Friday, February 27, 2009

Color Me Mine

I had a wonderful time last night with some girlfriends at the pottery painting studio/store called Color Me Mine. I've been wanting to go there for years, but for one reason or another, just had not gotten there yet. So we planned a girls night complete with some light appetizers, a bottle of wine, and a nice iced coffee for me (decaf so I wouldn't get the jitters). I chose a tall rectangular vase, and designed a grape vine on one side. I painted the outside tan, and the colors of the grape vine/grapes are in a dark brown and olive green color. It has to be glazed and fired up in the kiln, so I won't get to see it completed until next weekend, but I have a feeling its going to look good, and I already know this'll be a hobby I can get hooked on. I'll be sure to post a photo of the finished product when I get it next week, but for now, here are a couple pictures from last night (you can see the design I drew up before I went...and next to it is how it looked after I was done painting and while it was still drying.) The colors will really "pop" after the firing and glazing. Anytime you want to go, count me in ladies - I had a blast!
Tommy now calls our dog Maverick "Bear" (which is Mav's middle name) and the dog will go to him when called. It's pretty cute. They are constantly playing tug-of-war, with Mav taking a "time out" once in a while to lick Tommy's face. Tommy just giggles the whole time.
Tommy's really starting to get the hang of standing too. He managed to stand for almost a minute today. I know that doesn't sound like a long time, but to us its amazing. His favorite thing the past couple of days is to stand up then screech and throw himself onto Tony or I. He then rolls away and laughs hysterically. Tommy has begun clapping too. He claps especially when he thinks he's done something good. Today he stood up for a couple seconds, and upon landing started clapping for himself and saying "Yay!" It was adorable. Of course its totally infectious behavior, so the minute he starts to clap and cheer, Tony and I can't help ourselves but to join in!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Soup That Feeds Your Tastebuds...And Your Soul.

Every Sunday I have been trying to take a few hours to cook up Tommy's meals for the can be anything from coming up with interesting fruit blends to steaming fresh veggies. Making a pasta or rice mix or mushing up meats for his dinners…I’ve really been trying to make it fresh, make it tasty, and make it as healthy as possible for our little man. The biggest upside is that I get to try out some of these food blends myself while I enjoy a little time on my own cooking and blending foods together – it inspires me to cook healthy foods for Tony and I as well…and serves as a reminder that just because its healthy does not mean it isn’t delicious. It’s also been great for Tony and Tommy. They get the time to bond and just “be the guys.” Sometimes, Tony and I will both be cooking (he is a master at grilling – especially seafood), and Tommy will sit there beside us in his high chair, munching on fruit or veggie puffs, and watching us with his always observing and curious eyes.
Here he's helping Daddy put his toys into one of his new toy boxes, and one of him laughing while playing with his fire engine ride-along.On Saturday morning, we stopped over at the market for some much needed weekly necessities (I needed soy milk for my coffee!), and I was inspired to pick up some veggies to make a really tasty soup. I know several people who can make one soup or casserole, really really well (like my Mom’s Tuna Casserole – I LOVE it!!). A signature dish that when thought of, immediately makes you think of them, of sharing a nice meal together, and of family/friendship. Well – I WANT that! Ha Ha. I’ve been searching for a soup that screams ME. Something I can make in bulk and freeze for some individual meals, to pull out when I’m in the mood for some comfort food, and a recipe I can call my own to share with the people I love.

Often I’ve been to Panera Bread and have had their broccoli and cheese soup. I’m actually not a fan of Broccoli…something about the texture turns me off…but when it comes to that soup, I just can’t get enough. So…I used the ever handy internet, and searched for a few related recipes, then I came up with my own version. I spent about 3 or 4 hours from start (getting all the ingredients together & cooking veggies) to finish making up a double batch of this DELICIOUS recipe. So…I hope you give it a try, even if you aren’t normally a fan of broccoli, carrots, or of soups in general. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

First off let me give some Luv to fresh vegetables. I know its takes a little more time to cook and prepare them…but when you decide to take the time to do it, I truly feel it adds a little something extra special to the finished product. If you’re like me, and (for convenience sake) aren’t use to cooking fresh veggies…I’ll explain what I did with them. I am sure there are other ways…but since I like to figure things out on my own…here’s what I did to prepare the broccoli and carrots before starting the soup.
Broccoli: I picked up two big bunches of broccoli. I took them home and rinsed them really really well, then laid them on a paper towel to dry. I set up my steamer with about an inch of water (it’s a large metal pot with a separate steamer pot that has tiny holes on the bottom and rests inside the larger pot – great for steaming veggies and crab legs!). Once the water in the steamer was boiling, I put the broccoli bunches into the steamer pot, and that into the larger metal pot, covered it with the glass lid, then I set the clock for 4 minutes. While they were steaming up, I grabbed a large bowl which I filled with ice water. After the timer chimed, I picked up the entire steamer part of the pot with the broccoli inside, and dunked it into the bowl of ice water three times (each time for about 5 seconds). The reasons I’ve heard for doing this is to help the broccoli keep their brilliant green color, and also to ensure they will have a nice crisp crunch. Next, I dumped them onto a giant cutting board, and removed ALL of the stems. If you like broccoli you may not want to go to this extreme, but I don’t normally like it, so I wanted it to be in small enough bunches that I would not be biting into the broccoli stems. (I thought it would be nice if all of the veggies in the soup sort of disappeared into it, making a flavorful and thick mixture, without clumps in it.)

Carrots: I carefully added about 3 cups of hot tap water into the still semi-boiling pot I had used for steaming the broccoli. While I waited for that to boil, I removed the outside “skin” of the carrots with a potato peeler, and cut off the ends of each one. Once the water was boiling, I put the carrots into the pot and let it simmer for about 10 to 15 mins. Once they were fully cooked, I carefully pulled them out of the pot, and chopped them into ¼ inch cubes. The recipe called for julienned carrots…but the ¼ inch pieces worked just fine…they were so tender that you didn’t even notice them in the soup – it blended really well, and added an extra bit of flavor!

(NOTE: Since I made WAY more carrots than I needed for this recipe, I set some aside to make babyfood for Tommy, and some aside for a nice pork tenderloin roast I will be making later on in the week. Several great meals out of fresh vegetables! Can’t beat that!)
After the veggies were all prepped and ready to go, I set the rest of the ingredients for the soup out on the counter, and got started. Here are the directions for my adaptation of the various recipes I researched (and some notes). It’s a keeper!
Bobbi's Broccoli and Cheese Soup
2 tablespoons butter with 1/4 chopped onion
(I used a red Spanish onion for a little color)
½ stick of butter – cut into tbsps/
1/4 cup flour
2 cups fat free half-and-half cream
(could probably have used Soymilk)
2 cups chicken stock (or 1 can if you don’t have any one hand)
1/2 lb fresh broccoli
1 cup carrot, julienned (the ¼ chunks worked just fine)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
10 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese - I used Kraft.
(It actually calls for 8 oz. but I thought it needed that extra bit.)
Salt and Pepper to taste (I used 2 tsps of salt and 3 tsps of pepper.)

1. Sauté onion with butter on lowest setting so that the butter does not overcook. Set aside.
2. Cook ½ stick of butter and flour using a whisk over low heat for 3-5
minutes. Stir constantly and slowly add in the half & half.
3. Add the chicken stock. Simmer on Low/Medium-Low for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
4. Stir in nutmeg, salt, and pepper, mix well.
5. Add the broccoli, carrots and onions. Cook over LOW heat 25-30 minutes.
6. Serve with your favorite crusty, dunkable bread and enjoy!
Other adaptations: Several recipes I found online also included 1 cup of fully cooked, minced cauliflower, and several recipes called for serving the soup in a bread bowl. I plan to add the cauliflower into the mix the next time I make this soup.

Since I made a double batch we were able to freeze a few containers full of soup, plus we each have a couple containers to enjoy throughout the week.

Oh…and in case you’re wondering…I mixed some of the carrots with a little bit of the broccoli in the blender for Tommy – he LOVED it. I have glass jars [reusing babyfood jars] full for him of the carrots and broccoli mix for this week. I also made a fresh mango/orange puree, and baked up a butternut squash for him this week. He had a bit of the mango/orange puree with his oatmeal this morning – and he said “mmm” after each bite. So Cute!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tapas and Teeth

I had not realized just how long it’s been since I updated the blog, until a friend mentioned she wanted to check it out and see some updated pictures. Ooops… sorry. The days have been slipping by with lightening speed. One day it’s the beginning of the month, then in the blink of an eye it’s almost the end of it! Wow!We’ve had some ups and downs this month. The biggest up has been that Tommy finally has teeth! Yep, that’s right, I said teeth – plural. His first tooth emerged amongst many a sleepless night, nasty diaper, and crankiness on the 11th. Tony had collected Tommy out of his crib that morning when he noticed that first pearly white! Within days the whole process began again, and just this week tooth number two finally emerged. We are excited to reach yet another milestone of the many Tommy’s had this year, but also it’s a little bittersweet. It means our baby is growing up! He will be ten months old tomorrow. It’s astonishing to me that we are beginning to plan his first birthday bash! I can’t wait. It’s going to be such a fun party. We’ve decided to go with a dinosaur theme. I’ve been jotting down ideas, and coming up with ways we can throw a great party while still keeping within a fairly tight budget.
Here is a picture of Tommy while teething...even while crying and cranky, he still takes time to smile at the camera.
In this picture you can almost see Tommy's tooth - it's glinting from the flash of the camera. Last weekend my sister and her husband came up for a visit. Tommy was able to spend some quality time with them, and I know he loved it. They and my parents watched Tommy for his very first overnight! I cried the entire way to my parents house, not because I didn’t think they would do well with him or anything…he loves them, and they love him too…it was ALL me. I couldn’t stand being away from him. It broke my heart to drop him off, and I felt incredibly guilty, but I am proud of myself for taking that first step. We also had our first Tapas party last weekend. A tapas party is basically like having a bunch of small meals, sort of like appetizers, but with a Spanish flair. We had everything from Potatas Bravas to Albondigas, Tortilla Espana, and my personal favorite Calamari Frito, amongst other things. We washed all of the great food down with some Spanish wine and Sangria (Tana, you make the best Sangria!!). I even made up a couple small desserts including three little heart shaped coconut angel food cakes. The evening was a great success, and we had an absolute blast with the two other couples who joined us. It’s definitely something we hope to do again soon. (This pictures shows just SOME of the Tapas we had, there was so much food! Picture below: Albondigas [Spainish meatballs], Gambas A La Plancha [pan fried shrimp], a hummus platter, An appetizer platter featuring Spanish olives and Manchego [a Spanish cheese] and other things, Tortilla Espana, Patatas Bravas, and Pollo Con Ajo [chicken thighs fried in olive oil and garlic])The end of this week, Tommy has begun to try and stand on his own. Soon, he’s going to learn to really balance…and it will only be a matter of time before he takes that first step toward walking! We think he’ll be running around chasing after his friends at his first birthday party.I’ve also discovered something new about Tommy. He’s still really into music…in fact just today he was rocking and singing along to a Steely Dan song which came on the radio this afternoon. But to my great surprise, I’ve learned just how much my child likes books!! SO EXCITED!!! He’s always enjoyed it when we read to him, but lately he has been getting really (REALLY) upset at the end of the story, when it is time to close the book and put it back onto the shelf. He tends to grab the book and try to open it again. We hope to encourage his love of reading as much as possible in the hopes that it will help him learn to read words a lot easier, and we also believe that encouraging a love of reading will eventually help him with his schoolwork. (In this picture below, he pulled all of the books off the shelf then sat and looked through them.)Next week I am meeting some friends for a relaxing Girls Night at a local pottery painting shop. I can’t wait. It’ll be my first time doing something like this. I plan to make something I can use in my kitchen that will tie in the pretty browns and tans of my dishes and the lovely olive green colors of our walls. I’m thinking something with bunches of green grapes or a grapevine will be pretty. We’ll see what happens!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It’s snowing…again. I think I’m over it. Or maybe I’m just cranky.

This weekend was a long one. Not in the relaxing sense of the word, but in a “ugh why isn’t it over yet” kind of thing. You see…I finally made some “me” plans for the weekend. Friday night I was set to meet up at a nearby restaurant for a girls night dinner, Saturday I had tickets to see Jesus Christ Superstar, and Sunday I was hoping to get out of the house and go for some coffee…either by myself or meet up with a girlfriend. Also this weekend Tony needed to find a new vehicle since his has been broken since just before Christmas.

I should have known something was up on Thursday when I woke up with a stomach bug. Fortunately for me…it only lasted for about 24 hours…maybe a tad more…BUT…just as soon as I started to feel better – WHAM – the bug got Tommy. My poor little man couldn’t keep anything in. So, since Friday, he’s been a mess (Its Tuesday and he’s still not himself). Thankfully – he’s been in a pretty decent mood….but we couldn’t risk taking him anywhere (and we didn’t want him to catch something else while out, possibly getting sicker.)
So…I cancelled my plans for Friday night, and Sunday. I wasn’t about to miss JC Superstar…as it was my early birthday present from my parents (Thanks again for taking me Mom!). Tony spent much of the weekend on the car business (and it was warm enough for him to finally get the rest of the Christmas lights & things put away.). He also had a touch of the stomach bug…so I was on baby duty. I tried really hard to enjoy myself at JSC…but the thought of my baby sick at home, the awful seats we had (selling seats where you can’t see part the stage should be illegal – its just so wrong), and the fact that I had not had time to eat yet Saturday…sort of ruined the experience for me. Don’t get me wrong…the performance was excellent. Ted Neeley, who portrays Jesus in the movie version of JCS was headlining…and the man who played Judas was amazing. But my thoughts were more on my empty stomach and sick little man, than the musical.

I’m not usually such a downer. When things come up, I can usually just roll with the punches…but I had a mild case of cabin fever going on, and really – I just needed to do something other than just being “mom” for a couple hours. It wasn’t Tony’s fault…and he was very supportive while I blubbered and felt sorry for myself on Sunday – so I made sure he did not cancel his plans to meet up with his guy friends for the Superbowl (friends he hasn’t seen in a while, and a game I didn’t care to see). He also managed to find a new jeep, and sell the broken kia!

I’m really hoping I can find the time to do something later this week or over the weekend…I’d love to go to the movies or do something. So we’ll see.
Since we’re stuck in the house today (ugh...snow and ice), I decided to give the whole Vegan baking thing a try. I made banana nut bread…and somehow managed to keep myself from dumping milk chocolate chips into the batter. I am very proud of myself for that last bit. It’s cooling as I write this (Tommy’s napping)…and I’m anxious to try it out. If it tastes as good as it smells (my house smells soooooo yummy right now) I’ll post the recipe…if not…well…you won’t hear about it again! I’m not Vegan. To be honest, I don’t even think I could be a Vegetarian. I LOVE me some beef & pork products…but… I’ve been incorporating some Vegetarian & Vegan (soy milk instead of cow’s milk, etc.) dishes into my normal diet…and it’s nice to try something different.
There’s always an awesome carnivore-friendly dish out there for me to rave about though…(gotta be fair to both teams right?? - I know Jaqi will disagree. Sorry Jaqi.) Here’s something Fantastic that Tony made this weekend. For his friend’s superbowl party on Sunday, Tony braised some mild Italian sausage with onions and green peppers…he then let is simmer for about 4 or 5 hours in a garlic, oregano, and butter sauce. His friends enjoyed it like a sandwich on rolls… but we decided to throw the leftover mixture in with some angel hair pasta…and it was DELICIOUS. I am bummed we ate it all last night for our dinner, because I would really really like to eat some more of it today.
And "Thank You" to Cindy D., who suggested I try giving Tommy some frozen mini-bagels to help with his teething...wonderful idea! As soon as he's feeling better...that's what I'll be doing!