This Time it’s Different

I never put much stock in those words, “this time it’s different.” Pregnancy is pregnancy, right? Not so, but for many more reasons.

1. I’m 4 years older. I thought being a healthy individual would be enough, but my doctor and Mother Nature remind me that there are more aches and pains as we age. You learn to deal with it, or whine a little as necessary.

2. You carry the baby lower. I thought this was a falsehood, but no I am already panicking as I pull out my slightly too-short-to-look-cute maternity pants, because let’s face it, my regular ones aren’t meant for this um… girth.

3. Cravings differ. Yes, I still have an aversion to alcohol and coffee, just like last time. But I am not craving juicy fruits, my “queasy” stage lasted a two weeks longer (AWESOME). I would be mid meal and I would have to walk away. This is not as familiar as I expected.

4. We’ll get there. The baby’s room is still very much a “storage” space from when we moved (8 years ago) and from our recent master bedroom repaint (the guest bed is a perfect space for pictures and random clothing). I feel like I have all the time in the world to get organized to tackle the closet of Moving Shame (8-year-old box fort anyone?) It has a domino effect, can’t do much with the baby’s room until we clear the shelving downstairs to move books and tchotckies. Can’t do much with those items until we get frames and hang things up on the walls. Can’t get to that part of the living room until we get the toys downstairs into the new “creepy” playroom (I hate this idea). Can’t start the playroom “repaint/remodel” until we undo the “storage” it has become.

5. I know what is at stake. Last time my pregnancy was very much an abstract concept. A little sea monkey was developing and using my various innards as a springboard of fun. I wasn’t attached to the idea of motherhood. The ultrasound was an abstract experience (is that my uterus we are exploring?) I had lost my dad only 2 months prior so much of my pregnancy was shrouded in grief. I was afraid to expect a baby in the end since I could lose it just like I had lost my dad. Yes, I never thought past the pregnancy. So, Motherhood and all it entails, came as a loud, jarring alarm clock. This time, I know there is a tiny person growing, I know he or she is nudging around and reminding me to eat well and keep us healthy and safe. It’s depending on me for this. That’s a huge difference. I am its home, its safe keeper, its nutritionist and its story reader (thank Henry for his vast interest in books at night.)

It’s simple that huge.

I have a feeling that this Thursday afternoon I will cry like a baby when I see the little shape wiggling on the screen during the ultrasound, while Henry meets him or her for the first time. He will likely ask many questions over and over again, and it will be a special moment to share with him. He will likely bring up the experience for many months to come.

So if anyone asks me, is the next pregnancy different? I can answer with certainty that it is.

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Dill Pickle Soup – the Stuff of Childhood Dreams

The soup is still warm in the pot and is settling nicely into my belly and already I find myself writing about it. That is how much I love this soup.

As a child I grew up eating lots of soups that my mom made. Unfortunately for her, I never loved the ones with mystery meat (I would squeeze all the meat juice out and leave a dry meaty hockey puck on the roof of my mouth she would then have to scrape out an hour later. I see now why Mother Nature has given me a picky eater. Well played.)

Anyway back to my favorite soups from childhood – my mouth would smile and my heart would sing if I heard she was making chicken noodle, tomato or dill pickle soup. Those were the three favorites.

Today I take you down memory lane with dill pickle soup. Another Pinterest discovery, pregnancy craving turned delicious meal.

Please don’t doubt me.

Here is the magical recipe and yes, as usual, I eyeballed many of my ingredients – it keeps things fun!

20150228_152640 I modified – so here is what I used.

  • 4-1/2 cups chicken broth + 1 cup of water.
  • 5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (smaller dice) – I used 6 medium carrots
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles (smaller dice that’s about 60% of a Meijer 24oz jar of dill pickle spears. buy a second one, you’ll be short on pickle juice otherwise.)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter – yep.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water to mix with the flour and sour cream
  • 2 cups dill pickle juice* (saltness varies – taste the soup before you season more!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

The recipe calls for Old Bay Seasoning – since I was incapable of finding it I researched what it contained and mimicked it closely. This included:

  • a sprinkle of nutmeg
  • few dashes of paprika
  • few dashes of dried dill

But that’s okay it keeps things interesting.

First off you pour in the chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock, it will change the flavor a little. I am an omnivore so I don’t mind meat.), cut the butter into 4 pieces, drop in quartered potatoes and well chopped carrots.

I let it all boil for about 15 – 18 min.

Meanwhile I busied myself chopping up dill pickle spears. Make sure you leave 4 dill pickle spears for eating while you chop. My willpower is weak so I couldn’t resist. I love sour foods (regardless if I am preggers,) so I upped my quantity to 1 1/2 cup of chopped pickles.

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The house was starting to smell extremely amazing. I went ahead and checked my potatoes with a fork to make sure they were soft and dropped in my 1 1/2 cup of pickles.

Next is a step that made me a bit nervous. Sure the originator of the recipe said not to worry, but you still worry as you continue to boil a vat of soup and aren’t sure it will turn out. I mixed my 1 cup of sour cream, flour and 1/4 cup of water. It made a really thick scary looking paste.

I skipped the spoon (it was like scooping cookie dough) and used my fingers to plop  about 2 tbsps of scary flour mixture into the soup at a time while I whisked like a mad woman. Chunky, “globby,” this is hardly food I’d serve my family! Slowly the ingredients started to break apart, including the chunks of potato and mercifully the globs of sour cream/flour/water paste began breaking apart creating an impressive chowder like consistency. YAY!

Next up you will crack open your second jar of pickles and top off your pickle juice to equal 2 cups. You’ll then attempt to cram left over pickle spears from the first jar into this jar. You’ll be successful, though keep in mind anything you don’t fit, you will eat. Rule of cooking.

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Taste your soup to see if it’s sour and salty enough. Then add in a little bit more seasoning. The cayenne pepper added a slight heat, but overall it’s very manageable even if you don’t handle spice well.

So much soup! Let it cook as long as you like, the ingredients have had time to get friendly and things are looking good!

Once you feel the masterpiece is ready, you ladle a bit in a bowl grab a spoon and enjoy. You can have it with crusty bread, but honestly, it’s such a rich, thick, comfort food experience bread isn’t needed.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 5.12.55 PMTuck in!

 

Italian Cooking Storm Strikes Again

It was a simple start. I had some left over ricotta and the idea of it going to waste was simply unthinkable. So with a quick trip for more spinach, some mushrooms and more mozzarella I was ready to strike again.

The recipe

This weekend’s feast was inspired by a ricotta and spinach stuffed shell recipe, once again hunted down on Pinterest (my food board of course). But I can never let a recipe be created without some tweaks, sometimes purely because I misread it. First of all, I read 24 oz of shells (that’s two large boxes worth.) Once I realized I had cooked a box too many of shells I knew something had gone terribly wrong. Yeah, I only needed 24 SHELLS. HAHA, so fun.

Modifications

Things I adjusted intentionally, I used fresh bagged spinach vs. frozen (simply because that’s what was available to me,) secondly, I wanted to infuse the dish which chopped mushrooms, so I only used half a bag of spinach and made it a go with 8 medium mushrooms. This time I had enough mozzarella, yay! I didn’t have Italian seasoning, but I found a delightful garlic & wild porcini seasoning blend from Spice Merchants at our wonderful Downtown Market.

So what did I do with a bowl full of unused shells? Well I cut up some crabmeat with a “k” (for those of you who aren’t familiar with this term it’s fake crabmeat) chopped up more mushrooms and stuffed as many of those as possibly could fit in my second baking pan. Both pans ended up with a thin layer of sauce, shells, more sauce and a generous drizzle of mozzarella.

I can follow directions

My two pans baked covered in foil at 375 degrees for 35 minutes (at the 20-minute mark I rotated the left pan to the right and the right to the left – keeping things interesting.) As instructed in the recipe, I uncovered both pans at the 10-minute mark.

The results were bubbling, sizzling and perfumed the whole house with Italian comfort food smell. I’d consider 4 shells a serving. We have many more dinners of stuffed shells ahead of us.

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Tuck in!

Culinary Creations for Cupid’s Holiday

What happens when your spouse has to work during the entire Valentine’s day weekend? You figure out other ways to be romantic. This time around I did the planning and it included a tasty late-night meal, a roaring fire in the old fireplace and a romantic comedy.

One of my favorite love languages is definitely food. If I feed you a good meal I am extending my love and care for you. From my heart to your belly. Especially now, while I am preggers, the need to find good, hearty meals has only escalated. No more queasiness, bring on the appetite and bring on the food ideas.

That’s why I’ve long since been a fan of Pinterest, it’s my favorite time-suck and free-time-absorber. Great for when I need a mental break from the usual, or as a fall-asleep aid late at night. But like so many people, I pin and pin but do I actually do?  This year I am striving to find more time for creativity and more time to focus on doing and not just pinning. Therefore, this weekend I did it, I made myself a promise that I needed to start diving into my food board and pulling up some tasty recipes.

I found three distinct winners, all heavy on pasta and cheese. Because you see the baby needs pasta and cheese, or so my cravings tell me. And my spouse, bless his heart, is willing to try what I make.

Valentine’s day winner: Creamy Shrimp and Mushroom pasta. Had I not been so hungry I would have taken some proper photos. But we will rely on those originally posted to Julia’s food blog.

Courtesy of Julia's food blog.

Courtesy of Julia’s food blog.

Why was this little carb marvel a crowd-pleaser? Because it combined a hearty pasta and a creamy flavorful sauce with seafood. I did learn that no matter how tempting the monetary savings of buying peel and cook shrimp, just do yourself a favor and buy ones that have already been prepped. Please, save yourself the frozen fingers and pile of exoskeletons in your kitchen. I would definitely make it again, though I need to find a better way to reheat it, let’s just say it turns a bit thick and clumpy, but ever delicious.

Gratuitous Valentine's Day fireplace photo.

Gratuitous Valentine’s Day fireplace photo.

Since Adam also worked on Sunday my cooking inspiration continued another day. The next recipe I tried was :

Creamy Parmesan Tomato Spinach Tortellini Soup

Yay, I remembered to take a photo before eating!

Yay, I remembered to take a photo before eating!

Not only was it easy to make, it’s quite delicious. Even Henry ate some, though he made sure to pluck off any seen bits of spinach. It definitely thickened upon standing (plus I couldn’t help but add more tortellini to the soup.) Hearty soup that just gets better the next day with simple ingredients: tomatoes (check), spinach (check), parmesan (check), tortellini (CHECK!)

And because I was on a roll I made one more meal during Henry’s mega nap (4.5 hours is unheard of, but it does allow me some creative cooking time. Thanks little buddy!)

The last recipe I tried is called:

Caprese Lasagna Roll Ups

Courtesy of the Tastes Better from Scratch Blog.

Courtesy of the Tastes Better from Scratch Blog.

This recipe was definitely a test in improvision. I reviewed all my ingredients. I thought through the cooking process. I just didn’t focus on the sheer volume of shredded cheese and parmesan this recipe required. Who needs 3.5 cups of shredded mozzarella?! (This recipe.) Who used up all of her parmesan? (This girl.) Luckily I also had some shredded cheddar to toss in for good measure, so my overall cheese quantities worked, even if my math was off for starters. I topped this lovely dish off with some spinach florentine pasta sauce and we devoured it like the other two recipes.

I can tell my food cravings are leading the charge in the kitchen, for it wasn’t until I was mostly done with the last recipe that I realized I was making all pasta, and two of my dishes used tomato, cheese, pasta and spinach. But no one is complaining.

Setting Goals & Hopes for 2015

I started writing the title of this post as “Setting Goals & Expectations for 2015,” but I quickly realized that will not be accurate. Now that we formally announced baby #2 being on its way this July I realize that expectations are the first thing to shift and change. With it comes a new set of challenges and adjustments we’ll all need to make, not just me, but Adam and Henry as well. For some reason I think the pets will be okay.

So instead of setting high expectations and then disappointing myself daily I am going to shift those to goals and expectations to goals and hopes. Largely inspired by my Evil Twin, and fellow blogger Jacqui, you really need to read “Dear self (a letter for 2015).”

Therefore, without further delay, here are my goals/hopes for this year.

1. Begin to workout again. I am no longer looking to be in the top five of my work’s daily mile challenge; I just need to be healthy and gain some muscle tone again.  Once the weather thaws  Maya and I can pick up where we left off with our walks. But I cannot turn into a plump marshmallow this winter. Now that the constant queasy feeling will be subsiding soon I am looking to start something new, prenatal yoga. Here is the one I’ll try.

2. Find time for me. I know what happens, it happens to me from time to time. I get so wrapped up in routine I forget to take time to rest and relax, to sit still and read or work on art projects. The results end up being a miserable me. The one that snaps at people and feels annoyed while awake. I don’t like her, and neither do you.100_6624

So I will try the following:

Read 10 books in 2015. That doesn’t sound like much BUT, Goodreads sadly informed me that I only read six in 2014. That’s embarrassing, I have a bookworm son, why don’t I practice the same? What happens if I don’t make my goal of 10? Nothing, it’s a goal but I will not let it eat away at me if I end up with less books read. They are still books read and that in itself is an accomplishment.

Be artsy. I pin ideas on Pinterest all the time. I whisper “I can make that” so many times at art fairs. So why don’t I do something about it? I know this one is harder than picking up a book, so I won’t set a quantitative goal, but I will do my best to carve out some “artsy” time this year, even post baby. Nothing big, nothing complicated, but definitely rewarding (a few canvases for the baby’s room and a big city canvas for Henry’s big boy room, those are my hopes.)

3. Eat healthier. I typically do a descent job eating healthy, but first trimester is a bitch. I have to think ahead about what I can eat, will it still sound good after work? Once I cook it, will it still smell good to me? When I eat it, will I be able to finish it? This time around things are more unpredictable. What is a craving one day becomes a horrid experience the next. I am worse than a toddler. Once the queasy feeling subsides in the next week or so, I can start to focus on flavors and seasoning as well as variety.

Courtesy of Red Tricycle.

Courtesy of Red Tricycle.

4. Leave the house. Yeah this will be a huge post-baby challenge for me. When Henry was a newborn I became so worried about leaving the house I became afraid of him crying in public. So much angst, I started to stay home too much during my maternity leave. Those days I don’t want to relive. Thankfully there is Henry now, the little kid who likes to go places and do things. Thankfully this will get us out of the house, whether to the park, Children’s museum, or the library. Don’t worry we’ll get it figured out even with a newborn in tow.

5. Stop stressing myself out. I am an only child and thereby I must set goals that are too complicated to complete, or too far out of reach and then I make myself feel badly about it. Well this year I am going to step back and think twice about my goals and hopes for the year. I am free to adjust them as necessary and as long as I find balance between restful things, creative things and things I need to do I think I’ll be a happier me.

Here is to a new and exciting year.

 

 

How to Have a Dragons Love Tacos Birthday Party

I am a project manager by trade and a party planner by nature, so each birthday is a fun extravaganza in my world. Much of what we had at the party was done during my lunches and after my son was in bed (I took my sweet time and used a month to complete my tasks – this can go a lot quicker if you have more time or your schedule permits.)

This year my son, Henry, celebrated his 3rd birthday. As in previous years we needed a solid theme that would help us figure out food, decorations and fun activities both for kids and adults.  Here’s how we accomplished our mission with success!

1. Pick a theme. This was easy for us, we love reading in the Ramseyer Roost so naturally we are inclined to pick a book theme. Last year we celebrated a bookworm this year we chose Dragons Love Tacos. I asked Henry if he’d be interested (why bother developing a theme if the guest of honor doesn’t like it.) The result was a wide smile and “I like Dragons and Tacos.” Good.20140927_135741

2. Create invites. Most of our invitees were on Facebook, which is where we tracked party specifics, but I still love receiving a traditional paper invitation. We sent out taco invites featuring our favorite dragon on the inside. Cut out yellow circles of cardstock, match a slightly smaller white card stock invite, add some green bits and red semi circles (thanks office circle cutter.) and voila a cute invite to send! Now repeat this about 25 times.

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3. Figure out a menu. Again dragons to the rescue, our menu would mostly have beef and chicken tacos with plenty of fixings & mild salsa – dragons hate spicy salsa (we did include spicy stuff for the humans.) With our head count we calculated that 8lbs of beef and 8lbs of mild cilantro lime chicken would do the trick. Here are the original recipes I used to create our beef and chicken taco feast. Below is how I adjusted or modified recipes to fit our specific needs.20140927_135648

Tips for beef: I did cook the beef in a large pot before transferring to the crock pot. We purchased the taco seasoning in bulk at Costco (it’s got a fair bit of heat, but it’s really awesome.) Once we transferred to a crock pot we had steamy taco meat ready in about 2-3 hours on high. We then turned it to low to keep warm as the party rolled forward.

Tips for chicken: I did pour out most of the chicken liquid after it finished cooking – I would recommend leaving about 1.5 cups, it was a bit dry. I modified the recipe to add 1 jar of mild salsa (I would recommend 2 jars), two limes squeezed into the mix, and a nice bunch of finely chopped cilantro, a few tablespoons of cumin and paprika, garlic powder, some pepper and a pinch of salt. Don’t be afraid to add more spice, we needed a low-spice option for our dragons and guests.

4. Cake. Each year I challenge myself with baking/creating some edible masterpiece (read cobble together as best as my untrained abilities allow.) This year I research the internet for taco cakes (I still had some of my senses not to try a dragon shaped one.) It was fun and it turned out. Here is how we accomplished the taco cake.CAM01475

5. Taco Piñata. Yep this party didn’t feel complete without one. I found this project and it was my guide, it allowed me to use a left over diaper box for construction (we hoard enough boxes to build a fort). I purposely used scotch tape to hold it together – we don’t need Fort Knox, and even with multiple hits it held on for dear life. Lots of kiddos enjoyed it.SAM_4037

 

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6. Decorations! This was perhaps the easiest thing for me. I scanned pages from our copy of Dragons Love Tacos (I would have purchased some if those decorations existed in the market.) And proceeded to frame some with colorful sheets to add a bit of fun to our walls, I used the red dragon to feature as our 3D decoration, circles were once again assembled into tacos, I did a taco garland (50 small tacos, one knotted long piece of thick string and 4 hours of trying to untangle. Be careful how you create this, it looked like Russ’ ball of Christmas lights.) We added streamers and some Cinco de Mayo decorations courtesy of my mother-in-law. We also labeled all our food with taco labels (fold your circles in half and write in pen. It’s that easy.)20140927_135919

7. GAMES & CRAFTS, GOODIE BAGS! To be honest this is really more the icing on the cake, everyone had a great time just chilling out in the sun room, backyard, swings and slide as well as the sand table. A cold beer or margarita can make any party a fun place to be so you really don’t need much more. But that didn’t stop us from having a memory game (resize scanned book sheets and uniform cover sheet, cut out circles and glue stick together, make as many pairs as you wish.) I also found this fun project on Pinterest for making your own fire breathing dragon. The wee ones received assistance from the mammas but for the most part it was a simple craft a kid can do. Lastly, the evening can’t be complete with some goodie bags (yes in addition to the candy bags the kids received, we like to send our youngest guests home as sugared up as possible.) Goodie bags contained some bouncy balls, mini taco erasers – which were surprisingly hard to find, playing cards, stickers, bubble solution necklaces.SAM_4041

We had a blast celebrating our kiddo turning 3, our love of tacos and our love of dragons. Hope you have fun planning/partying at your next Dragons Love Tacos extravaganza!

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We Gotta Regatta

This past weekend Riverside Park was host to the Regatta Nationals. In case you didn’t know Grand Rapids actually has quite a rich history when it comes to crew, dating back to the 1880s – with humble beginnings on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids (this part I overheard while walking through the park).

What made this event and the location so awesome:

1. It was nearly in our own backyard (I was able to walk our dog through the entire park including the busy part where the regatta was set up.)

Thurs. night we scoped out the scene. Welcome to GR Hartfort, CT.

2. It drew in crew clubs and associations from all over the nation (this is the big time baby!)

3. It employed the local facility rentals (tents), the catering companies, the sanitation services and most importantly the beer garden – full stocked with local micro brew favorites (I tip my hat to Brewery Vivant. Yes there were others.)

Yes. Every good athlete needs extensive hydration for peak performance.

Yes. Every good athlete needs extensive hydration for peak performance.

4. Riverside Park and this particular part of the Grand River are perfect for a regatta competition, with ample space for tents, kayaks and participants; this stretch of the River is calm, straight and wide enough to allow for 6 lanes of competitive fun.

We popped into the park over the weekend to experience various heats and elimination rounds, semi finals and eventually the finals. You could even hear the announcer’s voice in our backyard from time to time. Here are the results of the weekend efforts.20140816_111818

The Regatta Nationals aren’t the only fantastic event at Riverside Park, there are events hosted there all the time and most weekends when I roll out of bed to take the dog for an early morning walk I find myself walking through a festival or competition, wishing for a shower and toothpaste.20140816_103519