Friday, July 31, 2015

The Beechwold Salad


Ok, here's the deal with this salad.

It is the most unusually delicious thing I have eaten all year. It is a strange, unusual combination of ingredients that you might not think of throwing together in one bowl. But trust me when I tell you that it is basically an entire farmer's market in one dish. All the sweet, creamy, salty, crunchy elements mingle together with a basic vinaigrette to create the experience that is the devouring of this salad.

I went to visit my sister Catherine a week ago and she took me to this cute little cafe that specializes in organic, fresh, healthy meal preparation. I ordered this salad because it sounded so different and was blown away by how much I loved it. The salad had everything: avocados, dates, roasted almonds, chicken, tomatoes, scallions, goat cheese, fresh corn, kale, napa cabbage, and a zippy champagne vinaigrette. A bowl full of awesome.

So, of course, I had to recreate it as soon as I got home.

I paid careful attention while I was eating it and this is my version of this amazing salad. I think I got it pretty darn close. We've enjoyed this for dinner two nights in a row this week because I can't stop eating it. So good.

Like all salads, it's a bit of a pain to make just because there is quite a bit of work involved with washing, drying, chopping, and dicing all the various components. I wait until Paul is home before I start working on it so the kids ambush him and leave me to chop alone in peace. It's great therapy until I hear the loud sucking noises coming from Lucy's swing as she angrily eats her fist ("hint hint MOM").

Bottom line: make this salad while you can still find beautiful corn, tomatoes, and avocados this summer. Guess what we're having again for dinner tonight? I have a feeling that Paul's going to need to compensate for this by grilling steak or brats this weekend. He likes my salads, but can only eat so many bowls of kale before his inner carnivore begins to scream for proper sustenance.


The Beechwold Salad
Inspired by the Northstar Cafe

For the Salad:
1 small head (2 pounds) napa cabbage, thinly shredded
1/2 bunch of kale, cleaned and stems removed, thinly shredded
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (use a rotisserie chicken or your favorite roasting method)
1 large tomato, diced fine
1 large avocado, diced fine
1 bunch of scallions, sliced on the bias (white and light green parts only)
4-5 whole dates, pits removed and diced
2 ears of corn, husked, and the kernels cut from the cob
3/4 cup roasted, salted almonds
4 ounces goat cheese (or feta if goat is not your thing)

For the Champagne Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk the dressing together in a large salad bowl. Add the napa and kale and toss to coat completely. Let stand for about five minutes. Add the remaining salad ingredients and toss to coat. Garnish with additional almonds and cheese and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's in Emma's Purse?


My little Emma is a girly girl. She did not get this trait from me - I was so very the opposite when I was younger. Instead of dress-up and princesses, I preferred pretending I was Joe Hardy solving mysteries with my brother Frank (played by Michael and Raymond at different times). In fact, I remember getting really angry at my sister Catherine for obsessing over jewelry and make-up at a very young age because I had such an aversion to such things (ironically, Catherine now works for Chanel). I never even wanted to get my ears pierced until I was randomly talked into it during my sophomore year of high school.

But Emma! My goodness, if she goes a day without wearing a necklace, she cries herself to sleep. She spends a good 10 minutes selecting an outfit in the morning and another hour after that obsessing over what shoes to wear. She loves to wear bows in her hair even though she plays so rough and tumble that they barely stay attached to her hair. She raids my makeup bag on a regular basis and insists on wearing the reddest color of lipstick she can find. And now, she has started carrying her own purse (she has two that were gifted to her) and is thrilled that she can carrying her most prized possessions of the moment along with her as we go about our day.

When she came downstairs all dolled up for the day, I thought it would be fun for Emma to show us what she is carrying with her today.

Here is Emma with her purse and selected outfit for today. Note the Minnie Mouse slippers that she deemed worthy to wear with her sundress. Her reasoning? They are both pink. I am going to be in trouble later when I inform her that she cannot wear her slippers outside. But for now, we'll go with it. Notice also the yellow bow she stole from her sister Lucy ("Baby Woosie is sharing with me!" she declares).



She is also sporting her favorite necklace. Seven years ago, I wore that necklace when I was the Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding. Now, Emma has officially claimed it as her own.

So, Emma. What's in your purse?




"Wook at my sunglasses. They're for my eyes. I put them on!"


Oh so lovely. What else is in your purse?




"My binky! It goes in my mouth! There's water in there. I wear it like this!"



I hate to inform her that it is not a binky but rather a broken teething toy. And she has never ever used a binky but for some reason really likes the idea of one now that Lucy is around (even though Lucy does not use a binky either although I sometimes wish she would!).

Alright Emma...what's the last thing you have there in your purse?




"My toys! I need toys when I go in the car! Wook at my big ring! For my finger!"

And of course she pulls out Lucy's rattle. Which is a pretty bling baby rattle. That certainly explains why Emma likes it so much.



So there you have it! Today's accessories of my two-year-old. And where was she going so dressed up and fancy? To bed for her afternoon nap! No, really. She has been wearing her purse to bed, tucked tightly under her arm. Sometimes she sleeps with her sunglasses on. That girl is ready for anything.

Never a dull moment with these beautiful kids!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Grilled Peach Shortcakes


This past weekend, Lucy and I headed out of town to spend a couple days with my sisters while Paul watched Matthew and Emma. I was shocked by the number of people who seemed genuinely surprised that I would leave two of my children alone with their father. Maybe it has something with how fathers are always portrayed in the media as inept, bone-headed, man children who are completely incapable of being responsible parents. Sure, they may give their best attempt, but utter chaos always ensues. I can assure you that for as much as I like to poke fun at my Paul, he is more than capable of taking care of the children all by his lonesome.

My brother 18-year-old brother Mark had the complete opposite reaction. He could not believe that I was taking Lucy with me. The conversation went something like this:

Mark: "So are you looking forward to a weekend without the kids?"
Me: "Well, I'll still have Lucy with me."
Mark: "Lucy? You're bringing her with you!?"
Me: "Well...yeah."
Mark: "Oh. Are you still breastfeeding her?"
Me: "She's only 9 weeks old! Of course I'm still breastfeeding her!"
Mark: "Oh. How long do you keep doing that?"
Me: "About a year."
Mark: "A year!!?"

You would never have guessed that Mark is one of eleven children. You'd think he'd know that where mommy goes, the baby shall be attached to her hip for the first 12 months of life.



Lucy and I had a grand time with all the sisters - we wined, we dined, we shopped. It was a great break for me! When I returned home, I was so pleased to hear that Paul's weekend had been just as great with the kids. He had taken them to the lake, the zoo, out for breakfast, and out for ice cream. Emma informed me that she had even driven a motor boat at the lake and Matthew had enjoyed his first time tubing! After hearing about all their adventures, I was beginning to worry that the kids would find me boring after all the fun times and sweet treats they had just enjoyed with their daddy. But not really. I was happy that he had spent the time bonding with them - it was such a good weekend for him too!

Lucy was so happy to see her daddy again after a weekend away. I had missed him a bit myself..



When I returned home, Paul was grilling a delicious dinner of pork chops and salad. He also planned to serve a grilled peach cobbler. He grilled the peaches with brown sugar and butter, then peeled and chopped the peaches before tossing them in their own syrupy juices. He served the peaches with freshly baked sugar biscuits and generous scoops of pistachio ice cream. Oh my, this was heavenly! Paul and I inhaled our portions - we loved this so much! The kids for some reason were much more dainty and slow in their dessert eating that night, but they licked their plates clean as well! I told Paul that he should make a grilled cobbler every Sunday. It was such a great, low-fuss dessert, and the grilled flavor in the fruit was awesome. I can't wait for him to make this again.



Grilled Peach Shortcakes
from the Weber Grill Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
½ cup half-and-half, cold

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
4 large freestone peaches, firm but ripe, cut in half lengthwise, pits removed
¼ cup packed golden brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt, and blend well. Add the butter and mix with a fork or a pastry blender just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the half-and-half and gently stir it in (the mixture will be crumbly). Then use your hands to mix the dough quickly and gently in the bowl just until it comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust your hands with flour and gently pat out the dough to about ¾ inch thick. Dip a round biscuit cutter, 2½ to 3 inches in diameter, in flour and cut out rounds of dough. Gather scraps of dough and pat out, using a light touch so you don’t overwork the dough; cut to make a total of eight shortcakes. Place the shortcakes about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the shortcakes for 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350-450 degrees F).

Brush the cooking grates clean. Sprinkle the cut side of the peach halves with the brown sugar. Grill the peach halves, cut side up, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the sugar melts and the peaches are soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the grill and pour the melted brown sugar from the peaches into a medium bowl.

Pull the charred skin off the peaches and discard. Cut the peaches into bite-sized pieces and add them to the bowl with the melted brown sugar. Gently toss to coat. Split each shortcake horizontally and top each bottom half with equal portions of the peaches. Add the shortcake tops and garnish with a generous scoop of ice cream (we loved pistachio!).


Friday, July 24, 2015

The Funny Things Kids Say


Kids are natural comedians. They are seriously hilarious and can keep you in stitches all day long. The reason they are so funny is because they say the cutest, most ridiculous things (mispronouncing most of the words with their sweet little voices) with complete seriousness. Paul and I are never without entertainment with our chatty kiddos around. This week, I wrote down a few things that happened that I found particularly funny. These quotes might be funny to me only because I'm their mother, but either way, I thought I would share!

***

One morning, Emma began examining the very large mole I have on my left arm and then asked: "Mommy, did I spill coffee on you right here?"

***


Me: "Emma, you are gorgeous!"
Emma: "No, I'm Emma!"
***

I was walking past the bathroom on my way to the laundry room when I spied Matthew staring at himself in the vanity mirror while opening his mouth as wide as he could.

"Matthew, what are you doing?"
"I'm looking for my second mouth. It's stuck in my throat, I think!"
"Your second mouth?"
"Yes. Like the Moray eel. It has two mouths and I'm just trying to find my other mouth."

You know, he's right about those eels!

***


Paul and I are sitting on the couch talking when Matthew wanders in with his hand on his chest:
"I can feel my heart beating!"
Paul takes Matthew's hand and places it on the side of his neck: "You can also feel your heart beating in your neck, Matthew."
Matthew perks up: "Yes! Because I have two hearts!"
Paul: *Facepalm*

***

Paul called me on my cell while I was out driving to the store with Emma. I answered it in the usual fashion: "Hi Honey!"
From the backseat, Emma says: "Daddy's not honey!"
Me: "Daddy is my honey, Emma!"
Emma, with a frantic voice: "No! Please don't eat Daddy, Mommy!"

***


Emma's Version of "Baa Baa Black Sheep"

Blaah Blaah Black Sheep have you any wool?
Yes Sir, Yes Sir, tree bags hole
One for ma master and one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name,
one for the name....

...and repeat about 100 more times before she starts the song over. 
It's great fun when she starts singing this in the car.

***



Matthew and I took Lucy to the doctor for her her 2-month appointment while Paul stayed home with a napping Emma. Lucy had to get three shots in her thigh during that visit. The nurses tried to get Matthew to leave the room while they administered the shots to Lucy but he wanted to stay with her. (I asked if Matthew was staying then perhaps they could remove me from the room since I hate watching my babies get their shots, but they just laughed at me). Anyway, right before they gave Lucy her first shot, I told Matthew to start talking to Lucy to distract and comfort her. So, Matthew stroked Lucy's head while saying, "Oh it's a really BIG needle Lucy. Really, really big! This is going to hurt a lot!"
"Matthew! That's not exactly comforting. Say something else! Sing to her or play peek-a-boo."
"Ok. Peek-a-Boo! Lucy, you need to get your shots or else you will die. You don't want to die, do you?"

The kid is no Florence Nightingale.

***

After removing Emma's flip-flops while getting her ready for bed one night, she noticed the "V-shaped" impressions the shoes left on her little fat feet and began to panic. With tears beginning to well up in her eyes, she pointed at her feet and cried: "Look, Mommy! I have a crack in my feet!!!"


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blog Hoppin'




Hello Friends!

Today, you can find this delinquent blogger guest posting over at Waltzing in Beauty. This is the blog of my friend Christina who just married the love of her life three weeks ago. As she honeymoons and settles down into her new role as a Mrs, she has asked several blogging friends to guest post for her in a marriage series entitled What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married. I wrote a little piece about cooking trial and error in the early days of my marriage and shared a recipe for White Chocolate Raspberry Blondies.

Care to read more? Head on over to Waltzing in Beauty!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pork Chops with Fresh Cherry Salsa


Cherry season is much-celebrated around these parts but also so short-lived! It seems like the cherries are ready for the picking one day and then completely gone and nowhere to be found the next! When the first round of cherries began hitting the stores a couple weeks ago, I thought the price was so decent that I went a little crazy and bought a few pounds worth. I brought them home and everyone was eager to dive in and try some. They were not good. Pretty tasteless actually. If I had been blindfolded and fed one of those cherries, I might have guessed that it was a black olive. Needless to say, I was disappointed and resolved to not waste any more money on bad fruit.

A week or so after that, we decided to take a family drive to small historical town about an hour away. We parked and took along walk about the cute little town, soaking in the history of the place. The kids grew a bit cranky and thirsty (since it was blisteringly hot), so we stopped at a small grocery store to pick up some refreshments. Inside, they had a bunch of sweet cherries on sale for a shockingly low price. They looked gorgeous and I could not resist buying about five bags. However, this time they were the most delicious local cherries I have ever tried. I was so happy we bought so many of them! We have been enjoying them as a healthy snack for a while now.

I did want to experiment a bit with the cherries since we had them and decided to make a fresh cherry salsa to serve alongside our pork chops for dinner. It was a great compliment to the pork - the sweetness in the cherries was a nice accent to the natural sweetness of the meat and the acidity of the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar in the salsa made everything taste so fresh and healthy! I loved this meal. It was a great way to dress up a basic, boneless pork chop! The kids were also pretty wild about the "cherry sauce." Served with a chopped salad and some fresh vegetables, it was a perfect summer meal.

Pork Chops with Fresh Cherry Salsa
adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

4-6 boneless pork chops
Salt and Pepper
1-1/2lbs cherries, pitted and roughly chopped in a food processor
1/2 cup minced red onion
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pork chops, prepare a brine using the proportions of 1 tablespoon of table salt + 1 tablespoon sugar for every 1 cup of water. Whisk vigorously to dissolve the sugar and salt. Submerge the chops in the brine and allow to sit for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. Remove, pat dry with paper towels, and then season with pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Preheat the broiler of the oven at the same time. Sear the chops 1-2 minutes on each side, just until lightly browned. Then, transfer the chops to the oven to cook under the broiler until the internal temperature reads 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Let the chops rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before serving.

For the salsa, combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Serve generous portions of the salsa spooned over a pork chop. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sweet Little Things



I don't feel beautiful most days. Normally, I barely squeeze in a shower before throwing my hair up into a bun or ponytail and going about my day. Makeup is normally minimal. When I do wear earrings, they are simple studs. Maybe a pair of hoops if I'm feeling dangerous (my kids love to attempt to pull my earrings out while I hold them). My attire is workout gear 90% of the time since those are my version of  "play clothes" - items I do not worry about soiling while out with the very, very dirty children. Functional? Yes. Beautiful? No.

However, I am so blessed to have children who feel the need to tell me I'm beautiful every single day.  My husband already does that, but he doesn't really count because that's his job (sorry honey!). But the kids are so blunt and so pure in their thoughts that you know they firmly believe it when they say it! After I am done dressing for the day and come downstairs, Matthew always tells me: "Mommy, you look beautiful today!" Emma, while watching me apply a bit of makeup, likes to cheer me on: "My Mommy is so beautiful!"

Matthew has also been known to serenade me with One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful." Emma, after putting on a pretty dress or adorning herself with jewelry, will declare: "I look beautiful! Like Mommy!"

They're the sweetest little people, I'm telling you.

"Leave me alone!!" That's what Lucy's thinking.


Even the sweetest of siblings are capable of much mischief and teasing when it comes to their little baby sister. The other day, I let Matthew hold Lucy so I could do a few chores. When I got back into the room, he had outfitted her with a tiny plastic cowboy hat. He thought that was the most hilarious thing. Poor Lucy was not quite as amused.

"Stop Taking a Picture and HELP me, Woman!"


Emma, on the other hand, is a little more violent in her teasing and can never be trusted alone with the baby. She has developed the habit of gently trying to touch Lucy's eyeball while singing super obnoxiously: "Loo-SEE-AHHH!! Wittle Loo-see-AHHH!" Last week, Lucy was diagnosed with conjunctivitis. I wonder how she could have possibly contracted that...



Matthew and Emma also save some of that teasing and mischievous behavior for one another. Paul and I were mattress shopping the other day - finally biting the bullet and getting a new one after dealing with a sink hole in the middle of our bed for the past three years! We were up at our local Sam's Club of all places and the kids were having a blast helping us lay down on all the different mattress options. Well, one of the mattresses was set up next to the TV and electronics and one of the high-definitions televisions was playing Big Hero 6. So, Matthew decided to lie down on this particular mattress so he could watch the television while Paul and I discussed our options. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Emma suddenly get this ridiculously evil look in her eye and tiptoe towards her unaware brother. She climbed up on the mattress, gently sneak up behind him, and then she bodyslammed him, using every bit of her 30-something pounds of pure lard.

"Ahhh! EMMA! STOP!" Matthew cried as mighty Emma began to wrap her legs around his neck and hold his arms down. Pretty soon, the two of them were nothing more than a tangle of arms and legs rolling all over the mattress. We eventually had to break up the wrestling match that ensued before someone called security (or at least before one of them catapulted off the mattress and split their head open!). Needless to say, our in-store mattress browsing ended there and we ended up ordering an untested mattress online. Fingers crossed that it actually works out.

So, I guess the point of this pointless post is that there is never a dull moment with these ridiculously sweet little people all about!

Lucy is really not into taking pictures quite yet.