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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sous Chef #2: Reflections and Risotto

I'm so excited to have my second Sous Chef, Jen Casey, share her experiences of pregnancy and motherhood with us.  Jen is one extraordinary woman who I also have the privilege of calling my cousin. A Mom of two of the most beautiful, sweet, and smart children, Jen was a constant source of mentoring and support during my pregnancy.  She is a lawyer, extremely funny, intelligent, loves a good challenge and is always on the go (this sounds like an add for an online dating profile.....I will let you know if any suitors come calling).  Jen has shared one of her favorite risotto recipes with us and although I haven't yet tried it, you can be sure I will be putting it on the menu ASAP.

I am honored she has taken the time to share her thoughts with us and I know you will enjoy this post as much as I do.

1) What is the one thing you wish your pre-kiddo self knew?

I wish I knew how long it would take for me to really adjust to parenthood. For me, I was very excited to be pregnant and have a baby. I was very well prepared for labor and birth and I thought I had a solid understanding of the fact that being a parent was a never-ending responsibility and challenge. But, I didn’t realize how long it would take for me to be totally comfortable in the role of being a mother. Looking back, it really wasn’t until my second child – my daughter, Helen – was born that I was really comfortable and confident and truly happy with my role as a mother.

2.) What have you found to be the most rewarding part of motherhood?

Watching my kiddos develop love and respect for each other. Every time I hear them talk to each other nicely, compliment one another or comfort the other when one of them is upset or hurt – it makes my heart melt and makes me feel proud that I have been a part of teaching them how to be nice human beings.

3.) What has been the biggest challenge of motherhood?

Patience. I am not that patient of a person. And I don’t mean just being patient when your child has a temper tantrum, although that certainly does test my patience. But I mean, having patience when every simple task – from getting out the door, to getting in car seats, to taking off coats, to brushing teeth, takes WAY longer than it really should. I have a hard time maintaining my cool.

4.) If you had one day to re-live with your kids, what would it be?

The day of their births. Probably not the labor. But taking that first look at each of them. Snuggling them to my chest, gazing at them with my husband in pure love and wonderment. If I could do that again, I would in a heartbeat.

5.) What is your favorite pregnancy memory? 

My favorite pregnancy memory is picking my husband up at the T-stop in Cambridge, Massachusetts with my positive pregnancy test after a year of trying to get pregnant with our first baby.

6.) What is your least favorite pregnancy memory?

My worst pregnancy memory is the terrible, terrible rash I got in the last weeks of my pregnancy with my son, Cyrus. Apparently it is relatively common, it started on my belly and spread all over my body. I was about 1,000 pounds, really ready to get that baby out and felt like I was wearing a fiberglass suit. It was awful.

7.) Who was/is your mentor for pregnancy/motherhood?

My best friend Danielle has been my mentor for pregnancy and motherhood. She has had 3 gorgeous daughters naturally – two at home and makes being a parent look effortless but is always honest about how much effort it really does take.

8.) What is your favorite place to travel without your kids? What about with your kids?

My favorite place to travel with my kids is back to New England during the summer. The beach in Maine and the family lake in Manomet, Massachusetts are the dreamiest places in the world. Plenty of place for us all to run and swim and surf and water ski and fish and enjoy the company of our family, watch the kids play with cousins and nurture their relationships with our extended family.
I think my favorite place to travel without my kids – although I have not done it yet – would be to New York or Paris with my husband.

9.) What qualities do you think each of your kids has that comes from you?

I love food. Cyrus loves food. The kid will try, and enjoy, absolutely anything – sushi, Indian, lobster, spicy Mexican food, lasagna, quiche, you name it. I love this about him.
Helen is very stubborn and kind of bossy. As much as I don’t like admitting it, I think that this comes from me as well.

10.) What was the best advice anyone gave you about motherhood?

I don’t know if its advice – but the saying “the days are long but the years are short” really holds true. It helps to keep things in perspective. My babies are no longer babies, and it happened in the blink of an eye.

Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash

3 cups of butternut squash, diced
2 T Olive oil (divided)
Sea salt
Freshly Ground Black pepper
2 cups vegetable/chicken broth
½ cup white wine
1 cup of quinoa, rinsed
1 onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1/8 – ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
4 -6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh thyme
1 T fresh sage, minced
1 cup frozen peas
3 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the diced butternut squash with 1 T olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.

2. Bring broth to simmer over medium heat. Keep warm.

3. Sauté onion and pepper in 1 T olive oil over medium high heat for 8 minutes, stirring often. Lower heat to medium. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add rinsed quinoa and cook 2 minutes more.

4. Add wine, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook until wine has absorbed and then add in just enough vegetable broth to cover. Continue stirring frequently and adding broth until all but ½ cup of the broth has been added. This should take about 20 minutes.

5. Add in thyme, sage, peas, goat cheese and remaining 1/2 cup liquid. Stir for two minutes and then remove pan from heat. (There will still be a little liquid remaining. )

6. Add in squash. Place on a plate and garnish with parmesan cheese.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Time to Get Real Over a Bowl of Broccoli Cheese Soup

I have been thinking a lot this week about pregnancy, motherhood and life, per usual. I have several friends with babies ready to make an appearance at any moment as well as several friends who have welcomed their first little one in recent months. I have friends trying to figure out how to balance multiple kids with work, marriage and all of the stress that comes with being an adult. I have had a lot of VERY REAL conversations lately with some really great Mommies and I have to say, I would have loved to have had these conversations before finding myself in the midst of Mommyhood.

Time to get real folks. Pregnancy and motherhood are amazing, wonderful, gratifying experiences beyond your wildest dreams, you bet they are. They are also (collectively and otherwise) extremely challenging, exhausting, frustrating and at times, overwhelming.

It is hard being a new Mom especially the first time around. You think you have a good understanding of what to expect. You have talked to your Mom, other Mom's you trust, asked all of the right questions of your doctor, read all of the right books, attended all of the suggested classes and seminars. You tell yourself you are not going to be "one of those Moms" who panic over everything, who are overprotective, who check on their baby 17 times during a 30 minute nap.  NO, NOT YOU.  All of a sudden you find yourself holding this precious angel you have waited so long to meet and suddenly - as if you hadn't read a thing, listened to advice, talked to your doctor at all - you panic.

The euphoria that follows immediately after you see that precious little one may fade slightly that first day you find yourself at home. Alone. No doctors, nurses, midwives, Grandma's, or in some cases spouses. You start to question everything that you are doing, everything that you aren't doing. You get advice from anyone who will give it and then you realize everyone has given you different advice. Now what?

You will cry. You will sob uncontrollably and you will question your ability to take care of this precious life. You will wonder how they let YOU walk out of the hospital with the sole responsibility for another life. You will wonder if you will ever sleep again, wear non-maternity clothes again, feel human again.

You will get through it. YOU WILL. It can be difficult to see the other side when you are right in the middle of it but it DOES get easier. Your baby doesn't hate you, you are not hurting them or depriving them of nutrition or damaging them for the rest of their lives (although you will apologize to them constantly for thinking you are doing just that). If breast feeding doesn't work out or you don't want to try it at all, your child will be OK. Formula is NOT RAT POISON, as I recently heard a very wise Mommy say. Apply this across the board - some things will work for you, some will not.  As long as you are not causing harm to yourself, your baby or others around you, do what is right for you, your baby and your family.

You will make mistakes, you will cut their tiny little fingers while clipping their nails (check), you will accidentally poke them in the eye (check), you will startle them when you don't realize they are so focused on something else (check). You will be blacklisted by your pediatrician for calling every day (several times) to ask questions you know the answer to but just want to "make sure" you are doing the right thing (check, check).

When days are tough, just remember a few things:
- YOU are the most important thing in your baby's world, really, you are.
- YOU are capable, strong and willing - after all, whether you carried the baby yourself for 9 months or used a surrogate, struggled with fertility or got pregnant right away, adopted by choice or necessity - YOU brought this life into your world and that is POWERFUL.
- YOU should not expect yourself to be up to par with your "former" have just given birth, you are sleep deprived, you are anxious, you are sustaining another life....give yourself a break sister, seriously.
- YOU can ask for help and YOU DO need a break. Ask your Mom, your sister, your friends, your doorman or a complete stranger on an airplane - if help is around (and I know how hard it can be to relinquish any sort of control with YOUR baby to anyone) - take the help.
- YOU are NOT ALONE. You are not the first nor will you be the last mother to think maybe, just maybe, you weren't cut out for this.
- YOU will look at that sweet little face and for a moment, a minute, an hour or a day, and in that sweet face you will find the strength to try it all again. Over and over. Every day UNTIL.

Motherhood is not all "rainbows and skittles" as a friend recently expressed to me. Your marriage may take a back seat, your work may suffer.  You may not look or feel yourself for months or even years. Your friends may wonder if you have been entered into the witness protection program, and after passing by a mirror and not recognizing the woman looking back at you, you may wonder the exact same thing.

You WILL surface. You WILL find pure joy in that sweet little laugh, that precious little hand holding tight to your finger. You WILL figure it out only for everything to suddenly change again. You will get pooped on, spit up on, peed on or perhaps (if you're just having a REALLY great day), the trifecta (and bonus if it happens in public).  You will snap at your husband, partner, co-worker, other children,or the random lady in line at the grocery store telling you "Maybe your baby is hungry?" when you are unable to stop their screaming in the check-out line. Genius.  Why didn't YOU think of that?

You WILL be OK. You WILL find other Mommies to relate to, talk with, spend time with and gather advice from. You MAY lose some friends, you WILL learn some hard lessons. You may feel you have lost your independence and identity as anyone other than "So-and-So's Mommy"....but it WILL NOT be this way forever. And, from what I gather from those who have been there done that, when forever comes you will be wishing, missing and cherishing those days you once wanted so badly to end.

The only STANDARD in MOTHERHOOD is THERE IS NO STANDARD.  There is no bar to jump over, no medal awarded to the Mommy with the best sleeper, best eater, fastest grower, or the over achiever.

The prize, instead, is lying in your arms smiling up at you with no other intention than to let you know YOU are THEIR MOMMY. YOU are important to them. They NEED you, in whatever form you may exist on any given day.


 And THAT is enough.

It was one of those weekends with fog and rain, not quite cold but damp and cool. It was the perfect excuse to make one of my favorite soups, adapted over the years from my Mom's recipe.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
1 Package Quinoa Pasta
20 Oz. Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded finely
2.5 Cups Organic 2% Milk (you can use 1% or Skim however 2% is what I prefer for this recipe)
8 Cups Organic Chicken Broth
1 Large Organic White Onion, peeled and diced finely
1 Bunch Organic Celery, leaves removed, hearts chopped finely
2 Large Organic Heads of Broccoli, stems and leaves removed, chopped finely
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
2 Teaspoons Celery Salt
2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoons Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add onion and garlic, sauteing until the onions are just clear (stirring frequently)
  • Add chicken broth, bring to a boil (uncovered)
  • Add quinoa, cook for 6 minutes (uncovered)
  • Reduce heat to medium, add broccoli, celery, and dry spices, cook for 8-10 minutes (uncovered)
  • Reduce heat to medium low, add cheese and cook for an additional 6 minutes (uncovered)
  • Turn heat off and gently fold in milk, stirring until well combined
  • Serve immediately or enjoy for up to 5 days in the fridge
  • Enjoy!

I am linking up this week with Yeah Write (formerly Lovelinks) - check out some great small blogs and be sure to vote for your favorites on Thursday!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sliders on a Stick

It is NFL playoff season and this means only ONE thing in our house; Saturdays and Sundays are consumed with football, food and friends.  Beyond my wildest fears my team, the Green Bay Packers, lost this weekend in a shocking turn of events and is now out of the Super Bowl running.  What to do?  My back up team (a.k.a. my husband's one and only) the Jets didn't even make the playoffs.  I am sad to say I think this may be the first Super Bowl in a very long time I haven't actually been excited about watching, the teams remaining are of minimal interest to me.  I think this year I may just cheer against a team instead of for a team.

Regardless.....the best part about football for me is the food.  Burgers, pizza, wings and fries.  Hoagies, sliders, cheese dip and potato chips.  Isn't it convenient that football comes to an end right when most of our resolutions to be healthier and get our weight on track begins?  Football means beer on Sunday afternoons, a reason to see friends and stay up way too late knowing you have to tackle Monday in a few short hours.  Football means hostessing and hostessing means providing delicious food for a crowd of hungry fans.

We had some friends over this Sunday and as is typically the case when two 7 month-old baby girls are calling the plays, I needed to make an appetizer that we were able to tackle with one hand.  I wanted something familiar, yet unique.  When babies are occupying your every move and you can't quite sit down and enjoy a plate of food with forks and knives (like refined adults), you need to plan accordingly.

Skewers.  I started thinking about skewers.  Skewers and sliders.  But wouldn't the bun fall off the stick?  Yes.  Indeed. And this would be problematic.  But....what if I eliminated the bun?  What if I made a delicious slider, but on a skewer, with a delightful zesty dip?  It was risky, but I was up to the challenge.

The result is below and I must say, this is now one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE appetizer recipes.  It tastes divine, it looks festive and orderly when plated and it is a SO EASY yet looks and tastes SO INVOLVED.  Perfect for your pending NFL playoff or Super Bowl parties, perfect for a light dinner at home that your kids can help you assemble (and will LOVE to eat), perfect for a playgroup or girls night in.

I hope you enjoy this delightful little recipe....I thought about keeping it to myself but, alas, I am too thrilled with the result not to share it with you.

1 1/4 Lb. Organic Grass Fed Ground Sirloin
6 Ounces Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese, cut into 1.5 inch squares approximately 1/4 inch thick

4 Organic Roma Tomatoes, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

3 - 4 Large Whole Kosher Dill Pickles, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1 Cup Organic Ketchup
1 Cup Organic Light Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Sweet Relish
1 Tablespoon Garlic Salt
1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
10 6-inch Bamboo Skewers

In a small mixing bowl, mix ketchup, mayonnaise and relish until well-combined.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Spray a large electric skillet with cooking spray and preheat to 350 degrees (or you can heat up the grill if weather allows)

  • Divide meat into 1.5 inch circles approximately 1/2 inch thick, flatten to make 10 - 12 patties
  • Sprinkle evenly with garlic salt and pepper and place in skillet, covering for five minutes

  • Flip patties and re-cover, allowing to cook for another five minutes
  • Uncover, reducing heat to simmer 
  • Place one slice of cheese on each patty and re-cover for an additional 5 minutes (the goal is to get the cheese to melt enough to stay on the patty but not to be completely melted)

  • Remove patties from skillet and place on paper towel to drain excess grease from bottoms 
  • Stack each patty with a tomato slice, followed by a pickle
  • Skewer with bamboo through the center of each stack and place on round plate surrounding a small dish
  • Spoon prepared dip into dish and serve immediately

  • Enjoy!
  • I am linking up with Lovelinks #40 this week, check it out and vote on Thursday!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Holiday Hangover with a Side of Bison Taco Salad

Happy New Year to everyone! Wow, this Mama is suffering from a major holiday hangover; anyone else? Travel. Travel. More Travel. Family. Friends. Food. More Food. Cocktails.....More Cocktails. PHEW!  I love the holidays and visiting with family and friends, but I would be lying if I denied the fact that I secretly let out a huge sigh of relief every January 2nd (January 1st is too soon....usually nursing a hangover or traveling, or some awful combination of both).

This was our first year celebrating the holidays with our little lady and let me tell you, EVERYONE was right. I have never felt more complete or enjoyed the holidays as much.  EVERYONE was also right about the fact that when your children are this little, they will not care how many hours you spent searching for the latest and greatest toy.  They will not care how many hours of sleep you lost cruising the Internet for the best deal on what you knew would soon be their favorite object.  You will think your child will be different.....NO, they will NOT.  Not, at least, at 7 months old (or 8 - 18 months either at least from what I have observed).  They WILL love the wrapping paper, the tissue paper, the boxes.  They WILL squeal with delight as they rip open their gifts (or gently tug at a corner of the paper then look to you for approval before tearing an ever so tiny piece at the other end; a painfully slow process) and they will play with whatever item leaps from beneath the wrapping.  But only for a second or two before something shiny somewhere nearby catches their eye.

We actually listened to the wisdom of friends and family warning us of this and I am very proud of my husband and I for really keeping our Christmas with the little lady underwhelming.  Her Grandparents, however (and we love you dearly and she is so fortunate to have such generous, loving people in her life), did not get the memo.  Well, they did, but they chose to ignore it.  Ha!  I guess that's one of the many privileges of being a Grandparent - all of the glory and none of the headache of trying to figure out where to put all of the toys, games, books, or clothes.  Have I mentioned we live in a two bedroom condo?  Yes.  Indeed.  And it now has items stuffed into every corner of every shelf on every wall in every closet possible....and we still have two large toy bins and will have to get more.


I am so looking forward to a wonderful, fun-filled 2012 and I hope you are as well. I like the notion of being able to start fresh once every 12 months.  I hate the idea of time passing so quickly.

Since I haven't been able to figure out how to freeze time, against my will I move forward.  This year will be full of wonderful things; the birth of my niece or nephew, my daughter's first birthday, my second wedding anniversary, trips with friends, visits with family.  I am thankful for every new year....for every new day.

Considering 2011 was without question the most incredible year of my life, I am quite certain 2012 will have to work very hard to impress me. SO, 2012, bring it on. Bring on the goodness, bring on the fun.  Bring on the challenges, changes and unexpected twists and turns.  This Mommy is ready to see what you've got!

Bison Taco Salad really has nothing to do with starting the New Year (unless maybe you have made resolutions to be healthier, more conscious of what you consume and knock off a few calories here and there).  If so, then this recipe is a great way to accomplish all of those things (and tastes phenomenal).  Bison is a very lean protein with a low calorie and fat content.  If you can't find bison (or if you prefer to avoid it all together) you of course can substitute a grass-fed ground beef or something similar.

1.5 Pounds Grass-fed Ground Bison
1 Head Organic Lettuce, washed and chopped
4-5 Organic Roma Tomatoes, washed and diced (about 2 Cups diced)
2 Organic English Cucumbers, peeled and diced (I like English cucumbers because the seeds are very small if there are any at all, but regular cucumbers are fine too)
1 Medium Organic White Onion, peeled and diced
2 Cans (16-20 oz each) Organic Pinto Beans
1 Cup Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 Cup Organic Monterrey Jack Cheese, shredded
1 Clove Garlic, minced finely
2 Tablespoons Reserve Liquid from a Jar of Jalapenos
1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Ground Red Pepper
1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
1 - 2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
2 Teaspoons Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  • In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, sauteing until just brown
  • Add bison, stirring frequently

  • Add all remaining dry spices and continue cooking for approximately 8 minutes until meat is lightly browned and mostly cooked. 
  • Poor Jalapeno reserve over the meat, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for an additional 5 - 8 minutes until the liquid has been fully absorbed (this not only adds flavor but keeps the meat from drying out once in the salad)
  • While meat is cooking, empty both cans of beans (with liquid) into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat; once boiling, turn temperature to low and allow to heat until you are ready to prepare the salad

  • When the bison has finished cooking, remove the meat and beans from heat and drain excess liquid from the beans
  • In a large salad bowl, begin layering the salad by placing a large spoonful or two of the beans on the bottom of the bowl
  • Follow with a scoop or two of the bison
  • Add 1/2 of the cheddar and 1/2 of the Monterrey jack cheeses

  • Add approximately 1/2 of the chopped lettuce and top with 1/2 of the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions
  • Repeat a layer of beans, meat and cheese with remaining portions

  • Top with a layer of lettuce and decorate as you like with the remaining veggies (and I always sprinkle a little extra cheese on top!)
  • Top with sour cream and salsa, chopped avocado, organic Italian or Ranch dressing, whatever you like....enjoy!