5/29/15

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Every now and then I pull out my black notebook to jot down bits and pieces of life with Ralph. I've never been good at keeping up with his baby book-- for some reason it overwhelms me. But I grab my black notebook almost nightly. It's full of lists, and ideas for things, and quickly scrawled recipes, and it's easier for me to jot down a thing or two about my boy there. I've come up with a small collection of things I want to remember-- one-liners and funny moments and sweet memories, but the things I seem to want to write down the most are the messes.

I want to remember the dry stickiness of all my doorknobs, as though someone with a spitty fist had just shoved a handful of graham cracker into his mouth, and then shut the door tight.

I want to remember the moment when he picked up a throw pillow, wiped his nose all the way across it, set it back down, and ran off to play.

I want to remember the way he follows his dad around outside, trampling plants and shoveling dirt where he shouldn't and driving Ryan crazy.

And the way he pulls a chair up to the counter when I'm working in the kitchen, rumpling the rug in front of the sink every.single.time. 

And how every day he insists on doing the dishes, guaranteeing a soaked outfit, and maybe a broken dish.

I want to remember the way sand and dirt falls out of the pockets and cuffs of his pants every time I take them off.

I want to remember the mess, because if there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's a dirty house. I cringe at the sight of all the crumbs on the floor, and sigh at the stains on my rug, and want to pull my hair out when I see even more paint chipped off the floor trim by a chubby hand and a toy hammer. Every day I clean it all up, only to watch the messes flutter back down to the floor like fuzzy, sticky pieces of confetti.

And yes, I want to remember the messes because I know they mean a wild, happy, thriving little boy lives here. But I also want to remember them for my sake. Because, every day, even on the hardest days, I love it. It's a weird thing, to spend your day doing things that drive you up the wall, that you also love. And yet, every day I am reminded: this is what I'm good at. This is what I was meant to do.

I know that Ralph is not much different than any other two year old. He's learning his colors and ABCs and how to spit when he brushes his teeth, just like the rest of them. I know that, besides a few quirks, he's nothing special-- except that he's mine. Mine! My little boy, with his dad's sense of humor and his grandpa's bright eyes and a really fantastic head of hair. Dropped into my lap from the heavens above one morning in October, quiet and sleepy and ready to mess up my life. All for the better.

. . .


PS: When it comes to neat freaks living with a bonkers toddler in the house, I think Erin said it best in this sweet interview: "A crazed monkey has snuck into my sterile little lab, and I am learning to like it."

PPS: Ralph's new favorite car shirt was so generously provided by the kind and friendly folks at Winter Water Factory. It's soft and cute, and we both love it. Thanks guys!

5/22/15

saturday pancakes

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Saturday morning breakfast is, hands down, my favorite meal of the week to make.

It's the slowness of it all, the ease of waking up with not much to do right away, except maybe make something delicious to eat. Ralph crows at the same time every day whether it's Saturday or not, but we're not much for sleeping in too late in this house anyway. We pull him up into our bed and let him rearrange the pillows till we're good and awake. Ryan has successfully taught the child how to fetch him his slippers. Truly.

We all tumble down the stairs after a few minutes and Ryan puts the coffee on the stove. We park it on the couch and Ralph hops from lap to lap to floor to stairs to kitchen to lap again. We watch our shows (Edible Feast and This Old House) and sip our coffee (milk and sugar) and then it's time to eat.

My big kitchen window faces east and the sun shines through my curtains just right. I always try to get the kitchen extra clean on Friday nights, just for that moment-- when I walk in, and everything is so bright it practically sparkles.

I turn on some music. I set the table with cloth napkins and juice glasses and small bowls for fruit because who cares, it's Saturday. I don't have a dishwasher, but I do have all day to ignore the mess of extra dishes if I want to. I pull out bowls from the cupboards and spoons from the drawers and by that time Ralph has come in and "helped" by measuring out a bowl-ful of useless flour that I'll dump back into the jar when he's not looking. I crack some eggs-- sometimes for fried egg sandwiches, sometimes for french toast (if I've happened to grab a loaf of challah at the store the day before) but most of the time, for our favorite pancakes.

Buttery, with a slight tang from the buttermilk. Not too dense and cakey, but not too light and fluffy either. Juuuuust right. Perfect for a long, sunny weekend, I'd say.

Buttermilk Pancakes | adapted from The Comfort Table by Katie Lee Joel

3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 large egg

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter, and egg. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture. Mix until just combined. The batter should be a bit lumpy.

Grease a nonstick skillet or griddle and heat to medium high. Pour about 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto the griddle. When small bubbles begin to form on the tops of the pancakes, they are ready to be flipped, 2-3 minutes on each side.

Makes enough pancakes for about 2 1/2 people (heh) but the recipe can easily be doubled.

5/19/15

dusting off the cobwebs

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Well, hello.

It's good to be back here in this homey little blog spot. I wasn't sure I'd quite remember how to do it, but I did. A few forgotten passwords needed changing along the way, but we made it.

I'd say sorry for the silence, but I don't think I'm too sorry. Sometimes it's nice to take a break. I could blame it on the long, cold winter, or the fact that much of my time away has been spent growing a new little baby (!) but the truth is that I just didn't feel like blogging for a bit. Inspiration never struck. When everything on the internet starts to look the same, and you're not sure you like the things you like because you like them, or because it's all you ever see every time you look anywhere-- well, then, it's time to peace out for a little while.

It turns out that a little time away was all I needed. I've been happy to discover that yes-- I do like the things I like because I like them. I like to cook and clean and be a mom and a wife and putter around my house, making sure it looks tip-top. I like to take a pretty picture when the light is just right. I like to make supper for my family every night. I like to love my baby. Those are my things. I'll do my things whether I blog about them or not.

And as long as I'm doing them, it's fine to blog about them. Right?

And if you happen to follow along, I hope you do so because it makes you glad. I'm not trying to impress. I only want to share some good things every now and then, in hopes that you feel a bit lighter while you're here. That's what a good blog is for, isn't it? If it's not for you, it's okay to move on. I'll understand. Not everyone cares about linen closets and fresh pizza dough recipes.

Although, if you're wondering, I happen to care deeply about linen closets and fresh pizza dough recipes.

I'll be back soon.

11/19/14

keeping the home | thanksgiving

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Setting the scene: We'll be in Ohio with Ryan's family on Thanksgiving this year, so I hosted a little pre-Thanksgiving dinner of my own over the weekend for my side of the family-- partly because I wanted to see if I could actually do it, but mostly because I wanted the comfort of having my mom around on one of my favorite holidays. Prepping for the day took the better part of a week, but just in merry little bits here and there-- buying the turkey, picking up a few more cups to match what I already have, planning the menu, washing the napkins. The air was thick with festivity. I followed Ina's directions and set the whole table the day before, complete with sticky notes in the serving dishes. Linen fabric for a makeshift tablecloth, white dishes, thrifted brass candlesticks, grocery store eucalyptus, and leaves from the backyard. I made the stuffing the day before, nervous that it would turn soggy. (Tragically, it wound up too dry.) My parents arrived with a basket full of pies, and my sisters brought wine and cookies. My mom put her apron on and showed me how to remedy my too-salty gravy. Ryan took drink orders. Ralph and his cousins scattered toys.We sat down to eat and toasted to my sister and her family who live far away. My parents washed the dishes, and my sweet dad put them away in the wrong spots. A fresh pot of coffee was brewed before the pie was served. And when the day was done, a cup of tea, and in bed by nine.

Making this meal: A big, fat turkey soaked in this brine, then rubbed up with butter and herbs. Rosemary and garlic pureed potatoes. Bacon braised brussels sprouts. Stuffing, gravy, buttery corn, rolls. Mom's cranberries. Pie! Whipped cream!!!

Listening to: Sweet, simple, thankful hymns-- because in my mind, that's the closest thing to what the Pilgrims might have enjoyed on their first Thanksgiving. The Little Women soundtrack makes me feel sentimental and happy to be with the ones I love, and long for the ones I love that I can't be with, until it makes me a little too emotional and I cry during the music where Beth dies. On this particular day of the year, I'm happy just listening to "For the Beauty of the Earth" on repeat.

Working on: Dishes. Digestion. Naps. Christmas wish lists. Decking the Halls. Fa la la la la!

11/12/14

recipe | wilted spinach chicken salad

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I acquired this recipe the old fashioned way. Remember before the internet, before cooking websites and food blogs and printable recipes, people used to watch cooking shows and write down what the chef was making, teaspoon by teaspoon? My grandma always did that when she would come to visit. In between cooking elaborate meals and shining up my mom's pots with ketchup and salt (that really works, by the way) she'd watch cooking shows. If she liked what she saw, she'd write it all down. Later on we'd find them, little pieces of paper with her cursive scrawl all over, almost always recipes that included vinegar or horseradish or bleu cheese, or something else with robust flavor, because she liked stuff like that.

A few Saturday mornings ago I saw a woman prepare this salad on TV. I wasn't sure of the name of the show, and knew I'd have a hard time tracking it down on the internet, so I grabbed a pen and paper and pulled a Grandma Esther. I wrote as fast as I could and I'm still not sure I copied it down completely correctly, but what I did get works really well. The mellow chicken and spinach leaves are brightened by the sharp vinegar and salty olives-- I've been eating it for lunch all week, and can't get enough. Robust flavor, I bet Grams would like it.

Wilted Spinach Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
8 cups julienned spinach leaves
2 1/2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
3 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup cooked and chopped bacon, optional

1. In a large bowl, add spinach leaves, chicken, and green olives

2. Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and stir until tender. Add diced tomatoes and stir for a minute or two more. Stir in the balsamic and red wine vinegar. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Pour dressing over bowl, and gently toss to combine.

11/4/14

keeping the home | fall time

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Setting the scene: Every year in Wisconsin fall blows in with blustery winds that shake all the leaves from the trees and smell like smokey, burning brush. Every year I forget how beautiful it is, until it's here, and everything is orange and gold and rusty red. The air has a bite to it, and I'm ready. I've washed the hats and scarves and put them all in one basket, with fingers crossed that we don't loose any mittens this year. Pumpkins have been scattered around the house, for festivity's sake, and also so I can hear Ralph's tiny voice say punkin over and over. We've been raking and crunching and jumping in leaves, picking one or two to bring inside each day. I throw them back outside when Ralph isn't looking. I'm knitting a green scarf with chunky, speckled yarn, and I'm trying to work in a row or two every night so I can actually wear it before the snow comes. It feels like I'll never finish.

Making this meal: Mexican Chicken Soup, warm and spicy, but not too heavy. Chips and guacamole. Ina's applesauce, warmed and with a dollop of sweet whipped cream for dessert. 

Listening to: Gusty winds blowing outside, leaves skit-scattering across the street, geese honking south. Inside we're playing all the Nickel Creek albums, because banjos and fiddles feel just right in the fall. Christmas music on the sly.

Working on: Improving this house's laundry situation. You know it's bad when your husband can't find his favorite jeans because you actually folded them up and put them away. I'm cleaning out the creepy basement laundry room, folding and ironing and putting away, and easing the pain with episodes of Gilmore Girls while I work.

10/29/14

recipe | deep dish chicken pot pie

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Before we begin, let's just make one thing clear: if you decide to make this recipe, don't put your pie in the oven and then go outside to play without thinking a thing of it until you hear the oven timer beep. If you do, you might forget to cover the crust of your pie halfway through baking, and then the edges will burn. And then you might say some dirty cuss words because this was for the blog. Oh well.

Despite thoroughly toasted pie crust edges, this is my chance to tell you all how much I love making chicken pot pie, and I'm going to take it. Oh man, I really love making chicken pot pie. I love rolling out the crumbly pie dough on my kitchen table while Ralph, just tall enough for his little face to peek over the top, watches with curiosity. I love standing at the stove and stirring the pot full of vegetables and herbs and flour and broth, waiting for the gravy to bubble and thicken. I love easing the dough into a dish, crimping the pie closed with my knuckle, and poking steam holes into the top with a knife like I watched my mom do so many times,

This wasn't supposed to be a deep dish pot pie on purpose. It happened that way when I read the original recipe wrong a long time ago, and ended up making enough filling for two pies instead of one. Of course I had only made enough crust for one pie, so into a casserole dish it went. More gravy-coated veggies, less crust-- I like it that way. If that's not your thing, cut the filling recipe in half, and you'll end up with a traditional pot pie that fits perfectly into a standard pie dish.

Beyond the 'deep dish' title, this is not fancy pot pie. It has no special ingredients. There's nothing in it that you don't already have in your fridge and pantry. It's good, stick-to-your-ribs, pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-use-up-that-leftover-baked-chicken pot pie. And it's just as comforting to make as it is to eat.

Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients:

2 packages refrigerated pie pastry (I love Trader Joes' dough,) or your favorite double crust pie dough recipe (I love Martha's basic pie dough)
2 cups diced and peeled potatoes
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place potatoes and carrots in a large saucepan, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender; drain.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until tender. Stir in flour and seasonings until blended. Gradually stir in broth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in chicken, peas, corn and potato mixture. Remove from heat.

3. Roll out half of your pie dough and place into a round casserole dish, pressing the dough up the sides of the dish. Add chicken mixture. Roll out remaining dough and place over filling. Seal and flute the edges. Cut slits into the top of the pie to let steam escape.

4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Crimp aluminum foil around the edges of the pie to prevent burning, if necessary. (!) Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting.