Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ode to Friendship....

When was the last time you found a new friend?  Doesn't the concept seem funny?  How does a near 40-year-old find a new friend?  Sure, there are the niceties exchanged at morning drop off at pre-school.  The relationship you have with your hairdresser.  The neighborhood friendly waves and hello's.  All those other mom's that you make small talk with at various kid functions.  All the potential for friendship, sure but some effort on your part is required.  When was the last time you truly connected with another woman?  Connected to the point that you thought, "Hmmmm, she is really cool and I feel like I've known her forever"?

It's almost a giddy feeling.  Like when you met a boy you really liked back in the day.  You think about that person.  You go over the list of things you have in common and wonder when you will see one another again. You think about how funny they are and how the kids just get along so well.  How your lives parallel one another.

What I love about my five and two year old  is the "instant friendships" that occur.  A quick "Hi" and a tour of the playroom and it's ON!  You like Barbie's.  I like Barbie's.   Throw on a fancy dress, tiara and high heels and let's get down to Littlest Pet Shop.  We are now BFF's.  You like a big metal Tonka truck. I like a big metal Tonka truck.  I like to throw things in the house and I'm pretty sure you will too.  

Fast forward through all those bittersweet grade school, two-against-one and next week we will love you again games and the true friendships that really cultivate in high school.  Middle school....well, that was possibly just a jumble of emotions and hormones and crying.  With college came a few long term friends.  I went to college with many of my high school bests so there wasn't an extreme need or desire to expand that safety zone.  But it happened.  I walked away with one pal that I would put on my list of all time greats.

Then comes marriage and the "his friends girlfriends or wives" that are a shoe-in to become friends with you.  Even if you don't really like each other.  You just do it for the greater good.  A night out here or there and it's all good.  But I got lucky here too and found not just one, but TWO ladies that I adore and found an instant connection with.  

Maybe you have been lucky enough to forge some work friendships, but after moving a short distance away and having two children the ability to meet up for a drink or lunch just gets more complicated.  I still continue some lovely relationships with women  through email and Facebook.  If the opportunity presented itself, we would all pick up where we left off.  That's pretty cool and rare.  

I have two best friends from my first job out of college.  It was life-changing for all of us.  We seemed to appear when we each needed one another the most.  It was a cross-road in my friendship history.  I was out of college and on a new journey in a new state.  Meeting good friends made the transition better.  We really "got" each other.  When you feel that, it's just amazing.

I use the term "best friend" broadly.  I define that as "you are more important that just calling you a friend and I am know I can count on you and I want you to feel the same way about me."  That feeling deep down in your gut that knows that this person has your back.

Friendships take precedence when you don't have children.  Girls trips and nights out for drinks and dinner are easy.  But the true friends are worth the effort.  I love the ease of an old friend.  I love the excitement of a new friend.  That "getting to know you" phase.

As a stay at home mom, I didn't realize the importance of cultivating a neighborhood friend.  About a year ago I met Ashley in semi-dark garage of another neighbor's as a garage sale took place.  I felt an instant connection to her.  The common threads between us rose to the surface in a matter of minutes.  We both have five year old daughters who will be in kindergarten at the same school and ride the bus together.  Both our sons are named Evan.  She was young, hip and cool.  She had green or blue nail polish on her toes with daisies.  (I was delighted!)  She had an easy smile and a down to earth quality that I'm sure people are drawn to.  No false pretenses......I could just tell she was the real deal.

We exchanged phone numbers.  And that was pretty much it.  I made no effort but I sure thought about her and her kids and the fact she lived ten doors down from me on the same side of the street.  Every time we passed her house my daughter Lauren would comment on her girls playing in the yard.  She asked me time and again if she could have a play date with them.

Now, please note I am not a shy person.  I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone on the regular.  It makes me feel alive.  Why didn't I just text her or call her or walk over to her house?  I am not sure why I never did.  Luckily she rang my doorbell a week ago and the rest is history.  What I love most about that is she said, "I hope you don't mind we stopped over.  I just needed a friend today."  It seems I've needed a neighborhood friend for five years and just didn't know it.

We've met up at my house and her house and spend an hour and a half together while the kids play and we chat.  It takes the edge off of long winter days stuck in the house.  It makes that time before dad comes home, before making dinner, before bath and just makes it seem more do-able.  It's a HECK of a lot more fun!

I'm in what I would call that "early stage of dating" and I love it!  If we made a list of the things we have in common, well, it's insane.  The fact this woman and her family moved to my street a year ago makes my life today (and I'm gonna go ahead and say the future!) so much brighter.  New friends make you feel alive again.

So if you get the opportunity, go ring somebodies doorbell and say "I need a friend."  I guarantee the person opening the door will welcome you with open arms!

"It's so much more friendly with two."  ~Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Out of my book slump...

My sister's book club read this book for February.  I really needed to get out of a book slump.  I have reserved and checked out book after book from the library and nothing was clicking.  This book did the trick.  Now I will admit that I read the entire Twilight series with reckless abandon.  I tore through this book with the same excitement.  I read it in a week.  I went to bed early so I could read for an hour or more.  I will also admit this is classified as a young adult book from Scholastic.  Well, I'm out of my book slump so who cares!  It's science fiction and I don't typically read this genre.  But as my sister said, her book club is all about getting you to read something you normally wouldn't read.  I'm in!  Suzanne Collins, the author got the idea for this book while watching the history channel and flipping back to a reality show.  
This is book #2...
This is book #3 in the trilogy...
Read something out of your box today!  
I just started book #2 last night.  
You can check out the book reviews here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Small Notebook Blog...

Photos from Small Notebook
I MUST share this post from a blog I follow.  Sometimes I read a blog post from somebody else and it just hits home and it makes me want to scream to the world, "READ THIS RIGHT NOW."  (Please!)  I hope you feel the goodness as much as I just did....
Also, please read about Rachel and her family just moved to Florence for a year!
Gotta. just. keep. Dreaming!

Now Entering SPEED ZONE....

I swear I was just here.  In this place.  Hormones and feelings and love and tears of joy all bombarding me.  A new little baby girl.  Mine.  Becoming a family....Becoming a Mom.  Fast forward to Friday.  I registered this little girl, now a five-year-old, my daughter Lauren, for Kindergarten.  K to the capital Kindergarten!  I compiled my necessary papers to prove residency and pulled out her birth certificate.  As I was filling out all the forms, I asked the woman behind the counter if the "family ID number" was different than the "student ID number."  She said, "Yes, and you'll always remember her student ID because that is when she graduates from high school."  I instantly could have burst into tears but I got a grip right quick and told the woman I could actually lay my head down on the table and sob!

But here's the real trip...Her graduation date from high school will be in 2024.  I mean, is that even a real year?  How can that be?  It just seemed like a fake number!  So I go from dreaming of full days, five days of the week without a child asking me "What should I do Mom?, I'm bored" to practically breaking down in an ugly cry at how fast this is all going.....this mom thing.  This "raising your children" thing.  I called my mom (because that's what you do!) and she said, "That is going to be the fastest 12 years of your life!"  She lived it.  She did it.  

When we first moved into this house, my brother-in-law said that the landing right above the staircase will be the place she pauses before making her waltz down the stairs in her prom dress.  When he said it, tears instantly sprang to my eyes!  And again, I can see how quickly we will arrive at this event.  

This winter has been a rough one for me.  As a stay-at-home mom, all the days of being stuck inside during snowstorms, the cold weather, too much T.V. and no place to go can really can get me down.  I'm dreaming of the walks to the park, sitting outside and some sunshine!  So after registering Lauren for Kindergarten I started to realize that despite the rough days, it's a big transition we are about to embark upon this Fall.  All our family time will revolve around the school calendar.  I will be walking to the bus stop twice a day, everyday at an exact time.  

And my first born child will take one tiny step closer to not needing like she does today.  So wonderful and yet bittersweet.  Oh, but wait!  I need to review that list of dreams I still have left to fulfill.  I will always be her Mom.  I will always love her.  But her own journey awaits her as she slowly, ever so slowly, leaves the nest.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pizza Fun....

I picked up a 99 cent pack of whole wheat "ready to bake" pizza dough and some pizza sauce from Trader Joe's this week.  I have realized that if the kids can make it or grow it themselves they are delighted!  Lauren eats cherry tomatoes by the handful and I fully believe it is only because we grew them in the garden and she ate them straight from the plant as she helped me pick our harvest.
 I let the kids roll out the dough.
(with a little help from mom!)

We added lots of cheese!
We waited patiently!

And enjoyed!!!!
Involve your kids in dinner plans for tonight!  I have to "let go" and allow some messes once in a while!
Happy Friday! What are you making for dinner tonight? Fridays are usually pizza night for our family.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quick Crab Cakes...

Photo from Real Simple

For Valentine's Day I sprang for a can of some fresh lump crab meat from Blue Star.  (I purchased it at Costco for $13...I only used 1/2 can for this recipe)  I made this fantastic recipe for "Quick Crab Cakes".  I have to give credit where credit is due.  My sister (who is NOT one that enjoys cooking and would rather, on most nights, poke her eye out instead of cook) gave this recipe to me years ago.  I have made it many times, however, obviously not for my husband.  (I thought I had!)  He could not handle the goodness of these little gems.  He couldn't stop saying how delicious they were or "was I going to eat that last one?" 
The ingredients include:  potato chips (the thicker the better in my opinion), tartar sauce, Dijon mustard, lump crab, pepper, lemon and butter.  I added garlic and used a wee bit of mayo.  I didn't realize I did have tartar sauce in the fridge!  A ton of fresh dill added to this is also awesome.  I improvised with dill seed and it transformed the recipe into something better than when I followed the recipe.
"Fancy" Dill Seed to be exact!  From McCormick!
 Wild Caught, Hand Picked (16 oz)
So fresh.....
Since I was going by memory on the real-deal Real Simple recipe, I free-formed it and added garlic, dill seed and siracha garlic chili sauce and really, I wouldn't be me if I didn't add some HEAT to a recipe!  My additions really transformed the recipe into something much tastier than I remember.
 I suggest making the patties small to medium sized.
Here's the real kicker....
Yep, nice squares of butter on top so the crab 
cakes get nice and brown during broiling!  
 Add some champagne or sparking wine...
Brown them up nicely 
(I flipped them so both sides got nice and crunchy)
Add a nice salad and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Soup Obsessed....

Do you watch the show "The Next Food Network Star"?  Last season, Aarti Sequeira won.  You can find her on Facebook or read her blog here. You can catch her show on Sunday  mornings on the Food Network.  When Aarti won all I could think was, finally!!!  Some Indian spice on the show!  And, she always wears a flower in her hair!  Love that!

I love Indian food and dream of the day I will travel to these foreign lands.  My husband travels to India once a year to an office he has there.  (a division of this company) I now have friends who reside in India.  I want my children to experience "the India experience."  Until we are back in the travel zone, I love trying out new spices and recipes.

Since I watched the Next Food Network Star, I watched Aarti go from having little to no confidence in herself or her recipes to wining the whole hoopla....her. own. show.  Oh, my dream!  I mean, I think it is.  I have many dreams people!  I think that is a good thing!  I am really good at taking miscellaneous items out of the fridge and whipping up a fantastic meal.  Or, re-purposing leftovers into yet another fine creation.  Cooking is my meditation and outlet.

I love researching recipes, food blogs, and reading a cookbook like a good book. (my sister is at this second throwing up while reading this!)  Her husband (my bro-in-law) once said that I could take a hot dog, a piece of fish and a can of beans and turn it into a gourmet meal within minutes!  I love going to new grocery stores or farmer's markets.  The colors!  The possibilities!  My show name idea is "Impromptu." (Defined as:  Prompted by the occasion rather than being planned in advance: an impromptu party.)   And who doesn't love an impromptu party?  I think Aarti would agree!

So Aarti featured this soup on her show last week...Sweet-corn-and-chicken-soup. I cannot get enough of soup.  I make a kettle per week and eat it for lunch every day.  Easy, quick and satisfying! I made Aarti's soup and although I'm not sure I would make it again I was happy with the results and enjoyed the process.  Here is the key ingredient....Creamed Corn!  As a child we used to eat creamed corn on the regular and I loved it!  Maybe that's why I was so drawn to this recipe.
My kitchen helper, Lauren 
Aarti's soup begins with a leek, carrot and ginger "broth" with some peppercorns and coriander seeds.
She suggests using cheesecloth, but I used this handy giant "tea ball" from Williams Sonoma. 
 I normally use it in apple cider with mulling spices over the holidays.
The chicken breasts poach in the soup...very easy.
Then just shred the chicken with two forks...
The seasoning line-up!
soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar
I have issues with buying chicken stock.
I can't keep it in the house and it seems like I'm constantly lugging boxes or cans home from the grocery store week after week.  One of my BF's got me on this product called better-than-bouillon by Superior Touch.  It has saved me on more than one occasion when I thought I had stock but didn't.  It lasts a long time (unless you are obsessed with making soup!) and if I forget to take my homemade stock out of the freezer than I'm still safe!  The bouillon comes in a variety of flavors, organic, vegetarian and low-sodium.  I used a bit in this recipe.  Aarti's recipe calls for some bouillon cubes but you can leave it out all together.  
Just wanted to show you the lovely yellow color.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Hooked on You" Valentine!

Lauren got a surprise chocolate fish in the mail today from her friends from Madison that said "Hooked on You".  How much more awesome can one 5 year old's Valentine's Day get?  Remember those days?  When simple little gifts made you so excited?  When dressing up for school in red and pink colors with a heart shirt made you happy?  When your mom took you to the store to pick out your Valentine cards and it took a really long time to make a decision?  When a bag full of high fructose corn syrup and red dye no. 6 candy made you giddy? It makes the rough days of parenting all worth it.  These little kernels of joy.  Of reliving some of your own childhood goodness through your children's eyes.
While driving Lauren to school today I saw a teen boy walking to the bus stop with a dozen roses in his hand. I literally felt my spirits lift at the joy in that. Of how delighted his girlfriend would be.  Or maybe he just got up the courage to give flowers to the girl he's had his eye on.  Or maybe they were for his favorite teacher who is making a big impact on his life.  Either way, it made my day.

Remember what Valentine's Day in high school meant?  If you had a boyfriend you were pretty much guaranteed a card or flowers.  If you didn't have a boyfriend you just sort of secretly prayed all day that some sort of Valentine treat or surprise would come your way.  Or that the boy you liked would notice you.  My high school had a carnation day and you could buy a flower to send to a boy or girl friend.  (the colors symbolizing what the sender meant to say to you: red=love, white=like, yellow=friendship)  Oh, if only life was this simple!

And then before you are married it's the whole "battle of the delivery" at the office on V-day.  Who will get flowers delivered to the office and the parade back to your desk with them.  And then you grow up, get married and have kids and you just hope the husband remembers to stop the grocery store on the way home from work.  I am not a fan of spending a bunch of money on over-priced cards and flowers today!  Afterall, it's "our" money now and I'd rather spend it on a babysitter!  I enjoy the acknowledgement, but give that to me on an ordinary day of the week after I've been stuck in the house all day with two kids, cooking and cleaning!!!!  

Today I would say to my 15 year old self, "Hang on!  You will someday have the confidence and self-esteem to rise above much of the nonsense.  You won't care about specific holidays on the calendar. You will find ways to make yourself happy.  You will someday experience love beyond anything you could imagine.  
You will become a mother."  And not much else can compare to that.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Flashback....

In my quest for all things cool, quirky, vintage, throw-back, retro, old school, etc.....I present to you the wood and brass ducks....

Now, these are not my "official" ducks.  My ducks did have the lovely brass wings and wood base. I found mine at a local re-sale shop and was oddly drawn to them.  I saw them several times before actually buying them.  I got them both for around $6.00!!!!  I have to continue to remember to "just go with" my instincts when it comes to these sorts of things.  
 I forgot to take a before photo of my ducks, but here is what they look like now.  I am officially obsessed with black spray paint and may be bordering on a small addiction to animals I can spray paint. I find my ducks to be much more attractive after a little spray paint.
Here is where they are located.  If you look in the mirror, you can see the staircase reflection.  I have a little grouping of items on the wall as you go up the stairs.  I plan to add and expand to this over time.  I follow a blog called Young House Love where Sherry and John document their house rehab.  Sherry has her own obsession with animals that she enjoys painting white.  I sorta feel like she rubbed off on me after reading all her "animal tales" on her blog.  

Today I forced myself not to buy two old school ceramic birds in a lovely gold tone.  These are the sort of thing my mom would have made in her ceramic class in the 70s.  Oh how she must have needed that class once a week to escape her own version of ground hog day!  (My sister and I are 17 months apart!)  I feel her pain!  I can't promise those birds won't end up in my house tomorrow.  I sometimes cannot stop thinking about a bargain I passed up and go back the next day.  I border on "let it go" and "you don't need it" (even if it is really cheap) to "I must have it" and "I don't care if I don't know where to put it."  

Happy Friday Friends!  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wings part Deux

The man himself...Alton Brown

I really am not obsessed with wings.  I don't want you to get the wrong idea.  I just have this thing about making recipes over and over if they are truly that good.  Plus, it was Super Bowl Sunday and you must have wings!  GO PACK!  WORLD CHAMPIONS!  Rock on!

To be honest, I only tried a taste of each wing, but did not "indulge" in many.  I like cooking for people more than I like eating my own cooking. I spoke of Alton Brown's wings over here.  But, I never took any "action" shots.  And this second time I mixed things up a bit and wanted to share that with y'all.  (I'm imitating PW here....and my friends from Texas). 

 I followed Alton's recipe (here) but after reading the recipe reviews (do you ever do that?  Geek that I am, I really do!  And I've gotten such good this one.)  I dry-rubbed one batch and marinaded one batch....then steamed....then cooled down....then baked.....then added the traditional butter/hot sauce/garlic sauce to the marinaded wings.  The dry rubbed ones were the favorite overall.  Alton's process is a bit tedious, but so worth it.  I've never had wings that are so tender, yet nice and crispy on the outside.

Dry Rubbed wings and drums....
I used South African spice rubs in "Zulu Fire" and "Sweet & Smokey"
 I just combined a bit of both.  It was awesome!  I found these rubs at TJ Maxx in the food section.  
 Wet marinade on the second batch
New favorite BBQ sauce
Famous Dave's Texas Pit
 Steaming the wings
Ready for cool-down period
See how lovely my pics are?
I only used natural light...
I just about forgot to take a "finished product" shot!
These are the ones Evan man-handled and dipped in blue cheese sauce...
Oh, I also made a variation of PW's nachos too.
I used ground beef, added enchilada sauce, and used black vs. pinto beans.
I like her tutorial on how to layer up the fixing's so every chip has goodness on them.
This is my nephew Konrad.
He knows how to eat some wings!
Just look at those bones left!
He doesn't mess around!