Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Roasted Delicata Squash

It's no secret that I love fall produce - particularly all the pumpkin and squash that is so abundant this time of year. However, my favorite of all the various squash out there is not butternut, pumpkin or acorn. It's delicata! I love the rich, sweet flavor of this humble little vegetable and how wonderfully it tastes either on it's own or in a salad. I also love that unlike pretty much every other squash on the market, I do not have to spend a bit of time removing the skin! Once the squash is roasted, the skin is edible! How awesome is that? It's the perfect vegetable for a busy mom who is trying her best not to lose a finger before dinnertime.

Since delicata squash comes in a rather small, compact size (unlike some of those monster squash cousins of theirs), they are easy to slice in half lengthwise, exposing the seeds and stringy middle innards. Scoop these out with a spoon, then lay the squash on the cutting board cut-side down and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. They look kind of cute once all cut up - like little orange moons or a bunch of wrinkly ears, depending on your perspective!

Toss them with a little oil, salt, and a touch of sugar to aid with caramelizing then throw them in a 425 degree preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Voila! You have a great Fall side dish that is great on it's own or even better tossed into a salad. I like to combine it still warm with freshly chopped spinach, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, shaved Parmesan, and this apple cider vinaigrette. To me, it's a heavenly meal!

Now I will note that not everyone enjoys the fantastic flavors of this squash. This is the sad reason why I do not get to make or eat this very often. My Paul is viscerally opposed to this squash. He is kind of weird about squash in general - he likes butternut, but only if it is in a pasta, risotto, or pureed into a soup. Spaghetti squash also gets a big thumbs up from him. He pretty much detests any other cooked squash. Watching him eat my beloved delicata squash is like watching a picky three-year-old finish his dinner. He is still sitting at the kitchen table long after the rest of us have finished, timidly picking at his plate with a look of abhorrence plastered across his face. I noticed him trying to dump some of his dinner down the disposal while I wasn't looking and told him he had to finish every bite. He whined, but eventually ate everything. And I wonder where my picky eater Matthew gets it? In my opinion, he's missing out - this is delicious stuff.

Try it and see for yourself - do you agree with me or Paul?

Roasted Delicata Squash

2 pounds delicata squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Slice the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and innards from the small center cavity. Turn the squash cut-side down and slice crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.

In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the olive oil, sugar, and salt. Spread evenly onto a couple foil-lined baking sheets. Place in the oven and allow to roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is tender and beginning to brown. You may flip the pieces after 10 minutes if you like or you can just let them go.

Remove from the oven. Let cool for about a minute and then serve warm!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Our Trip to Montana: Part II

Once we arrived in Montana, Paul and I enjoyed watching the kids interact with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There were a lot of new faces for Emma to see! Matthew luckily has an excellent memory and remembered everyone right off the bat. He especially had no trouble whatsoever wrestling with Grandpa nonstop.
Grandpa with his two granddaughters: Evy and Emma.

Both kids were smitten with Aunt MaryRose. Each night around dinnertime, Matthew would ask: "I sit next to MaryRose?" When I tucked him into bed at night, he would ask, just to be sure: "Mommy...MaryRose is my friend, right?"

I'd just reply: "She's even better than that, Matthew. She's your Aunt!"

We LOVE Aunt MaryRose!

Cousin piano lessons with Aunt MaryRose.

Grandpa took Matthew and Paul fishing on two separate occasions. Even though he was pretty tired, Matthew was looking forward to going. He had been begging Paul to take him fishing for a while now. Unfortunately, neither trip resulted in actually catching a fish. Shortly afterwards, Matthew asked me why they call it "fishing" when no actual fish are involved. Maybe next time, he'll catch something!

Matthew was so excited to play with his cousins Benedict and Steven. Each day, he would look forward to them coming over to play. There was the occasional fight and shedding of tears, but overall they got along splendidly. At one point, all three of them were entangled in an intense wrestling match. I was a little worried there would be some bloody noses and bruised eyes, but everyone emerged unscathed!

Benedict, Matthew, and Steven playing in the leaves.
Amy (+Evy), Benedict, Matthew, Ali (+Stevie), MaryRose, and Emma.

All the Nistler grandkids together on one bench.

Paul and I also got to meet our little niece Evelyn ("Evy") for the first time! She is six months younger than Emma and is the most adorable little lady! Both Emma and Matthew were quite taken with her. Matthew especially liked to stroke the top of her head and kiss her. I think he misses the days when he used to be able to patronize Emma that way. Now if he tries to pet her head or kiss her without permission, she'll squawk at him or punch him.

Matthew simply adored Evelyn. He loves babies!

Emma, Matthew, and Evy.

Since our last visit, MaryRose had become the proud owner of an adorable cat named "Katie". Emma was especially excited to see Katie, although it took quite a while before she realized that not all cats are named "Riley". She soon figured it out. Luckily, Katie is a super-affectionate cat and seemed to tolerate the amount of attention Emma gave her.

Katie braces herself to receive a kiss from Emma.

We also enjoyed seeing some of Paul's many, many cousins. We especially enjoyed getting together with Paul and Amy's godson Josh. That kid is hilarious. We went on a hike with him and he took us on a path that went straight up the side of the mountain. This normally would not be a problem except, as we told him at the time, he was taking three old-timers (Paul, Amy, and I) along with him. We were all panting after him as he practically ran up the side of the hill. That's what you get when you go on a hike with two pregnant ladies and Paul. Before we left, Josh gave Paul a big box filled with Almond Roca - his favorite homemade candy. That box won't last long!

Paul with his godson Josh

It was such a wonderful few days visiting with so many people we love - Mom, Dad, Amy, Ali, Jake, MaryRose, Joe, JohnPaul, Benedict, Steven, and Evy - just to name a few! As we sadly drove away to make the long trek back across the country, we promised that the next time we came we would stay for a longer period of time! Until the next time we see everyone again, thanks for some great memories! 

Emma and Aunt Amy reading a story together.

The two granddaughters.
Family picture take two. We had to retreat inside because it began to rain as we took our first picture on the porch!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our Trip to Montana: Part I

Two weeks ago, Paul and I embarked on a crazy trip across the country to visit our family in Montana. This was our first time driving out together and definitely our first time taking our kids on such a long trip! Since my sister's bachelorette party was happening the weekend we decided to leave, we planned to leave early in the morning on Sunday, October 12th and drive pretty much straight through - hoping to arrive in the late morning of Monday, October 13th. It's one long 24-hour car trip to Montana. Rather than prolonging the agony of the miles and miles we had to travel, Paul and I both agreed that the "band-aid" approach was best - plus, our kids are historically better sleepers in the car than they are in hotel rooms.

So, we drove to Ohio for my sister's bachelorette party - which I attended while Paul hung out with my brothers and the children. After a fun evening, I arrived home a little after midnight to find Paul in the middle of an intense strategy game with my brothers (which he was losing) and both children sleeping soundly. I sat up, chatting with the guys and Mary (my brother Raymond's fiancee) until well past 1:00 AM as the game wrapped up.

At 1:30 AM, Emma woke up. I tried my best to get her to sleep but she was having none of it. Paul and I both tried to calm her down for a good 15 minutes before we decided that perhaps her caterwauling was a sign that we should just start our trip now. We packed up, loaded a sleepy Matthew and a crabby Emma into the car, and drove out into the night, beginning our journey at 2:30 AM rather than at 6:00 AM as we had previously planned. And from there, we drove.

We drove and drove and drove. As we crossed each state line, Paul and I would give one another a high-five. Each state we crossed was another large portion of our trip conquered, making us one step closer to our far-off destination! We stopped for a quick breakfast and lunch, but other than that, we kept on driving and driving, determined to meet our goal! The kids, miraculously were a dream. They loved just being able to sit around and do nothing. Paul and I always joked that we had lazy kids -a and here was our ultimate proof. As long as we kept the snacks coming, the crayons plentiful, and the occasional movie running on our laptop, they were in heaven.

Paul and I, however were not faring so well. We began our journey pretty pumped up and energetic, but as the day passed and night once again began to creep upon us, we found ourselves becoming infinitely more tired. This also meant that we began to turn into angry ogres, growling spitefully at one another and blowing up over petty disagreements that arose, such as whether to stop at a Culver's or a Subway. I could barely keep my eyes open. They hurt so bad!

We stopped at a gas station shortly after we crossed the Montana border around 11:00 PM to purchase some highly caffeinated beverages and splash some water on our swollen, exhausted faces. As I stood at the counter purchasing my Double-Espresso iced coffee, the cashier asked me if we had far to travel. When I told her our destination was Helena, she stopped and exclaimed: "Oh you poor dear! I know that drive! You still have so far to go!" That about made me burst into tears.

Needless to say, Paul and I trudged on, only managing to stay awake because we had The Avengers playing on the laptop. As we approached Miles City, MT, Emma woke up and, for the first time the entire trip, was so sad, mad, tired, and frustrated that she was absolutely demanding to be freed from the confines of her car seat. We took that as a sign that, after 24 hours of driving and less than 6 hours from our final destination, it was time to call it quits. We stopped at a motel, paid for a room, and collapsed into bed with the kids. Everyone was asleep in a matter of minutes.

We got six glorious hours of sleep before the kids woke us up demanding sustenance. The motel had a wonderful breakfast buffet and we filled our tummies and gulped down multiple cups of coffee before heading back to our room for showers. While getting cleaned up and repacking the car to begin the final leg of our journey, I knew that I was still tired out of my mind and extremely hormonal (or a combination of the two) because I could not stop crying. I would be standing there brushing my hair and the tears would start to flow. I could not find my contact case and the waterworks would suddenly explode. You get the picture. Luckily, Paul and the children were as perky as ever and tried their best to ignore me as I sobbed my way through Lady and the Tramp with the kids in the backseat of the car. I was a mess, I tell you. A mess.

The rest of our trip passed without incidence and soon we had finally made it to Grandma and Grandpa Nistler's house. FINALLY! The kids were so excited to arrive and felt instantly at home.

See? She felt right at home. Already walking around without her pants. 

I'll continue with Part II Next!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Easy Homemade Luminaries for Halloween

Matthew loves arts and crafts. It is so awesome to see how excited he gets to complete a project from start to finish. He takes a lot of pride in everything he creates - which is why we are collecting quite the large pile of drawings, finger paintings, and other art projects he has been madly creating over the past few months. We probably need to start throwing at least some of these away - without him knowing, of course! There has been more than one occasion when he has spotted a masterpiece of his in the garbage that his not-so-sneaky Mom tried to toss. He'll just pick off the chicken scraps, carrot peels, and whatever else was thrown on top of it in the garbage and come running to me, declaring: "Look Mommy! Thank goodness I found my picture!" He'll then stick it back on the fridge where it will remain on display, food stains and all, until bedtime when I'll have another chance to dispose of it again.

When I was little, I also enjoyed arts and crafts. I used to subscribe to a magazine that was filled with all kinds of seasonal crafts and I would bug my Mom until she would help me collect the materials necessary to complete the project. Like the one year when I made a Jack-in-the-Box costume to wear on Halloween. Or the time I tried to make a window seat for my bedroom out of cardboard boxes and leftover fabric. That one did not go over so well. Anyway, the point is that I really enjoy Matthew's creative spirit. So, whenever I see an easy craft idea that I know we can successfully execute, I do not hesitate to make plans to create with my little guy.

Enter these super easy Halloween luminaries. If you are anything like me, you have a difficult time throwing away any of the glass jars that food items come in. These include spaghetti sauce jars, jam jars, and pickle jars. I always think that they have such storage potential that I have been hoarding them for years now - I have an entire shelf full of glass jars just waiting to be used. While reading a magazine at a dental appointment, I saw an idea for turning glass jars into seasonal luminaries. The article detailed gluing pieces of colorful tissue paper onto the jars to make different designs. Using the basic idea of the article, I chose to take an easier route in making our luminaries. Instead of tediously gluing paper to the inside, I let Matthew coat the outside of the jars with a thin layer of acrylic paint. The little guy loves to paint and he did a great job! In honor of Halloween,we painted the jars orange for pumpkins, white for ghosts, and green for monsters. After the outer layer of paint had dried, I painted different silly faces on the outside (following Matthew's careful instruction) using black acrylic and in less than two hours we had a fine assortment of Halloween luminaries!

Matthew was so excited to light them for the first time! He had to give each one a kiss just because he's strange like that.

They turned out super cute and we had a great time making them! It was a fun afternoon of crafting with my little guy. I can't wait to make more around Christmas time! Only they'll be Christmas-themed. No more ghosts, goblins, and pumpkins!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bacon and Cheese Pierogi Casserole

Warning: There was no way to make this look pretty on a plate. I did not even try. But don't let that deter you from recognizing the deliciousness and awesomeness of this casserole!

My only experience with authentic, homemade Pierogies happened a couple months ago when the kids and I met Paul for lunch at a tiny Polish diner near his office. The little diner advertised their homemade Pierogies all over interior and exterior walls of the tiny establishment so we naturally had to give them a try. I was also curious to see how homemade Pierogies measured up to my beloved Mrs. T's frozen Pierogies. In a matter of minutes, the waitress brought us a plate-sized Pierogi floating in a pool of grease with a melting pat of butter on top. I, being the snob I am, pushed it away. I could already feel my stomach rejecting the pile of grease in front of me. Paul, on the other hand, dug right in and declared the dish "fantastic." Afterwards, he kept teasing me about it, saying: "When you ordered a Pierogi, what did you expect - a salad?"

Fast forward to October 22nd of this year, the feast day of Saint John Paul II. I really wanted to make something Polish in remembrance of one of my favorite saints. When I asked my Polish husband what kinds of authentic Polish dishes he liked, the only thing he could come up with was cabbage rolls, kielbasa, and pierogies. The Pierogies sounded the most appealing to me, but I honestly did not feel like rolling out the dough and stuffing individual Pierogies. I decided to go the simpler (and admittedly less-authentic) route and make a "casserole-style" Pierogi. This is nothing like what your Polish grandmother used to make, as I'm sure she did not run to the Italian section of her grocery store to buy a box of lasagna noodles before making her Pierogies! I got the idea for this dish from some friends of ours who made something similar for their son's high school graduation party. I know I did not make it exactly how they did - I'm pretty sure they did not add any bacon. But, I was really wanting some bacon. It's been months. Paul did not object to this idea, so I used this recipe as an excuse to buy some bacon.

The casserole was easy to assemble and ready in no time! We served it with a simple tossed salad and lots of sour cream. I was amazed that both kids cleaned their plates! Matthew, who has historically spent the majority of his childhood gagging his way through mashed potatoes, ate his entire meal without incident. Emma picked out the bacon - but Paul the vulture was ready to swoop down and take care of her scraps: "I can't let good bacon go to waste!"

If you are feeling indulgent, want something to eat the night before a marathon, or are just in the mood for some good, old-fashioned, not-quite-Polish comfort food, than this is the dish for you!

*If you are wondering why I keep capitalizing the word "Pierogi", I do not have a good answer for you. It's something I'm doing subconsciously and am too lazy to go back and correct.

Bacon and Cheese Pierogi Casserole

5 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon salt
1/2-3/4 cup milk warmed
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cheddar cheese, minced
6 lasagna noodles
Salt and Pepper
Sour Cream (for serving)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and fill with enough water to cover by 1-inch. Bring to a boil, Add the salt to the water, stir, and allow the potatoes to cook until tender. Drain well.

Push the potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl, Add the warm milk and butter and enough salt and pepper to taste. Make sure the potatoes are very well seasoned! You can also add some garlic powder and paprika if you like. Set aside.

Cook the bacon and onion together in a large skillet over medium heat until the bacon is crispy. Add the garlic and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Drain the onion-bacon mixture on paper towels.

Cook the lasagna noodles according to the packaged directions. Once done, cool the noodles under cold running water.

To layer the casserole: Spread half the potatoes on the bottom of a 13x9 casserole dish. Top with 1/3 of the cheese and half of the onion-bacon mixture. Place a layer of lasagna noodles over the top, Repeat with the potatoes, cheese, onion/bacon, and lasagna noodles. Sprinkle the top layer of lasagna noodles with the rest of the cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the casserole is warmed throughout.

Serve topped with sour cream! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

First Haircuts

Emma had her first haircut the other day!

However, this trim was neither planned nor wanted.

Matthew has been bringing home pages for him to practice cutting with scissors. The pages have various diagonal lines and shapes drawn in thick black marker for him to cut out using his kid scissors. The other day, both him and Emma were engrossed in The Animal Alphabet. Emma was down on the floor near the television playing with blocks while she watched and Matthew was up at the table practicing with the scissors. Paul and I were cleaning the kitchen after breakfast.

A few minutes later, Paul glanced over to see Matthew and Emma standing next to one another in front of the television, completely engrossed in the program. Matthew had the scissors in his hand. Emma was wearing a tight, Alfalfa-style pony tail on the top of her head. As if in slow motion, we saw Matthew glance at Emma's ponytail and, with an impish grin spreading across his face, swiftly snip off the tip of it with his scissors. Emma, still completely engrossed in The Animal Alphabet, did not care or notice when little bits of her fine, brown hair came raining down. But Paul and I freaked!

We sent that naughty child up to his room and told him the scissors were off limit for the time being. After he had shut the door and was out of earshot, we both started laughing. It was funny! And honestly, Emma is such a wild child right now with her hair anyway that this trim is hardly that noticeable. However, I want to drive the point home to Mr. Matthew that he really should not ever try to play barbershop on his sister again - next time he might completely bald her!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Five Favorites: The Kid Edition

While I'm still not feeling up to baking and cooking or even thinking about food, there is no reason why I should not update everyone on what's going on with the kids by linking up with all the other lovelies for another Five Favorites post. The children are as busy as ever and already lamenting the cooler weather we've been having. They miss playing outside all the time! Here is a quick collection of their recent favorite toys and distractions.

1. Davy Crockett

Everyone remembers this Disney classic, right? Matthew and Emma have both been really into these movies lately. Since we are some of the only people on this earth who still have a VHS player, our family has bequeathed us various VHS movies from our childhood. Paul's parents gave us both Davy Crockett movies and our kids have been hooked since the first viewing. I was really surprised that the movies actually amuse Emma as well, but she will bring me one of the cases asking: "Crockett? Crockett?" I wish I was joking.

Matthew sings the theme song every day - while getting dressed, while using the bathroom, while cleaning his room. All the time. He's been singing it so much, that I found myself dreaming while that song played through my mind. If his obsession continues until his next birthday, he might be getting a coonskin cap and a toy rifle.

Will Davy Crockett make it out of the Alamo?!?
*Spoiler Alert*

2. Baby Animals Book

This is Emma's favorite board book. She is obsessed with books anyway and will sit in my lap and let me read to her for hours, but this book has completely enchanted her. The pictures are super adorable of various baby animals. She is also into the concept of "babies" anyway, so I think it fascinates her to see what baby animals look like. Whatever it is, she sleeps with this book, insists on studying it like a textbook, and carries it with her pretty much everywhere. Sad reality is, we do not actually own this book. It is from the library, and I have just exhausted the maximum renewal limit (she's had it since June). We'll be returning it this week and I'll be trying to get her hooked back on Moo, Baa, LaLaLa - her previous favorite.

3. Magnetic Drawing Board

This toy is a blessing and a curse. Both kids love to doodle but sometimes end up coloring on surfaces they shouldn't. So, I got one of these drawing boards from the store - mainly for Emma, since she has the most difficulty - but Matthew has really fallen in loves with it. They use it constantly. And fight over it constantly! Matthew especially will get quite angry at Emma because he would have just finished drawing a "masterpiece" on it and they she'll come along and erase it. I try to explain to him that if he really wants to draw an important work of art, then he should not use a magnetic board to do so, but this normally does little to console him. This toy is currently hidden under my bed because I could not take another moment of their fighting over it this morning.

Sometimes they share. But inevitably....

....a fight ensues. Excuse the near-mooning from my son.

4. Pull Behind Ladybug

This is Matthew's torture device of choice for his little sister. While it is technically her toy (and she knows it!), he loves to use it to taunt her. He'll drag it behind him while calling: "Oh Emma! Over here! You can't get me!" And then he'll begin to run across the room with the noisy ladybug in tow while Emma runs to the best of her ability after him, arms outstretched Frankenstein-style, while screaming at the top of her lungs. I personally hate this game because they are SO LOUD, but there have been days where I've just stuck a couple plugs in my ears to mute the noise and then gone about my business because they're happy and I have to get a few things done.

5. Giant Stuffed White Bear

Referred to simply as "Bear" by Emma, this gigantic stuffed animal came to us by way of a gracious neighbor who was cleaning out her closets. It was so dirty when she handed it over that Paul wanted me to toss it immediately. However, Emma had taken such a fancy to it, that I instead opted to wash it and it came out looking perfectly white and clean! Emma carries "Bear" with her everywhere. She loves to lay on him, hug him, kiss him, sit in his lap (I wish I had a picture of that!), and read to him. She loves him to pieces. Matthew likes to steal Bear, hold him hostage, and make her mad.

That's all I've got for now! In the meantime, I'm itching to start baking with some pumpkin soon. If you have any new, unique pumpkin recipes you think I should try, please send them my way. I'm hoping to be feeling 100% by Halloween so I can bake my Mom's pumpkin dump cake. It's amazing.