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Monday, October 31, 2011

The Jack of All Trades

The leaves are changing colors, the air has a familiar chill and the Jack-o-Lanterns have once again returned to grace the porches of neighbors' homes.

We carved our first pumpkin with our daughter this year (I don't think I have carved a pumpkin in 10 years or more so don't judge the creation that follows).  As we were carving, scraping, cutting shapes and toasting seeds, I couldn't help but feeling akin to the friendly little pumpkin we were transforming into a Jack-o-Lantern.

As a mother you are constantly digging deep within yourself to provide your children, your husband, your friends and family, with the very pieces of you they crave.  You haven't quite lost the roundness of your former pregnant self and you may even find you have more wrinkles now, more stress showing on your face.  The Jack-o-Lantern often has missing teeth, squinted eyes, or a crooked nose yet they are expected to shine brightly and light the way for those around them.  Like motherhood, although fulfilling, facing the world with one tooth, a crooked nose,and a lingering roundness, can be a daunting task.  But you do it.  You do it because it is your life's purpose.

The Jack-o-Lantern is one of the most favored traditions of celebrating Halloween and even with the advances in technology, the moving, noise-making, blinking lawn toys so plentiful, the Jack-o-Lantern is always present, always a must.  The tools for carving have become better, the designs more creative, but the premise is the same.  To offer a laugh, a comforting glow, a familiar face for a traditional holiday.

Mothers are much the same.  The tools and technology for motherhood have changed immensely and rapidly, but the underlying purpose and the natural instincts are still there.  Mothers give their souls to their children and family with the only expectation of return being a laugh, a smile from their child.  A hug and a feeling that the light within you shines brightly to guide their way.  To them, a missing tooth, an added wrinkle, and sagging eyes are not what defines you.  To them you are the tradition, the comfort, the familiar  face that delights and enchants them time and again.

So the next time you see a Jack-o-Lantern I hope you will appreciate the pumpkin they once were and the transformation they have made.  There is a reason we don't carve squash or potatoes....there is a reason pumpkins and mothers are uniquely perfect for the privilege of being the chosen ones.

Below is a sweet twist on an old favorite, Cinnamon and Sugar Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, enjoy!




1 - 2 Cups Fresh Pumpkin Seeds, rinsed and patted dry
2 -3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1/3 Cup Organic Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1 Teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 Teaspoon Iodized Salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.


  • In a medium bowl, soak seeds in 1 - 2 Cups of water with iodized salt for approximately 15 minutes.
  •  Remove any remaining pumpkin innards from seeds (remove more easily after they soak in the salt water).  Drain excess water and pat seeds dry with a paper towel.  
  • In a separate bowl, combine dry seeds with olive oil, cinnamon and pumpkin spice, tossing until evenly coated. 



  • Spread evenly onto a cookie sheet (single layer) and bake for 5 - 10 minutes (watching closely so as not to burn).  
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt while still warm.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sugar and Spice

I always knew I would have (and wanted) a house full of boys. I was a woman who hated to shop, loved watching football and loved playing golf, was remedial with hair and makeup.....surely a woman like me was supposed to have boys?

My husband and I chose to have an elective ultrasound right before Christmas last year to find out the gender of our baby. We asked the technician to keep it a secret while she scanned my belly (although I was certain she was seeing what I already knew to be true, definitely a boy).  She gave us a CD of the images and told us she had noted on the last slide what the sex of our baby was. We took the CD home and opened it together later that evening when we celebrated our Christmas together.

When we got to the last image and I saw "It's a girl!" written on the screen I looked at my husband and burst into tears. How could it be? We had been lovingly referring to our little one as "buddy", "little guy", "champ" and not to mention all of the old wives tales pointing to it being a boy....I was in shock.  At one point, I remember thinking how glad I was that we had chosen to find out the sex of our baby before the birth because had I reacted like that at the hospital when the doctor shouted "it's a girl!", I would have probably been paid a visit by DEFAX.

I realize now I was crying not because I was sad or upset but because I was terrified. What kind of a Mommy would I be to a little girl? What kind of a relationship would we have? How would I ever survive her teenage years? Prom? First dates? Dresses and hair bows, ballet and ponytails, I was beyond petrified.

I felt like a terrible mother and person for being so upset.  I felt guilty for not immediately being thankful for the fact we had a healthy baby and even more guilty for admitting openly that I was disappointed.  After a good half an hour of tears, my sweet husband told me he had seen "It's a girl" on the computer screen while we were having the ultrasound and knowing how upset I would be, was scared to show me the CD (which is why he was 2 hours late coming home that evening!).  He then whispered to me that secretly he had always wanted a little girl and he had all the confidence in the world that I could do this, that I could find a part of me I didn't think was there.  Together we would give this little girl our souls and she would delight us in ways we couldn't imagine.

He was right. (and I hate admitting that, ever.)

As soon as I accepted that our sweet little girl was growing inside me (and after I apologized profusely to her for referring to her as a boy for 17 weeks), something began to change.

My heart melted at the thought of ballet shoes, pigtails and kisses. My soul leaped at the thought of my husband dancing with her at her wedding. My fear, although still present, was slowly giving way to excitement. I could do this and I was determined to take my fear and use it to find the best in myself that I could, in turn, offer to our sweet little girl.

Sugar and spice and everything nice....that's what little girls are made of indeed, and so much more!

From the very moment I heard her cry, from the first time I held her and looked into those loving eyes, I knew this was how it was supposed to be.

In her, I saw pieces of me and of my husband. In her, I felt such pride and gratefulness that she had chosen me for her Mommy. I felt so unbelievably scared, yet calling her "my daughter" were the most natural words I have ever spoken. I felt undeserved of such an amazing gift and I knew I would cherish it more than anything before or after....she was my sweet, happy girl, the apple of her Daddy's eye.

With every snuggle, every coo, and every cry I was able to comfort, she slowly melted my fears. She was perfect, she is my everything. As if she is a wise old soul she often looks at me like "Don't worry Mommy, we can do it and you and I will both be fine."

She was exactly what I never knew I wanted or thought I needed - she brings out the best in me and has no idea how thankful I am for the pink.....the bows.....the ballet slippers.

Sugar and spice is more than nice; it's surprisingly, wonderfully, amazingly, perfectly suited for this Mommy.

In honor of the beautiful sugar and spice in my life, you will find a recipe for a delicious Pumpkin Spice Smoothie below (pictures to come later this week).  Enjoy!


Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Blend Time: 1 minute
Servings: 1-2

INGREDIENTS:

1 Cup Canned Pumpkin 
1 Cup Frozen Apricot
1 Cup Organic Vanilla Greek Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Ice

Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients in blender
  2. Blend on medium speed until smooth (approximately 1 minute)
  3. Serve immediately, enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Little Meatball

My little girl is almost five months old already and I cannot imagine where the time has gone.  She has filled my days with countless smiles and given me boundless joy - she has challenged my idea of parenthood and has filled my heart with a love I had not previously understood existed.


This weekend we left her for the first time to attend an out of town wedding and I have to say, I thought my husband was going to have to peel me out of our house - but we survived and so did she.  I was sad without her - I wanted to kiss her, see her smile, snuggle with her - and yet I also cherished the time away.  

It's funny....I am writing this tonight with one eye closed (as I have yet to recover from this amazing weekend - thank you Sarah and Dave Paul) as my head hurts, I'm tired, my feet hurt - yet I could run a marathon if you told me my daughter would be waiting for me at the finish line.  

I couldn't WAIT to get home to squeeze her today - and when I got home, she wanted NOTHING to do with her Mommy.  I don't know if she was mad at me for leaving her, sad that her Grammy and Gramps left to go back home, worried we would leave her again, mad that she didn't get to celebrate with her Auntie Sarah and Uncle Dave - whatever it was, she was NOT a fan and was actually scowling at me.  It took several hours until she cracked a smile, then eventually a laugh and then another...until we ended the night with her usual abundant snuggles and all was right in my world again. 

Moral of the story?  I'm never leaving my little meatball again....ever.
(or at least until Friday.....)

As promised, you will find a meatball recipe to accompany the marinara recipe from last week. These are great served Italian style or work well with a gravy or sweet and sour sauce - they also freeze well so feel free to double the batch and keep some for another time.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 - 30 minutes
Servings: 8

INGREDIENTS:
                   
½ Pound Organic Ground Bison
½ Pound Organic Ground Lamb
½ Pound Organic Ground Veal
2 Organic Eggs
1.5 - 2 Cups Italian Bread Crumbs (eyeball the last 1/2 Cup - you want the mixture to look moist)
2 Tablespoons Oregano
1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Teaspoons Garlic Salt
2 Teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cooking Spray

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
·      Spray broiling pan with cooking spray and set aside. 
·      In medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, mix together by hand until combined 
·      Roll mixture into 1-inch balls using palms of hands
·      Place on prepared pan in even rows approximately 1 inch apart 
·      Brush meatballs lightly with olive oil and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until cooked through. 
·      Can be frozen for up to three months
·       Enjoy!

Before Baking 
Enjoy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pasta Sunday

I had such strong pasta cravings during my 2nd trimester, I was convinced my daughter was going to exit the womb with a meatball in each hand and a pile of pasta on her head.  In an attempt to calm my cravings, my husband declared Sunday's as Pasta Sunday "with his girls" which not only helped me monitor my pasta intake, but also created the first of many fun traditions for our family of three.

I can't help but think my pasta cravings were a matter of genetics.  Growing up with an Italian grandmother was heaven on Earth - in heels and pearls, always a marinara brewing on her stove, she would chop and stir with grace while we sat and salivated over what was soon to be our best meal yet....again.

Although she is no longer with us, whenever I make her marinara (or mine now adapted from hers) I can't help but feel connected to her, to my childhood, to my soul.

The trick to any good pasta dish, I believe, begins with the marinara - the pasta becomes merely a vehicle by which the marinara travels a lovely journey across your palate, down into your belly, warming you slowly from the inside out.

Finding the time to make a marinara from scratch is difficult with a little one in tow, however I have found if I make a big batch once a month I can freeze the left overs and very easily defrost and enjoy whenever Pasta Sunday comes around.  Easier than you may think, the sauce below can simmer for a few hours while you get on with your day - the smell wafting through the house is reason enough to take the extra time to make it from scratch.

In addition to pasta cravings, I also found I had a carnivore of the highest demand growing in my belly.  I searched high and low for just the right combination of meats to make the most delightful, decadent, delicious meatballs.......and good news, I think I have cracked the meatball code. Stay tuned for next weeks' recipe.....soon enough you will not only be able to master marinara but you will be able to enjoy it over a mountain of fabulous meatballs.  

For now, enjoy the recipe below and maybe even start a pasta tradition of your own..........


Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 -2 Hours
Servings: 10

INGREDIENTS:
2 Cans (28 oz. each) Organic Crushed Tomatoes
2 Cups Organic Beef Broth
4 Roma Tomatoes (very ripe work best), washed and diced finely (do not discard innards)
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1 Organic Medium White Onion, peeled and chopped finely
1 Cup Organic Pureed Carrots (approximately 3 large carrots, peeled, boiled and pureed)
2 Cups Organic White Mushrooms, washed and sliced
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Dried Oregano
2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
2 Teaspoons Garlic Salt
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
3 Dried Bay Leaves

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat
  • Add garlic and onions, sauteing until onions are just clear
  • Add all remaining ingredients, stirring continuously over medium heat for five minutes
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 - 2 hours (it will be ready after an hour however the longer you can allow it to simmer, the more flavorful it will become)
  • Remove bay leaves just prior to serving
  • Enjoy!



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Monday, October 3, 2011

And so it begins....

.....During my pregnancy, we signed up for the weekly updates "Your Baby This Week" from Babycenter.com.  Each week you get an email with an overview of how your baby is growing in any given week and they include a comparison of the size of the baby each week to a vegetable or fruit, for perspective.
Each week I took up the challenge of trying to cook with whatever that vegetable or fruit was each week - for example, when our baby was the size of a lemon, I made lemon chicken.  Seems easy in theory....but just wait until your baby is the size of a rutabaga, now THAT was a challenge.
My favorite recipe from the weekly vegetable extravaganza was the following.  You'll find it's a great substitute for your standard mashed potato or starchy side - it's easy on the chef, yummy on the taste buds and warm and comforting in your belly.

Cauliflower Mash
Ingredients:
1 - 2 Heads Fresh Cauliflower (about a pound), washed and chopped finely
1 Cup Water
2 Cups Light Sour Cream
1 Tablespoon Butter, softened
1/4 Cup Skim Milk
1/4 Cup Light Parmesan Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, combine water and cauliflower over medium-high heat. Cover and boil for approximately 14 minutes or until cauliflower is soft enough to easily pierce with a fork.  Remove from heat and drain excess water.  Mash cauliflower by hand with a potato masher until it is a smooth, creamy texture.  Fold in butter, milk, sour cream, salt and pepper.  Serve immediately and sprinkle with parmesean cheese just prior to serving.

Enjoy!