Friday, May 31, 2013

Fingers crossed: Rotini and Sausage in Red Wine Sauce

You know the saying "When it rains, it pours?"  Well it is pouring right now at work.  I've been putting in late nights for weeks, trying to prepare for multiple trials, motions, hearings.  As an example 2 weeks ago I had to go straight from one hearing to another - traveling across the county to get there.  Tomorrow should be even more exciting, as I have 2 court appearances at the same time, again, across the county.  Luckily my boss is taking over one of them for me, but depending on the results, things could get even uglier OR they could lighten up a bit.  I'm hoping for the latter.

Tonight, in anticipation that something good will come of tomorrow, we actually packed up relatively on time.  Thatboy still had to pick up Thatbaby from daycare since I wasn't going to make it again.  But I DID have time to make dinner!  Nothing complicated - we've been having some fairly boring meals lately, mostly due to my lack of creativity when I'm trying to make them late in the evening.  This one gets a spruce up from some leftover tomato sauce that I thought should get used up, and some chicken sausage which only needs to be heated up.  Which means, the longest aspect of this dish is boiling water and cooking the pasta.  While it cooks, you can get everything else ready, so that when the pasta is done, so is dinner! 

Rotini and Sausage in Red Wine Sauce
8oz rotini
1 pkg chicken sausage
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 red onion, diced
1/4 cup zinfandel
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Cook pasta according to box directions.
  2. Brown sausage over medium high heat and remove from pan.
  3. Add olive oil to pan, then saute the garlic, onions, and bell pepper until onions are transluscent (about 5 minutes).  
  4. Add zinfandel and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half.
  5. Add roasted tomato sauce, oregano, basil.
  6. Add sausage and pasta to pain, toss.
  7. Stir in parmesan and serve.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spring Sick: Chicken with Prosciutto, Fontina, and Arugula

How do these things happen?  Last night was the first time in ages I had a good night's sleep.  Thatbaby has been sleeping through the night for ages, but I haven't been as lucky.  Restless, tossing and turning, up waiting for the alarm to go off.  And last night there was none of that.  I was out like a light until my alarm went off at 6am this morning.  And I got out of bed - with a massive headache.


I don't know if it's the stress, the air travel, or the fluctuating weather, but my sinuses/allergies are hitting me hard.  Runny nose and all. 

Thatbaby's got it too.  And while I muddle through the day, he's being especially cranky about being under the weather. 

The only cure for sickness is chicken noodle soup, right?  Or you can try to make a spring time version with chicken, cheese, and greens.  It's not soup, but it has a similar comforting feel to it, a combination of the breading and cheesy goodness.  And greens always make you feel like you're doing something to get healthy.

Chicken with Prosciutto, Fontina, and Arugula (Adapted from Bobby Flay via  A Taste of Home Cooking  as seen on Elly Says Opa)
1.5 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 oz baby arugula
1/2 cup flour
  1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4″ thickness
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4oz fontina cheese, thinly sliced
4 thin slices prosciutto
  1. Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste together in a large bowl. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking, to emulsify. 
  2. Add the arugula and toss to coat.
  3. Place the flour, egg, and panko in three shallow bowls/pie plates.  
  4. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  
  5. Dip chicken in the flour, then egg, then panko.
  6. Melt butter and oil in a skillet.  Add the chicken and cook 4-5 minutes per side, until chicken is golden and crispy.
  7. Place fontina on top of the chicken and cook for another minute.
  8. Top each chicken breast with 2 slices of prosciutto and arugula salad.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confusion in California: Tortilla Soup with Shrimp

You often hear about the fabulous weather in Southern California.  It's a lie.  Kind of.  We do have fabulous weather, but what they don't tell you is how inconsistent it is.  When I first moved here, I never knew what to wear to school, because it could be sunny one day and pouring the next.

I now keep an umbrella and cardigan with me at all times.  But I do have a problem when dressing Thatbaby for school.  I never know whether to put him in shorts or pants. Long sleeves or short sleeves.  And this past week has been especially trying.  It's May, and yet cloudy showers and cold winds still dot our skies - mixed in with insanely hot days that feel like August.

When Mother Nature can't make up her mind - how do you expect me to?  Take a cold weather meal like soup, and mix it with my favorite warm weather food - shrimp!  As soon as spring seems to be working its way into summer, shrimp makes an almost weekly appearance in our house.  So it only seemed right to incorporate it into a soup.  And tortilla soup doesn't seem to be a heavy winter soup.  I think it's a combination of a tomato base and the spice.

 Tortilla Soup with Shrimp
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chile powder
2 Tbsp chipotles in adobo
5 cups chicken broth
1 can hominy, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
3/4 shrimp, peeled and deveined 
  1. Heat oil in a pot and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, cumin, chile powder, and chiles.  Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the chicken broth, hominy, and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.  Let cool.
  4. Puree the soup in a blender and return to the pot.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Add shrimp and cook till shrimp are pink, about 3 minutes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hello Old Friend: Stirfried Lemongrass Chicken

The title of this post could refer to so many things.  It can refer to the fact that Thatboy is finally home from his trip to see his parents.  It could refer to the fact that I am likewise home to enjoy my own bed after joining him this weekend. Or it could just refer to the fact that my butt is perched on the couch after having to spend my Memorial Day at work until late this evening.

But it doesn't.  It actually refers to stirfry.  A meal that used to be a staple round these parts.  I can't tell you when or why I stopped making it, but this easy dish hasn't graced our table in ages.  And it was time to rectify that.

I had a thai chile, just hanging out, begging to be used.  And as I leafed through my starred recipes, I happened to find a fabulous stirfry and it reminded me that it has been too long.  So I pulled out my handy wok and got to work.

The thing that I love about stirfries is how quickly they come together.  And this one is no different.  Sometimes lemongrass can be overwhelming, but it's very subtle in this dish.  Thatbaby especially liked the cashews, pulling them out, proudly announcing his "BEAN" before popping them in his mouth.  (I added the chile after I pulled his portion out).

Stirfried Lemongrass Chicken (From Prevention RD)

1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp chicken broth
 1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sambal oelek
 2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
1 Tbsp lemongrass, sliced and peeled
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3 shallots, sliced
8 oz haricots verts, trimmed
1 chicken breast, thinly sliced
1/3 cup unsalted cashews
1 Thai chile, thinly sliced
  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, chicken broth, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sambal oelek
  2. Heat a wok over high heat.  Add a Tbsp oil and swirl to coat.
  3. Add the lemongrass and garlic and stirfry until fragrant (about 30 seconds)  Remove the lemongrass and garlic with slotted spoon and place in a small bowl.
  4. Add the bell pepper, shallots, and haricot verts to the pan and stirfry for 2 minutes, until tender crisp.  Add them to the lemongrass bowl.
  5. Add remaining oil to the pan, swirling to coat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook until browned, 2 minutes.
  6. Add the cashews and chile to the pan and cook another 2 minutes until chicken is cooked through.
  7. Stir in the chicken broth mixture and vegetables.  Bring to a boil and cook for a minute until sauce thickens.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mommy Mondays: More on Names

When Elly was pregnant with her second son, we exchanged emails regarding the names for her impending bundle of joy.    While brainstorming boy names, I roped in L&O for some of her input.  Filling her in on Elly and my conversations, L&O quickly remarked that the conversations sounded a lot like conversations she and I had.

Which makes sense - because my friends tend to be as into names as I am.  And have similar, fantastic taste.   We tend toward the traditional, which I think may be a generational thing, as most of Thatbaby's daycare class has classic names.  Some deem them old fashioned, but I much prefer them to the misspelled "creative" names that have inundated us for a while.

So with that in mind, this is how Thatboy and I picked a name.

1) A vetoed name was immediately off the list.  If he didn't like a name, it was off the list.  Which got rid of quite a few of my favorites. 

2) Names of friends and names of family members were off the list.  As someone with two cousins that share a first name, I get annoyed having to qualify whether I mean Sam X or Sam Y when talking to family members.

3) I’ll never forget being in elementary school when my best friend’s older brother decided to change his name.  According to him, he went from his middle name to his first name – although no one believed him.  We all thought he went from his first name to his middle name, because we’d never heard of anyone originally being called by his middle name.  My best friend (who probably knew) told me we were being ridiculous.  If we were correct, his parents would have given his brother the initials A-S-S, and no parents would be that cruel to a child.  While not quite as drastic, we made sure to rule out any initials that would give our son or daughter any difficulty.  Unfortunately, that ruled out an entire letter for first names, but it’s a sacrifice we think our future children will thank us for.

4)  Similarly, we ruled out another letter for first names, the letter that begins our last name.  Because to me, having a first and last name starting with the same letter makes you sound like a cartoon character (see Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny) or a comic book character (see Peter Parker, Lois Lane).

5)  No made up names.  These are some of my FAVORITES because I always picture the parents sitting around saying “Hmmmmmm there are millions of names out there, but I don’t like a single one of them!  I’m going to make up my own to show how smart and creative I am.”  Problem is, it rarely makes you look smart or creative.  Usually it has the opposite effect.  The two most common ways to make up a name are to take a name that exists and change the first letter (I’m looking at you Zaiden) or to combine two names by smooshing them together in an almost inhumane way (Charmony).  

6) No made up spellings.  This is where you take a perfectly good name and decide to butcher the spelling to make it more “unique” or “creative.”  Again, like the made up names, it rarely has the effect of making you look smart or creative. I have a friend who named her daughter Alice.  Which is a fabulous name.  She had to seriously battle with her husband who wanted to spell it Alyss.  But that was back during the time of the “y” when those things were stuck in any which way into any name – whether it needed a y or not.  I’ve noticed the trend has moved to “x” and you’ll start seeing more names like Jaxon floating around.  Usually (but not always) you’ll see these misspelling associated with really common names – as though the parents are trying to say “See, I knew there would be 70 Olivias in her class, so I wanted to set her apart by naming her Oilyveah.”  But when you’re screaming across the playground for little Oilyveah to stop kicking little Xristoffer in the head, the other 69 Olivias and their parents aren’t going to realize your precious pumpkin has a different spelling (all sound same).  Likewise, what lesson are you teaching your child?  That conventional spelling doesn’t apply?  If you don’t like the way something is spelled, change it!  I see that going over REALLY well during the elementary school days of spelling tests and spelling bees.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On My Own: Grilled Calamari Salad

TFIL is currently having some health problems, so on Wednesday morning, Thatboy flew up to his parents, leaving Thatbaby and I home by ourselves.

While I've left Thatboy and Thatbaby alone for a weekend, this is the first time I've had to solo parent for longer than a day.   And while Thatboy had the advantage of dealing with a weekend, I've got the added bonus of trying to get through our regular weekday schedules.  It really makes you appreciate having a partner around to walk the dog and help with the dishes.  Even with easy dinners, I've found myself getting to bed much later as I attempt to clean up and get ready for the next day.

So rather than share with you a recipe for veggie dogs, I figured I'd dig into the archives and share something a little more impressive - but not that much more difficult.  A couple of months ago there was some sort of weird squid phenomena here in San Diego. One of Thatboy's coworkers offered us some squid they had caught, and Thatboy asked if I'd be interested.  We love calamari in this house, so I said of course!

Thatboy thought I would bread and fry the calamari, but something this fresh shouldn't be coated in breadcrumbs!  Instead I decided to make it into a nice, fresh, salad.  The fresh calamari was sweet and juicy - make sure not to overcook it, which will make it tough and rubbery.

Grilled Calamari Salad
1/4 cup blood orange olive oil
1/8 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 calamari steaks
1 tsp lemon pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch spinach
  1. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper.  
  2. Sprinkle calamari steaks with remaining salt and lemon pepper.  Grill calamari for 3 minutes per side.
  3. While calamari is grilling, toss together the cherry tomatoes, beans, and spinach.
  4. Top salad with grilled calamari.
  5. Drizzle dressing over all.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Choo Choo and Zoo Too: Birria


Have I mentioned Thatbaby's obsession with trains?  He adores them.  He loves playing with his toy trains.  He loves watching the real trains go by, and he loves riding on train rides. 

I came across a petting zoo in Orange County that mentioned it was right across from the train station.  I thought it sounded like a really fun day to take the train from San Diego to Orange County and spend some time at the petting zoo.  It would allow Thatbaby to ride on a REAL train and spend some time with animals.  I contacted Myrtle, since I hadn't seen her in a while and she lives in Orange County.  I thought it would be a great meeting up point.  And she agreed.

Thatbaby was SO excited that he was going on a train.  He kept pointing to the tracks while we were waiting saying "choo choo."  But the reality of the situation was a little more than he could handle.

It took him a little bit to calm down.  Lap cuddles certainly helped.  As was being able to look out the window.  It wasn't too long until he decided that train travel was his favorite way to go.

At every stop he would turn to us and say "more? more?" and we were happy to oblige.  He even warmed up enough to move to his very own seat.

When we got to Orange County we headed to get something to eat, and then met up with Myrtle and her family.  We all made our way to the petting zoo.  We got all the kids a tray of food to feed the animals, and Thatbaby wasted no time in getting started.  He decided this alpaca was his favorite and he fed her (him?) all his grapes.

And then we headed into area with rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens.  Myrtle made herself right at home - she's quite the bunny whisperer. And she helped Thatbaby with his first up close rabbit encounter.

Thatbaby also got some time with some guinea pigs.

 We then moved to the goat corral.

The goats were a little pushy, so Thatboy took over the feeding at this point in time, while Thatbaby ran around pointing and laughing at his new goat friends.

Thatbaby also enjoyed a little quality time with some pigs.  I think he liked the fact that they actually made the noise that he says a pig makes.

 The petting zoo also had a play area for the kids, and Thatbaby took advantage of running through the doors and sliding down the slides again and again and again.

 All in all, it was a pretty successful day!

 Our lunch before the petting zoo was at a Mexican restaurant one of Thatboy's coworkers recommended.  I'm so grateful to live in Southern California where good Mexican food is in abundance.  It's a cuisine I never tire of.  And I think part of the reason I love it so much, is because growing up on the East Coast, or version of Mexican food was completely different.  The only "Mexican" in the town I grew up in was Taco Bell.  And the next closest (45 minutes away) wasn't that much better.  Mexican food was pretty much tacos.

But there's so much more to Mexican food than tacos!  This Birria is a Mexican stew that I've never seen on a menu growing up, but makes use of fabulous Mexican flavors and meats.  If you have a carneseria near you, I highly recommend picking up your meat there.

4 dried guajillo chiles
4 dried ancho chiles
1 cup hot water
1 lb stew meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 lb beef ribs
2 1/2 quarts water
1 onion
8 garlic cloves
2 fresh bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp oregano
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp chipotle chile powder
  1. Toast chiles in skillet for 30 seconds on each side.  
  2. Cover with 1 cup hot water and let sit for 20 minutes.  Pour mixture into a blender and puree.
  3. Combine the stew meat, ribs, water, onion, and 6 garlic cloves in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Add the bay leaves, thyme, chile puree, cumin, and oregano and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. While simmering, combine the remaining garlic, vinegar and chile powder in a blender.
  6. Serve the stew with the chipotle sauce on the side.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Runnin' Free: Liberated Free Form Lasagna

Running is an affordable sport - for the most part.  I did my first 5k in 2003.  They're easy and up until this year, relatively cheap.  In 2010 I did a race every month.  I would say that on average I paid about $25 a race. 

But running has become more popular, and more expensive.  Everytime I've gone to sign up for a 5k this past year they've been closer to $50 than $25.  And really, I have a hard time justifying spending $50 to run 3 miles - which I do every day of the week for free.  So I've been putting 5ks on hold for a bit.

But when I saw a race on Living Social with a $12 entry fee I was intrigued.  Even more so when I realized it was right around the corner from my home - the course was actually the same route we've been running on the past couple weekends beside the water.  Which made it easy to rope Horse Whisperer and Mrs. Pirate into doing it with me.

It was a really easy course - just out and back.  Up a hill, then down a hill.  It was Horse Whisper's first 5k and she did great!  It actually wasn't the fastest race I've run, but it sure felt like it was over quickly.  Maybe because we're used to running 5 miles, so 3 was nothing.

We crossed the finish and collected our medals.  That's right - a $12 5k WITH MEDALS!  Which makes this officially one of my favorite races.  The race support was fantastic, with lots of free drinks and food, and a bounce house for little ones.  The only thing it was missing was a post-race beer garden.

And since I like to pair running with pasta - here's a great one for you.  Valli calls this "Liberated" Lasagna - it's a very deconstructed free form type of meal with all the components you're used to with lasagna - pasta sheets, sauce, and cheese.  I like it because it's a great way to use up extra or broken lasagna noodles.  You don't have to use the roasted tomato sauce, but I would recommend it.  It's a fantastic recipe and makes enough to have leftovers to freeze.

Liberated Free Form Lasagna with Arugula Basil Pesto and Roasted Tomato Sauce (From More Than Burnt Toast)

1 pound red cherry tomatoes
1 pound yellow cherry tomatoes
1cup olive oil (divided)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/4 cup fresh basil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
2 generous handfuls (loosely packed) fresh arugula
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
6 sheets of lasagna noodles
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine the tomatoes with the 1/4 cup oil, onion, 2 cloves of garlic, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes  salt, and pepper in an oven safe dish. Roast until the tomatoes are tender, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to an hour
  2. Combine tomato mixture with 1/4 cup basil chiffonade, parsley, and oregano in a blender; pulse several times, until smooth.
  3. Place 1/2 cup oil, remaining basil leaves, arugula, Romano cheese, pine nuts, remaining garlic, and  lemon zest in food processor. Process to a thick paste.
  4. With motor running, add remaining 1/4 cup oil and 2 tablespoons water to processor. Blend until smooth. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper. 
  5. Cook lasagna sheets according to package directions. On an ovenproof plate create alternate layers starting with cooked pasta sheets, arugula-basil pesto, slices of buffalo mozzarella and roasted tomato sauce and ending with pesto. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, just enough to melt mozzarella. Sprinkle with grated Romano. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

For the Birds: Crispy Pasta Cakes

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but life gets in the way sometimes.  At least now I have a more full story to share!  A couple months ago, Thatbaby and I were playing on the balcony when a hummingbird seemed to take an unusual interest in us, flying right up to us!  Thatbaby was enthralled.  When I told Thatboy about it, he figured it was because Thatbaby was wearing a brightly colored shirt.

A few days later however, we discovered the real reason for the bird's familiarity.  She had built a nest in our windchimes!  We watched her there for weeks assuming she was sitting on her eggs. And eventually she proved us right!  2 little baby humming birds! 

Thatbaby was enthralled with his birds, the mama (Tweet Tweet) and the babies (the little littles).  Every morning, the first thing he wanted to do upon waking was say good morning to the birds.  Every day when we got home from school he ran to go see them.  And every night before bed he would say good night to them.

We watched them grow bigger (relatively, I mean they were still hummingbirds) until it was time to try out their wings.  And one at a time, they left the next, off to explore the world.

Every now and then, Thatbaby looks up at the nest and points, asking for the Tweet Tweets, and I remind him that they flew away.  I'm not sure if he totally understands the concept, but it's kind of a hard one to explain.  When I made these pasta cakes, they kind of reminded me of a bird's nest. Pieces piled together - strings and leaves.  They certainly don't taste like nests though!  These are a little too easy to eat.  A complete comfort food.  Pancakes are like that, and really, these are like noodle pancake.  With veggies, which I would like to say makes them healthy - but probably not.

Crispy Pasta Cakes (From Bizzy Bakes)
2 cups cooked spaghetti, cooled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cups grated zucchini 
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used monterey jack and swiss)
1 small onion, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
black pepper pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil

  1. In a large combine spaghetti, spinach, zucchini,  cheese, onion, egg and flour.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Scoop pasta mixture into pan using a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Fry 3 minutes per side, until golden.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mommy Mondays: S is for Swaddle

Last week Audrey asked for tips for weaning from the swaddle.  This is an area where I wasn't sure how much help I would be, until I stopped and realized how old Audrey's son is.  So I'll share our experience, with the caveat that we swaddled till Thatbaby was almost 6 months old, so I don't have a ton of advice for weaning earlier than that.

Thatboy and I have fantastic insurance.  One of the benefits of having fantastic insurance is the amount of free prenatal classes you get.  So we got to attend a weekend bootcamp about life with a newborn back when I was pregnant.  The class advocated Dr. Karp's "Happiest Baby on the Block" techniques.  I remembered hearing about the wonders of this book from Kim, who used the techniques with her daughter.   One of the techniques mentioned was swaddling, and our class worked with us, teaching us how to do it right.

The swaddle is supposed to help make babies feel more "womb-like" keeping them all bundled up as though they were still snug in mom's tummy.  And this helps them calm down.  It has the added benefit of helping with the "morro reflex" that startle reflex infants are born with that makes them "jump" themselves awake, or makes them wakeup when you try to lower them into the crib.  Basically, a swaddled baby is a happy baby that sleeps better.

We used the swaddle from the start - with either a blanket (Thatboy's preference) or the Halo Sleep Sack with Swaddle (my preference).  But you can't swaddle forever (trust me, I looked into it).  It becomes unsafe for an infant to not have use of his/her hands when they start rolling onto their stomach.

Luckily for us, Thatbaby never rolled.  No stomach to back, no back to stomach.  If you put him down, he'd stay there until you picked him up and moved him somewhere else. Which meant we didn't have to worry about stopping the swaddle for safety reasons.  Instead, we could wait it out a bit.  And wait it out we did. 

When Thatbaby started sitting at 5 months we tried to "break the swaddle" anticipating that rolling might come along with this and wanting him to have a little more arm freedom in the crib for pushing himself up.  But Thatbaby was not ready to stop.  Without the swaddle his morro reflex was still too strong.  He would wake up when trying to put him in the crib and/or wake up every 45 minutes during his sleep-transition cycle when he would startle himself awake.   So back in the swaddle he went.

At 6 months, we tried again.  Just a few short weeks later, and all of a sudden there were no issues with being unswaddled.  He'd fall asleep and stay asleep even with his arms free.  Like magic.  Based on that, I think that development played a lot into it.  He needed some more time, and thankfully we were able to give it to him.  So my advice on weaning from the swaddle is "If you can, wait and try again later."  Obviously, this isn't going to work for you if your baby is a rolling fool, or trying to sit up in the crib, or trying to climb out of the crib.  And if you fall into those categories, my guess would be that even unswaddled, with time/development your child will become easier, as their morro dissipates and their transitioning between sleep cycles gets better.  So my advice to those parents?  Same as with everything, remind yourself that this is just a phase and you WILL get through it. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

How Appeal-ing: Sour Cream Cookies

I know I made it sound like my weekend was all full of fun and frivolity, but that was just Sunday.  Last week, I got the last minute word that my boss wanted me to argue an appeal on Monday.

A quick law lesson:
There are 3 levels of courts in the state system - trial, appellate, and supreme.  Cases start out in the trial court.  If you watch any courtroom dramas, this is probably what you're familiar with.

If things go wrong in trial court, you can seek an appeal with the appellate court.  This isn't a case of "I don't like the verdict,"  there has to be a clear error for the court to address.  When this is done, both sides research the laws and write briefs arguing their sides.  The court then schedules a time when the parties can come in and argue their points.

I wasn't around during the time of the trial.  I wasn't around during the researching and writing of the briefs.  Up until Thursday I hadn't given two thoughts about the case or the appeal.

Which meant I spent Friday at work reading over all the papers.  And getting home pretty late.  Saturday I holed myself up, reading cases and crafting my argument for Monday.

And Monday morning I was up bright and early, heading for the Court of Appeal.  Appellate argument is very different from what you see in trials.  There is no jury.  The parties aren't there.  Instead you stand and begin making your argument, as the judges throw question after question at you.  Your "argument" really consists of having convincing answers to their questions. 

I did Moot Court in law school, which is mock-appellate argument, but this was my first time doing it for real.  And it was just like in school, and I enjoyed it just as much.  Even though the judges seemed to be against our position. 

Monday night I celebrated all my hard work with cookies.  Wouldn't you?  I'm sure you've had "cake cookies" made with boxed cake mix.  They're cakey and fluffy and easy to make.  These cookies taste similar - cakey and fluffy, and obviously easy to make.  Thatboy thought they were the infamous cake cookies, and after my day in court, I wasn't going to argue with anyone!

Sour Cream Cookies
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
5 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
12 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.  Beat the eggs in an electric mixer.
  2. Add the sugar, sour cream, butter, and vanilla, beating until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and nutmeg together and add to the wet ingredients, beating until combined.
  4. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mother's Day Wrap-Up: Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy Ricotta

Let's get into the meat of it, Mother's Day itself.  The piece de resistance of the week.

I started it out with my now regular Sunday morning run with Jurisslave.  My runs are already my "me time" so it made sense to incorporate it into Mother's Day.

Thatboy really wanted to make me breakfast in bed, but settled for having breakfast ready when I got home.  He had me text him when I was done with the run.  I found out he had ulterior motives for that.  He had to get my gift from Thatbaby all set up.  I returned home to find this:

He turned some of our cabinets into a corkboard station - giving me places to hang our important notes that always fall off the fridge, decorated by my favorite young and upcoming artist.  They had spent all weekend putting these together - taking advantage of every moment I wasn't in the house to cut, glue, and paint.

Of course,  he took care of the breakfast part too.

After breakfast with my boys, I took a shower and headed out to the spa, where I was meeting Thatmom and UDubb.  Last year, Thatmom and I met for a day at the spa, complete with manicure and pedicure.  And that was the last time I had a manicure and pedicure.  I was long overdue.  UDubb and I traded stories about work, friends, and running while lounging by the pool.  I got much less sleeping and reading done than I had planned, but I have beautiful hands, feet, and a sunburn to show for it!

After we were done spa-ing, we headed over to meet the boys for dinner.  Thatbaby brought his gift for Thatmom.  He was very busy this month with art projects for the women he love.

After dinner, we came home, and I got a present from Thatboy - a bath set - candles, wine, and a journal.

We ate out for Mother's Day, and we all had burgers.  But rather than feature a burger, I'm sharing a different favorite - a baked pasta dish.  These never get old.  Inspired by Thatmom who was raving about baked ziti,  like she used to get in the old neighborhood.  I'm more partial to penne than ziti, so Joelen's recipe was especially appealing.  And like always, fresh ricotta and mozzarella is a must for this. 

Baked Penne with Sausage and Creamy Ricotta (From What's Cooking Chicago)

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound chicken sausage, diced
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound penne
3 cups ricotta 
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large sauce pan.  Add the minced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant , about 15-30 seconds. 
  2. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.
  4. While the sauce is simmering, cook the penne according to package directions.  Drain.
  5. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce.  Combine the remaining sauce with the pasta and spoon into a baking dish.
  6. Pour the reserved meat sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top, folding it into the pasta.
  7. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and golden. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Other Mothers: Flank Steak with Sundried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Basil

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week.  Falling on the last day of the week is a day that recognizes people who are just as important as teachers - care providers.  It's fitting that their day of recognition falls on the Friday before Mother's Day, because I think of them each as Thatbaby's "other mothers."

I wanted to do something really nice for all the day care providers.  Not just the ones in the toddler room, where he is now.  Over the past year he's been in 3 different rooms with different care providers, so I didn't think it was fair to only thank the ones who happened to be the right room on the right day.

I found a brilliant idea on Pinterest and created vases filled with alphabet magnets, then stuffed those with bright flowers.  I dropped them off, and all of the providers seemed grateful.  Grateful?  It seems so backwards.  I don't know what I'd do without these wonderful women who probably spend more time with my son than I do.  Who are there to help nurture him and help him grow.

At home, I have my own methods for helping to nurture Thatbaby and help him grow.  It mostly involves making him amazing dinners. And making sure he doesn't jump off chairs.  Luckily the amazing dinner portion is fairly easy.  Especially when I have such a great resource of bloggers who can supply me with fancy-type easy meals.  Elly calls this "Flank steak like Giada would make."  And she's right.  I'm not sure if it's the basil or the sundried tomatoes, but these definitely have the Italian feeling Giada is famous for.  And the goat cheese makes it a sure fire winner in  my book.  I never turn down goat cheese.

Flank Steak with Sundried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Basil (From Elly Says Opa)
10 oz. flank steak
2 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Optional pan sauce:
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. white wine
  1. Preheat oven to 400. Butterfly the flank steak, then pound it flat. 
  2. Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine the goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, basil, a few grinds of pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Spread the goat cheese mixture on top of the flank steak, and then roll it up. Secure the roll with toothpicks.
  5. Heat a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. 
  6. Add the rolled steak and brown on all sides.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, until cooked to your preference.  Let the steak rest under a foil tent for 5-10 minutes before slicing. 
  7. While steak is resting, make the pan sauce.  Place the pan back on the stove and add the garlic.  Sautee just until fragrant.
  8. Add the wine to deglaze, scraping up the browned pieces.  Keep cooking until the sauce is reduced.
  9. Season with salt and pepper, strain and serve over the steak. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tea and Peppers: Stuffed Bell Pepper Casserole


Last Thursday Thatbaby's daycare held their annual Mother's Day Tea.  Thatbaby's class made our welcome sign.

Thatbaby was in rare form.  Mostly because there was a table of food.  And where there's a table of food, you will find my guy standing beside it asking for more.  He did take a break to give me a flower.

But then he took it back and gave it to one of his classmates.  I eventually got it back because his friend was totally confused by the gift and handed it over to me.  After several meltdowns involving all the crackers being gone and my refusal to let him walk around with a hand of melty chocolate pastry, we headed home, where I opened the gift he made me this year.

There are very few things moms like better than a handmade gift (At least at this age.  I'm not sure how I'd feel about a handprint once Thatbaby is 25), but an easy dinner ranks right up there.  This goes along with my favorite "dump in a pan and bake" cooking I've been doing lately.  Especially because lately I've been cooking after dinner for the next day, so it's ready to go when we get home and I can go for a run later.   Casseroles are perfect for this, because they don't take a lot of time in the kitchen and they reheat really well.

Bell Pepper Casserole (From Branny Boils Over)
 1 lb ground beef
 2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 large bell peppers, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp worcester sauce
1 cup brown rice
2 cups chicken broth, heated
2 cups shredded cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Heat a skillet over medium heat and brown beef.
  2. Combine beef with the remaining ingredients (except for the cheese) in a casserole dish.  Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
  3. Uncover (but reserve the foil!) and add cheese. Bake for additional 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven, put the foil back on and let stand for 15 minutes or until rice has absorbed all broth.  Serve.