Thursday, September 25, 2008

It takes a village

Recently, I've had to adjust to the girls' new schedules - Emily is down to one nap per day (noon to 3 or 4) and Ava is a no nap girl (and thankfully in bed by 6). The hours between 3 and 6 are now what I call the witching hours. These are the hours where Ava whines and oscillates between hyperactiveness and sloth-like behavior (literally, within 5 minutes, she goes back and forth and back and forth. It's crazy!), and Emily, who is in her super clingy separation anxiety phase clings to my leg, arm, lap, or whatever she can grab on to, thus making it completely impossible to get dinner together or to play with Ava. Now I understand how so many women become dependent on pain killers (or wine...). Add to the fact that Ava won't even do some sort of quiet activity in her room or on the couch for 10 minutes...yeah, it's a long day around here!

Enter my mommy friends. What I love about mommy friends is that we are all dealing with the same whiny, crazed, clingy short people while we're trying to get dinner together (or gasp! Take a potty break!). Recently, some friends from my MOMS Club have started getting together for late afternoon playgroups - the kids get to wear each other out, the moms get to take turns in the bathroom alone and chat over coffee (or wine...). Someone suggested a potluck dinner and badda boom - supper club began! We've done them as a straight potluck, we've done them where we all bring ingredients and help cook the meal, we've done the thing where we feed only the kids in hopes to get them to bed early so that we can all enjoy some relaxation with our husbands (after all, isn't that what husbands are for?!). I've known these ladies for years...their kids all call me Mommy Allie, their babies hold their arms out to all of us when they are crying, and likewise, my kids go to them for comfort (especially while I'm getting two minutes of peace in the bathroom ALONE). It's nice to know that my normally well behaved 3 year old isn't the only one who has a complete meltdown at 4 pm because her sister ate the last red grape (especially when under normal circumstances, said 3 year old doesn't even like red grapes). Safety in numbers!

Recently, we made the following for one of our supper clubs and it received really good reviews:

Maple-Orange Chicken with Acorn Squash and Sweet Potatoes
Recipe by Robin Miller from Quick Fix Meals

1 small to medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 leeks, rinsed and chopped
5 (5-ounce) skinless chicken breast halves (with or without bone)
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
For the garnish: 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Place squash and sweet potatoes and leeks in the slow cooker. Season chicken all over with salt and black pepper and place on top of vegetables in slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine orange marmalade and remaining ingredients. Pour mixture over chicken and vegetables. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Serve the chicken breast halves with squash and potatoes on the side and extra sauce spooned over top Top with parsley and rosemary just before serving.

And, on a wine note, I've finally found a cheap Trader Joe's wine that I can stomach: Tres Rojas Table Red - it's a blend of several reds and is only $4.99 a bottle. Not too shabby! Perfect for book club (or as Joel calls it, wine club), supper groups, nap time, get the picture...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fish, music, crumpets

This weekend, we headed to Seattle to visit Josh and Natalie and to celebrate my mom's 49th (for the 11th time) birthday. It was a long drive, but so worth it - we hit up Pike Place Market, watched the guys at the fish counter throw an insanely large tuna into a packing box, gazed at the original Starbucks (the line was waaaay too long), bought crumpets at The Crumpet Shop, had some amazing tea at this little hole in the wall place, and visited the Seattle Aquarium.

Today, the girls and I headed to Mudpuddles for their free music and movement session. If you live in the 'burbs like I do, you don't have a whole lot of options for things to do with your kids once the rain starts. Mudpuddles is such a great store - they carry learning toys, a fabulous selection of children's books, and art supplies; and they have free in store craft and music sessions. Both of the girls love the music session and the leader, Miss Debbie, is wonderful. It's nice to have a place to go that isn't a huge drive and that's free.

the girls at the tea shop:

The octopus in the tube:

The fish in the ceiling:

the girls being silly:

Me and my mommy (and sleeping Emily):

A very, very happy birthday to my mom. I hope my skin looks half that good when I'm 60!

Friday, September 19, 2008

When life hands you lemons...

Make chocolate cake!

Specifically, the best flippin' chocolate cake on the planet. It's been that kind of day...I feel like I've been hit by a truck, the children are on some sort of diabolical stimulant, the bill for my recent unelective surgery is way more than should be allowed, and to top it off, I definitely feel a migraine coming on.

My mommy always told me that the best cure for the whinies was chocolate and you know the drill...Mama is always right!

Luckily, tonight is bunco (AKA dunko), so I won't end up eating the entire pan myself...

I only wish that my camera skills were as mad as PW's so I could share some of the ooey-gooey-ness with you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mid September Randomness

It seems that the heatwave is over, and it's finally time for fall weather. My guess is that the sunshine will return next week, but until then, I will enjoy cooking dinner nightly without overheating.

It's been a hectic are some highlights:

We've been to the beach, played at some fun parks, hosted a few play dates, and done way too much laundry in the past week. And for those who are keeping score, I kicked the butt of a certain fellow fantasy football league member, whom I also happen to share a bed with. Ava has been adjusting to school pretty well, and since they are nut free in her class, I am somewhat relaxed about leaving her. Emily and I have been enjoying our time together. She is such a different baby when she doesn't need to worry about her sister tackling her at any given moment! We hit up baby story time the other day at the library and she had the best time.
Ava has gotten to the point where she can whip up an entire batch of something without my assistance (well, aside from showing her which measuring cup to use...but she's even getting the hang of that!). I am amazed at how well she bakes. We made some muffins yesterday before our play group came over and she did everything except pouring the milk into the measuring cup all by herself. I expect her to be on the Next Food Network Star next season...she's going to take the preschool market by storm.

French Breakfast Puffs

1 1/2 cups plus 2 T flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup butter, melted

Combine first five ingredients. Add milk, egg and 1/3 cup melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Grease and flour small muffin tins. Fill 1/2 full and bake at 400ยบ for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan immediately and dip in remaining 1/3 cup melted butter and roll in a mixture of the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Serve warm.

Makes 24 mini-muffins

Note: Only fill the muffin tin halfway, so that the muffins don’t develop a “crown”. Start checking for doneness at about 12 minutes (original recipe says 20 minutes, but there’s no way!). I used applesauce for the melted butter and half of the sugar, and I used 1/2 AP flour and 1/2 whole wheat flour.

We rented too many movies from NetFlix this month (who's happy that fall TV is back on?), so I am going to try this with Ava this afternoon. And since she's been saying more funny things that I can keep track of, I'm going to start one of these. Is this not the most adorable idea ever? I just don't have the time or energy to scrapbook these days, so perhaps this will be a nice stand in.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

And the winner is...

Me! Yep, my fantasy team won their first game...sorry Jimmy, I can imagine that it sucks losing to a girl. This weekend, I play Joel, so it should be an interesting two days at the Barsotti household. Mostly because I am going to win and he knows it :P

I won't bore you with the details of the weekend and the week thusfar, except to say that it was and has been, as usual, crazy. I am in serious need of a vacation! My camera's battery died on the way to Seattle (for dear Dashka's wedding!), and I haven't had a chance to charge it, so no pictures to share.

However, I do have a recipe (shocker!). I am addicted to Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks. Seriously, I need a twelve step (does the Betty cover that?! Because when I go in for my wine habbit, it would be a nice one-two punch...). Two years ago, a friend sent me the following and I have been making them at home ever since. Try these and you will never go to the drive thru again (or, even worse, buy that yucky creamer...horror of horrors!!):

Amy’s Version of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups milk
1 cup very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar (or one packet of Splenda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
2 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin

Pour all of the ingredients into a pot and heat over medium-high heat until the coffee is steaming hot. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream & cinnamon. Enjoy!

Amy suggests making your own milk with powdered milk, but I can't bring myself to do that (plus, there's no organic powdered milk out there!), so I just use regular old skim or 1% (or if I'm feeling a little naughty, some of Emily's whole milk). Yummy...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cherries and pears and cinnamon, oh my!

Yesterday I said that it's beginning to feel more like fall. Today is even better! The air is crisp although it's still warm outside. The leaves on our trees have the slightest bit of yellow around the edges. I woke up wanting a baked apple like nobody's business.

Emily has a nasty viral infection, plus 2 incisors coming through, so we stayed home (aside from a trip to Le does one get out of there for less than $100?! Suggestions?). Ava is only distracted by art and baking and I didn't want to deal with the mess of several art projects, so we baked. All. Day. Long.

First, we made some pearsauce. The girls and Joel picked a ton of pears over the weekend that really were to small and underripe to eat. Ava and I threw them into a dutch oven with some cinnamon and a 1/4 cup of water and let them simmer for about an hour. Tonight before bed, I will toss the pears into my crock pot with the following to make Pear Butter:

Pear Butter
Makes 9-10 pints

8 quarts of pearsauce
1.5 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel (just the surface, not the spongy white part)
1 cup orange juice
Sugar, to taste

Place half of the pearsauce and all of the remaining ingredients in crock pot, set on low, cook for 6 to 12 hours, or overnight, until the volume is reduced by half. Add remaining pearsauce, let cook for 2 to 3 more hours. Pour into jars or consume immediately (on toast, pancakes, waffles, fingers, etc.)

I had some cherries that we weren't going through fast enough, so while the pearsauce simmered away, Ava and I pitted some cherries for a cherry cobbler/clafouti type of dessert. I basically combined 2 recipes to go with what I had on hand and here's what I got:

Cherry Cobbler

1/2 cup butter
2 cups self-rising flour (Or 2 cups AP flour, 1 T baking powder, 1 t salt)
1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
3 cups cherries, pitted

Preheat oven to 350. Place butter in 9x13 inch pan and let melt in the oven. Combine flour, sugar, and milk. The mixture will be lumpy, but go with it. When the butter is completely melted, pour the batter into the pan, but do not combine. Sprinkle the cherries on top, bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden.

While that was baking, Ava decided that she wanted to make cookies we started on a recipe that I've had for a while, but haven't made yet, Whole Wheat Snickerdoodles. I think that Ava wanted to make them because she thought the word "snickerdoodle" was silly, and I wanted to make them for Joel, because Snickerdoodles are his favorite. If you try these, be sure to use whole wheat pastry flour or the texture will be wacky. This only made about 20 cookies...plenty for Joel and Ava to each have one or two, leftovers to take with me to book club tonight.

Whole Wheat Snickerdoodles

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Add dry ingredients.
Shape dough into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar cinnamon mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly with a drinking glass.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

I usually like to take pictures of how things turn out but today I felt a bit lazy, plus I had Emily in the Ergo all day and it was hard to concentrate. pictures, but let me just say that I taste tested everything and it's all yummy!

Of course, I am making something completely healthy for dinner...bowls of black beans, brown rice, and red sauce. I plan on adding some sour cream to mine but...I also carried a baby on my back all day AND walked to the library and back, so I deserve it :P.

After this crazy day (which as of me typing still has two hours left...Joel won't be home until at least then!), I'm looking forward to escaping to my book club this evening (the book is Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors and I think we actually will get to conference call with the author!). A few glasses of wine and some nibbles with friends sounds like the perfect way to end such a hectic day!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Every Day is a Winding Road...

Yes, I'm still sad. But I won't bore you with that, because there is a whole lot of other stuff going on in our lives...

This has been another busy week and weekend. I took the girls to Oaks Park last week for their preschool ride morning, which turned into a party because we ran into quite a few moms and kids we knew who were excited about having a free week before school started up again. Emily loves the carousel (which Ava was terrified of until last summer), and Ava enjoyed all of the kiddie rides with her friends. We also hit the zoo with a girlfriend and two of her boys, and a few parks...everyone seemed to be out enjoying the last of the nice weather.
Ava riding on her favorite ride at Oaks Park:
We scored last minute tickets to see Sheryl Crow at the Edgefield on Friday night (thanks, Nick!), which gave Joel and I some much needed couple time (where we mostly talked about football...seriously, we are LAME!). Oh well, it was nice to enjoy some good music, food, and beer. I was suprised by how many people brought their kids to the concert...and then ended up leaving less than halfway through the show. It always amazes me when people expect their young children to be on their adult schedules! An hour of fun always ends up leaving me with two tired, cranky girls the next morning, so I can't imagine keeping them up that long. Sheryl put on a fabulous show - I've seen her twice live now (this will date me...remember the Lilith Fair?!?), and she has an amazing voice.

Sheryl Crow (none of my pictures from up close really turned out):

Saturday, I headed to my mom's new condo and helped her paint the whole thing while Joel took the girls berry picking. That evening, he and I had our fantasy draft. I love my team! Joel's not so hot about his...but that's what he gets for scheduling the draft during the first U of O game of the year! Almost everyone from our league was in the same room for the draft, so there was a lot of trash talking and fun going on. The real trash talking will be next weekend, when Joel's team plays mine. I'm pretty sure I'm going to kick his butt. He's pretty sure, too.

Sunday was spent doing more painting while Joel took the girls to OMSI. In the afternoon, Emily stayed home to nap while I took Ava to a birthday party. I contemplated taking her to an end of summer BBQ on the way home, but decided we'd both had enough for one day!

Yesterday we were able to relax a bit before we had a birthday dinner (Happy Birthday to Paula and Sarah!).
This morning, we took Ava to preschool for her first day. I hate to say it, but since she's already been to summer camp and had drop off play was anti-climactic. She looks adorable in her uniform (today she chose the plaid jumper and white knee socks), but she's so used to going somewhere without me for a few hours to play that she barely waved good-bye to Joel and I while she ran into the building. Oh well...I guess that means that she's a secure little girl. It didn't stop me from shedding a few tears though. When I picked her up, her teacher told me that the only problem she'd had was that Ava had refused to let another little girl sit on the letter A during circle time (on one of those round carpets with the alphabet around it). Apparently, my child thinks that only HER name can start with the letter A. Ava was very upset about it the whole way home, but perked up when she came home and taught me how to play criss-cross applesauce (that would be immediately sitting cross-legged on the floor when someone says "criss-cross-applesauce!").
Ready for preschool:

See ya!

Today feels like's sunny and cool, a few kids at the upper school where Ava's preschool is had apples for their teachers. NFL football starts on Thursday, I have dinner bubbling away in the crockpot, and a ginger-citrus candle burning on my desk. I wish that my body was more round with my baby, but my life is full of other things.