Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Foodie Favorites #3

Did you think I'd fallen off the face of the earth? I wouldn't blame you if you did. I can hardly believe it's been a month and a half since I returned to work - and the same amount of time marks my last blog post. Yikes! Being a full time working mom with 2 little kids is no joke. Some days our house feels like a well oiled machine, and other days it just feels plain crazy. Having two little ones is so much fun, but it also means very little free time (or rather, I should say "alone time"). Our little crew is a routine-driven one during the week and then an activity-loving one on the weekends.

To give you a quick preview of our weekdays/nights: it's up at 5:30, showers, breakfast, getting everyone dressed, off to work/daycare by 9:00, back home for dinner/bedtime routine and packing for the next day to do it all over again. Phew! It's been hard for Riker to adjust to us both being back at work, so we've been trying to make our weekends really count and do fun stuff as a family. Plus there is so much great stuff to do during the fall. We've been pumpkin picking, hiking, hay-riding, Six Flags-ing, horse racing and everything else we can think of that goes along with crisp air, boots, jackets, and football. Ah, I love fall.

In between family activities, Matt and I have tried to make time for each other and ourselves as well, as it's so important to staying balanced and happy. We finally had our first date night since before Carson was born, we've each had a night out with friends, and I'm finally getting back into a workout routine (going back to yoga with my friend Heather for the first time tomorrow night, and running a 5K in two weeks that I'm totally unprepared for. This is the definition of winging it).

So needless to say, it's been busy. But I'm hoping now that we're in more of a routine I'll be able to start blogging again more frequently, since I've been storing up things to share. Like this fab list - the third edition of Foodie Favorites. Here are some of the things we've been enjoying lately!

1. Fancy Salts

I love salts and tend to pick them up whenever I see them at specialty food stores. Good salt makes such a huge difference in flavoring food and in your health, and flavored salts are great because they add depth to a dish without any added fat. During one of our recent weekend day trips, I found some great ones in a little spice/tea shop and I've been using them on everything. The black truffle salt went great on spaghetti squash with a little olive oil (and I'll take Matt's word for it that it went great on his steak as well) and I like to use fleur de sel as a garnish on steamed vegetables - it adds a little crunch and extra salty bite.

I also have a citrus one which has lemon and orange peel in it, and just used it last night to add a final flourish to bowls of Orange Maple Butternut Squash & Brussels Sprouts. So good!

FYI, for my everyday salt I use Real Salt. My mama taught me well.

2. Homemade Coffee Creamers

Why have I never done this before? Typically I only use plain cream in my coffee - no sugar. But I love the idea of pumpkin flavored creamer during the fall, and usually each October I'll cave and buy a bottle of the Coffee Mate Pumpkin Spice because it just doesn't feel like fall without it. This year I decided, no more. I don't even really like it because it's too sweet, and it's filled with all kinds of ingredients I can't pronounce.

Enter the homemade creamer. It's sitting in my fridge in a mason jar and feels just as festive.

I love this because it's real and I can control the sweetness. This one has pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and Vermont maple syrup. (Note: If you make this, be aware that the flavorings don't stay blended like store bought creamers, so you'll need to shake it each time you use it.) I can't wait to make peppermint mocha creamer in December!

3. Quinoa Hot Cereal

It's the season for hot cereal! Matt picked this up at the grocery store a while ago and I just tried it. It reminds me of Cream of Wheat from my childhood, but with the more hearty texture of grits. It also has more protein than your typical hot cereal.

It lends itself well to sweet toppings like bananas, walnuts and maple syrup, but I actually like it savory, the way I like my grits - with a little butter, salt and pepper. Mmm. Simple but comforting.

4. Somersaults for Snacking**

A while back, Somersault Snack Co. contacted me and asked if we'd like to try their sunflower seed-filled snacks. I'd actually never heard of them before, but was interested in the company after looking at their website and mission.

The snacks are made for energizing since the seeds are packed with antioxidants, protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. While we usually try to eat organic as much as possible, my feeling is that just because a snack is organic (like organic chips) it doesn't mean it's healthy for you. I felt good about these as an occasional snack because they are made with wholesome ingredients like expeller pressed oil, molasses, organic cane syrup, chicory root and various spices - I could understand the minimal ingredient list and the nutritional stats were good. Plus, my family could not get enough of them.

We tried a bunch of flavors, including cinnamon, salt & pepper, dutch cocoa, pacific sea salt and santa fe salsa. They seriously were all good, but my fave was the salt & pepper. Matt's favorite was the santa fe salsa - they for real tasted like nacho cheese Combos, which we loved back in college. Yum!

Riker also loved them. I couldn't even snap a picture without little fingers trying to sneak them.

Take two...

If you're interested in trying these out, you can order them on the website or check out their store locator.

**Disclaimer: I received samples from the company to try. As always, all statements and opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Working Mom

Well, the time has come. The summer is coming to a close, and in just two days I'll be returning to work. Matt will too. It's been a truly amazing summer for our family and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little heartbroken that I have to leave my babies and go back to work while they are still so little. Especially since I know this is the last time I'll be able to stay home with them (considering I'm not a teacher and don't get summers off, and that we are planning to stay a happily content family of 4).

Among the things I'll miss the most:
- Waking up to my children calling for me (vs. an obnoxious alarm clock).

- Being the one to feed Carson all day and knowing her every little nuance. It's hard when other people have to tell you how much your baby is eating, whether she isn't feeling well and if she's smiling a lot or doing something new.

- Having conversations with Riker. He's really become my little buddy this summer and is SO much fun at this age. We just play and talk and hang out all day long, and he's having a hard time understanding why it won't be like that anymore. I want to cry just thinking about the fact that some days I will only see him for a couple minutes, since I'll be commuting to the city a couple days a week.

- Not having any real agenda every day. I like that the days just take us where they take us, and it's okay if the only thing I accomplish all day is re-loading the dishwasher because my full attention is focused on one or both of the kids. 

- Ummm....SUMMER!

It's been hard to reconcile leaving my babies in order to go to work to provide for them, but I know at the end of the day it's for the best. And I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful 13 weeks I've had with them, since so many women don't even get that long. So instead of dwelling on all the things I'll miss about summer and being home with my little ones, I'm trying to think positively about all the things we have to look forward to.

Things I'm looking forward to include:

- Getting back into a routine. Although I've enjoyed not having an agenda for the short-term, in the long run I feel a little out of control without a normal daily routine.

- Finishing a cup of coffee while it's still hot.

- Taking a shower before 3:00 - and taking a shower alone (you moms know what I'm talking about). While this will require getting up before the crack of dawn, I know it'll feel nice to be showered, have my hair actually blown dry (rather than being thrown up wet) and be wearing a nice outfit more often than not.

- Getting back on a normal eating routine. I haven't lost all of my baby weight, and I haven't let it bother me yet because I've been enjoying summer and not really worrying about eating breakfast every morning or getting all my veggies in. I've eaten plenty of takeout fried seafood and Mexican food over the last few weeks, not to mention several dinners out with friends.

I've also enjoyed quite a few cocktails and glasses of wine, as well as several trips to local wineries, since I stopped nursing Carson. No shortage of calories there.

It's been fun, but going back to work will mean planned, regular meals, fewer drinks and a healthier me. Always a good thing!

- Having daily adult interaction and using my brain to tackle challenges that don't involve baby or toddler issues. As much as I love being home with my children each day, I don't know that I would be happy being a permanent stay-at-home mom. I love the work I do at my job, and know I would miss working with people, writing and strategizing all day long.

- And...FALL!

Fall is one of my absolute favorite times of the year, so returning to work also comes at a time when we're on the verge of awesome things like pumpkin picking, sweaters and boots, fall scented candles, crock-pot meals and football. The nights are already starting to cool off, so while I love summer and am going to miss it, I'm getting that fall itch and will be ready for it when it arrives.

For all you working moms out there, if you've gone through some of the same mental struggles I have, just know how amazing you are for balancing the work/family life day in and day out. We do the best we can, and I've decided I'd rather focus on all the good times and precious moments my family does have together vs. wishing there were more of them. I'm going to cherish every moment I have with my children, lean on my friends and family, and always remember that Friday nights are never more than a couple days away. ;)

Happy Labor Day Weekend moms and non-moms alike!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Engagement Party Details + The Best Pesto

It's official - wedding festivities for Amanda and Justyn have begun! Justyn proposed to my sister Amanda in Vegas in the spring, and a few weeks ago we finally got both our families together to celebrate. I loved meeting Justyn's family and getting to spend some quality time with my own as well.

Since my house is fairly central to both families (and since we finally finished our massive patio project), my mom decided to hold the party here in our backyard. I was thrilled to have it here. Amanda and Justyn wanted something casual yet elegant, so my mom, grandma, aunt and I had a lot of fun party planning over the last few months to surprise them with something that suited their style. I was so excited to see it all come together!

To get the feel we were looking for, my mom rented tables with white chairs and flowy white tablecloths, and we set up a big white tent with twinkling white lights. It looked pretty during the day and had a beautiful warm glow at night. We set up flowers and silverware in Mason jars (my fave), little white candles in glass votive holders, and hanging white and black paper lanterns. I think the combination of glass jars, simple flowers and the outdoor setting mixed with white lights and linens made the party feel elegant yet rustic.

Amanda's wedding colors are blue and yellow, so we tried to do similar colors for the engagement party. Her shade of blue is a bit harder to come by, so we settled for yellow and white, which looked really nice for a backyard summer party.

How cute are these favors? My mom filled them with maple kettle corn from Vermont - a little taste of home for Amanda!

After a week of gorgeous weather, of course it poured like crazy the morning of the party, forcing us to change the setup we originally planned. Thankfully the rain cleared up around 2:00 just in time for the guests to arrive, grab a glass of wine and start nibbling on some hors d'oeuvres.

As for the food, I was in charge of the appetizers and after-party s'mores setup. I love making cocktail food, and put out a spread that included some fun apps as well as a few easy things I could just pull together last minute, like a big antipasto platter and pre-made bruschetta.

My mom handled the main course, which included catered Italian favorites like shrimp scampi, sausage & peppers and lemon chicken. She also set up an awesome dessert table with a chocolate fountain and my dad's homemade vanilla cake with lemon curd filling. He is one heck of a cake-maker!

Side note: To make the strawberry basket for the chocolate fountain, I just reused a basket Matt's mom received from Edible Arrangements a few weeks ago. I put two pieces of foam inside and covered them up with some kale, and then skewered the strawberries and stuck them into the foam. So easy, and a nice way to display berries rather than on a plate.

One of the snacks people seemed to buzz about the most was the pesto. I used it in two different places - as a dip for the caprese salad skewers, and in the pesto layer dip.

After the party several people asked for the recipe, to which I replied: It's seriously the easiest thing ever. I don't even use a recipe. I think the key to its deliciousness is the quality of ingredients - using sharp, nutty, fresh parmesan cheese, fresh basil from the garden and nice fruity olive oil really makes a difference.

That said, my general recipe includes:

The Best Pesto

Makes approx. 1 cup

- About 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup good parmesan cheese (freshly grated if possible)
- 2 cloves garlic
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste (I use about a pinch each)
- About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely ground. Then, with the machine running, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture comes together and is the consistency you desire. Taste and season with extra S &P if desired. Use right away, or place in a container and drizzle olive oil on top (this preserves the green color), and refrigerate or freeze.

I could honestly eat this stuff on just about anything. Since I have about 100 pounds of fresh basil in my garden, I've been making batches of it and freezing it for future use. It tastes just as good when thawed as it does when fresh.


I am so, so happy for Amanda and Justyn and loved being part of their special day. They're going to make a beautiful bride & groom!

Now that we've gotten through the engagement party, it's onto the shower and bachelorette! ;)