Sunday, December 14, 2014

Party Season (and a recipe for Jalapeno Corn Dip)

I know in my last post I had talked about getting into a routine and being able to blog more frequently, but the more I settle into parenthood of two, the more I realize that a routine just isn't in the cards right now. When Carson's napping, Riker wants to be played with, and when Riker's napping, Carson needs tending to, and there is a constant rotation of laundry, dishes, food-making, clean-ups, diaper changes, breathing treatments (Riker's asthma is back and requires 3 treatments a day), dog walking, and of course...our daytime jobs. Having these two amazing little people in my life is better than anything I ever could've imagined, and I grow more in love with them each day. But it is definitely busy!

Aside from all the busyness of regular day-to-day life, Fall was the beginning of a party season around here, and with Christmas right around the corner the celebrations continue! Baby showers, birthday parties and a big family Thanksgiving all were to be had over the last few months, but we've hosted our own handful of events as well.

In October Carson was baptized, so we held a small family brunch at our house after the ceremony. We hosted Riker's baptism lunch at a restaurant, but this time I wanted to do something more intimate, and I had a lot of fun planning it and cooking brunch favs like baked French toast, quiche and Everything Bagel Dip (tastes just like a bagel & cream cheese!), and building a DIY Bellini Bar.

Fun Fact #1: JWow's baby was baptized alongside Carson. And Snookie was the Godmother. Is this real life? 

Fun Fact #2: Carson wore the same christening dress that MomMom wore when she was baptized over 90 years ago. Matt's mom and aunt wore the same dress as well, over 50 years ago. The dress was handled with such love and care all these years, and I love the tradition that our baby girl was able to wear it as well.

And then there was brunch...

In mid-November Matt and I threw a "Fall Party" for about 40 of our friends, sans kids. Cocktails, pumpkin beers and plenty of appetizers were to be had, and with the late night dance party that ensued in our living room, you'd think we were all back in college again. So fun!

I spent days (weeks) scouring Pinterest for the best fall appetizers and drinks (hello apple pie shots!), and we ended up with quite a spread.

Highlights included an Ina Garten style cheese board...

Cranberry Brie Bites

Pear, Blue Cheese & Walnut Strudels

Pumpkin Pecan Baked Brie (made by my sister)

French Onion Soup Crostini

Pumpkin "Fluff" Dip (I adapted this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food by adding double cream cheese, maple syrup and spices, and folding it together with a batch of homemade whipped cream - it was super fluffy!)

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread (I also made a Rosemary Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread with some rosemary olive oil I had, and it was just as a big of a hit as the pesto one. Just depends on your herb preference)

There were a few other snacks around as well, but I would say the absolute biggest winner of the night was a very unassuming dish of baked cheesy Jalapeno Corn Dip. This stuff got devoured so fast and I've had multiple requests for the recipe. There are tons of versions out on Pinterest and elsewhere and really they're all good (my friend Cathleen started this dip trend at a BBQ over the summer, and my friend Heather makes a great version in the crock pot), but I think this is one of the best ones I've tried. I had some leftover gruyere cheese from the French onion soup crostini, so I spread that all over the top of it before baking. The gruyere sends it over the top!

It doesn't look like much, but it's creamy, cheesy, a bit sweet, a tad spicy, and overall one of the best spoonfuls of anything you will ever put on a tortilla chip. Recipe below!

The party season continued this weekend with Riker's 3rd birthday party (3rd!). I cannot believe my sweet little boy is three years old already. The time has flown. Rather than doing a big party this year, we had a small family dinner & cake at home.

I let Riker pick his birthday dinner, and he picked all his favorites:

- Cheese & crackers (He picked two special cheeses from a gourmet cheese shop at a Christmas Village we took him to last weekend)
- Carrots & hummus
- Baked chicken
- Steamed broccoli
- Homemade mac & cheese (do you think I grated enough cheese for 12 people?!)

And birthday cake of course!

The day after his birthday we took him to Storybookland for their Christmas light show and rides. He's actually big enough now to ride roller coasters and all. I'm in shock. Love this little man and all the joy and laughter he has brought our house!

The next few weeks will be filled with Christmas festivities and then a family ski & waterpark trip to the Poconos, all of which I'm really looking forward to. I hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far as well!

P.S. I don't get to blog as often as I'd like these days, but if you're on Instagram, I post lots of kitchen happenings and updates there. I'm at @MLBaratta if you want to check it out. :)

And now for that recipe...

Jalapeno Corn Dip

8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
8 oz. block of Monterey Jack, freshly grated2 jalapeƱos, seeded and choppedSalt and pepper (about a teaspoon each)

1 can corn, drained and dried on paper towels
1 cup gruyere cheese, freshly grated 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients except gruyere cheese in a large mixing bowl. Spread into a 2 quart baking dish and top with gruyere cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned. Serve hot with tortilla chips (I like Garden of Eatin blue corn chips) or crostini. 

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!