Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Early Visit with Santa

This past weekend, we spent a little time shopping at the Holiday Expo in downtown Erie. Now, please do not judge. I know it is not even Thanksgiving yet, but sometimes you just want to get an early start to Holiday shopping. Besides, it ended up being a bust and we walked away without a single purchase. Maybe we'll just give everyone gift cards this year. And cookies.

We ran into a very special (and jolly!) individual. As soon as the man in the big, red suit walked past, Matthew was instantly intrigued! And frightened at the same time. Santa sat in his chair and then held his arms open wide so Matthew could feel free to go sit on his lap. Matthew took three ginger steps forward...

...and then ran.

When we finally caught up to him and dragged him back, Santa suggested that "Mom" sit with him on his lap. Santa or no Santa, this mom was a little creeped out by his suggestion (I may or may not have imagined him seductively rubbing his leg with his white-gloved hand while asking me to "Ho-Ho-Hop on board!"). I only agreed to it if Paul also took a turn sitting on Santa's lap.

And he did...

Paul acted extremely sheepish and embarrassed about the whole thing. Secretly, I think he was thrilled! Doesn't he look so giddy and happy in the picture? And look how he is even wearing a shirt that matches Santa! He's sucking up early to the big guy with the hopes that he will receive a new MP3 player this Christmas since he just ran his last one through the washing machine.

After taking these pictures, Santa proceeded to give Paul and I some parenting advice that made absolutely no sense. Something about letting the kids stay up late so they sleep in longer and eat fewer cookies. Let me know if you can interpret that riddle of fun. What the pictures don't show is that we were sitting right across from a full cash bar and something tells me, at least based on the gibberish coming from his mouth, that Santa may have had a little too much bourbon.

Below is one of my favorite ways to use butternut squash. It is a dish that we have looked forward to making each fall when we can get some beautiful butternut squash for around 10 cents per pound. It is one of Paul's favorite fall dishes - probably because it has bacon in it. Matthew would not touch it, but his opinion does not exactly count. He chose a cut up hot dog over this deliciousness. Weirdo.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

4 slices bacon , halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
8 fresh sage leaves, plus 1 tablespoon minced (Do NOT use dried sage)
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 scallions, sliced thin (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds

Cook bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Add whole sage leaves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl, reserving bacon fat and bacon-sage mixture separately.

Return skillet to high heat, add 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat and heat until shimmering. Add squash in even layer and cook, without stirring, until beginning to caramelize, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add butter and allow to melt, about 30 seconds. Add scallions, nutmeg, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and minced sage; cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are softened, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; continue to cook until squash is tender, 1-3 minutes more.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until just al dente, then drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and transfer back to Dutch oven.

Add squash mixture to pasta; stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and reserved bacon-sage mixture, adjusting consistency with reserved pasta liquid. Serve, sprinkling individual servings with almonds and additional Parmesan.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Breaking Stuff in Detroit

The constant gray skies and increasingly dark days are not kind to my attempts at photography. The quality of the pictures from here until March will probably be absolutely rotten. I might as well let Matthew take the pictures...

This week, Paul was sent to a conference held in Northern Detroit. Since he was the only company employee attending this conference, Matthew and I were invited to come along. When we arrived at the hotel, we suddenly realized that the chosen location of our occupancy could not have been any less desirable. The hotel itself was situated among an island of other hotels and business centers with a lone pair of golden arches glimmering in the distance (after all, Ronald McDonald has to insert himself into every picturesque city landscape in America). There was nowhere to go for dinner (unless you REALLY want a McRib - I hear they're back) much less take a stroller out for a walk. The unfortunate realization was that Matthew and I were going to be prisoners of the hotel while Paul was at the conference. At first I was not concerned. There would be plenty for us to do! The hotel had a pool and a pristine fitness area with large, colorful yoga balls and plenty of space to bounce them. Plus, Matthew could jump on the bed to his heart's delight. He would have plenty of entertainment.

Immediately upon our arrival to Detroit, we went to P.F. Chang's for dinner. They are a perfect place to take loud, obnoxious children who like to shred napkins, eat crayons, and issue high-pitch screams without a moment's notice when they are fed up with being strapped in a high chair. The Chinese seem to find this nature not only adorable, but worthy of praise, adulation, and multiple gifts in the form of fortune cookies, which Matthew ferociously squeezed between his chubby little hands until they shattered. He then gently picked through the rubble and extracted the small piece of paper bearing his fortune...and ate it. When I audaciously suggested that he taste the actual cookie portion of the fortune cookie, he shook his head furiously while squealing so loudly that one might have thought I was asking him to eat toad liver. Now that's a discriminating palate.

Overall, we enjoyed an excellent meal and Matthew behaved himself while dunking his chicken tenders in the honey-soy dipping sauce with his practice chopsticks. Paul and I made sure that we had plenty of extra food to box up and put in our fridge at the hotel. Since there were no restaurants within a reasonable distance, we wanted the leftovers to function as lunch for Matthew and I the next day.

At 6:00 AM the next morning, I was awakened by Matthew jumping on the bed next to me while chanting: "Mommy! Mommy! Hi Mommy!" Daylight savings time stinks. Naturally, Paul just pulled his pillow on top of his head and pretended as if he could not hear our chatty little munchkin. I remedied that by picking Matthew up and placing him on our bed where he promptly began, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, to "Hop on Pop." Thus, two extremely bedraggled parents took their extremely hyper little boy down to the hotel lobby for a marvelous breakfast buffet where he feasted on scrambled eggs, croissants, sausage, and yogurt. Our son eats like a caveman in the mornings. And I mean that in reference to both his diet and his manners.

Paul then quickly packed up and headed out for his conference, leaving me and Matthew to amuse ourselves in the hotel room. Matthew immediately gravitated towards the mini coffee pot adorning a shelf above the mini-fridge. As I have mentioned before, Matthew has an unnatural obsession with coffeemakers and a small one just his size would could probably keep him entertained for hours. I unplugged it and let him have at it. He promptly began to take it completely apart and then put it back together. Then he filled it with animal crackers. Then he picked up the (glass) carafe and began smacking it against the wall. This made me a little nervous, so I took the carafe portion away from him and hid it behind the television. He did not seem to care and went about playing with the other portion of the coffeemaker.

Since Matthew seemed fairly content, I stepped inside the bathroom for 1 minute to brush my teeth. When I turned off the water faucet, I suddenly heard the sound of glass shattering. I quickly flung open the door and saw Matthew standing on a chair that he had shoved up next to the T.V. stand holding half of the remaining coffee carafe completely surrounded by large pieces of broken glass.

He clearly knew he was in trouble. His eyes were filled with tears and his pouty bottom lip was quivering. I told him not to move and carefully took the piece he was holding from him before picking him up and placing him on the bed. I then reached for the phone to call the front desk only to find that Matthew had unplugged the phone. Marvelous. Once I made the call, management ordered us to clear out of the room so they could thoroughly clean it and ensure that all glass was removed.

The incident put Matthew in a foul mood for the rest of the day. All the activities I had planned to do with him around the hotel fell short. He did NOT want to play with the yoga balls - how stupid when you can clearly have more fun trying to mess with all the weight equipment (we quickly evacuated the exercise room...I could just imagine him dropping something heavy on his little fat foot)! He did NOT want to go for a walk. He did NOT want to eat lunch. How DARE I suggest that he nap! Finally, I just decided that like it or not...he was going for a swim. I squeezed him into his swim trunks and we slid into the swim pool. I was completely expecting him to do his normal scream-wail-flail routine, but instead he sank against me and relaxed. He actually was enjoying the water! We splashed around and had a grand old time.

So despite some shaky beginnings, we had a pretty good time. Maybe we are making some progress in breaking Matthew's fear of water. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

The recipe I wanted to share this time is a soup that I had at an Indian restaurant and absolutely adored. It has a couple interesting ingredients in it but is extremely flavorful, warming, and satisfying. It is a cinch to throw together and may be made up to 3 days in advance (or frozen for a few months). Give it a try for something different!

Mulligatawny Soup
from Entertaining Magazine

4 cloves garlic, 2 peeled and 2 minced
1 piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated to yield 1 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups chicken broth
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium, ripe banana
Plain yogurt and chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

In a blender, puree the 2 whole cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of ginger, and the water until smooth. Set aside it aside for a bit - do not remove from the blender. You're going to need it later!

Heat the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat until foaming. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Stir in the coconut and cook for about 1 minute (or until fragrant). Add the minced garlic, remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger, curry powder, cumin, cayenne, and flour. Stir until combined. While whisking constantly (and vigorously!!), gradually add the chicken broth.

Add the carrots, celery, and banana. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let the mixture simmer until the veggies are tender (approximately 20 minutes).

Puree the soup in batches in the blender with the ginger and garlic. Be very careful to hold a towel over the top of the blender while working with the hot soup. You don't want an explosion in the kitchen (Paul may have done that while pureeing a potato soup the other day...). Return the pureed soup to the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Warm the soup over medium heat.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro. For a more substantial meal, ladle over hot Basmati rice (seriously delicious!) and serve with some fresh Naan.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! I know this is a bit late, but this week has been extremely busy. We did enjoy a fun Halloween night with Matthew. We dressed him up as a monkey. It seemed fairly appropriate considering his favorite stuffed animal is a little monkey.

He was so excited to get dressed up...

Paul and I had originally planned to just take Matthew trick-or-treating to a few of the neighbors' houses in the area. They see Matthew from time to time and like to ask about him, so we thought it would be fun to pay them a visit. Matthew enjoyed trick-or-treating so much that we ended up taking him to the next neighborhood over to ring some doorbells. There were throngs of children out and about. They were all under the age of 10 and dressed as firefighters, dragons, princesses, and various action figures. They all looked super cute and were enjoying pointing and commenting on the costumes of every other kid who was out and about.

We tried to teach Matthew how to say "Trick or Treat!"

That did not go over so well.

He would just run up to the door, ring the bell and then start waving frantically while yelling "Hi! Hi! Hiiiiii!!" He would then proceed to babble about something very animatedly while the poor person would attempt to give him a treat. He really was not at all interested in the candy - just the social aspect of the whole night! He loved watching all the other little kids and even was stopped a few times by other youngsters his age who would start lightly touching and pointing at his outfit while he did the same right back to them. Too cute.

Paul and I definitely had more fun than we thought we would.

And if you're looking up for a yummy way to use leftover candy, we put it in a pretty fabulous snack mix to take to a party. We're bringing it to a football get together this weekend. My child is hyper enough without pumping him with excess sugar, so we'll hand it out to some engineers and see if it makes them a little more social.

Snacks like this keep your dentist in business. So by making it, you are supporting local businesses. Which is great for the economy. What a patriot you are!

Scarily Delicious Halloween Snack Mix
adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups coarsely broken pretzels
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup dry milk powder
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 bag Reese's pieces
1 Hershey bar, broken into small pieces

Note: This is just the candy that I chose to use. You could definitely just use about 12 ounces of chopped up whatever you have leftover from Halloween. I really like the peanut butter-pretzel combination, so Peanut Butter cups are especially marvelous.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Stir together the melted butter, sugars, and milk powder. Stir in the pretzels and gently toss to coat. Spread onto the baking sheet and bake until fragrant and light brown, about 20 minutes.

Let the pretzels cool completely. Break them apart and toss in a large bowl with the candy.