Friday, July 29, 2011

16 Months!

We've had a really fun month that's been full of activities. From the splash pad to play dates to visiting her grandparents in St. Louis to a trip to Chicago, it's been busy! At 16 months, LE
  • Comes running, grinning, arms flailing, cup in hand at the prospect of dried cranberries. 
  • Says "Uh oh!" (yes! first real word... finally!) whenever she drops something by accident or on purpose. Her second word, if you want to call it that, is "Bahh!" which means "Bam!" (as in the loud noise something makes when it's banged against something else.).
  • Knows "high five" and where her eyes, nose, mouth, tongue, ears, hand, feet, and bellybutton are. 
  • Loves to play hide and seek, especially with her dad. Throughout the day, she'll go sit behind the curtain, waiting for someone to notice. If we don't immediately notice, she'll send out a quick shriek and then go silent. 

  • Giggles and shrieks as she's being chased or is chasing.
  • Understands a lot. If I ask her "Where's your sippy cup?" she'll squat down and look under furniture or around the house until she finds it. 
  • Plays with chalk and crayons by writing with them and placing them in and out of buckets. 
  • Runs straight to her trike when we go outside, climbs up onto it, and tries to buckle her seatbelt.
  • Waves hello and goodbye to everyone, including photos and her reflection.
  • Climbs in and out of the laundry basket and other baskets.
  • Rearranges our furniture.
  • Asks us to read to her by bringing us books.
  • Loves her babydoll LeLe and elephant chair, Felix.
  • Kisses, hugs, and cuddles a lot.
  • Still loves ice and eating with a fork.
  • Smacks her lips loudly when she wants to eat or drink something.
  • Picks and eats the grape tomatoes straight from the garden.
  • Has 11 teeth, still sleeps about 12 hrs/night, takes 2 naps a day unless we're out during the morning nap time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Splash pad, sprinkler, pool...

We're blessed to have near us a fun "splash pad" water play zone intended for toddlers to run around and, well, splash. Oh, and it's free.
This is LE's "I think I'm funny" face.

I take LE to the splash pad when we have playgroups that meet up there. This day, we went with John since he had never been, and I thought it'd be fun. The whole park is really nice-- there's a pond, two playgrounds, a couple of covered picnic areas, and little soccer fields.

It always takes LE a while to warm up to the idea of running through freezing cold water. What you don't see in these photos are all of the times that I led her out into the water area. Then, when she's ready, she plays with the dinkiest water source available. Can you even see the water coming out of the turtle's forehead? 

After barely touching it or getting sprayed by the water spout that suddenly turned on, she runs back to the sidelines. 
At the splash pad, kids her age are all independently trying to figure out the water, and the bigger kids are all running around screaming. There's not a lot of interaction going on with the little ones. The wonder and amusement for 1-2 year olds come from touching the water. 

I must say, it's really nice to have access to this splash pad when there's a lot of us wanting to get together or to have a change of pace. Though, if you don't happen to have access to a free toddler-friendly water playground... for kids LE's age, your own sprinkler or little pool can provide just as much fun. I promise.

Photo from when LE was playing with her Granny in St. Louis
Small blow up pool that we have on our patio
You can see the excitement and sense of wonder on her face at the splash pad, with a water hose, and with a little pool. The key is just to get your kids outside and let them explore how water works! You don't need anything fancy to let them learn and have fun.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quick Tip: Sticky Ingredients

Measuring Sticky Ingredients

When you have to measure sticky and hard-to-pour ingredients-- like honey, nut butters, and condiments, do one of two things to save yourself the hassle of scraping out the measuring cup.
  1. Spray the cup with nonstick cooking spray, or
  2. Use the measuring cup for your oil measurement beforehand. Then, without rinsing out the cup, measure your sticky ingredient. Many recipes have you add the two ingredients to the same bowl to whisk together, but more often than not, the oil is listed after the sticky one in the recipe, which means you're stuck scraping out the cup.
It's simple and effective. Will life be drastically different if you don't do it? No. But it's just one less hassle. Honestly, I was skeptical about the difference it'd make when I first heard this tip, but now I always think about it when cooking.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Incredibly rich vanilla bean frozen custard

This venture started out with me wanting to make a good, rich vanilla ice cream with my little Cuisinart ice cream maker. I thought that a caramel topping would be nice. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

What it turned out to be is a vanilla frozen custard so rich and creamy that really only a couple of small scoops are plenty for any ice cream, sugar-loving, dessert nut {like me}. Personally, I felt like it tasted like the ice cream version of the custard part of crème brûlée.

The topping is a deeply darkened caramel (read: sugar one step away from burning). It's not the super sweet light caramel that barely has any flavor. That has its own place in life... but not here. This caramel tastes much like the burnt "brulee" part of the créme brûlée.

This dessert is not for you if you're looking to trim away any inches on your waist. This is the real deal, folks.

Super Rich & Creamy Vanilla Frozen Custard
Adapted from Gourmet

Yields 3/4 quart, but doubling the recipe will likely be too dense for a typical 1 1/2 quart Cuisinart machine to handle


1 good quality vanilla bean (I used Penzeys) or vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs

Using a sharp paring knife, halve the vanilla bean lengthwise. Gently scrape out all of the caviar; place into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan the caviar, empty vanilla bean, cream, and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Using a mixer, slightly whisk the eggs. While the mixer is on medium low with the whisk attachment, slowly pour spoonfuls of the cream mixture into the eggs until the eggs are tempered (i.e. adjusting to the heat without becoming scrambled eggs), about 4 or so spoonfuls. Then, you can slowly pour in the rest of the cream mixture into the eggs while the mixer is still on. 

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and cook stirring constantly over medium-low until the custard reaches 170-175 degrees (do not let it boil). Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. 

If you have time, let it come to room temp (or close) and then refrigerate until completely cold, about 3 hours or up 24 hours. Press a layer of plastic wrap or wax paper flush to the top of the custard so that a skin doesn't form. 

If you're short on time, place the bowl of custard inside a larger bowl filled with ice. Stir the custard constantly until it is cool, and then place in the fridge with plastic wrap or wax paper flush to the top of the custard so a film doesn't form. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

Follow your ice cream maker's instructions to finish and store for up to 1 week in an airtight container in the freezer.

The dark salted caramel topping is from Smitten Kitchen and made exactly as Deb perfectly described with the exception that I made a half a batch. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Touring John's Office (2)

Almost every time we have a visitor, our clan makes a trip to John's office to tour give an office tour. The campus is expanding so quickly that we can never do a whole tour in one day; our interest wanes about an hour into the tour.

When our friends Ashley and Dustin came up for LE's baptism, I posted some photos of our walk around the office with them.

Steve, a family friend from Louisiana, came up for my 10,000 day surprise. It was his first time up to Wisconsin, and I think we have a convert! :) He was impressed by our city's infrastructure, the farms, the weather, the lakes, and the activities. All in one day, we strolled around the capitol building for the Art Fair on the Square; shopped the farmer's market; ate at my favorite lunch locale, Graze; and toured John's office.

1.) View of the cafeteria from standing outside of a conference room;  2.) Walking around the perimeter of the pond with the cafeteria on the left and the aforementioned conference room on the right;   3.) Art in the brush around the perimeter of the pond;  4.) Part of the cafeteria eating area from the upper level, looking out towards the same pond.

Mural in "Grand Central Station," next to the cafeteria where there's the General Store (snacks, toiletries, magazines, drinks) and the NY Sock Exchange (dry cleaning drop-off/pick up).

Some of the NYC themed building. I think that's my favorite one.

Treehouse conference room outside. You have to cross the slatted bridge to enter. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

10,000 Day Surprise!

A week ago tomorrow, I turned 10,000 days. I imagine most people don't know how many days they've been alive, much less when they'll hit a milestone like 10,000 days, but John somehow thought of it a while back. 

Knowing that he could never throw a surprise for my actual birthday in February, John planned a surprise party for me. A couple of months in advance, he contacted family and friends across the US, booked a chartered boat for a 2 hour cruise in the middle of a work day, and set out to surprise me by having everyone together for my 10,000th day of life. 

Friends who could get off of work or come in town did; we even had one friend come all of the way up from Louisiana, which is an especially big deal since he hadn't been to Wisconsin or flown in 10 years. 

The day ended up being the perfect day for a boat ride, and it was a great time!

The whole idea was really sweet, of course. And given that John is historically horrible when it comes to sticking with surprises, he did incredibly well. 

If you want to throw a surprise party for someone, see if you can figure out a fun day number to celebrate. Maybe it's number 8,888, 12,345, or 30,000. Whatever it is, I'm sure it will be a lot of fun!

To figure out the date, you can go to this website. Type in the birthday of the person, how many days you want to calculate, and then click "Calculate New Date!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roasted Veggie Goat Cheese Pesto Sandwich

One of John's and my favorite easy, delicious, and vegetarian meals is a roasted veggie sandwich with pesto and goat cheese. We were inspired by a similar sandwich that we had at Pastoral in Chicago a few blocks from where I lived when we were dating. It doesn't look like they have that sandwich anymore, but they do have some great sounding sandwiches on there that you should try if you happen to be in the area.

You could easily avoid warming up your house by grilling everything instead of using your oven. These sandwiches make a great "Meatless Monday" option for those of you who do that, and these are great for a weeknight meal. 

Start by preheating your oven to 475. Cut up portobello mushrooms, a red bell pepper, and a red onion. In a large bowl, whisk EVOO, balsamic vinegar, minced fresh rosemary or thyme, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Add the vegetables and mix to coat.

Line a baking sheet or two with foil. Spread the vegetables in a single layer. Pop in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, flipping everything over at about halfway through. Keep in mind the vegetables may look extra dark due to the balsamic vinegar. 

In the mean time, take some big crusty bread. Our bread is borderline too skinny. Cut the bread to the length that you want, and remove part of the inside to make room for the filling.

Spread a thick layer of pesto on the top, and, if you're like me, spread about half that amount on the other half, too.

Spread a generous layer of goat cheese on the top layer. If goat cheese isn't your thing, I suppose you could try mozzarella, but you'll be missing out on a big element of flavor.

Layer the roasted vegetables on the bread and then close it up. You may need to use a toothpick to hold the two sides together if it's not cooperating for you.

Place your sandwiches on the unwashed (or washed if you like to do dishes) baking sheet, and place it back in the oven to melt the cheese for about 5 minutes using the residual heat from roasting the vegetables. 

Cut your delicious sandwich in half, and eat it with a simple fresh salad. Or, if you're like my husband, you'll opt for chips.

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Pesto Sandwich
Yields 2 dinner sized sandwiches

Time: 30 minutes

1 baguette
1/4 - 1/3 cup of fresh pesto (simple recipe below)
2T+ chevre goat cheese
2 portobello mushrooms
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
1 red onion
1/4 cup ordinary EVOO (see note in the pesto recipe below)
2 T balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 T minced fresh rosemary or thyme

Preheat oven to 475. Line two baking sheets with foil.

Gently wash the mushrooms and cut out the stem. Cut all vegetables in large pieces (see image above). In a large bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Add the vegetables to the oil mixture and coat well. Place veggies in a single layer on the baking sheets, making sure each veggie touches the foil and is not on top of another vegetable. Place the vegetables in the oven. Roast for about 15 minutes, flipping the vegetables over at the 7 minute mark. They are ready to take out when the onions are starting to char on the edges and the peppers get nice blisters on the skin.

While the vegetables are in the oven, cut your bread to the length that you want your sandwich.  Slice in half and remove part of the inside to make room for the filling.

Spread 2-3T of pesto on one half of each sandwich. Then spread 1-2T of goat cheese on the other half of each sandwich. 

Remove the vegetables from the oven, and layer the vegetables in tidy layers over the bread. Close the sandwich up. Place on the baking sheets and put back in the oven to let the residual heat warm up the cheese for 5 minutes.

Cut your sandwich in half, serve with a simple salad or chips, and enjoy!

Basic Pesto

You can use any pesto that you'd like for the sandwiches. This particular recipe works really well since it makes such a thick pesto. For other applications, you could always add more EVOO to loosen it up. 

For food that you cook, like roasted vegetables and pan frying, using store brand olive oil is perfectly acceptable; however, with uncooked food, like salad dressings and pesto, I strongly recommend using the best quality extra virgin olive oil that you have since you can really taste the oil. Lucini Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a great option. I've seen it at my local grocery stores, Target, and Whole Foods.

To toast your garlic, place the unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat. Turn the garlic every couple of minutes, and toast until the garlic starts to blister on the outside, about 7 minutes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Strawberries, Granola, and Ahhh Madison!

Summers in Wisconsin are amazing. I love the not hot weather, the abundant produce, and the active residents. One of my favorite aspects of our city is definitely how diverse the land is. Within one mile from my house, you pass farmland, woodlands, neighborhoods, a school, daycares, a golf course, a research center, and lots of shopping (among other things). You get the perfect mix of land and luxuries.

A couple of weeks ago, John and I stopped at one of the strawberry stands set up within one mile from our house. The organic strawberries were picked that same morning.

Admittedly, I'm not super creative when it comes to fruit. I ended up making a batch of granola to make simple parfaits with a little honey sweetened greek yogurt.

Is it just me, or does all granola look essentially the same? There's no way to tell prior to tasting it whether or not it will taste good. The day of the parfaits, the recipe I used was just ok.

The granola I made a couple of days ago was really good, though. I combined the technique from America's Test Kitchen (recipe not online) and some of the spices from Simple Bite's Chai Spiced Granola recipe.

This is by far my favorite granola that I've had. It's slightly sweet with a hint of coconut. The flavor is complex. The texture is crisp but not hard.

Here's the big list of what you'll need. I imagine you'll have almost everything on hand, and, if not, the ingredients are easy to find. 

Chai Granola
Adapted from Simple Bites and America's Test Kitchen

Yields about 2 quarts

3 cups old fashioned oats (not the quick cooking or steel cut)
1/3 cup coconut oil (can substitute canola oil but you're missing out)
1/2 cup slivered, blanched almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 T flax seeds - ground or whole golden
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, unsalted
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cane sugar (aka Demerara sugar; can substitute agave or more honey)
2 T water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
optional: 1/2 cup cocoa nibs or dried fruit, like apples or golden raisins (I ended up not using them)

Preheat your oven to 325, and line a large rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a 12 inch skillet over medium heat, lightly toast the almonds and walnuts, stirring every minute or so until you can start to smell them (about 2-3 minutes).  Stir in the pumpkin seeds, oats, and oil; continue to toast and stir every minute or so until the oats start to get some color (about 4-6 minutes).

Turn off the heat and add the sesame seeds, flax, salt, and wheat germ.

Temporarily empty the oats onto the spreadsheet or a different container. Add to the skillet the honey, cane sugar,  approximately 2 tablespoons of water, cinnamon, salt, cardamom, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper. Heat over medium until the sugar is dissolved. Add the oat mixture back to the skillet, and stir until all is incorporated.

Spread evenly over the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Remove from the oven when the granola is turning golden brown.

Stir in the coconut and dried fruit, if using. Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you'll need to either spread it out or compact it together to form a 1/2 inch thick granola slab. Let it cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an air-tight container for about a week.