Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fish Po'Boys with Spicy Tartar Sauce

I love it when Paul cooks. He has some great ideas and enjoys giving me a break from planning every once in a while. The other day, we were in the grocery store and he spied flounder fillets for sale in our fish market. "I've never had flounder!" he declared and before I could protest, we had a bag of flounder fillets in our cart.

"I'll come up with something to make with it. And it will be delicious!" he promised me.

Po'Boys and Apple Slices! A Gourmet meal!

What better opportunity to utilize our supply of flounder filets than a Friday in Lent? Paul scoured the internet for ideas for a recipe and came across this one from Martha Stewart. I thought it super funny that he chose to use a Martha recipe because he absolutely despises her. Occasionally, I will watch her baking show on PBS and he always comments on how condescending and annoying her demeanor is on television. He just thinks she acts super stuck-up about her kitchen knowledge, especially compared to other arguably more accomplished television chefs like Jacques Pepin or Hubert Keller. However, he likes po'boys and we already had most of the ingredients on hand for this recipe so he went with it anyway.

The po'boys were delicious!! The recipe came together really, really quick and everyone enjoyed them. I was unsure whether the kids would eat the whole sandwich, but they happily crunched their way through! The tartar sauce was incredible. I had a little trouble getting Matthew to try it at first, but once I told him that he did not have to have it on his sandwich if he truly disliked it, he sampled a small spoonful and discovered that he actually really liked the taste! He asked for a generous portion to be slathered on his sandwich! I was happy to oblige.

Thanks Paul for the wonderful meal!

Fish Po'Boys with Spicy Tartar Sauce
barely adapted from Martha Stewart

Note: If you don't have flounder, any mild white fish - like sole, tilapia, or even catfish - can be used. It will have a slightly different flavor (flounder is extremely mild), but will still be delicious!

For the Fish:
1 pound flounder fillets
2 tablespoons cornmeal
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

Cut fillets into 1 1/2-inch wide strips. Pat fillets dry. Toss with cornmeal and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Brown fish on both sides (about 7-10 minutes total), being careful when turning the fish as flounder is especially delicate. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with additional salt if necessary.

For the Tartar Sauce:
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chili sauce (the ketchup condiment, not the Asian condiment!)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
A dash of lemon juice (to taste)
2 tablespoons grainy mustard (we used Grey Poupon Country Mustard)
2 tablespoons finely chopped gherkins or pickles
Hot Sauce, like Frank's or Tabasco (to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and season with hot sauce and lemon juice to taste.

For the Po'Boys:
4 soft French Bread Rolls, split
1 large beefsteak tomato, sliced
Romaine Lettuce
Red Onion

Spread a generous amount of the tartar sauce on both sides of rolls. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, and fish. Serve!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Sunday Plans

Since I have no new photos to post, I just keep dipping into the archives in order for everyone to have something to look at besides text! Plus, it's kind of fun to look back and see what the kids looked like during this time last year. They certainly have grown since last Easter!!
With Palm Sunday coming up this weekend, we are not too far away from the closing of the Lenten season and the beginning of my favorite time in the liturgical year: Easter!!

One of my favorite memories from Easter Sunday growing up was being able to debut my brand new, spring-themed dress. My sisters and I always dressed super fancy on Easter Sunday in flouncy pink chiffon dresses with white lace gloves and pretty strappy sandals. Sometimes, we sometimes even wore pretty white straw hats with pink bows on our heads, probably more to hide the bad 90s haircuts we were currently sporting than to complement our outfits. I don't remember my brothers ever wearing anything special except maybe Raymond who would break out a stylish pair of Amish-inspired suspenders to hold up his pants. We always felt so fancy going to Mass and it was always breathtaking to walk into the church interior that had been previously an unadorned, quiet, and somber space for duration of Lent and find it completely transformed into a joyful space filled with the beauty of fresh flowers and the sounds of holy water flowing from the baptismal font.

Look how small sweet little Emma was on Easter Sunday last year!

After Mass, we always were excited to head home and search for eggs and baskets filled with goodies. My Dad normally wrote a little riddle personalized for each child that led us to our hidden baskets. Michael's basket was almost always to be found on one of the toilet seats. I don't know why he even bothered reading his clue most years. After the hunt was over, we sat down to a delicious breakfast of hard-boiled eggs (dyed the day before), pineapple and strawberries, and my Mom's delicious walnut twist with brown butter glaze. That walnut twist is still my favorite pastry in the whole wide world and one I need to share on this blog very, very soon! The only reason I will not be making it on Easter Sunday is because my picky, picky children will carefully extract every single nut from their piece before eating it. That or stick one of the nuts up their nose where it will have to be dislodged by an ENT. It's just not worth the aggravation.

Paul and I planned way ahead for Easter this year. We have already gathered everything needed for the Easter baskets. Paul especially enjoys selecting candy for the kids because he has a huge sweet tooth when it comes to candy: "Robin Eggs! It would not be Easter without Robin Eggs!" In addition to hoarding a ton of candy for the kiddos, we have also sat down and completed our Easter menu. We traditionally cook the meals together for that day and both look forward to it very much. This year, we debated about cooking rack of lamb for the first time but after gawking at the meat prices and thinking of how upset we would be if our kids scorned our protein of choice, we decided to go a completely different route. No, we are not doing ham or pork rib roast (as we have done the previous two years because it is so gosh darn good!). Instead, we are going to keep things simple and summer-themed.

I doubt it will be as sunny this year as it was last year. We loved having the egg hunt outside!

Our menu plans for Easter Sunday is as follows:

Easter Breakfast

Blueberry Buckle - so delicious!
Fresh Fruit of some sort - Strawberries, blueberries, bananas, pineapple
Hard Boiled Eggs - Paul hates eating them straight, but the kids love them!
*Ideally we would also have bagels and Lox but my midwife will not allow it until after Baby Lucy arrives!

Easter Lunch

Candy from our Easter Baskets - I wish I were joking!

Paul's comment while previewing this post: "We didn't even take the tag off Emma's basket last year?!
What the heck is wrong with us?!?!"

Easter Dinner

Fried Chicken (We never make it and the kids love it!) - either this recipe or this one
Potato Salad (Mom's recipe)
Seven Layer Picnic Salad - Can be found here
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Biscuits or Challah

Hopefully, the weather will be semi-decent so we can try to get outside for a little bit. My sister Catherine gifted a beautiful dress for Emma to wear for Easter. Matthew will probably wear the same exact outfit he wore last year (and pretty much every Sunday since) because he loves it so much. He refers to it as his "Easter outfit" even though he has worn it through Ordinary Time, Advent, Lent, etc.

We are looking forward to a beautiful day and some great time spent together! What are your plans for Easter Sunday?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Childhood

All these pictures are throwbacks from this time last year.
It warmed up really early - by the end of March we were enjoying lots of outdoor activities.

While playing with Matthew and Emma yesterday afternoon, I began to reflect on childhood and what a fleeting, sacred time it is in life and how childhood experiences shape the adults we all become. As a child, I remember always using my imagination to be other people, in other places, doing more exciting things than riding my bike in a circle around our one-story home in Montana. I remember looking forward to my next birthday the day after my last one. Reaching "double digits" was a milestone that seemed to take a million years in my little child brain. Waiting for Christmas made December the longest month of the year. I couldn't wait to be a teenager, to enter high school, to start driving, to graduate from high school, to go to college, to get married, to start a family, and so on. I was always trying to fast forward my childhood and catapult myself into adulthood. Do all children do this?

I see signs of this desire to grow up in my son. He is always looking forward to the "next thing" rather than enjoying the moment he is in. This has only been a recent behavioral development and I have been trying my best to encourage him to enjoy his time as a child. Because, in the average lifespan of a person, it really is a very, very short period of time.

Paul and I often have discussions about how we used to view the world as children. It always amazes us to discover we shared some very similar playtime activities while growing up. Along with our siblings, we liked to pretend play Robin Hood and Winnie-the-Pooh by assigning each sibling to a specific character based on their personality, looks, or what have you. For the record, Paul was always "Gopher" and I was "Rabbit" while playing Winnie-the-Pooh. No sibling was ever assigned the role of Christopher Robin (we tried once, but that person refused). To this day, I think those are still the characters that best align with our personalities. We also found it funny that we used to refer to certain candies we would receive in our treat bags on Halloween - like Smarties - as our "medicine". We also both admired and loved Davy Crockett - and would both pretend to be him during play. Did I mention that I was a major tomboy and used to be quite disappointed that I was a girl? Boys always seemed to have more fun - all the little girls I grew up with wanted to pretend to "play house" or have tea parties. I wanted to be a cowboy!

Over the years, several of my girlfriends have reflected on how they wish they could have had a glimpse of what their husbands were like as children and see if their childhood personalities are at all reflected in the men they are today. I realize that I am quite lucky to have actually known my spouse as a child. We were only eight or so when we first met and I have some very distinct memories of Paul and his twin Peter being complete imps. They were very, very small in stature so they had to make up for it by being complete pains. Plus, there were two of them so they could gang up and take down someone twice their size. I always thought they were wonderful because, despite the incessant teasing, they were very, very kind and sweet. In my sixth grade diary, I wrote about one encounter that occurred between Paul and I during literature class. We were seated next to one another during a reading exam and, as was typical during those days, we were to grade one another's papers at the end. Paul handed my test back to me and said: "You got 100%. Congratulations, you must be smart!" This was very high praise coming from a Nistler twin and I knew it. I was having some major self-esteem problems during that year and never considered myself to be "smart" in an academic sense. Paul's words, even though uttered a bit flippantly, gave me a much-needed confidence boost in my own intelligence and abilities as a student.

How does childhood Paul compare to adult Paul? He's pretty much the same - just older, wiser, more reserved, with less hair (much less hair). He still giggles the same, loves to play pranks, adores reading the comics or watching a good cartoon. One time a while back, we went to see a children's movie at the theater and he embarrassed me so much because he was laughing harder than anyone else - complete with slapping his knees and gasping for breath. The best part was when we were walking out of the movie, he commented that "it wasn't that good." Please. You almost died from asphyxiation.

While watching Matthew and Emma play and use their imaginations - Emma was "making coffee" for Matthew at the play kitchen and he was building a "T-Rex for a pet" - I realized what a distinct privilege it is for me to know my children as children. I will watch them grow, evolve, and change into adults, at which time they will go leave our home and have their own families, careers, vocations and responsibilities. I get to see them as children, now, and help guide and form them into adulthood. I will encourage them not to grow up too fast but rather to savor this time of imagination, play, discovery, learning, and care-free living.

This concludes the random musings on childhood of an extremely tired, coffee-deprived (our coffee maker isn't working!!!!) pregnant mama.

I'm linking this post up for Tuesday Talk. Visit and check out the other entries here.

Sweet Little Ones

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fancy Kid Lunch: Gateau De Crepes with Peanut Butter and Jam

Lunch is normally a rushed affair in our house. Since Matthew started preschool, we normally go about doing chores and running errands in the morning before he starts school at 12:30. Inevitably, everything normally takes a tiny bit longer than I anticipated and I can usually be found frantically slapping peanut butter on a piece of bread with half a sliced banana and encouraging Matthew to swallow it whole while putting on his coat, shoes, and backpack. Emma normally spends the entire trip to school begging for something to eat. Unfortunately, she has to wait until we drop Matthew off and head home. Thankfully, we live right around the corner from the school so she only has to wait a whopping 10 extra minutes or so.

In addition to being rushed, lunch is normally messy. Matthew is not so terrible, but Emma is in a stage where she feels the need to deconstruct everything I give her. Whenever I make her a sandwich, she normally separates all the filling from the bread and puts them in neat little piles in the various corners of her tray. Then, she will proceed to lick the mayo/peanut butter/what have you off the bread pieces. After that task has been completed, she will systematically eat each pile of filling - usually starting with cheese (if there is any), followed by any meat, and finally any vegetables. Finally, she will eat the bread - but leave the crusts behind in little mangled pieces. This practice is especially messy with PB&J. After lunch, Emma is almost always in need of a bath.

On the days when Matthew does not have preschool, we like to shake things up a bit and maybe do something a little more unexpected. Especially since we are stuck inside all day anyway, I like to make lunch a bit of a project - one where the kids can get involved too. So, we have been having a "fancy lunch day" where we make something a little more involved. Sometimes it is a lot of fun and the kids enjoy helping out and other times I ask myself why I get these brilliant ideas in the first place since the execution of them ends up being so gosh darn painful.

Today, we made a Peanut Butter and Jam Gateau De Crepes - a fancy name for a basically a big stack of crepes. My kids love pancakes and we always have PB&J, so I knew this would be something they would love. The trick was whether or not all three of us would have the patience to stand around and make about 20 crepes before assembling the gateau. However, much to my surprise, we did. The kids were great. I think one of the reasons was because we had to use the blender to make the crepe batter. The kids are in love with the Vitamix - Emma practically gives me a standing ovation each time I bring it out of the cupboard. So, the batter took about 10 seconds to mix up and then came the tedious part - the cooking of the crepes. Crepes can be a bit finicky. The first one is normally a throwaway since you have to adjust the heat of your pan after the first one fails to cook properly and then the rest normally turn out great. The trickiest part is flipping them without breaking them. I do not own a crepe pan and unfortunately the skillet I use has higher sides, making it a little more difficult to turn the crepes. Luckily, I have lots of practice so this part was not as tedious as it could have been. Also lucky for me, Matthew was great at keeping an eye on them for me until he "saw bubbles on top" and told me they were ready to flip. In no time, we had all the crepes we needed to build our gateau.

We got out our fancy cake stand and put one crepe down. I spread a bit of melted peanut butter (maybe a tablespoon) over the top and then carefully placed a second crepe on top. A bit of warm, melted jam was spread onto this second crepe and then a third crepe was added to the stack. We repeated the layers until all the crepes were gone and we had a "leaning tower of crepes" oozing with peanut butter and blackberry jam. Emma helped place some sliced banana over the top and more peanut butter and jam was drizzled over the top. A healthy dusting of powdered sugar and the gateau was ready for eating! The kids were so excited. They "oohed" and "ahhhed" as we sliced into our crepe cake - revealing all the fancy layers within. And then, after I had served them each a generous slice, there was a glorious silence as they ate! They loved it so much that they actually ate without a complaint, a comment, a conjecture, an utterance! This is a rare occurrence indeed. Then, when finished, both children asked for another slice. In fact, our tiny little 8-inch gateau was gone within a matter of minutes. And surprisingly - Emma was a lot cleaner than she normally is after lunch. Maybe it's because she was using a fork and knife like a lady.

This is definitely not an everyday lunch by any means, but it is fun to make something "fun" and "fancy" for lunch every now and then.

Gateau De Crepes with Peanut Butter and Jam

Note: I had the idea for this gateau after watching Hubert Keller make a blueberry and cream cheese crepe cake on Secrets of a Chef on CreateTV one night. For our take on Gateau De Crepes, I used a standard crepe recipe that I've had written down for forever and am unsure of the source.

8 eggs
1 cup white whole wheat flour (recipe calls for all-purpose but we've been rockin' the wheat lately)
2 cups milk (any type)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons of butter, chopped into small pieces (or you can use nonstick cooking spray)
1/2 cup peanut butter, warmed so it is drippy
1/2 cup jam, warmed so it is spreadable (we used blackberry)
1 banana, sliced

In a blender, combine the eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and salt. Process until completely smooth.

Heat a small, 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add one of the butter pieces and swirl around to coat the pan. Add in no more than 1/4 of batter and swirl the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Let cook until the bottom of the crepe is firm and bubble appear over the top. It will be easiest to flip when done. If it is not completely done, it will easily become mangled as you wrestle to get it to flip. Just let it do it's thing and wait until it flips easily. Once flipped, cook for about 30 additional seconds. Remove to a plate to cool. Repeat with remaining butter and batter. I like to layer the cooked crepes between paper towels so they do not stick together and are easily separated when it comes time to assemble the gateau.

When all the crepes are cooked, place one crepe on a cake stand. Spread with a thin layer of peanut butter. Put another crepe on top. Spread with a thin layer of jam. Repeat the layers until all the crepes have been used. You can use as many crepes as you like. I had several crepes left over and ended up freezing them for later use (they freeze very well when stacked between sheets of wax paper). Top the gateau with sliced bananas and drizzle with the remaining melted peanut butter. Add a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Slice like a cake and serve!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Scenes from My Sister's Wedding

As a followup to my post about being fitted for a bridesmaid dress while pregnant, I wanted to share a few pictures from my sister's wedding. It has been several weeks - almost seven! - since my sister Catherine and her husband Matthew were married. The newlyweds received all their photographs from the big day and graciously shared some with me that I am now sharing with you!

Matthew and Aunt Catherine. She is one of his favorite people. He told her that she looked like
Elsa and I looked like Anna. That's a high compliment from a child.

Emma and her Aunt Catherine

Bridesmaids + the gorgeous Bride!

As you can see from the pictures, I am wearing a bridesmaid dress. And the zipper was fully zipped up in the back - my greatest worry of the day. I had many jokes about having a volleyball or basketball hidden under my gown throughout the night. They were not so funny after a while. The photographer gave me a whole list of tips on how to stand to "hide" my blossoming midsection. I told him not to worry about it because short of me standing behind a nick-high planter for every picture, there was no ensconcing the fact that I had either eaten 12 large pepperoni pizzas, developed a massive hernia, or was simply harboring a growing baby. The bulge was pretty noticeable. And why would I really want to hide it anyway? I'm not ashamed to be pregnant.

Dorky picture of my siblings and parents with the new Mr. and Mrs.
This is one of those dorky poses where we were all supposed to be laughing it up.
I think Susanna (to the left of the bride in the front with the flowers) is the
only one truly taking it seriously.

The wedding was beautiful, fun, and a great party with so many friends and family. Catherine was such a gorgeous bride. She glowed the entire day! It was nice to see her Matthew in a suit. He usually can be found sporting a very tight t-shirt. A polo shirt if he's feeling extra fancy. Can you tell I love to tease him?


All the girls - my sisters, my daughter, and my mother!

The kids were exhausted by the end of the night - and rightfully so! They both loved the food, the drinks (unlimited milk and pop - what?!?) and the music. Emma surprised me by how much she loved to get down on the dance floor. She spent most of the night in hot pursuit of my brother Bruce for slow dance after slow dance. She got really jealous if anyone else was dancing with him. One of these days, she'll realize he's her uncle and not just her cute seven-year-old boyfriend.

Emma was really into the cupcakes. She ate about four, I think.

Toasting the couple. I got Catherine to laugh - so it was a success!

Matthew (my little Matthew - not the groom - man, this is going to get confusing!) was so super sweet and affectionate to me during the reception because he had missed me so much during the day. After dinner was over and I was able to rejoin my husband and children, Matthew never left my side. When the music started playing, he only wanted to dance with his mommy. Paul called it "Oedipal." I found it sweet and endearing. I know I won't be his favorite person in the world forever!

My favorite picture of the whole day was probably our family photo. It is crazy how much everyone has grown. I feel as if we were all so young for so long (I remember feeling like I was stuck at the age of 9 for forever!) and then all of a sudden everyone just grew up, went to college, and became adults with significant others, children, careers, and mortgages. One thing will never change: we all love each other very much and will always remain close.

My Family!
This post will be linked up for Tuesday Talk. Check out the other entries by visiting Jessica and Katie's Blog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lazy Sausage Supper

First off, please do not give in to the immediate feelings of repulsion that surely must accompany my sad, sad photograph of this recipe. It is delicious, hearty, and comforting - just one of the ugliest things I have ever made. Sausage does not photograph well.

Well, it is finally here! The month I have been mentally telling myself will solve all my winter blues has finally rolled in. Over and over the past few months, I have reiterated how the month of March was the month of hope - hope in the promise of green grass, sunny days, grilled dinners, walks on the beach, ice cream, and pure happiness. I was so giddy with excitement the night of February 28th, it was a bit ridiculous. The next morning, I woke up feeling so happy and refreshed - March was finally here!

Then, I looked outside.

Overcast, dreary, bitterly cold, with a "wintry mix" of rain, sleet, snow, and ice pummeling our area. This wasn't how I had envisioned March to be! Again, maybe my expectations for this month were a bit high - after all, I truly did not expect the weather to suddenly begin warming up...did I? Drats. Looks like we'll have to put up with a few more grumbles from Old Man Winter before spring truly arrives. You all are probably excited about that eventuality just so I will stop complaining about the weather. I feel like that is all I ever whine about. That and being gigantically pregnant.

So, we'll settle for a few more weeks of cozy meals with the fire roaring while we remain cuddled up inside trying to stay warm. This Lazy Sausage Supper is a perfect winter meal if you're stuck inside, working on a few other projects, and just feel like putting only a teeny amount of effort into dinner. I love meals that are baked in one dish (unless of course you add a side salad or something) because there is no stress about making sure all the sides are served piping hot at the same time as the main course. Plus, all the flavors mingle together perfectly - a major plus for someone like me who, unlike the other members of my little family, has always enjoyed mixing all components on my plate together to create the perfect bite (peas, mashed potatoes, and roast beef all together on the fork and then dipped in gravy - I think this is divine while my husband finds it heretical).

This sausage supper was enjoyed by everyone. My kids love sausage and we have been buying this fantastic, handmade sausage from an organic grocer in our area. The "meat guy" makes several different types and they are all delicious - my personal favorite is the Polish sausage but the brats, Italian sausage, and German sausage are all very, very good. For this recipe, we used both hot and sweet Italian sausage - the spicy for the adults and the sweet for the children. Again, no picture of elongated links of sausage is going to be attractive so you're just going to have to trust me when I tell you this was one delicious meal. We will certainly be making it again!

Feel free to serve it with a simple green salad and a bit of bread for soaking up juices. The leftovers were also great for breakfast with a couple scrambled eggs.

Lazy Sausage Supper
from Let's Dish Recipes

2 pounds of Italian sausages
1 pound potatoes, cubed (any type)
1 pound baby carrots
1 red pepper, cut into large chunks
8-12 ounces whole fresh mushrooms
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chicken broth
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine all of the chopped vegetables in a large roasting pan. Whisk together the olive oil, minced garlic, basil, oregano and fennel seeds.Pour over the vegetables and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour chicken broth around the sides of the vegetables. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.

Meanwhile, brown sausages in a large skillet over medium heat. They do not need to be cooked all the way through - just lightly browned.

Remove from skillet and slice them into large chunks or just leave them as is. That's what we opted for - remember this is a lazy casserole! Remove the foil from vegetables and add sausages to pan.
Pour in balsamic vinegar and give everything a good stir. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake, uncovered, for 20-30 additional minutes or until everything is browned as the sausages are cooked through.