Our Very Bubbly Easter

This year we were chosen to host my brother’s family for Easter. Which meant that we were actually going to have some plans for the day. We usually go to church, have hard-boiled eggs and ham, and have an evening bonfire with some friends. But nothing is structured and it usually turns into all of us kind of going our own separate ways until bonfire time.

A few weeks ago, my brother approached me with the idea of making it a “Kids Cook Easter.” My parents were not to prepare any part of the meal. It was all on us. Which, honestly, didn’t seem like too big of a challenge to me. I mean, there’s nothing complicated about ham and scalloped potatoes.

It turned into him making the “dinner” and me making everything else (brunch and dessert). And I must say, I think my contributions outshined his. I made my now-famous caramel rolls for brunch (served with hard-boiled eggs) and this masterpiece. Speckled Malted Coconut Cake. I am seriously proud of this. My mom was really bragging it up!

(One recipe note: the frosting was giving us all sugar rushes–almost one whole bag of powdered sugar is too much.)

Aside from the food, of course, the main focus of the day was Juliana. She got another day with all of her (hopefully!) favorite people and animals, so she was having a ball. Until she ran right through nap time and finally ended up falling asleep almost 10 hours after she had woken up.

But while she was still up and running, she continued to decorate the windows.

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She also got some presents. First came grandma’s.

My mom saw this while she was killing time between meetings a few days ago and couldn’t pass it up. This girl is a foodie, so it was a slam dunk. She hadn’t opened any presents since Christmas, so she needed a little reminding about how to do it. Once she figured out how the velcro worked, she just sat there and put the candle on the cake and then pulled it off about 20 times.

Then her parents pulled out their present for her.

None of us had any idea how much she would love the bubbles. She started out just wanting to catch them.

Then she wanted to blow her own bubbles!

I don’t know, do you think she liked them? You never know how this girl is feeling…

She loved her “bubbas!”

While she slept, my parents decided to light the fire. I volunteered to stay inside and wait for the girl to wake up. So I watched the fire from inside.

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We don’t do small when it comes to bonfires. (We are very responsible about it, though.)

It was cloudy all day and then, miraculously, the sun came out just in time for the sunset. Those are always the best sunsets. (This was after the peak.)

I hope all who celebrated had a happy Easter!

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March

I started sharing my Juliana-themed calendar with you all last month. As promised, here is the collage for March.

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Indeed. There is always time for a snack!

Man, this girl loves her food. (Or is it “Woman, this girl loves her food?”) She started eating real, grown-up people food the second her pediatrician said it was okay and hasn’t looked back.

Her first love, which we often forget, was a banana. She loved bananas. And therefore had at least one full banana every day she was with us. She took a little break from them last fall, but has recently been asking for “nana eese!” (Translation: banana please!)

Then she discovered raspberries. Oh boy (or is it “Oh girl?”) did she discover raspberries. She would literally sit at the base of the raspberry bushes in her backyard and pick them off one by one and smash them onto her face. Occasionally some would make their way into her mouth, but she definitely had some pink hair (and cheeks. and nose.) for a while. Naturally, her birthday cake was vanilla with layers of pureed raspberries and whipped cream. I think she liked it…

Then she found the fruit that would come to save her parents a lot of aggravation: apples. By the time apple season rolled around, she was walking all over the place. My mom thought it would be fun to have her help pick up the apples on the ground to feed to the llamas. The apples she picked up never actually made it to the llamas, though. They did, however, find their way into her mouth. If we didn’t stop her, she would sit and eat an entire apple. I mean core and all. We had a bumper crop of apples this year, so my mom decided to try dehydrating them again. (She had tried years earlier and didn’t like the end result. Secret ingredient: cinnamon sugar!) The girl was addicted. When she was upset, they were one of the only things that could stop the crying. Her parents made sure there was always a bag of dehydrated apples in the diaper bag.

Now she’s a Mac & Cheese girl. It’s not that she’s not adventurous–she seems to try anything at least once. But when we can’t think of anything else to make for her or just can’t find anything, Mac & Cheese will go down fast. She has also started to really love pickles and pears.

And her faces while she eats! Ah, I can’t stand how cute she is! She is definitely a foodie baby. And Foodie Babies Wear Bibs.

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Exactly What I Needed

This week has been exactly what I needed. I got back into blogging, had a sleepover with my favorite person, worked “overtime,” cooked to my heart’s content, caught up on my guilty pleasures, started working out again and discovered a new “diet.”

We just got back from our annual trek to Hawaii a little over a week ago and by Tuesday we were all pretty much fully adjusted to home life again. My brother and his wife, however were not. They had just landed that morning and both courageously decided to go to work. My parents gladly took J off their hands for the day and offered to keep her overnight so they could crash. They gladly accepted the offer and we got to spend a few more hours with the little babe. I love those sleepy baby snuggles!

The family I nanny for needed me to cover two more days this week, so I ended up working four days in a row, which I thought would be kind of stressful. Thought. Surprisingly, I actually loved it. It created a little bit more space between me and J, so I could really just be the fun aunt and not a disciplinarian. It also allowed me to bond with the kids more and I feel like we took a huge step in that respect this week. They also got to meet J! My parents brought her over one day and the cuteness was unbearable. There were lots of hugs and kisses!

Oh my goodness, did I cook this week. Last weekend my mom asked me if I would make some freezer meals. I ended up assembling 2 pans each of Chicken Spaghetti and Baked “Ziti” (I used Mostaccioli, although Ziti is pictured below) and making nearly 7 dozen meatballs. One of the pans of Baked “Ziti” ended up with my brother and his wife for dinner Tuesday night (the night we also took their daughter off their hands-they were feeling very appreciative!). I also made Meatloaf (which I’m very quickly falling head over heels in love with, by the way), Asian-Style Chicken with Peppers, Oven-Roasted Barbeque Chicken and Campanelle with pancetta and tomatoes. Oh, and the cookies. Coffee. Cocoa. Chocolate Chunks. Chopped Pecans. Mmmmm! SO delicious!

Ahh, yes. Guilty pleasures. Without disclosing what specifically I watch, I’ll just say that I really enjoy the how-fast-can-I-clear-out-the-DVR game. I’m only down about 10%, but I’m working on it right now.

Last summer I figured out the best motivation for me while exercising: reading. Once I get into a book, it’s really easy for me to get lost in it. I also have this fear of people seeing me sweaty, so I tend to only workout when I’m home alone and can shower immediately after. I’ve had quite a bit of alone time this week and I just happened to have a book to finish from Hawaii, so it worked out perfectly. I love how I feel after working out and I really enjoy reading, so I’m hoping this will stick.

We saw some gorgeous sand art while in Hawaii and actually went back to a store right before we left to buy some. Well, it has become an obsession. Hours can pass while watching the sand fall. It ended up on the kitchen counter and my dad and I have spent a few nights this week parked in front of that rather than the TV. We also discovered that, unlike TV, it’s easy to carry on a conversation while watching the sand and you don’t feel the need to eat. We have both already seen the effects of a few nights with no snacking. Hey, whatever works.
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So Many Stories

I have so many pictures and so many stories that I’d like to share with you all, but it’s hard to know where to begin. After looking through all the pictures, I’ve decided to start with the non-Juliana version and I’ll follow up later this week with the Juliana version, since she pretty much consumes my thoughts. That girl gives me enough pictures and stories to fill up way more than just one post!

So here’s what I’ve been up to for the past two months, excluding Juliana.


It was my mom’s birthday.

 

We surprised her at work with an orchid and her favorite lunch: root beer and a tomato sandwich. We also surprised her with flowers and sappy cards when she got home! What a lucky lady!

It was my brother’s birthday.

I added a new feature wall in my bathroom.

We picked grapes. (Many, many, many, many more pails than just this)

We made grape juice. (Many, many more batches than just this)

 

My poppies bloomed.

  

My Begonia bloomed.

 

We cleaned out the pantry.

The leaves turned.

 

I picked lots of Hydrangeas.

There were pears on our tree.

 

But the birds got them first.

I made cookies.

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Apples fell.

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We made many apple pies, dehydrated apples and apple roses.

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Tomatillos fell.

We made lots of salsa verde.

I carved a pumpkin.

And then I carved a bigger pumpkin.

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And then I carved a baby pumpkin.

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Charlie was…Charlie. (That’s Cocoa’s collar)

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And Cocoa continued to be the sweetest.


I’ll follow up later this week with all of the (abbreviated) Juliana stories from the past 2 months!

My New Hobby!

I’m becoming so domestic! I started a little herb garden a few weeks ago. Since I’ve started cooking more “complex” recipes (aka actually using herbs) I’ve realized how essential herbs really are and how handy it would be to always have access to fresh herbs.

My collection has been steadily growing since I first bought the first four herbs a few weeks ago.

Among the chosen few:

Parsley!

Parsley: perfect for making a dish look super fancy.

Lavender!

Lavender: smells divine and when used sparingly, can make heavenly baked goods.

Thyme!

Thyme: I love to add this to beef roasts, which I will making much more of this fall and winter!

Sage!

Sage: I honestly don’t have much experience cooking with sage, but based on the smell, I think it would be amazing with meat of any kind!

I wanted people who didn’t know what herbs looked like to be able to come down and pick some without having to ask what they look like. That’s where the painted pots came from. I originally wanted clay pots so I could paint them completely and add a little chalk paint area to write the name of each herb. But, I eventually concluded that these pots would most likely outlive the plants inside. So, I found a design that would be suitable now, with the herbs, and in the future, without the herbs.

Then I remembered that we have a big ‘ole chalkboard standing up right next to the plant window, so I wrote the names of the herbs in the corresponding colors.

You may notice cinnamon on the board. While I was doing my initial research, I came across how to grow cinnamon trees inside. Saying I love cinnamon would be an understatement. So, I ordered two cinnamon trees and added those to my little herb garden.

Cinnamon Trees!

I also read that basically anything (natural) can be grown from remnants of an existing plant/harvest. Another thing that I’m completely in love with: peppers. So I scraped out some of the seeds from some sweet peppers we had in the fridge and planted those to see what would happen.

Pepper seeds!

Less than two weeks later, this is what they now look like! I decided to move them to a bigger pot so they could grow more naturally into proper pepper plants. That’s a fun phrase: proper pepper plants!

Peppers in a pot!

I also wanted to see how many herbs would grow simply by cutting a few inches off of an existing plant and letting them grow roots in water.

The water experiment

Unfortunately, only the basil developed roots. I still haven’t given up on parsley and spearmint, but did have to give up on rosemary, chives and dill.

Basil!

I just planted the basil in soil a few days ago and it’s starting to perk up!

Basil in a pot!

I love basil! I could use it everyday if I had enough! I could live on Caprese Salad and Margherita Pizza for a long time!

My next experiment is going to be lemon seeds. The next time I use a lemon for anything, I’m keeping some of the seeds, letting them dry out for a day or two and then planting them!

It’s a fun little hobby! I can completely understand how people can get carried away with it and fill entire greenhouses or, in my mom’s case, fill up almost an acre of land!

I’ll keep you all updated with any new additions!

Incredible Salad with Ginger Dressing

This past weekend was a daddy-daughter weekend while my mom was off being a good person and offering her services to people who can’t afford good dental care. But that’s not what this post is about. Oh, no no no. This post is about the one real meal we had in the three days she was gone.

We like to take advantage of the fact that we can have pizza and takeout every day (and night) that she’s gone so for the most part, that’s what we had. (Although we did make our twice-a-year-favorite spamwiches, but I would hardly call that a real meal!)

I had been craving a good salad with ginger dressing for about a week, so I convinced my dad to go to the grocery store. While we were there, we saw some nice filets on sale. We love filets. It was a perfect combination.

My dad is usually not a “fancy” salad guy, but he had three helpings of this one! It’s that good.


I started by making the dressing. I did this about three to four hours before I threw the rest of the salad together to give the ingredients a chance to combine and form this magical substance.

I started by adding 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a jar.

Then I added 2 tablespoons of soy sauce…

…1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar…

…1 tablespoon of lime juice…

…1-2 cloves of minced garlic (I used 1 large one) and 1-2 tablespoons of the all important ginger (also minced).

I gave it a few shakes and put in the fridge until it was time to assemble the rest of the salad.

When I was ready to assemble the salad, I browned about a cup of bean sprouts…

Then I cut up some lettuce and added 1 green onion, 1 stalk of celery and 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds that I had chopped and combined about an hour earlier.

Then I took out the amazing dressing and poured half of it over the greens…

…And added the browned bean sprouts.

I drizzled on the rest of the dressing, mixed it together and topped it with some sliced almonds.

This salad completely rocked my world. It is simply heavenly with beef.

It even won over my simple-salad father!

Mint-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I decided it’s time for a new favorite cookie. We’ve been making the same oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies for more than 10 years now and I feel like it’s time for a change. Not that I don’t love those cookies–I love those cookies. They will always be my classic, baseline cookies. (If I can remember to photograph them the next I make them, I’ll definitely post the recipe!)

But as I’m continuing my cooking journey, I’m learning that cookies are so easy to switch up and experiment with. And I’m loving all of these new concoctions!

Though they may need a little tweaking, these Mint-Chocolate Chip Cookies, based on two of my favorite chocolate chip cookies and my most recent obsession, are definitely finalists in the search for my next favorite cookie.


I started by browning 2 sticks of butter. This isn’t necessary, but I tend to err on the side of caution by constantly swirling the butter over medium-high heat.

There are basically 3 stages to browning butter. The first stage is this lovely foam.

The first stage of browning butter is foam.

The second stage comes very shortly after the foam appears. BUBBLES!

The second stage of browning butter is bubbles.

After a little while, it will become foamy again and when you see this wonderfully golden color appear, it is done.

The third stage of browning butter is the foam turning a wonderfully golden color.

Ahh, browned butter.

You want the butter to be completely cool when you add it in with the other ingredients. If you’re patient, you can take it out of the pot and just let it cool for an hour or so. But I’m not patient. So I put it in this measuring cup, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes (which was still 29 minutes too long for me!).

Ahh, browned (or golden, rather) butter!

As I put the butter in the fridge, I took out yet another stick of butter (mmmmm, buttah buttah!) and set it out to soften.

And watched an episode of Mad Men to distract myself. I am–was–fully obsessed with this show and am in denial now that it’s over. I think I’ll watch the series again from the beginning. And then do it again.

Cookies.

I was making cookies.

I took the butter out of the fridge and let it sit more while I threw together the dry ingredients. I added 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of instant coffee grinds, 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder (will probably be changed to at least 2 teaspoons), 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt to a bowl.

I added the dry ingredients to a bowl.

And mixed them just until they were combined.

And mixed them just until they were combined.

Next I creamed the stick of softened butter, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of sugar together in a separate bowl.

Next I creamed the softened butter and sugars together.

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Then I poured in the beautifully browned butter and mixed it all in.

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Totally optional, but I love oatmeal in cookies so I added 1/2 cup.

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Then I added 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of vanilla.

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And mixed until combined.

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I added the dry ingredients in increments, only mixing in about a third of it at a time.

Hey, that looks like cookie dough!

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But there is one crucial ingredient missing: the mint-chocolate chips. I added about 3/4 cup of my latest obsession, Andes baking chips.

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Then I put them on a cookie sheet…

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And baked them in a 375 degree oven for about 9 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Mmmm, fresh cookies!

I left them on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

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Because once they hit that rack, they don’t last long.

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Mmm, I can smell them now!