a wedding to play for on Saturday, and a church service to do on Sunday.  A big red bucket next to the piano bench will look a little out of place.

It's so hard to think rationally in the middle of the night, isn't it?  I can't even think of what to do first--clean him up?  Find clean sheets?  Skip the sheets and get towels?  How do you get throw up out of a down comforter?  You just feel so bad for the Little Buddy, he hasn't been sick in ages and has no idea what is happening to him.

And then after emailing my Bible Study group (we were supposed to meet here this morning over granola bars and tarte tatin), I got so many messages back filled with empathy and encouragement and wonderful perspective that it made me feel "full" for the day.  A phone conversation with my mom, who offered to go to the store.  Another one with my sister-in-law, who shared some practical empathetic wisdom.  It made me feel like I can do this, despite my greasy hair and the piles of stinking laundry stacking up, that we are loved and are not alone.  One other friend shared that her personal view of her own hard sick days was that it was God's way of divinely appointing her a "home day."  A day for me too, to physically minister to my children in a very tangible, very real way.

To me, this is the meaning of community, of being in a small group that supports and loves and serves, no matter what.

Friday, October 08, 2010

It's a Pumpkin Head

We had a cold family outing last Sunday at Medinah's Fall Fest.  The kids did pretty well, considering the high for the day was a chilly 47 degrees and the sun was well on it's way down by the time we got there.  The reptile man made a showing, and there was a hayride and pumpkin patch that we somehow missed in the craziness.  Oh well, something for next year.

Typical Family Photo session: one child looking at the other child squirming and screaming and trying to run away.

Charlotte's first experience with face painting.

The Hay Pit!

The look on Sam's face here is completely hereditary, I'm afraid I make the same face as I dive facefirst into a plate of my favorite dessert.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Apple Bread

I've had two requests for this recipe this week, and only felt like typing it up once, so I'll post it here.  This apple bread is DELICIOUS, and freezes really well.  I made a loaf the morning of our bible study and froze the second one... defrosted it, then reheated it the oven at 350 degrees until warmed through, no one knew the difference at our small group the following Tuesday.

Apple Bread
4 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks, about 1/2 inch-1 inch sized
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. good cinnamon
3 cups all purpose flour

For the topping:
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, cool but not hard

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray two 9 inch loaf pans with Pam.  In your mixing bowl, beat the 4 eggs until fluffy.  Add the oil, vanilla and sugar, beat until combined.  In a smaller bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, soda, salt and cinnamon, set aside.  Peel and chop all the apples.  Then, add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, mixing on low just until combined.  Fold in the apples by hand to keep the chunks intact.  Divide the mixture evenly into two pans.

To prepare the topping, combine all the ingredients in one bowl (to save on dishes, just use the same one that the dry ingredients were in), squeezing the butter through the flour etc. until it is combined, using your clean fingers (fastest) or a fork (neatest :).  Sprinkle the topping over the batter evenly in both pans.

Bake for about 1 hour on the center rack, rotating once.  Bread should feel fairly firm when touched in the middle.  Let cool and then remove from the pans.  It is easiest to slice when cool, but so hard to wait...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Chewing on This Today

I came across this little poem by Thomas Browne and just loved it--

"If thou could'st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, 'This is not dead,'
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, 'This is enow
Unto itself--'twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.'"

I'm not sure what it was about this poem that stopped me in my tracks today, maybe the idea of not leaving any room for God in the midst of the busyness and trappings of my life.

It was an early start to the day, Mr. Sam decided to wake up at 4:20 am and never fell back asleep.  To borrow a term from my dear friend Rebekah, "Mommy Monster" raises her ugly head and growls at anyone and everyone at that hour.  I hate starting off that way, crabby and mean, and it felt good to stop and mull this over.

To push away the self, to leave room to be filled with the gifts God has promised us:

That is what I need to be working toward, leaving room for Him to sweep through, to come and fill up all my holes and cracks, giving me joy for the day.

Friday, October 01, 2010

FINALLY! A Market of Our Own!

Oh the irony.

The French company Bensidoun has FINALLY opened up a year long, indoor french market, open Monday-Saturday, located right under the tracks of the Metra lines coming into the city.

The market is literally right across the street from our old condo in the city.  I am so bitter.  And cannot wait to check it out the next time I get a day downtown.

If anyone gets there first, let me know if it's as great as it looks on the website?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

So almost every Wednesday night I end up making our family buttermilk pancakes for dinner.  We are in luck that every family member loves them, and Scott has no problems with "brinner," or "breakfast-for-dinner."

The absolute BEST recipe I've ever come across is Martha Stewart's classic buttermilk pancakes.  I've upped the sugar a tad, so they taste really good just on their own.  We change it up by adding dried cherries and granola (thanks Grace and Mrs. DG!), frozen blueberries, or Sam's favorite and constant request, Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  If he's really really lucky he'll receive a squirt of whipped cream on top too.  Nice dinner, huh.  Not a lot of protein, but it tastes so good, so comforting and predictable on a busy Wednesday night when I'm out the door for rehearsal every week at 6:30 pm.

If you've never tried making pancakes from scratch, try it at least once.  I think you'll be converted, the real buttermilk makes a massive difference.  It is also worth noting that seeking out the Farmer's Creamery brand of buttermilk is also worth the minor extra expense.  Whole Foods carries it.

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 cup white sugar
4 TB. butter, melt and cooled slightly
2 eggs
3 cups real buttermilk (Farmer's Creamery is a great one to try)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the 3 cups buttermilk, melted butter and eggs.  Whisk together JUST until barely mixed, a lumpy batter helps keep the pancakes light and fluffy.

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees.  Place an ovenproof plate on the top shelf.

Heat a non stick pan or griddle over medium heat.  Melt another tsp. of butter over the griddle and wipe the extra off with a paper towel.  When the griddle is hot but not smoking, scoop batter out with a 1/3 measuring cup, it keeps them a manageable size for flipping.  Cook on the first side until the pancake is covered in bubbles and browned nicely.  Flip.  Put the pancakes in the oven to keep them warm until ready to serve.

The leftovers can be cooled to room temperature and then frozen.  They reheat great in the oven or microwave for breakfast later in the week.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What to do, what to do

So I spent two days making the beef and barley soup from Rick Tramonto's new cookbook, Steak with Friends.  And it is life changingly good.  But little did I know who would end up being it's biggest fan....Charlotte the seven month old.

Shocking, horrifying, but I am at my wits' end.  The child refuses to eat baby food.  She wants what WE are eating and fusses and strains and pulls for what is on my plate and in my bowl.

So tonight she ate almost 6 ounces of short ribs and carrots and barley.

And she won't stop burping the smell of veal stock in my face.

Oh child, what will we do with you?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today I turned 33 years old.  As old as Jesus was when He died, I like to say.  Funny heh heh, kind of.

Didn't have much in the way of expectations for this birthday, I must say.  The older you get, the less of a big deal they are, don't you think?

But THIS year.

BUT this year, I feel unbelievably, unexpectedly loved.

I won't go into a ton of details, but there are moments that stand out in my mind, frozen like treasured paintings:

  • a 6 am double hug from my husband and warm sleepy three year old, piping "happy birthday" slightly off key, carrying in a little tray with candles and a toasted bagel; 
  • the phone ringing at 7 am, my mother on the other end telling me I was worth every one of the THIRTY SIX HOURS of labor she went through, to no avail when they gave her a C-section; 
  • two phone conversations with friends who are far away, bringing back memories of birthdays we've spent together in years past; 
  • the surprise delivery of the Most. Thoughtful. Generous. Basketful of Love I could have ever comprehended; 
  • treats and cards in the mail; 
  • a home delivered lunch from Honey with a precious friend who spoon-fed Charlotte her cereal so I could eat my cupcake in peace, and the list goes on.  

These years are so fleeting, the ones where my babies are young and we sit on a blanket in the grass of our backyard, waiting for Scott to come home from work, passing time pretending we're on a raft in the ocean, or playing "fetch" with one of Sam's 10,000 balls.

There are moments that are hard, like today when Sam stood by my head at 4:50 am, sniffing and telling me he has "poops in my pants."  The thought "Oh why couldn't I please sleep in just this one day?" crosses my mind fleetingly, and then I'm up and out of bed with him, and the baby is fussing wanting to be fed and it all feels so tiring.

But then.  Scott delivers with a Starbucks family date on a work day, and all this happens, and I feel so loved it's indescribable.

Thank you to all of you who reached out to me today, you've created a pool of refreshment and joy and utter contentment in my heart that will last many, many, many 4:50 am mornings to come.

Thank you for being a blessing to me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffeecake and Vanilla Chai Lattes last Thursday (oh, and Jesus too)

Don't you wish you were in our Women's Bible Study? It truly is a unique group of women, all from different backgrounds and interests. Over the past four years each of the eleven have become a dear and integral part of the group, I cannot imagine doing life without them.

Here's a treat I made last week that seemed to go over well. Also known as "Grandpa's Favorite," which is saying something because let me tell you, Grandma is quite the baker.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffeecake

1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda

2 sticks cool (not too hard) butter
2 cups flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. table salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup golden raisins
(And yes, you read that right. No eggs!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 square pan. Combine the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl, set aside. Combine flour, sugar, salt and butter in your mixing bowl, give it a few turns with the mixer until it resembles the beginnings of a pie crust, nice and crumbly. Reserve half the flour mixture for the crumble topping. Add the spices and sour cream mix into the mixing bowl. Combine well, stir in raisins. Place in prepared pan, sprinkle the reserved crumble topping evenly over coffeecake. Bake 30-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

As an added touch, which I only just now realized I completely forgot, you can drizzle an easy frosting over it while it's still warm. (About 1 cup powdered sugar and a few TB. milk mixed evenly together.) It was still great without it.

Vanilla Chai Lattes for 4 people

2 & 1/4 cups TAZO chai tea concentrate (they use it at Starbucks, you can get three boxes for $7 at Costco)
2 cups your favorite milk, I used skim, 2% would be better
2 TB. Monin Vanilla Syrup (can be found at specialty food shops, like Fox and Obel and Amazon)

Heat chai tea mix, milk and syrup together in a sauce pan or microwave in a pyrex bowl. If you have a steamer, steam cups of the chai to order for your lucky friends, and top the foam with a light spray of good cinnamon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gale Gand's Chocoblock Chocolate Cake with Warm Macademia Nut Caramel

Yup, you read that right. In fact, take a second and re-read the title of this heartdroppingly FABULOUS dessert. Are you salivating yet? Now go buy yourself some topshelf cocoa powder and make this cake for your loved ones! If you want to see a better picture of it, cut into cute little rounds, check out the cover of her cook book, Just A Bite.

So nine years ago, on a momentous and gorgeous evening in July downtown Chicago, Scott joined me for a work dinner at the unbelievable restaurant, Tru, where Gale was/is the pastry chef and partner. It was our first "date," of sorts, and we both had nervous tingles and sparks that were difficult to suppress in front of my two male clients that sat with us. I can remember not wanting the evening to end, and we headed out into the night together after a mindblowing meal, not to return home until close to 4 in the morning. As Nate, one of Scott's four roommates and a close friend said, "I don't know what exactly is going on here, but I highly condone it."

Six months later we were engaged. Eight years later we have two kids and I am still obessessed with Gale Gand. She is my favorite pastry chef, and after meeting her twice at two cooking classes, I can attest that she is a lovely person as well.

Here to date, is my favorite recipe, the only change being a few grinds of sea salt into the caramel sauce.

For the Cake:
3 cups sugar
2 & 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 & 1/8 cups cocoa powder, preferably Dutch (Valhrona is pretty much the best, Penzey's is great too)
2 & 1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 & 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 & 1/2 tsp. table salt
3 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 TB. pure vanilla extract (Niesen-Massey is awesome, you can buy a massive bottle of it for cheap here.)
1 & 1/2 cups very hot water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a half sheet pan (also called a jelly roll pan) and line the bottom with parchement or wax paper.

In your mixing bowl, add together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend briefly.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Add them to the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 5 minutes. GRADUALLY trickle the hot water in, mixing at low speed, just until combined. The batter will be very thin.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, (a few crumbs are fine) and the center feels firm to the touch, 25-35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan, then chill it, covered, until you are ready to cut it. I made this a day (or even two!) before I cut and used it. Totally fine. Great make-ahead dessert.

For the Caramel:
1 & 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup (or a bit more) salted macadamia nuts, roasted in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, then roughly chopped
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut, toasted in the same manner as the nuts

Pour the sugar into the center of a deep saucepan. Carefully pour 1/3 cup water around the edges of the pan, trying not to splash any sugar on the wells. Don't stir it, just make a cross twice with your index finger to wet the sugar evenly. Over high heat, bring sugar and water to a full boil and cook without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until mixture is medium caramel in color, about 5-10 minutes. Don't walk away, this happens very quickly and I've burned the sugar too dark of brown more then once. Take it off the heat as soon it starts to turn a rich gold and smells toasted.

Next use a wooden spoon to slowly and carefully stir in the cream, the mixture will bubble and may splatter so head's up! Stir in the nuts and coconut and set aside until cool. This sauce can also be refrigerated, covered, until ready to use. Reheat over low heat until softened, or in a microwave.

When you are ready to serve, cut rounds (or squares if you don't care about being fancy and don't want waste) of the chilled cake with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Place one or two cakes on a plate and drizzle liberally with caramel sauce. It's up to you if you want to sandwich some Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream in there too.

This one cake fed many people, beginning with a dinner at our house with a dear high school friend. Next it fed 11 women who came over for drinks to kick off our Bible Study one cozy Tuesday night. Then, frozen after I cut it and defrosted, six adults consumed it at a lakehouse in Indiana. Finally, the previously frozen leftovers were served to my inlaws and Scott for dessert last Sunday. Heralded by rave reviews at every serving, this is a very durable, delicious cake.

I don't kid around about my desserts. Make this now. Keep it in your arsenal folks.

Love and great respect back to Gale, thanks for writing in my cookbook five years ago. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Go Cowboys!

Ok. I admit it. I'm a poser. Growing up in Chicago, I was barely even a Bears fan. Let's be honest: the last Bears game I remember actually watching was the 1985 Super Bowl as a sub-ten year old, excited because my dad was into it.

Well, fate had me marry a faithful Cowboys fan, Scott grew up in Dallas and he and his entire family are all dedicated Cowboy zealots.

Up until this year I've held off joining in wholeheartedly. It felt fake, like I was late to the party and didn't really bring a gift with me.

But last year I received my very own Tony Romo jersey, and wore it 8 months pregnant, stretched tightly over Charlotte-en-womb. My resistance has finally been worn down and I told Scott that, as a birthday present (along with the obnoxiously awesome 3'x5' house flag) that I'd really make an effort to get into the games with him this year. My only concern was that it wouldn't be real, that people would know I was a big faker.

He had an answer for that, boy did he. All I have to do is memorize the starting line up. And know who all the players are and what they do.

Yes, we have had quizzes. Multiple-a-week quizzes.

Not sure how I'm doing so far, all I can remember are Marion Barber, Miles Austin, Tony Romo and some guy with a name like Tinekwa or something like that. Shoot. It's Tashard, not Tinekwa. Tashard Choice.

Good thing it's the season opener tonight, I've got time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gibson's at Oakbrook

If you are looking to celebrate something or need a spot to meet friends for a great meal and drinks, check out the new Gibson's Steakhouse that opened a few months ago very near to The Oakbrook Mall.

It's literally next to the McDonald's, off Spring Road, adjacent to the mall. There's an amazing one story stone waterfall on the patio that covers the sound of passing cars and blocks the view of the road. Three sets of cozy couches surround modern glass fireplaces as you walk up to the patio, perfect for hanging with friends over pomegrante martinis and a plate of $12 beef filet "sliders" on buttered brioche rolls, accompanied by salty, thin french fries.

I won't lie, most of the menu ain't cheap, but there's a hefty selection (far heftier then the Chicago location) of entrees that include sides and are priced under $20.

We went to celebrate Scott's 35th birthday and our awesome waiter trotted out this massive piece of carrot cake, on the house. That alone was worth the trip, and ended up feeding 9 people later that night.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

"Home, Home on the Range"

I don't why this moment struck me as funny, but it did.

Yesterday morning Sam had been blatantly disobedient about a minor thing, so I placed him in a time out at the top of the stairs.

His beloved harmonica was within reach, I guess, because the next thing I heard were the strains of labored harmonica music wafting down the stairs after me.

All he needed to complete the picture of a small town incarcerated fellow was a tin can, something nice to clank against the bars, playing his harmonica to pass the long hours.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Day of Preschool

Well, it's arrived. I'm sure you've read many facebook updates about parents sending their kids off to school for the first time this year. It was Sam's turn yesterday, much to both our consternation.

It went ok. Our preschool has the parents stay with them for an hour the first day. I felt like he would have been just fine if we hadn't been there. Oh well, Thursday will be the true test, I am hopeful that it will go better, as he packed his own snack and is very excited to eat it.

He was also excited about his new backpack, and could barely stand still to take a picture.

Should I be worried about his response yesterday? When asked how he thought school was, Sam answered, "Preposttterrrouss."

I think he actually said "preposterous." Uh, the vocab in those Berenstein Bears books may be a little heavy.