Thursday, April 20, 2017

Loaded Potato Salad

I'm going to be backtracking a bit to try to catch up on what was missed during my absence from blogging over the past month! I know I posted our Easter Sunday highlights in my last post, but would like to reflect back to a few days before to talk about our family tradition for Holy Thursday and the beginning of the Pascal Triduum.

Every year on Holy Thursday, we recreate the Last Supper of Our Lord through a bit of role-play. We make some unleavened bread, pour some grape juice (for the kids) or Port (for the adults, and read from the corresponding passages from the bible together while using the physical prompts as visuals to (hopefully) make the story more real for the little ones. Paul also gets the foot bath out and washes the feet of each member of the family, imitating the act of humility that Christ himself performed the night before his death.

This year, we thought the kids were old enough to get a little more involved in the role playing. We asked each of them to pick a disciple to play. Matthew immediately raised his hand and excitedly declared himself to be Simon Peter. When we asked Emma whom she wanted to play, she immediately replied: "Jesus!" I had to explain to a very disappointed Emma that Paul would be playing the role of Jesus in our narrative. She was very disappointed but finally picked the Apostle Matthew as her second choice. Paul dubbed Lucy the Apostle John, for she is his "beloved one." Pretty cute. And we were ready to begin.

We began with the washing of the feet. One by one, the kids sat on the chair to have their feet washed. Lucy was a little nervous at first, but after her first foot was cleaned she quickly offered her second fat foot so it obviously wasn't too displeasing to her. When it came time for Matthew's turn, he accurately remembered his role as Simon Peter and refused a foot washing.

"My feet are so dirty! I should be washing your feet! You should not wash mine Jesus!"
"But Peter," Paul (as Jesus) responded, "I have to wash your feet. It is part of the plan."
"Then WASH ALL OF ME! MY HEAD! MY SHOULDERS! MY STOMACH!" Matthew as Simon Peter declared, a bit too loudly, while writhing on the floor. At this point, Simon Peter received a little pep talk about not getting too carried away and afterwards he willingly sat to have his feet washed.

Then, Paul read from the Gospel account of the Last Supper. As he was reading about the institution of the Eucharist, Emma (or Matthew) interjected by shoving herself into Paul's lap: "I want to be Jesus!"

"You're the Apostle Matthew, Emma."
"I don't get to say anything. I want to be Jesus!"
"We are almost done, just listen and pay attention."
Paul continues to read and doesn't make it more than five words in before he interrupted by Emma once more, "Can I have some of that bread?"
"We're going to eat it in a second. Be patient."
"How about some of that wine?"

At this point, Lucy began to tire of the proceedings and left the room. Matthew declared that she was no longer the Apostle John, but Judas Iscariot.

Paul finishes reading the Gospel account, breaks the unleavened bread in pieces and offers each of us a piece. Emma quickly gobbles her piece down and then asks, "Jesus can I have another piece of your bread?"

Paul then poured the wine (or juice) into a goblet and again offered each of us a sip from the cup. When it was Emma's turn, we practically had to pry the goblet away from her lips because she was completely intent on gulping the entire drink down.

At this point, Lucy, or Judas Iscariot, waddled back into the room holding the spoils from her raid of the pantry: a bag full of Blueberry Tiny Toast cereal. "Judas!" Paul declared, "Would you betray your Lord for 30 pieces of Tiny Toast?!" Lucy just giggled and stuffed more Tiny Toast into her mouth. I guess so.

That concluded our family Last Supper. Emma and Matthew proceeded to fight over the remaining loaves of unleavened bread while Lucy continued to munch on her Tiny Toast, with Peyton lurking nearby ready to catch any stray crumbs. Even though there was a lot of laughing during our reenactment of the Last Supper, I do think little family exercises like this help make the true meaning of our religious feast days more tangible to young minds. The next day, when we headed to Church to venerate the Cross in remembrance of Christ's Passion, Matthew and Emma were both very much in awe of the proceedings. They listened to the Passion Readings and were very familiar with the story because we had gone over it multiple times previously. Shortly before it was our turn to venerate the cross, I explained in a whisper to Emma that she could touch, kiss, or bow to the cross as a sign of love and respect. She immediately whispered back to me, "I'm going to kiss Jesus' cross, Mommy!" I held her hand as we walked to the front of church and, sure enough, little Emma knelt down carefully and planted a very slow, deliberate kiss on the cross - it was unmistakable, there was true tenderness and love in her actions at that moment. As a mother, it was a moving moment to watch my child show such reverence and respect for Our Lord. I had tears in my eyes as I headed back to our pew. Our job as parents is to lead our little ones to God. It's such a gift to see that the lessons we try to instill are having an impact and bearing fruit!

Shifting gears a bit, I want to share a recipe for the potato salad we enjoyed as part of our Easter feast on Sunday. We had quite the spread - a simple meal, but filling and indulgent all the same. In addition to potato salad, we enjoyed Maple-Orange Glazed Ham, Strawberry Spinach Salad, Roasted Asparagus, Honey-Butter Rolls, and a gorgeous Coconut-Carrot Layer Cake for dessert.

But, go figure, the dish that received the most rave review from my fellow diners was the Loaded Potato Salad. Paul in particular could not stop stressing how this is the only potato salad I should ever make from now on, something that wasn't all together surprising to me considering that a whole pound of bacon went into the composition of this dish. He didn't even mind the diced raw celery and bell pepper I stirred in as well for a bit of texture - normally Paul gags at any dish with celery in it so I am forced to leave it out altogether or dice it so minutely that it really contributes next to nothing to the final product. However, in this dish, he found their presence not only acceptable, but resoundingly welcome! I have to agree with his overall consensus - this potato salad is really delicious. Again, I'm pretty sure it's the bacon!

Loaded Potato Salad
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into small cubes (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 (16 ounce) package bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup Mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, finely diced

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and put in a large bowl. Drizzle the vinegar over the potatoes and toss lightly to coat. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-low heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings.

Whisk together the bacon drippings, mayo, mustard, sugar, and salt.

Add the eggs, celery, onion, and green pepper to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the dressing and toss gently to coat. Stir in the bacon.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to one and all!

First of all, thank you to all those who sent emails, notes, and messages of concern during my absence from blogging over the past month. Long story short, I caught a terrible, terrible illness and it completely wiped me of all my strength and I am STILL not quite myself. Hoping to gradually get back to my normal routine, which may take some time given the fact that I still can't go about a typical morning without feeling completely drained of energy by lunchtime. This makes me so grateful for my own health and the health of my family, as I know that I will be feeling 100% better soon. So, again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your concern!

What better way to begin blogging once more than with a small recap of our joyous Easter celebration? I tried really hard this year to explain to my children that Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year because without the resurrection we would have no hope for eternal life in heaven. Because of the resurrection, we should no longer fear death for death is just a passage into a new life with Christ. This concept did not go over so well with my kids - big surprise, considering I'm not sure I've grasped it myself! They kept arguing with me that Christmas is the most important celebration and I certainly remember feeling the same way as a child. Christmas celebrations are infinitely more grand, elaborate, and drawn out than those of Easter. There are presents, stockings, mounds of cookies, twinkling lights, and beautiful decorations everywhere you turn. On Easter, we eat hard-boiled eggs and receive a basket full of Peeps and a chunk of chocolate in the shape of a rabbit. It's still fun and all that, but not quite as awe-inspiring as Christmas morning. But it really is true - without the promise of Easter there is no hope for our lives, no promise of salvation. What a sad, frightening world it would be without the promise of eternal life!

We started off our Easter morning bright and early at Mass. The kids were extremely cooperative and well behaved - the perfect Easter gift for two tired parents! The girls let me comb their hair and dress them in their new spring dresses without a fuss and Matthew picked out a dizzying tie-and-shirt combination to proudly wear. We sat in the very front row where the running water from the baptismal font and the colorful flower arrangements adorning the altar kept the kids preoccupied for at least half the Mass. Afterwards, the girls showed off their dresses to our pastor while Matthew proudly informed everyone that he picked out his own outfit (as if there was any doubt!) and we headed home to take a few family photos. It's a tradition after all.

Lucy was less than cooperative. I tried to get a sibling photo but she wasn't having any of it. It looked like she was trying to give the camera the "Vulcan salute" in our family photo.

What she really wanted to do was attack her Easter basket. Lucy is all about chocolate. That cute little chocolate bunny we got her never stood a chance. She unwrapped it immediately and bit into its ears. It was devoured in less than five minutes.

I caught her munching on the remainder of her Easter goodies in the frame of our window seat. Paul is gradually building one for the kitchen and just has the framing done and Lucy has enjoyed gathering books, toys, or whatever she is currently playing with and sitting inside it. She calls it her "house". Well, she sat in her house consuming way more sugar than she should.

Which of course led to the afternoon sugar crash...

Lucy had little to no interest in our egg hunt. The other two kids were super pumped about it. The night before, the weatherman was predicting severe thunderstorms for the entirety of Easter Sunday for our area. The kids and I prayed that the weather would be sunny and beautiful so we could do our egg hunt outside and our prayers were answered! We had beautiful weather and sunshine all day with barely a drop of rain! It was a beautiful, beautiful day!

The highlight of the day for all the kids was being able to play outside together on the trampoline! The weather has finally been nice enough for us to set it up once more. Lucy was especially thrilled since she has been begging to go jump on the "ring-around-the-rosie" as she calls it, named after her favorite game to play on it with her big sister Emma. The kids have spent hours out there jumping on it since we set it up.

The highlight of the day for Paul and me was enjoying a glass of wine after the kiddos had gone to bed and watching our Easter gift to one another: the newly released Rogue One move. Such a great film!

How was your Easter Sunday?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Leprechaun Bait

Friday is Saint Patrick's Day and it is kind of a big deal for our family. It has nothing to do with our Irish heritage, which is very small and honestly questionable because the genealogist of the family kept making new discoveries about our origins - at first we were 1/16th Irish and then it changed to Dutch and then back to Irish again - only our German, Czech, Lithuanian, and Polish ancestry is indisputable. It's probably safe to say that the only Irish in us is due to our relationship with the University of Notre Dame, our alma mater.

No, the reason Saint Patrick's Day is such a big deal is because Matthew makes it a big deal. He is very into feast days and no other feast day in the house is as great as his own! Being that his middle name is Patrick, he has been pining for Saint Patrick's Day for weeks. He has already asked me multiple times whether I am planning on hosting a green-themed surprise party to celebrate HIM on Saint Patrick's Day. Or whether he will receive gifts for HIS feast day. Or whether we will plan a fancy dinner in his honor on HIS feast day. I've calmly tried to explain that Patrick is not even his first name, but his middle name! And while I appreciate honoring the Saints after which our children are named, if we treated every feast day for both the first and middle name of each family member as if it were their birthday, we would be eating cake constantly.

I am planning on teaching the kids a lot about the life of Saint Patrick during the day on Friday. However, I also want to share with them a bit more about their older brother, my first baby that was lost to us during the early days of pregnancy. I felt so strongly that the baby was a little boy, so Paul and I named him Patrick Michael. Matthew's middle name is after in honor of his older brother, without whose passing Matthew's conception would not have been possible. Thus, Saint Patrick's Day is actually more appropriately our baby Patrick's feast day and seems a fitting time to discuss his short but meaningful life with our children. We'll see how they take it as they're still a bit young. But truly, that little soul, whose face I have to wait until heaven to see, is at the forefront of my mind whenever I hear the name "Patrick".

Baby Matthew

Baby Emma

Baby Lucia

And so, we will celebrate Saint Patrick's Day this year as we always do. We will eat Corned Beef, Cabbage, and Soda Bread; we will enjoy our time together as a family. But this year, I want to make the day even more meaningful by remembering, sharing, and reflecting on my first little angel baby whom I love and miss dearly. It's an odd thing, to still feel such grief yet also to feel so blessed that it happened because I now can clearly see how God executed his plan for our lives through that experience. He called my little baby to himself so that we could welcome Matthew into our arms, leaving us to both grieve the loss of Patrick while concurrently rejoicing in the blessing that is Matthew. We have another angel baby named Emma Grace and wouldn't have our Emma Rose were it not for her passing. Like I said, reflecting on that experience leaves me with such a mixture of emotions. But I think it's time that Patrick and Emma's story be shared with their siblings.

Sorry for that stream of consciousness.

In addition to our normal eats for the day, the kids and I made a fun snack mix to share called "Leprechaun Bait". It was Matthew's idea to make this mix after spying it online while I was browsing through Facebook. I initially thought it sounded gross - Lucky Charms and Mint M&Ms? Gross.

But, being the sucker I am, I let my son talk me into purchasing the ingredients and whipping up this monstrosity of sugar for the children. After we were finished, I decided to try a handful and then I just could not stop eating this. It is good. Like really, legitimately good! It took all my willpower to adhere to my Lenten resolution of no sugar and not eat an entire bowlful all by myself after the kids were in bed. It's seriously addicting. And the kids all agree!

The recipe calls for using a whole 3/4 cup of  JUST THE MARSHMALLOWS from the Lucky Charms cereal. I did actually spend quite a bit of time picking every, single, marshmallow out of a box of cereal which ended up totally about 1 cup. Then, I had to throw away the box and keep the remainder of the marshmallow-less cereal in a plastic container so that the kids wouldn't get all excited that we had Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast and then cry upon discovering that all the marshmallows - the best part - are missing. I actually like the cereal without the mallows so that's been my breakfast this week.

I encourage you to give this a try. It'd be a great snack mix to make for a classroom or office party. I am slipping bagfuls into Matthew's lunch during the week and he has loved having it for snack time.

Leprechaun Bait
barely adapted from Wishes and Dishes

7 cups Corn or Rice Chex
1 cup Lucky Charms cereal
1 cup crushed pretzels
1 11.4­ounce bag dark chocolate mint M&Ms
1 11­ounce bag white chocolate chips or melting discs
¾ cup of JUST the marshmallows from Lucky Charms box

In a large bowl combine Chex, 1 cup of Lucky Charms, pretzels and M&Ms.

In a heat­safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave for 30 seconds on 50% power. Stir and
repeat until the chips are completely melted.

Pour the melted white chocolate over the cereal mixture. Stir carefully to combine, as to not crush the Chex. Continue stirring until the mixture is completely coated with the white chocolate. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ cup of Lucky Charms marshmallows.

Pour mixture onto wax paper or parchment paper to dry and spread it out. Let it sit for about an hour to give the white chocolate time to set.

Store in an airtight container.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Chocolate-Chocolate Banana Bread

There are a few downsides of dog ownership. At the top of my list is having to monitor the pottying habits of another creature. While Peyton has been house training well, I really don't look forward to my daily trip outdoors after putting the children to bed where I pick up all of Peyton's presents that he left throughout the day.

However, one major perk of having Peyton around is his unique ability to cleanse the floor of any food particulate. He keeps our floor absolutely spotless whereas before after mealtime the floor would be littered in rejected, discarded pieces of my children's dinner. It's fantastic. It almost makes up for his muddy paws tracking in dirt after rolling around outside. Almost.

With this upside comes a downside. Peyton has no concept of what food or object is in fact smart for him to eat. And apparently there is a long list of foods that he shouldn't eat. I found this out the emotionally traumatic way after posting this picture on facebook.

Cute isn't it? Emma casually eating a bunch of grapes while Peyton looks longingly at her in the hopes that she might deem him worthy of one. Right after I posted the picture, several dog-loving friends began sending me urgent messages telling me that grapes, even in the smallest amount, can be lethal to dogs. Apparently it may contribute to kidney failure and the only possible rescue of the animal should that begin to occur is to put him on dialysis. What the what?! I had never, ever heard about this!

So, I spent the next day watching Peyton for signs of renal failure and interrogating Emma endlessly about just how many grapes he had managed to eat. Thankfully, from the information I garnered from my stubborn little girl, I came to the conclusion that she really does not relish sharing her food and he only ate the few grapes that she dropped. Still, I kept following my dog around just looking for any sign of illness - even going so far as to inspect his poop, counting the number of times he urinated, and measuring the amount of water he was drinking. Extreme yes. But I take care of little creatures for a living. It's what I do.

Long story short, the dog is fine. He's still alive and well, shedding his golden locks all over my floor and stealing my socks from the laundry room. But there are definitely no more grapes in his future. Or onions, garlic, etc...

...or chocolate! But everyone knows about that one. Thankfully we are not allergic to chocolate. That would be very sad indeed, because we would not get to enjoy fantastic treats like this Chocolate-Chocolate Banana Bread. Chocolate and bananas are just two of those magical foods that just seem to go together so perfectly. I saw this drool-worthy bread posted on the blog Two Peas and Their Pod and I just couldn't resist making this out of the rotting bananas sitting on the counter. I served this for breakfast on Sunday because that was pretty much the only day we could eat it since we gave up sweets for Lent. The kids LOVED this. It was a great little treat and so good with a cup of coffee. Shake up your banana bread routine and give this one a try. So good!

Chocolate-Chocolate Banana Bread
from Two Peas and their Pod

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa (preferred, but regular cocoa powder is fine)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 large very ripe bananas  (1 1/2 cups mashed)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup canola, vegetable oil, or melted coconut oil
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or line the bottom with parchment and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mash the ripe bananas with a fork. Add the melted butter and oil and stir until combined. Stir in the brown sugar, egg, and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, do not overmix or you will be sad! Stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips over the top of the bread. Bake for 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out mostly clean. Gooey chocolate is ok, but not wet, runny batter!

Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire cooling rack. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, lest it collapse when you try to remove it! Run a knife around the edges of the bread and carefully remove from the pan. Let the bread cool on the wire cooling rack until slightly warm. Cut into slices and serve.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Make-Ahead Alfredo Sauce

It's a Friday in Lent! Time for a meatless meal. I don't know about you, but I'm personally really burnt out with cooking. The kids really have me feeling defeated in the kitchen because every single thing I have cooked this week has been met with at least one of the following comments upon serving (and I quote): Blech! Yuck! Ewww! That's not my favorite! I don't want to eat that!

I swear I'm not a bad cook. My kids think I am though.

So tomorrow, I am doing something so simple and basic that the children are sure to not turn up their little noses. Alfredo sauce served over macaroni. Because that's really all Alfredo sauce is, right? Fancy cheese sauce. I could certainly dress the meal up by sauteeing some shrimp in a bit of butter and then tossing it together with the noodles and sauce OR roasting some vegetables with garlic and herbs and then throwing them into the noodles as well. But then the children certainly wouldn't eat it. And tomorrow I just want them to eat, to not complain, and then to go to bed on time so I can finally relax.

Thankfully, Elise posted this marvelous recipe for a Make-Ahead Alfredo Sauce. It can be prepared and then refrigerated for up to five days or frozen for even longer. I just whipped this up while I was already in the kitchen earlier in the week preparing a different meal and it is currently taking up shelf space in the fridge just waiting for its Friday evening debut for the children. I'm lucky there was some left to store. I kept eating it by the spoonful because it's pretty amazing. But what Alfredo Sauce isn't?!

I love how customizable this recipe can be. You can make a pretty pure Alfredo Sauce or you can branch out to create a luxurious, cheesy concoction more suitable for your tastes. Add Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, or a combination. Throw in some minced fresh herbs or dry mustard. Add some red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to kick up the heat a bit. There are so many ways you can amp this recipe up. But the single best part is that it can be made ahead of time and then reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop for a quick, easy dinner. I'm in love.

Of course you do realize that the kids probably won't touch this either. If that's the case, I'm definitely adding some vegetables!

Make-Ahead Alfredo Sauce
from Simply Recipes

Note: This makes enough sauce for 16 ounces of pasta lightly dressed. If you like it a little cheesier, make a double batch!

1 1/2 cups whole milk, plus extra as needed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3 to 3 1/3 ounces)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

First, warm the milk in the microwave in 30-second increments on HIGH. The milk does not have to be boiling, just warm to the touch and a bit steamy. Set aside.

Make a roux by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over top, then whisk together well. Continue to cook the roux, whisking constantly for 1 minute. The roux will begin to smell toasty and turn a golden hue.

Whisk in the warm milk by adding about 1/4 cup of the warm milk to the roux at a time. Never stop whisking. The roux will seize up into clumps and look terrible, but all will be well as long as you keep whisking. continue adding the milk in small increments until it all has been added. Continue cooking the sauce over medium heat, whisking constantly, for the next 3-5 minutes. When the sauce is ready it will have the appearance thick and silky appearance of heavy cream.

Once this happens, turn off the heat and add all the cheese at once. Whisk until the cheese has melted into the sauce and is no longer visible. At this point, the sauce should look quite thick and creamy.
You can return it to the heat and cook it a little longer, whisking occasionally, to let it thicken a little more if you like, but it's better to err on the side of a too-thin sauce at this point. It will thicken a bit more when you reheat it after storage.

Transfer the sauce to storage containers (I like to use a glass Mason jar) and cool completely. A skin will form on the surface of the sauce and the sauce will thicken to a paste-like consistency; this is normal. Refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to a month.

To reheat the sauce from frozen, transfer it to the fridge to thaw overnight before reheating.

Transfer the sauce into a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl. Gently warm over low heat, or in 30-second bursts in the microwave, until warmed. Stir occasionally, or between every 30-second burst in the microwave. It will start off very thick and paste-like, but will soften and return to a sauce as it warms. If the sauce seems too thick, whisk in a splash of milk, broth, or water until the sauce is as thinned as you like.

Use reheated sauce immediately: Toss with cooked pasta or pour over cooked vegetables, chicken, or fish.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The World's Best Pot Roast

On Friday night, Paul's work hosted a family night out at our local minor-league hockey game. Matthew is a huge hockey enthusiast and had been looking forward to this outing for months. Emma and Lucy, on the other hand, could care less about the hockey game and instead show up mainly for the food. Unlimited appetizers, desserts, cotton candy, and soft drinks? The two of them are more than willing to revel in gluttony heaven. Thankfully, the event is held in a press box that is outfitted with comfortable furniture and ample floor space for the little kids to run around and amuse themselves in other destructive ways rather than being tied to a bleacher seat where they would undoubtedly whine, moan, and flail, consequently obstructing the views of fans who actually came to watch the hockey match.

Despite every comfort of food and drink, Emma was a whiny, grumpy mess at the event. The game did not start until 7:00, the time that we normally have her winding down for bed, and boy did she need sleep that evening! When her cotton candy fell off of its paper handle, she bawled as if her puppy had just run away. I was half ready to scoop her up and leave when Paul's boss suddenly came in and started handing hockey pucks out to all the kids. When he handed one to Emma, she scowled in displeasure. What was she supposed to do with this? I wasn't sure myself, but Paul's boss instructed all the kids to follow him out to the rink for some contest called "Chuck-a-Puck." For those unfamiliar with this popular hockey fan game, basically audience members receive hockey pucks with a number on them that are linked back to their admission tickets. At halftime, the fans have the opportunity to throw their puck onto the ice in the hopes of landing in one of several designated targets.  The fans whose pucks successfully hit the targets win a prize. Well, Emma, after having the concept of the game explained to her, just chucked her puck into the corner of the room and refused to go. I certainly wasn't going to force her but Paul shoved her and her puck out the door and made her follow Matthew and the other kids down to the rink to participate in the game. She sauntered out with her shoulders hunched and her face wearing a frown, but obeyed.

I watched from the press box as they made their way down to the bottom row of seats lining the rink. Emma was still sulking, but at least holding her puck. The ice had been completely cleared with the exception of two hula hoops and two baby pools placed in a circular formation in the very center of the rink. The kids were all instructed to "ready their pucks" and then after a booming count to three, hundreds of hockey pucks were sent hurling over the barriers into the rink. The child whose puck landed in either the hula hoop or the baby pool was to receive a prize. I watched Matthew's puck soar high into the hair, clear the glass barrier (thankfully), and land on the ice, nowhere near the targets but at least on the ice. I completely missed Emma's throw. The kids headed back to the press box.

When Emma, Matthew, and Paul came back, Paul told me, "Emma won!" What? How in the world could she possibly have won? It would have been an amazing feat had she cleared the glass barrier alone (I was honestly worried about her puck ricocheting off of it and injuring another person)! But she did. Her numbered puck had clearly landed in one of the hula hoops. I congratulated Emma on her accomplishment and thoughts of enrolling her and that amazing arm of hers in some baseball classes for gifted athletes danced through my head.

Then Paul explained what REALLY happened.

Apparently, when it was time for the kids to throw, Emma wound herself up and threw her puck with all her might but somehow it actually popped up and flew backwards. Paul had quickly run back, caught the puck, and then flung it as quick as he could into the center of the ice before Emma could realize what happened. Amazingly, Paul managed to fling the puck right into one of the targets. And that, my friends, is how Emma won two tickets to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada.

With no plans to go to Toronto any time soon and honestly we would be charlatans if we were to claim to be die-hard hockey fans. Thankfully, Emma's godparents are hockey fanatics and are also planning a Canadian vacation in the coming months so Emma was more than happy to gift the tickets to them. Enjoy Jessica and Jesse!

And that is how Emma won Chuck-a-Puck.

Today is all things cold, dreary, wet, dark, and gloomy. Days like today need something warm and comforting to be served for dinnertime and I can think of nothing more homey than a beautiful pot roast served with mashed potatoes. Pot roast is one of those dishes than can be so wonderful when prepared well but so awful should the pot roast be dry, watery, or under seasoned. 

Below is the absolute best recipe for pot roast in the world. It's seriously fantastic. It's so good, in fact, that the year I was pregnant with Emma and going through a major shellfish aversion, we made this pot roast instead of our normal fish dinner for Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve worthy! That's how amazing this dish is!

The recipe reads like your typical pot roast recipe, only you must make this in a Dutch Oven in the oven - NOT the crockpot! The meat to be used here is a Chuck-Eye Roast - it's got just the right amount of marbling to ensure a flavorful, tender meat. The roast cooks in a stewing liquid of onions, celery, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, and red wine. The smell of this cooking is heavenly. But the BEST part is when the whole thing comes out of the oven, the meat is set aside to rest, and the most AMAZING gravy is made from the vegetables and defatted cooking liquid. Everything is pureed with a bit of extra beef broth before being amped up with just a touch of extra wine and balsamic vinegar to make a sauce that I could eat by the spoonful. Douse mashed potatoes and the sliced pot roast with this gravy and you will be in comfort-food heaven. I'm not exaggerating the merits of this dinner - it's been one of our favorites for seven years now!

We don't have many cold, dreary days left! Make this before the grilling days begin!

The World's Best Pot Roast
from Cook's Illustrated November/December 2010

1 boneless chuck-eye roast (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), pulled into two pieces at natural seam and trimmed of large knobs of fat
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, chopped medium (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib, chopped medium (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef broth, plus 1-2 additional cups for the sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine, plus an additional 1/4 cup for the sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig plus 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle the pieces of meat with 1 tablespoon salt (1 1/2 teaspoons if using table salt), place on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and let stand at room temperature for 1 hours.

Adjust the oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add carrot and celery; continue to cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes longer. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1 cup broth, 1/2 cups wine, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig; bring to simmer.

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season generously with pepper. Using 3 pieces of kitchen twine, tie each piece of meat into loaf shape for even cooking.

Nestle the meat on top of the vegetables. Cover pot tightly with large piece of foil and cover with lid. Transfer pot to oven. Cook beef until fully tender, or until a sharp knife can easily slip in and out of meat, 3 1/2 to 4 hours turning halfway through cooking.

Transfer roasts too cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Strain liquid through mesh strainer into 4 cup liquid measuring cup. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Transfer vegetables to blender jar. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then skim any fat off the surface. Add beef broth as necessary to bring total liquid amount to 3 cups. Place liquid in blender with vegetables and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to medium saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat.

While sauce heats, remove twine from roast and slice against grain into 1/2-inch slices. Transfer meat to large serving platter. Stir chopped thyme, remaining 1/4 cup wine, and vinegar into sauce and season to taste with sat and pepper. Spoon half of sauce over meat, passing remaining sauce separately.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

What's New, Lucy Loo?

As I'm writing this, it is Ash Wednesday and I am in the middle of an all day fast. Because of this, I don't think it would be prudent of me to look at food photographs or talk recipes lest I faint from hunger so instead I'm going to write tiny little updates on each of the kids. And in case you were wondering about the title of this post, "Lucy Loo" is just one of many, many little nicknames we use for our youngest. I can always rely on her to let me know the scoop on her other two siblings, I just have to ask "What's New, Lucy Loo?" She's quite the tattle-tale. More on her later. Let's get the latest scoop on Matthew first.


Matthew gets very involved in any and every holiday. I don't know any other little kid who, for example, goes around wishing everyone he sees a "Happy President's Day!" I think most people just accept their day off of school and happily sleep in. Not Matthew.

So, just like he is for every other holiday, Matthew was completely psyched about Valentine's Day and very eager to spread the love. He came home from school that day with a backpack full of various heart-shaped treats, cards, and notes. He willingly shared his loot with his sisters and then asked me if he could make some more valentines. Sure, I told him, but who would these ones be for? He then told me that he wanted to give them to some of our neighbors because they are all so nice to him. So, he sat down and made a personalized valentine for a few of our surrounding neighbors, including an old German Shepherd named Chloe who lives up the street. He then took Peyton out for a walk and delivered his valentines by placing them in the recipient's mailboxes. I thought it was cute.

Fast forward to yesterday and I was on the front lawn playing with Peyton, Emma, and Lucy when our next door neighbor Chuck came out to smoke a cigarette. Now, Chuck lives alone in the house next door to us. He has six kids and eight grandchildren, but they all live a few hours away. He smokes a lot and usually does so in the side doorway of his garage door which happens to face our house. My kids, being the friendly yet annoying little creatures they are, enjoy chatting with him while he is out and asking him all sorts of personal questions, including "Why do you put so much smoke in your body?" or, my personal favorite from Matthew, "Where's your wife?!"

Anyway, when Chuck came out for a smoke yesterday, Peyton bounded over to him for a good petting and Emma sprinted up close behind him and proceeded to enter his garage. I told you she was nosy. As I was dragging Emma away from the garage, Chuck asked me where Matthew was and I told him that he was in school. Then he said, "I've been keeping an eye out for him because I wanted to thank him for the valentine he left in my mailbox. I came home from work and found it and it was such a nice surprise. I can't tell you the last time someone actually thought of me on Valentine's Day. It meant a lot. Please tell him how much I appreciated it." It was so sweet. He was legitimately touched by Matthew's simple gesture and it made me so proud of my sweet little son.

I told Matthew about the encounter when I picked him up from school and he beamed with happiness. I'm thrilled that he is discovering how good it can feel to do something nice for someone else...

...of course, this happened the same day that I got a note home from school detailing how Matthew got into a fight with another student. Reality check. This is a kid who is sweet, caring, and compassionate but does have a bit of a devilish side. He usually loves school, but has been very reluctant to attend lately. I think it's because his studies are not coming as easy as they were at the beginning of the year and he is just "over it." Almost every morning, he tries to come up with some reason why he should stay home. Once I tell him no and ask him to get dressed, he's fine. However, I have been having a couple chats with the teacher about his "restlessness" during the school day. He's been having a hard time buckling down and focusing on his work. His grades are good, but he has just been acting out an inappropriate moments and I think there might be some type of friendship problem going on. I have been unable to extract any detailed information from him, but he has never been all that forthcoming. Rather than asking him directly, I'm better off just doing some type of activity with him and letting him talk to me about whatever he sees fit and almost always he will eventually tell me what's going on. So far though, not much has come up. Hopefully we get to the bottom of it soon!


Emma is back to being her normal sweet yet mischievous self. Thankfully we have not had as many tantrums and other behavioral issues as we were for a couple months. She is excelling at her schoolwork and is showing remarkable penmanship despite being left-handed. Because she does so well socially and appears to be accepting academic instruction from me, Paul and I have decided not to send her to preschool next year. This decision has been very relieving for me because I am honestly not ready to let her go quite yet. I really do enjoy our time together and selfishly want another year of her being around all day, every day. We sent Matthew to preschool because he definitely needed some extra socialization to prepare him for Kindergarten as well as proper introduction to a classroom environment. While that proved to be an excellent decision for Matthew, Emma is a much different child and has not displayed the same needs as her older brother. I am confident that she will do just beautifully beginning school with Kindergarten. I'm pretty sure her little sister will be happy to have her around for another year as well.

One of the things about Emma that I have always been proud of is her love for organization. Ever since she was super little, Emma enjoyed sorting or stacking items. She loved sorting the books on her bookshelf by height. She loved stacking blocks of similar style. She likes to organize her toys by color. She loves putting things away in the containers that they belong. When I ask her to clean up her room, she usually does an excellent job of putting everything away exactly where it belongs.

Which is why it is incredibly baffling when she gets in these moods when suddenly the most simple tasks appear insurmountable to her. The other day, Paul was miffed at her because she kept bringing down toys from her room and leaving them scattered about the couches in the living room. After repeatedly telling her to put the toys away, he finally threatened that he would throw away all her favorite toys if she did not comply.

"But Daddy! I'm too tired to clean up!" Emma complained, prostrating herself on the floor in feigned exhaustion.
"Fine Emma! Tell me what all your favorite toys are and I am going to get a garbage bag and throw them away!" Paul threatened, reaching under the sink for a garbage bag.

So what does Emma do? She agrees to the punishment and then proceeds to list off all of Matthew's toys. What a diabolical little thing!

Yes, I got the girls matching Beatles shirts for Valentine's Day.
They say "P.S. I Love You" on the bottom.
They will thank me someday.


Lucy has just been too much fun. I absolutely love this age! She certainly has a mind of her own, but is still fairly complacent to go along with whatever is happening throughout our day. Think about it from her perspective, she is playing happily with toys when I decide it's time to run errands. She gets scooped up, buckled into her seat, and then carried from place to place just happy as can be. She is great company because she is talking so much and loves to point out things she sees as we are out and about. Love her, love this phase! Here is a rundown on Lucy's current likes and dislikes.

Favorite Books: Llama Llama Red Pajama, Peanut Butter & Cupcake, or Baby's First Words (called "Sassy" by Lucy)

Favorite Food: Toasted Coconut Greek Yogurt, anything chocolate, and Fruit Snacks

Favorite Color: Pink

Favorite Animal: A pig, for reasons beyond my comprehension.

Favorite article of Clothing: Her fleece nightgown with printed snowmen (Lucy refers to it as "my snowman"). She almost always throws a fit when I am getting her dressed for the day because she hates taking it off.

Favorite Forbidden Activity: Raiding Mom's desk or cosmetic bag

Favorite Allowed Activity: Going down the slides at the park, taking long walks outside, reading books

Least Favorite Activity: Getting her hair brushed. You would think she was being tortured.

Most Dangerous Activity: She climbs EVERYTHING. Paul has had several tiny heart attacks from discovering her perched atop a not-so-safe location she recently scaled.

Most Annoying Tendency: She loves to squeeze my cheeks together with both of her fat little hands whenever I'm holding her in public. She especially likes to do this during church while I'm praying and it is so annoying!

Favorite Prank: She loves to sneak up behind Matthew or Emma and snatch whatever they are playing with away and then run off, hugging the object close to her while yelling: "Mine!" She does it just to make them mad and it is definitely effective.

Favorite Place: Most definitely, without a doubt, Lucy's favorite spot is the park! Any park! As long as there are slides!

Favorite Phrases: There are quite a few, so I will do these in a bulleted list.
  • Whenever someone coughs or sneezes, she cocks her head to the side and asks "Okay?" And won't quit asking until the ailing individual affirms that he or she is in fact doing just fine.
  • She refers to her socks as "See Socks"
  • She melts my heart each and every time she snuggles in close and says: "I luv loo!"
  • She refers to Matthew as "Watchoo".
  • She loves to tattle on Emma by running up to me while pointing back at her sister saying, "Wook! Emma doing!" She also tattles on the puppy. 
  • Speaking of the puppy, Lucy loves to order him around. She can be heard commanding him to sit, stay, and lay down, followed by an enthusiastic "bood boy!"
  • Every time she makes a new discovery or is legitimately surprised, she says: "Oh My!" You can hear her say this no less than 100x each day. It's so precious.
  • She still loves to lift up her shirt and point out her "Bee Butt" (belly button).

This is the face of a little girl who is more than a little excited to be back at the park thanks
to all this warm weather we've been having!!

That's what's current with the kids. What's new with you?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Swedish Cinnamon Buns

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of the Lenten season. For us Catholics, it is an opportunity for fasting, prayer, reflection, and reconciliation in order to strengthen our relationship with God. Everyone knows Lent is coming because McDonald's and all the other fast food places will suddenly be heavily adverting their various fried fish sandwiches because, on Fridays in Lent, us poor Catholics must abstain from meat. With a Filet-o-Fish in one hand and a Shamrock Shake in the other, we Catholics are ready for Lent!

I've been trying to talk about Lent with my kids with the hopes that we might just some small sacrifice to perform together as a family. In the past, we have typically done something food-related. We gave up cheese for a couple years but that actually proved to be extremely difficult and we almost always ended up making one to many exceptions. We also tried abstaining from meat for the entirety of Lent, but Paul almost had a nervous breakdown so we had to quit that. I decided to conduct a Lenten-themed interview with my two eldest children in order to devise an appropriate Lenten resolution for our family.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Do you know what Ash Wednesday is?

Emma: No.
Matthew: Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a day that we get ready for Jesus and pray a lot.

What also happens?

Matthew: No Alleluias and no glorias.

What do we get on our foreheads?

Matthew: Ashes.
Emma: I don't know.

What is Lent?

Emma: I don't know.
Matthew: It's supposed to be where we celebrate about Jesus died. And we celebrate that he does the body and blood on the Last Supper.

Typically during Lent, our family gives something up. Can you think of something that you can do without for 40 days?

Emma: Water or food.
Matthew: Or Sweets!

Two years ago, we gave up cheese for all of Lent.

Matthew: Why? Cheese is not a sweet.

Right, because we were giving up cheese not sweets. Do you want to give up cheese again?

Both: NO!

Why don't you want to give up cheese?

Emma: Because I like cheese too much.
Matthew: Because that's what God told us to do.
Emma: Mommy, can I have a slice of cheese?

Ok. So we're getting off track here. Do you guys want to give up TV? No TV for 40 days. 

Emma: No.
Matthew: How about sweets?
Emma: Yes. Sweets!

If we give up sweets, that means no candy, no desserts, no ice cream, no sugary breakfasts...

Matthew: And no cupcakes.
Matthew: I said NO cupcakes Emma because those are sweets!
Emma: I KNOW that Matthew.
Matthew: We gave it up.
Emma: I have a good idea, we should give up Cupcakes Mommy!

So, it appears that sugar will be off the table with the exception of Emma's birthday. That pretty much eliminates any and all baking for me, so I wanted to make one, last treat before placing a big ol' piece of packing tape around my sugar jars for the next 40 days. I have had this recipe for Swedish Cinnamon Buns pinned for a while mainly for two reasons:

Reason #1: I cannot resist any baked good that contains Cardamom
Reason #2: I wanted to learn how to shape these pretty buns! They are so gorgeous!

This recipe is made by making up a basic sweet dough. First, you scald the milk and simultaneously melt the butter. Mix your dry ingredients together (including some fresh-ground cardamom!), then slowly incorporate your cooled milk mixture and egg and knead until smooth, elastic, and just a bit tacky. Let rise one hour and make a cinnamon paste while you wait. Roll the dough out, spread with the cinnamon paste - which takes a bit of patience - and then fold in half and cut the dough into strips. Now, I watched a YouTube video because I am a very visual learner but I can assure you that the shaping is super easy. You take each cut strip and twist it a few times before snaking it around one end of it to form a little rosette. Tuck the ends under, seal them, and then place on your baking sheet. Quick, easy, and beautiful!

These babies tasted best slightly warm from the oven. They are airy and light in texture, reminiscent of a croissant and are not nearly as sweet as their more well known cousin, the cinnamon roll. The cardamom in the dough is just subtle enough that it adds a hint of mystery flavor, certainly making its presence known to the diner but not in such an aggressive way that its identity is readily determined. I would have probably preferred a little more cardamom, but I know that a lot of people are scared of it (including my husband) so the amount called for in the recipe is probably just perfect for most people. A bit of orange zest added to the dough would be a wonderful addition. One of these buns enjoyed in the morning sunshine with a hot mug of coffee was the perfect way to begin the last day before Lent. Goodbye, sweet baked confections. See you in 40 days.

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (Kanelbullar)
adapted from Treats

For the Dough:
1 cup whole milk
3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 large egg
4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet (1/4 ounce or 7 grams) instant yeast

For the Filling:
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (60 grams) unsalted butter, soft

For the Egg Glaze:
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons coarse sugar

Place the milk and butter into a saucepan over low heat and cook until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to around 115 degrees (have patience!) and then mix in the egg.

Place the flour, cardamom, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer attached with the dough hook and mix together.  Add the instant yeast and mix thoroughly.  With the mixer running slowsly, add the liquid mixture and then increase the speed to medium and mix to form a rough dough. The dough will appear sticky at first, but keep kneading it with the mixer and it will eventually come together and form a smooth, tacky but not sticky dough. It will take a good 7-10 minutes. When the dough feels smooth, elastic, and air when pressed, it is done kneading.

Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place somewhere warm and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Line two baking trays with parchment paper and set aside. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, flatten into a rough rectangle and then roll out until approximately 10" x 14" in dimension.  For the filling, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and butter together to form a smooth paste. Using a spatula or spoon spread the filling evenly across the dough. I found a small spatula to work the best. Be patient and careful not to tear the dough!

Fold the dough in half lengthwise and cut in half crosswise. Cut each half into nine strips. Working with one strip at a time, twist the entire strip a few times to give it a bit of a spiral appearance. Then, with your left hand holding one end, use your other hand to gently snake the strand around the left end, forming a rosette shape. Tuck the ends other and pinch to seal. Transfer to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. If my words are not making any sense, watch this YouTube video. It's very helpful.

Roll the dough along the long edge into a sausage. Using a serrated knife or dental floss cut into twelve rounds. Place onto the prepared baking trays and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rise until almost doubled, about 45-60 minutes.

Whilst proving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When ready to bake brush the buns with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar, then bake in the preheated oven for about 20-22 minutes or until golden brown. Best served warm.