Thursday, January 29, 2015

Our Favorite Chili

With the Super Bowl coming up on Sunday, I thought this was an appropriate time to share our favorite chili recipe. Paul and I used to host many game watches and Super Bowl parties before we had kids. At each one, we would try out a different chili recipe - we tried steak chili, vegetarian chili, beef and bacon chili, and used all different combinations of beans, spices, beers, and condiments. In the end, our favorite chili recipe is this chipotle-spiced recipe. Every time I make chili, this is probably the version we will have. It is probably Paul's favorite meal.

I originally found this recipe on the blog My Fare Foodie and loved the almost mole-inspired combination of chipotle peppers, ground espresso (or coffee), and chocolate. It makes a yummy, smoky, spicy chili that the whole family loves. I have tried making it with beef, ground turkey, ground pork, and with extra beans for a vegetarian-friendly version and they all are fantastic. Paul of course favors the all-beef version. The kids will even eat it - especially if we serve it with lots of delicious toppings. Our favorites are shredded cheese, sour cream, frito chips, diced avacado, and diced green onions. Or just plain. It's fantastic as is!

Feel free to adjust the seasoning to your preference - taste as you go along. If your family is a little hesitant around spicier food, reduce the canned chipotle peppers and ground cayenne. You can always add more later!

Oh, and serve this with a big batch of cornbread. The sweet kind. Like this. It's a beautiful pairing!

The Best Chili Ever
adapted from My Fare Foodie

Note: This makes a lot of chili. My slow-cooker is on the smaller size, so I normally halve this recipe. However, if you have a really big slow-cooker and like cooking for a small army, go with the full recipe!

2 pounds ground beef (or turkey, pork, or sausage)
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced bell peppers (I use red and yellow)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons diced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (scrape the seeds out if you want less heat)
2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers above)
2 29-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can chili beans with the sauce
1 15 ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
11-12 ounces beef broth
3 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cayenne red pepper
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark or unsweetened chocolate (I actually use Baker's)
2 tablespoons espresso powder or ground coffee

In a skillet set over medium heat, cook the beef until brown. Drain the meat and dump it into the slow-cooker.

Return the skillet to the oven and let it rewarm a bit. Cook the diced oinons and peppers until softened. Add the garlic and diced chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce and let cook until very frangrant, about 1 minute longer. With a spatula, scrape the vegetable mixture into the bowl of the slow-cooker. Top with the canned tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, beans, broth, seasonings, chocolate, and coffee (aka everything else). Stir well, then cover and cook on LOW for about 6 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours. Your house will smell amazing. (You're welcome)

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, diced green onions, diced avocado, Frito chips, etc.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Vanilla Cupcakes with the Best Vanilla Buttercream

Even though Matthew's birthday was the day after Paul's, this post has been long delayed because we traveled to Ohio for my sister's wedding. After a full three days of family gatherings, celebrations, and fun, we are finally home but very, very exhausted. Paul is back to work like normal (he's a trooper) but the rest of us are just lying about reading books and working our way through several art projects in an attempt to rest up after such a full past couple of days. So, that's my excuse for just now getting down to writing about Matthew's birthday celebration.

We kept it super simple this year. This was the first year Matthew did not have a party of some sort at our place. I don't think he minded and Paul and I certainly liked how low-key we kept everything this year. Matthew's birthday fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so he did not have preschool and Paul did not have work! We had the whole day dedicated to our little man.

We began the day by fooling Matthew into thinking Paul was going to work. He dressed in his work clothes, grabbed his work bag, and told Matthew "Bye, Fluffy!" as he walked out the door. In reality, he went down to the donut shop to pick up a half dozen sweet treats for a special birthday breakfast for the birthday boy. I distracted both Matthew and Emma from eating oatmeal before he could come back. When Paul walked back in the door with the donuts, Matthew was so darn happy! It was the sweetest moment. He was thrilled to spend the whole day with his Daddy.

We then played a bit around the house because Matthew likes attention more than anything. So, we gave it to him in the form of watching him do a puzzle. That was exciting. Then, we went to look at the puppies at the pet store (a favorite winter pastime for the children) and selected a hyper little dachshund to pet and play with for a good 30 minutes. Matthew tried to talk us into bringing the little dog home "for my birthday present" but we quickly dissuaded him. After all, Riley would really hate that.

Next, we grabbed a quick lunch and announced to Matthew that we had a surprise for him. We told him to close his eyes as we drove over to the local bowling alley. Now, Matthew has been begging us to take him bowling and so we thought his birthday would be the perfect opportunity to take him! He was so excited! There were very few people at the bowling alley that day, so we practically had the place to ourselves. This was a very good thing because we are all abysmal bowlers. Matthew follows in my footsteps, although I don't think my bowling balls take quite so long to make it down the lane. There were a few occasions where Matthew's bowling ball was moving so slowly towards the pins that when it finally touched the pins, the ball itself bounced backwards from the force while the pin remained upright. But, the important thing was that he had a blast. We can work on our bowling skills later.

After bowling, we came home with two very exhausted children. We talked to both sets of grandparents briefly on the phone and then cuddled up to watch a movie for "quiet time."

After the movie was over, we headed to Matthew's birthday dinner. His request: to eat pizza at "the pizza restaurant" - aka Pizza Hut. A meal the whole family can agree on! Matthew and Emma enjoyed personal pans - Matthew ate half of his while Emma devoured all of hers (typical) - and Paul and I ordered a large, stuffed-crust (of course) Hawaiian. Delish.

After pizza, we headed home for presents and cake. Matthew received a Davy Crockett hat, a kaleidoscope, and some candy from Grandma and Grandpa Nistler, a bunch of art supplies from Grandma and Grandpa Korson, a puzzle set, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle watch, and a remote control car. He loved each and every gift he received.

This is what Emma was up to while Matthew opened his gifts.

For cake, he requested chocolate with sprinkles - and that's what he got: a chocolate fudge cake, with hot fudge filling, and vanilla buttercream. I covered it with sprinkles and he was thrilled. Both kids were falling asleep at the table as they struggled to finish their slices of cake. It was such a full day for them! But, they went to bed happy and full.

Matthew's birthday celebrations did not end there. For his next preschool class, they had a little celebration for him and, as his parent, I was required to bring in 60 mini cupcakes for the enjoyment of the class. Matthew requested vanilla cupcakes with white frosting and sprinkles (of course).

The recipe I used is one of my favorites. Now, it does produce a richer, denser cake so if you are seeking a recipe that is similar to box cake, this is not it. However, the flavor is fantastic - not to sweet but perfectly moist. It is my favorite cupcake recipe and the kids love it as well. I paired it with the easiest, most delicious vanilla buttercream. Out of the 60 cupcakes we sent to school, only five came back and Matthew's teacher asked me for the recipe. Matthew and Emma ate the remaining five cupcakes as soon as we came home "for a snack." I think they liked them.

Vanilla Cupcakes with the Best Vanilla Buttercream
cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated, the buttercream recipe is my own

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
½ cup sour cream
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a regular or mini muffin tin with liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sour cream until smooth. Add the egg and egg yolks and beat until smooth. Then, add the vanilla and beat for about 30 seconds more. Add the dry ingredients and beat on medium for 1 minutes. Scrape the sides down and beat again.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The mini-muffins will bake for 8-11 minutes (keep an eye on them!!). Remove the tin from the oven and let cool for about a minutes before transferring the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

The Best Vanilla Buttercream
Note: This recipe makes enough to frost a layer cake. I would make about 1/2 a recipe for cupcakes and you will have more than enough!

1 1/2 cups butter (softened)
4 - 4 1/2cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon of salt (start with the smaller amount and then add a bit more)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and carefully add the 4 cups of powdered sugar and the salt with the mixer beating on low speed. When everything is incorporated, crank the speed up and drizzle in the heavy cream and vanilla. Continue to beat until smooth, fluffy, and creamy, about 6 minutes. Add a bit more powdered sugar as you see fit, but I prefer the lesser amount.

This post is linking up with Jess, Katie, and the others for #TuesdayTalk.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Roasted Pork Shoulder with Tuscan Salmoriglio Sauce

My wonderful husband Paul is now 29. That number makes him cringe, but I think he is as cute as ever.

For his birthday, we started the day off with Mass. The kids gave him perhaps the greatest gift they could have by being perfect angels throughout the entire hour we were at church. Paul and I were amazed that we were actually able to hear, listen, and reflect on the readings and homily. It hasn't happened for about 2 years now!

After Mass, we came back home and feasted on a delicious breakfast of coffee and German Apple Pancakes. So delicious - like having apple pie for breakfast.

Then, I worked on a coupe of preparations for Paul's birthday dinner and dessert while the kids played and Paul talked to his twin and a few other family members on the phone. He was bombarded with phone calls - it made him feel so loved!

After we slid the pork roast in the oven, Paul and I dropped the kids off at a friends house and headed to the movies. This was the first movie we had seen in the theaters since Frozen and we were excited to be viewing a grown-up film this time! We chowed down on a humongous bowl of popcorn (with extra butter - Paul loves movie theater butter popcorn!) while watching the movie Birdman. Weird movie. However, we enjoyed ourselves.

After picking up the children, we headed home for dinner! Paul's dinner request this year was Roasted Pork Shoulder with Tuscan Salmoriglio Sauce from one of my new cookbooks. He usually requests new recipes because he can never seem to remember what his favorite dishes are and likes trying new things. He liked the looks of this dish from the picture in my cookbook - a truly scientific selection process but it paid off because we loved it. We served it alongside roasted baby red potatoes and a Strawberry Spinach Salad. The meal was absolutely fantastic - I could eat that sauce with a spoon. I am posting the recipe below and highly recommend it. We've been enjoying the leftovers all this week and have yet to tire of it. The kids loved it too!

After dinner, Paul opened his gifts. I picked out a new monitor for him to use in his home work space and I think he liked it. I couldn't get him to stop fiddling around with it the rest of the evening. He also received some nice gifts from his parents in Montana - including an authentic Davy Crockett style hat.
Emma made a mess of her dinner and thus had to be stripped down to her
diaper for a cleansing. We decided to keep her that way until after ice cream
 and dessert, just in case. It was a good decision. 

I had to capture a picture "Davy Crockett" conducting research in his office.

We then gathered for the birthday dessert. Paul once again chose Whiskey Pear Tart as his dessert of choice. I was kind to him and stuck only five candles in the tart. He has difficulty blowing out more than seven and I wanted his wish to come true this year. The kids loved singing "Happy Birthday" to their Daddy almost as much as their Daddy enjoyed singing it to himself (in an obnoxious baritone voice).

We love you, Paul. You mean more to us than words can express! Here's to a great year! 

And now onto that recipe...

Seriously, this is fantastic stuff. The sauce would be great on a variety of proteins - including chicken and fish. I actually stirred some into my egg salad sandwich for lunch one of the days this week and it was a delicious complement. Don't be afraid of the anchovies in the rub. They add a wonderful and unique saltiness that complements the fresh herbs!

Roasted Pork Shoulder with Tuscan Salmoriglio Sauce
from Fabio's American Home Kitchen

For the Pork:
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/2 cup kosher slat
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh oregano
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
10 anchovy fillets, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup beef stock

For the Salmoriglio Sauce:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 shallots, minced
10 fresh mint leaves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Juice from 2 lemons
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 tablespoon onion powder

The day before you intend to serve the pork, rub it all over with the kosher salt and sugar. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or place it in a large bowl and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

With a wet cloth, wipe the remaining sugar and salt from the surface of the pork. This does not have to be perfect! In the bowl of a food processor, combine the oregano, thyme, anchovies, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Blend into a smooth paste. Rub the paste all over the meat.

In a large dutch oven or other oven-safe casserole dish, pour the olive oil and turn the heat to medium. Once the oil is hot, add the meat and brown on all sides. Add the beef stock, bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven. Roast the pork until for tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

When the pork is done, combine all the ingredients for the Salmoriglio Sauce in a blender or food processor. Blend until combined. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve the meat in thick pieces with the sauce drizzled over the top. Enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let's Snack: Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins

Historically, my kids are not really big snackers. That is, unless we have apples, oranges, or any other sort of fruit in the house. Then, they continuously eat piece after piece of fruit until not a single one is left in the fruit bowl. Only then are they seemingly satisfied.

I love that my kids enjoy fruit so much, but during these winter months the price of most fruit skyrockets. Plus, since our grocery store relies on local markets, the types of fruit we enjoy most as a family can be often difficult to find or of really poor quality (small, bruised, or underwhelming in taste). Thus, I have begun relying on frozen, canned, and bottle fruit to curb the kids' cravings. I recently been buying applesauce - simple, unsweetened, applesauce. We'll add cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes a touch of maple syrup to it or just eat it plain. The kids love it. However, they do have a caveat. Their applesauce must be chunky or else they consider it unworthy of their delicate palates.

I had just come downstairs with Emma and Matthew wanted a picture.
It must be because his outfit is so stylish. And yes, Emma is wearing my shoes.
Well, they're technically my shoes. Everything is Emma's, according to Emma.

The other day, I made the fatal mistake of purchasing a large bottle of smooth applesauce. I simply grabbed the wrong one and did not notice my mistake until I was spooning it out for the picky ones. Of course, many groans ensued and they did not touch it. This left me with a rather huge bottle of applesauce that they were not going to eat. And I wasn't going to eat it either because, just between you and me, I agree with them. Chunky applesauce is where it's at.

So, I pulled this oldie of a recipe out of my archives and made a batch one evening after the kids had gone to bed. I left them out on the table in a Rubbermaid so that Matthew could help himself if he was hungry in the morning. He's been waking up around 5:00 AM lately and has been gracious enough to simply color or paint until Paul and I wake up. 

The kids adored the muffins. They snacked on them all day - and the first batch disappeared very quickly. Then, they begged me to make more. I used the rest of that applesauce up in no time on batch after batch of these muffins. They are very healthy - including whole grains from the oats and whole wheat flour - and are very lightly sweetened. Of course, you can add in nuts, dried fruit, chopped fresh apples (whenever they FINALLY are affordable again), or pears to put your twist on them. They really are very humble, underwhelming-looking little muffins but they pack a tasty nutritional punch.

Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons butter or oil (I used walnut oil - yum!)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries, raisins, nuts, finely diced fruit - or a blend!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oatmeal, applesauce, milk, egg, vanilla, butter and sugar. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt (and cranberries or raisins if using). Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined, being careful not to overmix the batter or else the muffins will come on the dense side. 

Distribute the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops of the muffins spring back when lightly touch. Be careful not to overbake or else they will dry out!

Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. In all honesty, these taste the most fantastic when they are slightly warm with a smear of apple butter.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Slow-Cooker Chicken Teriyaki

This week has been crazy. Paul has been running everywhere trying to finish various work projects, the kids are active as ever and getting fed up with being cooped up indoors, and I've been scrambling to catch up with cleaning, organizing, and cooking after our three week hiatus due to illness. I've been enjoying the boost of energy compared to how I was feeling this time a week ago. But, thankfully, the house is completely clean (well, as clean as can be with Emma the hurricane), the laundry is caught up, decorations have been put away, and every surface and floor has been swept, dusted, and vacuumed.  And now I need a nap.

In addition, we had a meeting with Matthew's preschool teacher to assess his progress and whether he is eligible to move on next year. Both Paul and I were a little nervous because Matthew is our first kid in school and he is very, very quirky. However, she assuaged any of our fears by telling us he is very bright, gets along great with the other students, and is more than ready to move on to Kindergarten. Next year, he will be a full-time student which breaks my heart a little bit. I'm going to miss spending time with him at home. Plus, he's been such a big help to me lately.

Weeks like this make me so happy that appliances like the slow-cooker have been invented. I'm not a huge slow cooker-user. I break it out a couple times each month for various reasons, but it definitely is not used on a weekly basis. However, every time I make a dinner in the slow-cooker I wonder why I do not use it more. The evenings are so hectic and I'm normally tired by the time I have to prep and cook dinner. The slow-cooker eliminates all that stress. Plus, I love the delicious smells of dinner cooking away throughout the afternoon.

I made this Chicken Teriyaki recipe for dinner this week and it could not have been easier. Everything took about 15 minutes total to throw together and then a teeny bit of work at the end is required to thicken the sauce and shred the chicken, but really it was nothing compared to what normally has to go down for dinner to materialize. I had my rice cooker make and keep the rice warm until serving time and then I just chose to steam some oriental vegetables to serve alongside while the sauce was thickening. In the end, the sauce was perfectly flavored, the meal was loved by kids and adults alike, and the cleanup was a breeze. This is definitely a recipe to keep in the rotation. I'm also adding it to the list of easy dinners to make once the baby arrives.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Teriyaki
adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Note: If you like a little more heat, add a little more Asian Chili-Garlic Sauce. If you don't want any heat, omit it entirely. Also, you can use frozen chicken breasts but everything will cook for an extra hour or two. 

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup soy sauce (use low-sodium if desired)
6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Asian Chili-Garlic Sauce
1-2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1/4 cup cold water
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
A mix of steamed oriental vegetables (for serving)

Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the slow-cooker in a single layer.

Whisk together the garlic, onion, honey, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, chili-garlic sauce, and sesame oil.  Alternatively, you can blend everything together in a blender or Vitamix until smooth. Pour the mixture over the chicken.

Cook on high for 4-5 hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and shreds easily with a fork. Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Shred with two forks and return to the slow cooker bowl. Cover to keep warm (but make sure the slow-cooker is unplugged).

Pour the teriyaki sauce from the slow-cooker to a saucepan large enough to hold all the liquid. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Pour into the sauce and carefully stir until thickened. Once thickened, pour over the chicken. You can reserve a little bit of the sauce to toss with the steamed vegetables, if desired.

Serve atop freshly steamed rice with the vegetables. Enjoy!!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup with Red Curry

My favorite soup in the whole wide world is probably the one served at my favorite Asian restaurant in town. It is so spicy, warm, and comforting - a bit creamy from the coconut milk, spicy from the red curry paste, and full of delicious rice noodles and thinly sliced chicken. It is served topped with a cilantro bouquet garnish and is everything I need to feel satisfied.

While we have been struggling with illness over the past month, I have been craving this soup. Paul ended up taking me out to lunch just so I could have it and I swear that it cleared my sinuses and helped spur my body towards a full recovery. Since I love this soup so much, I figured I should probably take a shot at recreating it at home.

On a completely unrelated note, these two have been so cute hanging out together.

Reading before bedtime.

An intense art session in progress.

The soup itself is really simple - it has red curry paste, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, thin rice noodles, chicken broth (I think), chicken and cilantro. That's pretty much it.

The biggest problem was finding a red curry paste that was spicy enough. The only one available from our local grocery store was the Thai Kitchen brand - and, while tasty, it is not spicy at all. Since it was all they had, I had to use it this time around but I still highly recommend the Mae Ploy brand of curry paste (both green and red). You can order it on Amazon and it is extremely inexpensive.

Anyway, with a spicier curry paste I feel this recipe would have been perfection. It was still delicious and Paul actually liked that it wasn't nearly as spicy as the restaurant's version (although I certainly missed it!). If you like Thai flavors, this is a great soup for you - and it comes together in about 20 minutes!

I like my bowl of soup with a lot of broth (as pictured above) whereas Paul prefers a high amount of noodles (as pictured below!). We also threw a few chopped red chili peppers on top - I told you, I really am liking the heat right now!

Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup with Red Curry

Note: Add the amount of curry paste suitable for your preferences. Some people can stand the heat well enough, while others might find it overwhelming. This will also depend on the type of curry paste you use since they are wildly different in heat levels. You can always add more once the broth is simmering if you feel you need more heat. Also, to get your chicken breasts to slice evenly, I usually stick them in the freezer for about 20 minutes so they "stiffen" just a bit. The slices will look prettier if they are a little bit frozen.

4 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3-4 tablespoons red curry paste (see note above)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups chicken broth
2-3 cups coconut milk (I like two; Paul prefers three)
6-8 ounces thin rice noodles (sometimes called rice sticks)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, thinly sliced

Combine the garlic, ginger, curry paste, and oil in a dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium and cook, mashing together with a wooden spoon or spatula, until sizzling and very fragrant. Add the chicken broth, scraping the bottom with a spoon, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and taste the broth. Add more salt/curry paste if desired. Add the chicken pieces and simmer gently until cooked all the way through, about 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and rice noodles and allow to simmer very gently while the noodles soak up the broth - about 15 minutes.

Serve in large bowls topped with lots of fresh cilantro!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Be Fitted for a Bridesmaid Dress While Pregnant

My beautiful sister Catherine is to be married in two weeks to her fiance of over 18 months. The wedding has been a longtime coming and we are so excited for it to finally be here! Shortly after she and Matthew were engaged, Catherine asked me to be her Matron of Honor and I was thrilled to be asked. I visited her in February of last year and we picked out her wedding dress (it's gorgeous!!!) and the bridesmaid dresses. At that appointment, I was fitted for a size 4 dress. However, I was a little nervous about officially purchasing the dress and committing to that size since the wedding was still a year away and...let's just say a lot can happen in a year.

Catherine with 9-month-old Emma.

I ended up purchasing the dress anyway and it sat in my closet for a good six months.

Then, baby fever hit and my husband just wouldn't stop being so irresistibly cute. Needless to say, the positive pregnancy test came.

I waited a few months to see how my bump would grow before taking the dress back to David's Bridal and asking them what I should do about the size. They took my measurements again and added a little room for growth and suggested that I go up two dress sizes to accomodate a growing midsection. They would alter the top of the dress to fit me better. It sounded like a great plan, so I ordered that size. I was told that the dress would come right before Christmas - plenty of time to get it altered and ready for the wedding.

Well, something happened over December. Something completely outside of my control. That belly of mine just exploded. It might have been helped along by the cookies, cake, or fudge. I began carrying higher. So high, that I feel an incredible amount of pressure against my diaphragm when I breathe or sit in certain positions. I have never had that with my previous pregnancies.

I went back in for that alterations appointment and slipped into the newly arrived, substantially larger bridesmaid dress. The associate came into the room to help me zip it.

And we couldn't zip the darn thing up. My belly had gotten too big and based on the way I am carrying right now, the largest portion rides up right against the waistline for the dress.

All the associates started to freak out. They left me standing there in front of all those mirrors - those horrible, horrible 360 degree mirrors - holding up my unzipped dress while examining my bloated shape. It was very flattering.

After what seemed like hours, one of the associates came in to tell me that it was too late to order a new dress in an even larger size. However, they had done a search of their storage room and they had found the same dress in the right color.

"Great!!" I said, relieved.
"It's a size 24."

Apparently it was a special order size that had been returned at one point. They brought in the gigantic dress and let's just say that it definitely zipped up that time. I don't think I even unzipped it to climb inside! They pinned off the sides for alterations and played with the hem. I was a human pin cushion by the end.

"We'll get this looking like it was made for you!" they promised with an unmistakably apologetic tone.

I just went with it. We finished off the appointment and I was told to come back in a week for another fitting. They were super great to work with and so accommodating. I am very grateful that we found something that worked.

When I arrived home, Paul asked me how everything went. "Well," I began, "I went from being a size 4 to a size 24 in 10 months."

In the end, I should have just ordered a much larger size to begin with and had it altered down to fit. To other pregnant bridesmaids out there, bite the bullet, realize that your midsection is growing at a quick rate and you will not fit into conventional sizes, and don't be afraid to order a size that is three or even four times as big as your pre-pregnancy size. It is much easier to have everything taken in than to scramble to go up a size at the last minute. Thankfully, it worked out for me this time but it very well could have been a complete disaster.

They are worth every bit of every pregnancy woe.

I will post pictures later of the wedding. Less than two weeks to go!

I'm linking up this post at Jess and Katie's website for Tuesday Talk!

Sweet Little Ones

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Currently, we are buried in MOUNTAINS of snow. The kids have been itching to get out and play, but the temperatures are still too cold for them - averaging about three degrees with a negative windchill. Their little cheeks instantly chap if any bit of skin is exposed. They've been very understanding - I let them help shovel the driveway and they each lasted a grand total of five minutes before begging for hot chocolate.

Right before going to sleep the other night, I turned to Paul and said: "Shouldn't we be making some New Year's resolutions?"

Ever year, we normally make a few and every year we fail miserably together. It's an experiment in perseverance that we have enjoyed flunking together each year. Paul thought for a moment and then came up with his list of resolutions. Unfortunately, most of these are ones we MUST succeed at or else.

Resolution #1: Potty Train Emma. We need to get this done before the new baby. We do not ever want to have two babies in diapers. Too expensive! She's still so tiny to me, but we need to get this done soon because she wants to learn right now. It's just not my favorite activity.

Resolution #2: Continue to Grow His Business. Paul has a small business on the side that he started a little over a year ago. He's been doing well with it so far but it is still basically a hobby. I'm proud of what he has done with it so far but he would like to see things really amp up this year.

Resolution #3 (my addition): Welcome a healthy baby into the family. Big, scary, day-of-birthing on the horizon. Yikes.

Resolution #4 (also my addition): Read the Mass readings for each day. My parents gave us a new missal for Christmas and I figure we should put it to good use! Paul usually does this on his own anyway using an app from the Notre Dame Campus Ministry, but I need to really commit to this. I'm more likely to read something if it is in book form rather than electronically delivered.

Resolution #5: Swim more, bike more, relax more. Both of us are so uptight about "getting things done" that we fail to sit back and enjoy our family life. We just need to relax. But also plan more outings with the whole family. I'm currently researching new bike carriers so we can make this happen with THREE kids.

Resolution #6: Speaking of biking, I just came up with a new resolution while typing this out. Get Matthew to love riding his bike. He poops out after about 5 minutes. If there is any incline (or decline) for that matter, he gives up. It's been really frustrating for Paul and I because we both love biking and want Matthew to enjoy it just as much. This has just not been the case. We have to figure out some way to show him that it is enjoyable. I can't tell you how many times we'd be out walking at a snail's pace as Matthew "biked" very cautiously besides us and then a little 2-year-old on a plastic tricycle would go zooming by with a panting parent running to keep up. Embarrassing. We need to fix this.

Here's to more success than we've had in the past! At least Paul is not trying to lose weight again.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Shut-In Family

Since Christmas Day, we have been afflicted with multiple illnesses. Scratch that, since the beginning of December Paul and Emma have been passing a cold back and forth with Matthew and I finally falling ill right after Christmas Day. Then, the entire family came down with a nasty stomach bug while Emma continued to struggle with an ear and throat infection. We've been spending our days shut inside (the weather has been nasty anyways) lying about, feeling miserable and completely sorry for ourselves.
The little sickies preparing for yet another movie. This time with popcorn.
The kids have been complete slugs. They wake up looking as if they haven't slept a wink, refuse to eat anything for breakfast, lay on the couch for a few hours staring at the television, and then go back to sleep for the rest of the day. Paul and I have been doing pretty much the same thing. That and struggling with the monster that Emma has become. When Matthew gets sick, he turns into the sweetest, most cuddly child ever. However, sick Emma is a beastly diva who whines constantly, cries nonstop, hits, and screams until her face turns a disturbing shade of crimson. It's almost as if she is infuriated by whatever virus or infection is slowing her down and takes her aggression out on everyone (and thing) in sight. I left her on the floor throwing a huge tantrum after bathing her (I struggled to clothe her first - that was fun) and she kicked and screamed for nearly an hour before coming downstairs to announce she was thirsty. Big surprise.

On the food front, I have pretty much not cooked a thing since Christmas Day. I escaped to the grocery store during one of the days and came home with a billion cans of soup. Each meal, we line the soup cans out on the counter-top and have each person choose the type they want. We've pretty much lived off scrambled eggs and canned soup since January 1st. Paul was pleased to report that this "New Year's diet" has already helped him lose five pounds according to his weigh-in at the doctor's office a couple days ago. I, however, only continue to gain weight no matter what food I put into my mouth. Ahh, pregnancy.

Would you like Minestrone, Chicken Noodle, or Vegetable Beef?
Speaking of the pregnancy, all continues to be going well. I finally switched offices and am now back with the midwife that delivered Emma. The baby is moving around a lot and appeared perfectly healthy, although measuring large according to the latest ultrasound. I wish I could sleep through the rest of the pregnancy. I've been so exhausted. That's one thing I do well right now: Whine, whine, whine.

Wine sounds good. Not for four more months.

Little girls with ear infections still love popcorn!
Hopefully, we'll all be back to normal soon and I'll have something more interesting to blog about. Until then, I still think Campbell's Chicken Noodle is the best even though it is very lacking in noodles. And chicken.