Friday, August 30, 2013

Spa Night!: Pupusas Redux

We're on to Round 2 in my mom's group.  Half of the group has or is about to have their second child.  And because of this, we've developed a little tradition.  It started back in December when our first round 2-er was on their way.  Mrs. Pirate really wanted to throw a shower with just our little group, but it was obvious the mom-to-be didn't want one.  And really, she didn't need one.  She was expecting her second boy, and her first wasn't even 2 yet.  She had everything she needed.  What she DID need was some girl time before she was stuck at home with 3 meals.  So we had a special Girls Night Out in her honor.

Now we have a special night out for the expectant mother a couple weeks before their due date.  A last hurrah to hang out with girls.  Superwoman is due in a little over a week!  I realized this as I drove up to The Actress's shower, since they're both due in September.  And I realized we didn't have anything planned for Superwoman!  And we were running out of time!

The very next day I emailed her and asked about her availability for the next month.  I also asked if she wanted to do a dinner out, or switch it up a bit.  I remember when Thatbaby was born - it took me months to be able to get out and do anything for myself.  I thought maybe a spa night would be a nice treat for Superwoman before she's trapped by a newborn.  She agreed!  It doesn't hurt that a local spa offers a spa happy hour - $30 treatments that come with cocktails!  So all of us could go get pampered, and the non-pregnant members of our group could also have some drinks.

Everyone was very into this plan.  And so last Friday we all met up after work for some quality girl time, where we could enjoy each others company and some time to spoil ourselves.

Jurislave missed out on the photo since she was back enjoying her prenatal massage

We had facials, massages, and pedicures while we sipped on fruity, girly cocktails and chatted about pregnancy, potty training, and other adventures in our lives.  A definite success!

And here's another success.  When I made pupusas a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed in the thickness of the dough.  Spurred on my by thumbprint cookie success, I wanted to give these another go.  I wasn't originally going to blog about it, because, um, I JUST introduced you to pupusas.  But these came out so well I think they're worth the repetition.

Iberico Pupusas

2 cups masa
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp ground cumin
6 ounces shredded Iberico cheese
  1. Mix the masa, cumin and water into a dough.  Season with salt to taste.
  2. Divide dough into 6 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.  Press the ball flat into a 3 inch disc.
  3. Place the cheese in the center of the disc.  Work the edges up over the filling to form a ball again.
  4. Flatten each ball until it is about 1/4 inch thick.
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Spray with cooking spray and cook each pupusa for 3 minutes per side, until lightly browned. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Because I'm Crazy: Grilled Chicken with Stone Fruit Salsa

Somehow, the day after we got home from Yosemite, I wounded up throwing an impromptu dinner party.  Because that's what every sane person does after being gone a week and coming home to an empty fridge and messy house, right?

But the Ks were in town.  And we couldn't miss an opportunity to hang out.  Especially since with kids it's so hard to get schedules worked out.  Which is why I texted them at 2pm in the afternoon asking if they wanted to come over for dinner on their way out of town.

Luckily, dinner plans were easy to expand.  We always have chicken breasts in the freezer, so I pulled a couple more out to defrost.  And I had just filled our fruit bowl with the best fruits of the seasons - peaches, plums, and nectarines toppling onto my counter.   The best is that the salsa can quickly be prepared ahead of time, and it doesn't take long to grill chicken, which left me lots of time to hang out with my friends.

The dinner was a rousing success!  Thatbaby was thrilled to have a playmate in Baby K.  Baby K was thrilled to play with Thatbaby's toys.  And the grownups were thrilled to sit back with some beers and chat about life.  As for the meal?  Everyone enjoyed it, even Baby K!

Grilled Chicken with Stone Fruit Salsa recipe for 4 adults and 2 babies
2 peaches, julienned
1 nectarine, julienned
1 plum, julienned
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp brown sugar
1 green onion, sliced thinly
5 chicken breasts
  1. Combine peaches, nectarine, plum, onions, vinegar, oil, and brown sugar in a medium bowl.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. Heat a grill or grill pan over medium high heat.  Spray with cooking spray.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and grill until cooked through, about 7 minutes on each side.
  3. Top chicken breasts with salsa and serve.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yosemite Bits and Pieces: Thumbprint Cookies

Some of the highlights of our trip that didn't fit in anywhere else:

We came in from the South Entrance from  the park.  As usual, Thatbaby was asleep for the most beautiful views of our trip, but Thatboy and I were up.  I think this view is called "tunnel view" because it's what you see as soon as you exit the tunnel into Yosemite Valley.

We got to spend a lot of time with some of Thatbaby's favorites - the pool and his cousins.  He loves them both.  

Thatbaby's favorite part of the trip?  The BEEG BUHSH!  He wanted to GEET IN! everytime we saw one.  We shuttled around a lot of the valley, so he was a pretty happy camper.

We did dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel one night.

Thatbaby got to make lots of new friends.  Like a real live wolf named Journey.

And the grandkids of Journey's owner.  He even got his first kiss (both from a wolf and a little girl).

On the way home we decided to take a bit of a longer route because it would give us more options for where to stay the night.  We ended up in Santa Maria as our stopping places.  Thatbaby loved the hotel room we were upgraded to which allowed him to run laps, sleep in his own very big bed, hide in closets, swim in pools, and hang out with frogs.

I love traveling with my boys, but it is exhausting.  When I get home, I need a vacation!  Or at least something sweet.  The last time I made thumbprint cookies, I swore I would never make them again.  But it's been almost 5 years, time to put on my big girl pants and try again right?  I mean, who gets beaten down by a cookie?   So I tried again.  And this time I won!  Perfect doughy cookies with sweet jam and a nice crunch.  I skipped the egg whites this time and used cornflakes instead of pecans.  I also put the jam in to begin with instead of waiting until the cookies were half baked.

Thumbprint Cookies
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
cornflakes, crushed
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Cream the butter in an electric mixer.
  2. Add the sugar gradually and continue mixing until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  
  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and combine thoroughly.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Shape the dough into 1 inch balls.
  7. Roll the balls in cornflakes and place on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets.
  8. Indent the center of each ball with your finger and fill with the jam.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Land of Tall Trees: Pumpkin and Black Bean Tamales

Our last day in the park was the day we left.  We had breakfast with the whole family, and then went our separate ways.  We headed out toward the South entry.  When we had first got in, I leafed through the map and details and noticed a little blurb about the Mariposa Grove, a grove of big trees, like redwoods or sequoias.  The kind of big trees that you can drive a car through.

The kind of big trees that dwarf a man (or child on a man's shoulder).

We didn't do a lot of exploring, just a short mile hike out to one of the larger trees.

The setting is incredible, and Thatboy, who had never been before either, loved being surrounded by the super tall trees.  

Trees as high as the sky!

Thatbaby seemed to be more impressed by the "broken" trees.  The ones that were felled, or lying on the ground.  He continued to point those out throughout the hike.

For some reason he just wasn't as interested in the trees that seemed to stretch on forever.

It was a really great way to spend our last moments in the park.  Good weather, beautiful scenery, and an easy hike.

It was amazing to think about these trees being there for thousands of years.  The big one we hiked out to was between 1900 and 2400 years old. The fact that these trees have survived, growing and getting stronger is remarkable.  I mean, I can barely keep a houseplant alive!  I don't have much of a green thumb.  I have determined I have quite the knack for tamales though.  Which is almost as impressive as a thousand year old tree.  Because tamales are a true labor of love.  It's not so much that they're hard to make, but they take a lot of time.  The problem is, they are totally worth it.  I love tamales and what an easy meal they are, and how well they freeze.  They're a food Thatbaby will never turn down.  And a food that is incredibly versatile.  Years ago Thatmom got me a tamale cookbook and I've been playing around with different masa recipes and different filling ideas inspired from the ones in the book.  This is a vegetarian version made because I had leftover pumpkin from some muffins I made earlier in the week.  Because I made these right before we left for Yosemite, I could throw half of them in the freezer for an easy meal when we got home.

 Pumpkin and Black Bean Tamales
1 8 ounce package of corn husks
1 can pumpkin 
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chopped green chiles
4 oz goat cheese
1 3/4 cup masa harina
1 1/4 cup hot water
16 oz ricotta
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup vegetable broth
  1. Completely submerge the corn husks in water and  soak for 12 hours. 
  2. Combine the pumpkin, black beans, and chiles in a bowl and set aside.  (Keep the goat cheese separate)
  3. Make the masa - Combine the masa harina and water, stirring until a soft dough forms.
  4. Beat the ricotta, oil, baking powder, salt, and cornmeal in an electric mixer.
  5. Add the masa and veggie broth to the ricotta mixture and beat until incorporated.
  6. Make the tamales - place a corn husk on your work surface with the narrow end toward you.  
  7. Pat 1/4 cup of masa into a 3-4" square in the center of the husk or foil. Spoon 1-2Tbsp of pumpkin mixture in a line down the middle of the masa square.  Place a little goat cheese on top of the pumpkin.  Fold the sides of the husk in, then fold the bottom up.  
  8. Tear a strip off one of the husks and tie around the tamale.  
  9. Place a steamer basket in a large pot over an inch or so of water and bring the water to a boil.  Stand the tamales up vertically in the steamer basket.  Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 15-20 minutes. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mommy Mondays: The Infant Guide to Popularity (Names)

While we were in Yosemite, we ran into a family who had a teenager with the same name as Thatbaby.  It got me thinking about popularity and names.

You see, we picked Thatbaby's name in 2009, before we were even trying to make a Thatbaby.  At the time, it was a name we hadn't heard used by anyone, although it was a recognizable name.  Which was one of the reasons we liked it.   Growing up, I had a fairly common name.  Common enough that there were 3 of us in my elementary school classes, more when I got to high school.

After we had Thatbaby, the name started popping up everywhere!  It jumped up 20 spots on The Social Security Baby List, which tracks the popularity of baby names throughout the years.  Two members of my social circle (one from college and one from law school) named their sons the same name.  There was a little guy in our swim class with the same name.

In truth, and embarrassingly enough, this was a little disappointing. I kind of felt like one of the cool kids naming my child a name that wasn't on every other child like Mason or Madison.  But really?  In the vast scheme of things, I'd much prefer a popular name than one that is misspelled or made up.

And in terms of popularity,  I prefer a classic popular name versus one that can be pinpointed directly to the year in which my child was born.  For instance, here's the current top-10 list.

RankMale nameFemale name

If you look at this list, you'll notice that most of the names are fabulous, classic names that have been around for hundreds and thousands of years.  Biblical names, name of royalty, names that were used in your grandparents/great grandparents/ and even great great grandparents time.  Other names, like Jayden, Madison, or the number #39 name - Nevaeh, weren't even blips on the radar until recently.  The name Madison didn't show up on the social security data list until 1985, Jayden didn't make it until 1994, and Nevaeh made her appearance in 2001.

The moral of this story is that if you're looking for a name, take it's popularity with a grain of salt.  Because even an uncommon name can become popular and most of the popular names are classic and wonderful.  What is important is that you love the name and you can picture yourself calling your child by this name for a very long time.

Friday, August 23, 2013

VERY COLD: Turkey Tostadas

Thatbaby learned a new word while we were away - "very."  Now everything is very very hot (soup) or very very cold (the lake).  About that lake...

This trip was originally planned to celebrate TFIL's 80th birthday.  Obviously plans changed and the trip became a kind of memorial.  I'm not sure how long TBIL had been planning his "hike up Mount Hoffman" but a couple weeks ago he mentioned something to Thatboy about how he didn't think TMIL could handle it.   For some reason it seemed weird to me to ditch TMIL on a memorial trip for her recently deceased husband, so I volunteered to stay behind with Thatbaby while the rest of the group did the hike.

The morning of the big hike, TSIL decided to hang with us.  We took two cars and caravanned up to the meadow area of Yosemite.  It was a long drive, and Thatbaby managed to fall asleep shortly before we did a switch.  Thatboy joined his brother, while I took the wheel of our car.  In the process, Thatbaby woke up.  He was not happy.  I will spare you the gory details, but lets put it this way - TMIL had us stop at the very edge of Toulumne Meadow, I think to get out of the car.

He mellowed out once he got out of the car and into the Ergo.  After a bit, he even wanted down so he could hike, run, and draw in the dirt with sticks.

After our meadow hike, we headed over to Tenaya Lake, one of Thatboy's favorite spots in the entire park.  In fact, the plan was to meet up here after they were finished with their hike.  We headed over early to give ourselves lots of time to sun and swim.

Except when we got to the lake, the sun disappeared.  It got cold.  Which is why that lake was very very cold.  I managed to keep Thatbaby out of the water for a while, until he got covered in dirty sand and we went to wash his hands in the water.  Which turned into wading in the water.  Which turned into sitting in the water.

By the time I pulled him out to put on his swim diaper, it had started thundering and lightning. So instead of swimming, we bundled up in towels and watched the sky.  And when the sky opened up and started raining, we headed to the car to wait for our family somewhere warm and dry.

On the way there, we ran into Thatboy and the hiking crew!  Undeterred by the rain, Thatboy wanted in the lake.

I sent our littlest lifeguard to meet him with a dry towel.

Once we got into the car, Thatbaby quickly fell asleep.  I guess very cold water will do that to you.  He slept until dinner.  Which was a Thanksgiving meal for some reason.  Thanksgiving in August.  What will they think of next?  Typically, I like my turkey in a different form in the summer.  Ground, mixed with spices, and served atop a tostada.

I mixed the turkey with crushed tomato for this recipe and Thatboy really liked it.  He felt like it elevated it above the typical taco mix.  And Thatbaby?  He really liked the cheese.  He's probably part mouse.

Turkey Tostadas
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
8 corn tortillas
1 red onion, chopped
3/4 lb ground turkey
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
1 can pinto beans, drained
sour cream
cojita cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400.  Pour 2 Tbsp oil on a sheet pan and coat the tortillas with the oil.  Cook for 5 minutes, flip, then cook another 5 minutes until crisp.
  2. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the turkey and cook for another 5 minutes, until it's browned.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for 3 minutes.
  5. Make a well in the middle of the turkey and add the beans.  Mash the beans and stir them into the turkey.  Cook until heated through.
  6. Top the tortillas with sour cream, turkey, avocado, and cojita cheese.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Take a Hike: Poblano Sopes with Avocado Salad

As we drove into the park, it was hard not to notice that it has been a dry summer.  Last time we came to Yosemite was February.  We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge and this was our view:

This time we again stayed at the Yosemite Lodge.  But the view?  Not Yosemite Falls.  Yosemite Falls was dry.  Not even a trickle of water.  It was a little disappointing.  So when TBIL suggested we spend our first day on "The Mist Trail" hiking to Vernal Falls, which was supposed to still be flowing, I seconded his suggestion.

With Thatbaby strapped into his trusty carrier, we were off.

But it didn't take long for our group to break into two.  TBIL, Thatniece and Thatnephew took off ahead of us, while Thatboy, TSIL, and I stuck behind with TMIL.   

At one point they stopped for us to catch up, and let us know they decided to go on a longer hike up to Nevada Falls and they'd meet us back at the lodge.  The hike was talking a bit out of TMIL, so when we reached the bridge below the falls, TMIL and TSIL decided to wait for us there and not make the treacherous hike up the stairs.  

Because those stairs?  They were thin, steep, rickety, and crumbly.

And there were a lot of them.

But the view was worth it....well, for most of us.

Thatbaby fell asleep right before we started up the steps, and stayed asleep the whole way back down.  Which probably made it a little easier for Thatboy to scramble around with his footing.  And we took plenty of pictures to show him what he missed.

Thatbaby woke up right as we finished lunch and then he happily munched on a granola bar for the remainder of the hike back.  During which time he decided he'd had enough of the backpack and wanted a more scenic way of travel.

Our first night in Yosemite we ate at the lodge and I ordered a Southwestern Cobb salad.  I was unimpressed.  To be fair, the previous week I had a phenomenal Southwestern salad, which makes it hard on lesser quality salads.  This is one I marked as soon as I saw it on Joanne's blog.  It originally caught my eye because of the sopes - one of Thatbaby's favorite foods.  I usually use them as a base for meats (carnitas, carne asada, etc.) but this was a vegetarian version.  A vegetarian version featuring quinoa, I loved this idea.  Joanne served her sopes atop a salad with black beans and avocado - two more of Thatbaby's favorite things.  Which made this an all around winner in my family.

Joanne had some issues getting the sopes dough to be, well dough-like.  Based on my previous sopes experience, I cut the water in half, which gave me a nice, pliable dough and not a batter.

Poblano Sopes with Avocado Salad (From Joanne Eats Well With Others)
  • 1 poblano chile

  • 1/4 cup quinoa

  • 5 oz masa harina

  • 1/2 cup warm water

  • 1/2 tsp salt, divided

  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

  • 2 tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp olive oil, divided

  • 1 1/2 tsp lime juice

  • 1/4 tsp sugar

  • 5 oz arugula

  • 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes

  • 2 tbsp cilantro

  • 4 oz queso fresco, crumbled

  • 1 avocado, peeled and coarsely chopped

  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and dried

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Cut the poblano in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and membranes. Place the chile halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until blackened, about 6 minutes. Place in a container and cover. Let stand five minutes. Peel and chop the chile.
  3. Combine the chile, quinoa, masa harina, 1 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a medium bowl. Stir until a soft dough forms.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Using a 1 1/2 tbsp cookie scoop, add dough to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until browned. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Combine the remaining 1/4 tsp salt, remaining 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 1/2 tsp olive oil, lime juice and sugar in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Toss together the arugula, tomatoes, cilantro, queso fresco, avocado, and black beans. Toss with the dressing and serve over sopes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tree Train: Chinese Chicken Salad

Yosemite National Park is 7 hours away from our home in San Diego.  7 hours, in the car, with a toddler.  From the start we decided to break the drive into two days.

The problem?  There's practically nothing stop-worthy in between San Diego and Yosemite.  The Central Valley of California is great for agriculture, but not much of a tourist destination.  A call out to my friends yielded the fact that Mrs. Pirate grew up outside of Yosemite, and she suggested we stop in Oakhurst, about an hour outside of the park.

Doing a little research revealed that 14 miles from Oakhurst, between the town and the park, was an old Steam Engine, and our decision was practically made for us.  We booked a room in Oakhurst, tickets for the train, and started planning our trip.

Thatbaby, who usually falls asleep after moments in the car, was not cooperative in that respect on this trip.  He did finally manage to fall asleep, only to wake 5 minutes before we reached Oakhurst for the night.  And it was a miserable, tear-filled 5 minutes.

Luckily he perked up as soon as we made it to the hotel, which was full of bears!

And had fun roll-ey things to ride on!

We grabbed some much needed dinner, and found an ice cream parlor next door.  Thatbaby was back to his happy self very quickly.  Just in time for bed.

The next morning he awoke us bright and early and we headed to the steam train.  Of course, since we weren't planning on being in the car for very long, he went right to sleep.  Luckily he was able to nap for a bit in the car.  And when he woke up, he was overjoyed at the prospect of a CHOO CHOO TRAIN!

Shortly after he awoke, the engine pulled out.

And it's loud whistle TERRIFIED Thatbaby.

He didn't want to take his eyes off it, on the chance that it might sneak off the track and attack him.

But eventually he got used to the idea.  As long as someone was holding him.  And they stopped blowing the whistle.

He even calmed down enough to sit on the train!  As long as someone was holding him.

The train was an old logging train, from back when this area was being forested for wood.  The train took us along the track into the forest, through the trees, to a clearing where we were able to climb out and explore.

The adventurous boys crossed creeks and played on the felled trees.

And then we boarded the train to head back.  By this time, Thatbaby was comfortable enough to sit on his own seat.  And he only clung to me slightly tightly when the whistle blew.

When we got back, we grabbed some lunch.  Thatbaby is developing quite a taste for hot dogs.  And he was able to run around for a while before getting in the car and heading into Yosemite proper.

The food on this trip was hardly noteworthy.  I actually think I prefer REAL camping, with food cooked over/in the campfire.  So instead of regaling you with our meh meals, I'm going to share with you some of my summer favorites this week.  And I'm kicking it off with a salad.  We do salads for dinner year round, but there's something so refreshing about salads in the summer.  When it's too hot to eat anything that's going to sit in your stomach for hours.  Something that feels cool and fresh.  There's nothing really complicated about a Chinese Chicken Salad.  It's really lettuce, chicken, and mandarin oranges.  But the dressing is what makes it seem so much more than everyday.

Chinese Chicken Salad
4 Tbsp rice vinegar
juice of 1/2  a lemon
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp olive oil

1 head of romaine lettuce, shredded
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 can of mandarin oranges in juice, drained
1 breast chicken, cooked and sliced thinly
1 cup chow mein noodles
  1. Combine rice vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and ginger in a small bowl.
  2. Whisk in the sesame and olive oil.
  3. In a large bowl, combine lettuce, green onions, and green peppers.
  4. Top the salad with the sliced chicken, mandarin oranges, and toss with the dressing.
  5. Divide between plates and top each salad with chow mein noodles.