Friday, December 30, 2011

Post Christmas wrapup

Christmas has come and gone, overall it was good. It was quite a few crazy days trying to buy all the gifts once my husband's advance check cleared, but I managed to get it done. I didn't go very crazy, total cost for Christmas was a few hundred (I had used a gift budget app, but unfortunately my phone reset so I lost all the info). Cool app though, I'll have to find it again next year, it let's you list all the people you are buying gifts for, enter each gift and price and add it all up to keep you on budget. Also helped me track how many gifts I had for each kid. I realized quickly I had more for my son than my daughters, rather than buying more for them I just put some of his away until his birthday.

The kids were happy with their gifts and excited about their surprises from Santa. We kept it pretty low key and my husband and I didn't exchange gifts. I made the French Toast Casserole for breakfast with spiked syrup, always well received. Lunch was processed meats and cheeses (aka Hickory Farms) for everyone but me.

For dinner I made Honey Baked Ham, scalloped potatoes and Green Beans in a Bacon vinaigrette, followed by Swedish Apple Pie.

The next day I made split pea soup with the left over ham bone. I just used the recipe on the back of the split peas, as it is easy and good. Even though split pea is usually served with pumpernickel (which I did have) my husband asked me to make garlic bread. It was really easy and very good.

The next day my parents arrived. It gets pretty crowded and mine had to sleep on our pullout in the basement as my in-laws were in the guest room. For dinner, my husband grilled chicken breasts and I made rice pilaf and asparagus.

In the past we've gone out for dinner on our one night with all the parents in, but this year we weren't in a position to do it. Instead, I finally made something I've been wanting to make for a while, but was too nervous - beef tenderloin. Buying a $40 cut of meat was a bit of pressure, but my Mom convinced me it wasn't that hard, and she helped and together we made the beef and a mushroom red wine sauce, asparagus and another round of potatoes au gratin. It turned out really well. Admittedly the kids didn't really like it, but the rest of us thought it was tender and tasted great. Restaurant quality as my husband likes to say.

After dinner, my daughter put on her Brownie vest, and sold cookies to her grandparents. My parents ordered some to be sent to the troops as they don't actually like the cookies (I don't blame them), my in-laws bought a couple of boxes and we ordered a couple of boxes for us and a few others to send to the troops.

This morning my in laws I took my in-laws to the airport around 830. My parents got settled into the guest room and I started to getting the house back together, doing laundry etc.

As usual my parents have a shopping list of things they want to get. Some things online that we ordered so they can arrive before they leave. Tomorrow we head to LLBean to check on a jacket my Mom wants to get. I'm going to look for gloves for me, and exchange the shirt I got for Christmas from my in-laws. I feel bad, but the past few years they've gotten me sweaters in colors I don't have, and make a point of saying that that's why they pick them, but the reason I don't have the colors they pick is they aren't good colors for me - pinks and light greens mostly. This year they gave me gift receipts for the first time, so the return should be easier. It's mostly my fault though, since I usually have trouble coming up with a wishlist.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quiet House

It's Christmas Eve Eve as my kids call it. Presents are almost all bought. I just need to pick up a Hickory Farms pack tomorrow for my inlaws. I never saw them in the malls today so hopefully can find one tomorrow. I hate those processed meats and cheeses but my husband and his parents like them and it's become something of a tradition to eat it after opening presents.

My husband was working today and I spent this morning shopping with my oldest for stuff for her siblings. We lucked out at local independently owned stores (places I really need to shop at more often). We have a nice women's clothing store that has cute kids stuff in the basement. Lots of Alex crafty things and girlie stuff. My daughter picked out a book for her sister and I got some "geodes" for our budding geologist to crack open and find crystals:)

We also stopped at an independent toy store. It's very small but the shelves are stocked with great things - no licensed merchandise here. My daughter picked out a make your own fairy tale book for her sister, and I got a forklift for my son and a reversible spiderman/batman cape. It's not officially a Marvel (or whoever) item and is really cute. I was thinking i would make him one, and this was a bit pricey - $30, but by the time I buy the fabric, and get around to making it, well, he probably wouldn't want it any more. The past couple of days he's been asking me to tie a bandana around his neck as a cape. Poor kid needs more dressup clothes. Done.

We went to the supermarket and bought all the things I need for Christmas dinner and the next day (I hope). While we were at the store I found $2 on the floor. I asked the only guy in the same aisle if it was his, nope. So we bought a lottery ticket. The drawings not for another 22 minutes, might as well stay up.

After lunch and putting my son down for a nap, I went to the mall to get the last of my shopping done. I lucked out with parking, hustled through the stores I needed and as much as my FB friends were complaining of rude shoppers and sales people, everyone I encountered was nice and helpful (when they could be - of course this late pickings are slim).

I stopped at Honey Baked Ham on the way home and was home by 530. After dinner, we watched Rudolph with the kids - my first Christmas special this year. The kids were sitting in their chairs facing the TV, my husband and I on the couch off to the side. Our daughters have seen it a few times at this point, but I think this was the first time our son watched it all the way through. It was fun watching his reactions. He definitely got a little nervous with the Abominable Snow Monster. It was very cute.

After sending the kids to bed, and my husband and in-laws going to bed, I started wrapping. I was worried that this Christmas would be sparse given our financial situation but I managed to get a lot of what the kids wanted without spending a lot.

I ended up with a few extra gifts for my son, so put those away for his birthday (or to be returned) so it's not too lopsided. He's just too easy to shop for. Anything with wheels or sports oriented, he's happy. My older daughter is in that tween age where I don't want to get her teenage stuff (even though she may want it) but she's outgrown a lot of the toys and stuff. Still I found some good things for her. My younger daughter has tons of clothes and loves crafty things but her list was based on one catalog, and by the time I had money to buy gifts it was to late to have stuff shipped. I think the things I did get will be good substitutes. I hope.

My husband and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year, which is fine but then he asked me if I thought the kids would think it's weird that we're not. I don't think so, but at the same time I did get him a movie on behalf of our son, and slippers from my parents. Our daughters made stuff at school for both of us. It's possible that there will be only a couple of things under the tree for me, which is fine. I did get myself a new pair of slippers too (and wrapped them). Really what I want is a day off once all our house guests leave. My parents gave me money for my birthday so I may go and shop with it, or just go chill somewhere.

I didn't specifically get anything for my in-laws from the kids, as they each only asked for one thing and I don't know what else to get for them. Unfortunately my husband is of little help this time of year as he gets pretty busy workwise and doesn't have time to shop.

I think it's finally time for me to go to bed, as I have a busy day of baking ahead. We have no cookies left for Santa. I did put the last of the advent gifts out - Christmas pjs. This way I can be sure that they have cute pjs for Christmas morning :)

BTW, I just checked the lottery numbers, I didn't win :(

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trying to get into the Christmas spirit despite feeling sick

My in-laws arrived Friday night and as has become tradition I made spaghetti Bolognese for dinner when they arrived. After dinner my stomach was starting to feel bad. At first I thought maybe it was the wine, but I had only had 2 glasses. Since my son had been sick earlier this week I was afraid I was getting sick too. Sure enough, shortly after I got the kids to bed, I got sick :( I went to bed around 10, and not long after I heard my daughter crying. I went out to find her coming out of her room, she had thrown up too :( I got her out of her dirty pjs and started stripping her bed while occasionally darting in to my bathroom to get sick since she was using hers.

I got her cleaned up and back to bed, and about an hour later heard her getting sick again :(. I went in to help her and then my oldest came out of her room. At first I thought she was just coming out cause the bathroom light was shining in to her room, so I said, "Welcome to our puking party, do you want to join us?" Not funny since sure enough she was sick too. I sent her to our bathroom while I sat and waited for either one to finish hoping I wouldn't get sick in the meantime.

The rest of the night is a blur of who was sick when, it got to the point that I didn't respond to every sound like I normally do as I just wanted to get some sleep. I figured if they really needed me, they'd come get me, which they didn't.

By the morning my oldest and I were pretty much back to normal, but my middle one was still pretty tired. We had planned to head down to Christkindlmarkt to see the tree and have some German food. We decided to take the L rather than driving and parking two cars. The two youngest kids were free so it was much cheaper this way, and my little guy was very excited to ride the train. We got off a block away and managed to get a table in the tent pretty quickly. After some beer and gløgg, we got brats and potato pancakes. It's kind of tough to go with kids because of the crowds, although stroller parking helped. The only bathrooms were port a pottys so no changing tables.

They used to have a nice train set but not this year. They used to have a tree that was made up of lots of smaller trees and branches and while it looked nice and full, it always seemed lame that they didn't get a real tree like at Rockefeller Center. This year they got a real tree but it was very sparse and people were calling it the Charlie Brown tree. It wasn't quite that bad, but there is no doubt in my mind, they could have found a better tree.

We didn't try to walk around and look at the different stalls. It was too crowded and after being sick the kids were too tired. We headed home, everyone took a nap, and we ordered a pizza for dinner.

Then finally we decorated the tree. My oldest and youngest had a lot of fun helping and it looks good. Unfortunately my middle kid was still tired after being sick so after putting a couple of ornaments on, she laid down on the couch and just watched. When we were all done, my oldest played all the Christmas songs she has music for on the piano and then everyone went to bed. A nice ending to a rough day.


200 g flour
1 tbsp sugar
20 g yeast
3 dl milk (approx)
3 eggs
Butter for greasing pan

Mix the flour and sugar. Warm the milk and add the yeast in some of it. Stir yeast/milk mixture into the flour/sugar mixture. Stir in the rest of the milk a little at a time. Add the eggs one at a time. Let the dough rise in a warm place for approx an hour.

Before frying, pour the dough in a pitcher. Warm the pan and add butter to each hole. Then fill with dough. Once they are browned on one side, turn over to the other side to finish baking.

Serve warm with powdered sugar and raspberry jam and gløgg.

Chicken Marsala

1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup Marsala wine or sherry
1 cup chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup mushrooms

Heat oil over medium heat, sauté the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Add the butter, wine, bouillon, pepper, garlic powder. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes. Return chicken to skillet, add mushrooms and cover, simmer for 10 minutes more on low heat or until chicken is for tender. Serve with mashed potatoes or pasta.

Adapted from Mr Food Cooks Chicken cookbook

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Early Intervention - Part 2

Today the Early Intervention ladies came by to analyze my little guy.  When they rang the doorbell he was there to greet them holding a mini Bears football and his sister's baby doll who he occasionally babysits :)  I brought them in to the kitchen and as usual he was chatting up a storm.  They were quickly able to cross verbal delays off their list of possible problems.  One woman was a speech therapist, the other a developmental therapist.  We started with the speech therapist. She gave him some tests to see if he had any muscular problems in his mouth, having him move his tongue from side to side, up and down, blow bubbles, etc.  He passed all no problems.  Then he happened to get hungry so I gave him his usual bananas and they could see that he could spoonfeed himself well. 

The therapist then asked me for some Cheerios so she could get him to play with his food.  She had him smash them, stack them, play with them in some of the banana puree.  He went along with everything aside from putting one in his mouth.  

Then it was time for the developmental therapist.  She asked a bunch of questions and then asked him to do a bunch of things that most 2 1/2 year olds can do - identify colors, shapes, do simple puzzles, make a tower of blocks, follow instructions to color, etc.  The funniest was after asking him to hop in each direction (forward, backward, left and right) she asked him to show her how he walks up the stairs.  He paused for a minute and looked at her. Then he said, "Well, I take a step like this" and put one foot in front of the other, "and then I do this" and moved the other foot next to it.  We all got a laugh out of that, and then I told him, "why don't you take her to the stairs and show her?"  He said, "Oh, ok, come here" and ran off to the stairs, where he then walked up and down :)

Bottom line, they want us to encourage him to play with his food, make a point of brushing his whole mouth (tongue, sides of cheeks, etc) to get him used to those sensations and at any meal where he sits down with us, put some small pieces of what we're eating on his tray.  They're going to file the paper work with insurance and the state and assign a feeding specialist.  They even told me that there is a group of 4 or 5 kids that meets once a week around lunch time to get attention from one of these feeding specialists and see/encourage each other to eat.  They also recommended getting off the sippy and on to real or straw cups. All good ideas, so we'll give it a try. The state covers some of the cost of this until age 3, so hopefully we get it all solved by then.

Proud of my big girl

My daughters' school has a holiday sing every winter before school lets out for break.  There is a prelude at the beginning for kids who take music lessons to perform a song on the instrument they are studying.  Each grade performs a song and at the end, all the kids in the school (over 600) perform a song together.  I'm not an overly emotional person but the last part always gives me goose bumps, it's so sweet. Last year the song was something about seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child (sung by a bunch of K-2 graders, even the Grinch would tear up). 

My oldest came home from school the other day and said that for music class each kid in her class was given the opportunity to audition for the solo for their class song. They were given a microphone and were amped (to make it like the actual performance I guess). She said that some kids were laughing at their classmates during the auditions.  I asked if anyone laughed at her and she said no but she felt bad for the kids who were laughed at.  After music they went back to their classroom and their teacher asked how it went.  My daughter without naming names said that she felt bad because some of the kids were laughed at, and she didn't think that was nice because it's hard to get up in front of a room full of people and perform and if you get laughed at you get embarrassed and may never want to do it again.  The teacher took the opportunity to talk about why it's important to respect other peoples feelings and keep negative opinions to yourself.  She even took it a step further and touched on bullying, although according to my daughter no one was teased after the fact, but still a good time to bring that up. 

I was proud of my daughter for standing up for her classmates and was a little surprised to find out that her audition had earned her a call back (although I would never say this to her, but she's not the best singer : ).  The callbacks took place during lunch and a couple of her friends were also called back, but one was not.  The one who was not was sad to be excluded. My daughter tried to make her feel better by telling her, that sometimes it's better to be one of the crowd.  Being a soloist is a lot of pressure, everyone is looking at you and if you make a mistake, it's embarrassing.

She's been taking piano for a year and a half now and has performed in three recitals. The first one she played a duet with her teacher and did great.  The second one she played on her own and stumbled at one spot when she lost her place, but otherwise played very well. She was embarrassed after that second one, but her teacher and I consoled her by saying she played very well (or as her teacher said "she played musically" - meaning that her mistake didn't take a lot away from the song, as she picked right back up and finished the piece). Third time was a charm :)

She had music class again today and was not picked to be a soloist but has been asked to play the bells for one of the songs (one of her friends will play the maracas).  I have a feeling the recognition was due to the way she handled the whole audition process, so I have to say I'm pretty proud of her.  And yes, she will be performing on the piano in the prelude as well, and is working hard at memorizing her piece. She's pretty much got it down and still has 5 days to go.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Early Intervention

My little guy is 2 and a half and still not eating ANY table food. No Cheerios, no banana chunks, no cheese, no chicken, NOTHING. He only eats Yobaby and stage 2 pureed baby food. Nothing with chunks and no meats. I've let it go for a while as he is getting plenty of vitamins and protein and his diet is probably healthier than the beige diet his sisters ate at the same age - breads, chicken nuggets, Mac & cheese and occasionally applesauce or bananas. The only thing he is not getting is iron. He's on track with the growth charts and is otherwise hitting all the developmental milestones at the appropriate age ranges. I sent him to camp this summer thinking that seeing other kids his age eat, he would want to try too. No luck. He just sat and waited during snack time.

The few times he has tried something like Cheerios he gagged pretty violently and threw up. I think that's why he hasn't tried again. I'm not sure if he has a strong gag reflex or if he's just stubborn.

Well, I know for a fact that he is stubborn and will usually do things on his own timetable. At 1 1/2 I decided it was time to switch from bottle to Sippys. When he didn't make the switch we went cold turkey, in the summer. He went 43 days without drinking anything. I would give him a Sippy with milk with every meal, and he would just ignore it. He just ate more food to get his fluid.

It took him ages to feed himself. He always insisted I do it. I would give him a spoon with the food and walk away and again he would just wait. Then one night this summer he just picked up the spoon and did it himself. We made a big deal of it, he got all excited and now he always feeds himself. The funny thing is as this all was happening, the song "At Last" started playing on the iPod :)

Tomorrow I have people coming from Early Intervention to try to figure out what we can do. It's paid for by insurance and the state, and they're sending out a speech therapist and somebody else to evaluate him. I really do think he's just stubborn, but if the stubbornness stems from remembering those times he gagged and threw up then I'm hoping they can teach me and him some tricks to move past that. At least that's what I'm hoping cause the cost of baby food adds up pretty fast when he eats 6-10 a day.

Day out

We had our cleaning lady come back after skipping 2 times while my parents were here. Thankfully, the little guy was feeling much better (he even said a couple of times throughout the day "I'm feeling better"). In order to stay out of the house we went to Target to get the last of the lights for the tree, Binny's to get a bottle of wine for my husband's guys night out tomorrow, the post office to get airmail stamps before getting my daughter from school. My son had brought his Rudolph stuffed animal and started singing the song when we were at the post office. He sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and then one of the postal workers sang "had a very shiny nose". My son got all surprised and said, "Mommy, he knows the song too" :)

We went and got my daughter after Kindergarten and went to her favorite lunch spot - Jason's Deli - for lunch. Actually I like it too, their salad bar is really good. Unfortunately their ice cream machine was broken but they offered free chocolate chip cookies instead.

I thought it was funny that they even posted a sign on their front door saying that the machine was broken as if people would only set their if they got the free ice cream. Or maybe to avoid kids having tantrums if their parents don't realize it til after they've had their kids set a good meal :)

Then off to the mall to pick up my mother in law's fur coat from storage and then a quick stop at the library before picking up my other daughter at school. Our cleaning lady was finishing up at our house so I took my daughter to piano and went to the store to pick up dinner.

Finally home to relax a bit before dinner. Tonight Tortellini Alfredo with prosciutto and peas. Then laundry and getting the international Christmas cards ready to be mailed. Domestic will have to wait til I go to Costco on Friday.

Rough morning but productive day

I had plans to run all sorts of errands yesterday but unfortunately it didn't work out that way.

I dropped my daughters off at school, went to the supermarket to cash in some coins for Starbucks gift cards for my son's teachers, dropped off used batteries and Christmas lights at the public works office for recycling, and went to Barnes & Noble to get gifts for my nieces, nephew and my kids. I still dislike Barnes & Noble because of their strict 14 day return policy but they are allowing 60 days for the holidays. I think after the holidays I'll write a letter to the company. I've told any store employee who will listen that I don't like their policy but that's not going to change anything.

As we were finishing up in the store my son said his tummy hurt and he was tired. Unusual for him so I decided to go home for the stroller since I was planning to go to the mall next. On the way home, he threw up in the car :(

We went home, I got him cleaned up and put him down for a nap. With my extra time I made the dollhouse that my daughters will be getting from Santa as a surprise. I got it at Tuesday Morning for $50 (marked down from $100). I wouldn't have paid full price for it, but for $50 it was cute. Pretty basic, but it's much nicer than the plastic FP version they saw in a catalog a while back and said they wanted (but have now forgotten about). I figure if they continue to be interested we can slowly upgrade the furniture and eventually the house too. My Mom still has my old dollhouse furniture and has offered to send it if they are interested.

I picked up my daughters and brought one to a friend's house to play. Her first time going to this boy's house, and then took my other daughter to dance class. I ran to the store for dinner stuff while she was at dance and when I came back saw that they were all just sitting and watching the Barbie version of the Nutcracker. A one hour class and they only danced for the last few minutes. I'm not sure why, but it's the last class of this session so I guess the teacher wanted to give them a treat. Personally had I known I probably would have had her skip class.

We picked up my younger daughter at her friend's house and she had had a good time. She had been a little apprehensive about going over as apparently he has a little bit of a speech impediment and she was afraid she wouldn't understand him, but it ended up not being an issue. The only thing she didn't understand was his cat's name. They played board games and hide and seek and she said she'd like to have him over to our house a different time.

When we got home my son was finally able to eat. Lucky for him, bananas are part of the BRAT diet. He had one container of it, and then asked to rest before dinner. I didn't want to put him to bed without a bath and wanted to make sure he didn't throw up again do left him in his high chair while I made dinner. It didn't take long before he dozed off. I finished making dinner and he woke up on his own and happy just when it was time for the rest of us to eat. He had more to eat and then I gave him a bath and put him to bed.

After the kids were in bed I finished making vanilla cookies (I can't call them wreaths cause I still can't get the darn piping bag to work) to give to my daughter's piano teacher along with a Barnes & Noble gift card. Personal plus useful :). Long day but I feel like I got a lot done, and now I just hope that I was successful in keeping my son's germs away from my daughters. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peasant Pasta

1 lb bulk Italian Sausage
28 oz crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb penne or farfalle
Grated Parmesan

Cook pasta as directed. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and drain fat.  Wipe out skillet and return to heat.  Add cooked sausage crumbles back to pan and add tomatoes. Bring to a bubble and cook for 5 minutes.  Add peas and cook for 1 minute more.  Stir in cream to blush the color of the sauce.  Simmer until the pasta is ready to drain.  Toss two-thirds of the sauce with the pasta and transfer to serving bowl.  Top with remaining sauce and serve with grated cheese and crusty bread.

From Rachael Ray - Top 30 - 30 Minute Meals - Kid Food

I'm tired

Long but fun weekend. Friday night my husband didn't get home til about 10.

Saturday morning, we took the kids to a breakfast with Santa. We have gone to a different place pretty much every year. This year we went to a public golf course that my husband has been to before. It was a nice buffet brunch with omelet waffle and carving stations along with the usual stuff. It was extremely reasonable $53 incl tip for the 4 of us (little man was free). Santa was on a stage and there was a short line to see him. The kids were all excited (although my oldest said she didn't think it was the real Santa as his beard didn't look real.) My youngest daughter had brought her Book About Me to get the autograph of a man with a beard. After that they all told him what they wanted - Build A Bear furniture and accessories, Baby doll high chair and a golden treasure chest with a key, and a fire truck and a garbage truck. Luckily for Santa only one challenge - the treasure chest - which actually shouldn't be that tough. I think I can probably find something at Michael's I can get to work.

After getting their picture taken, my youngest asked me where his present was? Oops, I guess he thought you ask Santa for the present and he gives it to you. Instant gratification. Sorry, buddy, it doesn't work like that.

After brunch we went home and changed and then got our tree. The usual 8 foot Fraser fir. It's resting in the living room to settle in before my husband puts the lights on and then we'll decorate this weekend when my in-laws arrive.

Saturday night we went to a black tie event for one of the hospitals my husband works for. It was at a suburban hotel so not a very exciting menu but still nice. They had a whole international theme since they have people from lots of different countries on staff and had a slide show of the employees and then well known sights from their respective countries.

We were seated with a nice couple, but we left before dessert to head downtown to go to another party - 70th birthday of a woman I used to work with. Her kids threw her a party in her building. Lots of my old work friends were there so it was a nice mini reunion. We didn't get back til after 1am.

The next morning my husband left early for the Packers game and I took the kids to a friend's 5 year old birthday party at the children's museum. It was a fun time and my kids always like going there. They have a science exhibit going on that they all enjoyed - wearing lab coats and playing with microscopes and glove boxes. The theme of the party was rainbows and the Mom had made a rainbow cake which was really cool. One layer was swirled red and orange and the other was yellow, green and blue. She had candies in each of the rainbow colors.

My oldest asked me if she could take a butterscotch and I told her that was fine. Not long after I walk by her and the host Mom was trying to comfort her. She had started choking on it, but luckily was able to cough it out. She was pretty scared by the whole thing but overall ok and after a few minutes we left the party room to play some more. She's still talking about it, but in a way that shows now she knows what it feels like and she'll be more careful.

We got home around 4 and every one went to bed easily after dinner. Even I was asleep by 1030. Fun weekend but busy. Next weekend is just as hectic if not more so.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Thyme

Recipe from 'Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed, trimmed
kosher salt
1 cup almonds, chopped coarse
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest,
zested lemon cut into wedges
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Using fork, poke thickest half of breasts 5 or 6 times and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer breasts to prepared wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, while preparing coating.
2. Pulse almonds in food processor until they resemble coarse meal, about 20 pulses. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until butter is browned and releases nutty aroma, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add bread crumbs and ground almonds and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to shallow dish or pie plate and stir in lemon zest, thyme, and cayenne. Place flour in second dish. Lightly beat eggs, mustard, and pepper together in third dish.
3. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat all sides of breast with panko mixture, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere. Return breaded breasts to wire rack.
4. Bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.
Note: This recipe is best with almonds, but works well with any type of nut. We prefer kosher salt in this recipe.
If using table salt, reduce salt amounts by half.
Servings: 4

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Baked Chicken Parmesan

Prep time: 10 min
Total time: 45 min
Makes: 6 servings

What You Need
2-1/2 cups pasta sauce (I use Barilla)
6 Tbsp. Parmesan Grated Cheese divided
1-1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Sliced Mozzarella Cheese (1 for each piece of chicken)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour sauce into 13x9-inch baking dish. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Dredge chicken in egg, then coat in breadcrumbs. Add chicken to baking dish, turn to evenly coat both sides of each breast with sauce. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake 30 min. or until chicken is done Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed on package

Top chicken with remaining cheeses; bake, uncovered, 5 min. or until mozzarella is melted. Drain spaghetti. Serve topped with chicken and sauce.

The Funk is Lifting

I've been in a funk for a while now but am finally starting to feel better.  I don't know if it was the trip to see my sister, the fact that my husband and I went out for the first time in a long time, or that Christmas is my favorite holiday and we've already been busy making cookies and decorating the house.  Whatever it is, I'm glad to be finally pulling out of this funk (I won't go as far as to call it a depression, it wasn't that severe).

We had a great trip to Boston, and all the cousins got along great.  We mostly hung around their house but since the weather was good the kids were outside a lot of the time playing, collecting sea glass and seashells at the beach, and playing with the dog my sister's family was dogsitting for.  We ventured into Boston twice, once to the Aquarium with everyone, and then one day by ourselves.  We met some friends in the morning at the Commons and then met my sister and her kids and another friend of ours at Faneuil Hall for lunch.  A great day and fun place to bring the kids with all the different kinds of food and the street performers outside.  We tried to get a picture of all the kids in front of the Christmas tree, but unfortunately didn't get a good shot.  Getting 6 kids to smile and look at the camera and not blink all at the same time is like catching lightning in a bottle. The travels home were pretty smooth, the kids are all asking when they can see their cousins again.  Hopefully it won't take another 5 years.

The night after we got back, we took advantage of the free babysitters (Mom & Dad) and went to see David Cook play at the House of Blues with a work contact of my husband's.  They are a fun couple who enjoy music and are members at the Foundation Room so we were in a box looking down on David.  It was a fun show and you can totally tell that he is enjoying what he's doing.  He played a good set, with a few covers, all of which I liked but some - a song by Muse in particular - didn't go over that well with the rest of the audience.  He and his band (and amazing drummer) were rocking out on stage and for a lot of the song the crowd on the floor was just standing there not sure what to do.  I guess as he gets more shows and songs under his belt he'll get better at reading his audience, and his audience will now that even though he got his start on Idol, he is definitely more rock than pop.

We're now a little over a week into the mini gifts and the kids get all excited to go down and see what's in their stockings everyday which is fun. I still have to get about 10 more things for my daughters but so far they've liked everything. I think part of what got me out of the funk is that no matter what happened the day before the three of them always wake up happy and eager to start their day. There's a lot to be said for seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

I also feel that writing all this is helping me get some of the negative stuff out of my head and helping me move on. Some stuff I write up but don't actually publish, just the writing helps. I also recently read in some home organization blog about this woman who divides her "rainy day projects" into one week tasks that she maps out far in advance and that makes them more manageable. I think I'm going to start that in the New Year, not because I'm big on New Years' resolutions but because I've finally gotten the house in order after my parents stay, my inlaws arrive next Friday and then my parents come back after Christmas, so it makes more sense to start tackling this stuff after they all are gone.  In the meantime, I'm going to start writing and prioritizing the list. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

MS Study

I've been busy trying to get our house back in order this week, and as part of going through the mail took a couple of minutes to spit into a testtube. Why? My Mom was diagnosed with MS about 5 years ago, and at this point there is no known cause or cure. I read about a study to test for a possible genetic link currently being conducted at Brigham & Women's hospital in Boston. It's the Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) Research Study. They are looking for first degree relatives of someone with MS in a certain age range (18-50) I will receive no compensation for participating but that's not my reason for signing up anyway. My Mom's diagnosis was a shock to all of us as she was diagnosed late in life, and it's hard to see her struggle to walk.

Once my spit sample has been analyzed (I think they use it to collect an initial DNA sample), I will need to submit blood samples. I may be asked to have an MRI. The only test that I would maybe need to go to Boston for would be the MRI. They will compensate for some of the travel expenses, and since my sister lives there it would be nice to have an excuse to go. All the other samples/tests can either be done at home like the saliva sample or at local facilities.

I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was doing this, and she asked if I was scared. I said no it's just a blood test and an MRI. Then she said, but what if they do find a genetic component? I have to admit I hadn't really thought it through that far. Most of these studies take years of research before any conclusions, and this is one where you agree to followup tests for years, but at the same time, I feel pretty helpless with my Mom, so if I could do one little thing to help her or prevent the disease for someone else why not? I guess in the back of my mind, there is a small bit that would be worried that they find something, but if there is a link, better to find out early. Since there is no cure the earlier you start therapy, the better you can slow the progression. At the same time, when I signed the consent forms, it specifically said that they would not provide individual results, although would advise if the MRI showed evidence of a cerebral aneurysm. Which makes sense, this is not meant to be a pre screen test, but I do wonder a little bit, that if they do find that there is a genetic component, wouldn't they tell those who had proved it? If nothing else, I figure if they find that MS is based on genetic, environmental or immune factors, I'll be among the first to know.

Vanilla Wreaths

My favorite butter cookies in the little Danish tins are the vanilla wreaths. Since I prefer homemade cookies, I've been looking for a recipe for a while. My cousin posted this one the other day and they turned out really well.

300 g sugar
1 vanilla pod
350 g salted butter (cold)
400 g flour
1 egg
50 g finely chopped almonds
1 piping bag with star shaped nozzle

Preheat oven to 375.

First prepare the vanilla sugar mixture. Carefully scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod. Add 2 tbsp sugar and mix well. Then add the remaining sugar a little at a time, stirring each time to keep the vanilla evenly mixed.

In a large bowl, crumble the flour and cold butter together until it has a crumby texture. Add the sugar mixture and almonds and stir well. Then add the egg and mix until the batter is smooth.

Fill the piping bag with dough and make little circles on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

I couldn't find my piping bag so instead I made a long roll in wax paper and cut off cookies about 1/3 inch thick. I also forgot to use parchment paper on the sheet. Despite these two modifications, they still turned out well. I did buy a piping bag today so will try that with the next batch.

The recipe was attributed to Ilse Jacobsen a Danish designer, I'm not sure if she came up with it herself or where she got the recipe from.

Note: I got a piping bag and I still can't get them to pipe out in nice wreath shapes, so still just doing a logrolling and cutting them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Time for Cookies

Stockings are hung by the chimney with care, children have scattered decorations around the house, frames with old Christmas card pictures are spread around, velvet ribbon has been hung to receive Christmas cards from friends far and wide. The only thing left to do this weekend is to start on the cookies. I love butter cookies and the best recipe I've found is from the experts at Land o Lakes.

Best Ever Butter Cookies

I do omit the orange juice but otherwise these are perfect. We'll make the batter this morning and since we have a busy afternoon with dance class and two parties the actual rolling, baking and decorating will probably have to wait til tomorrow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Traditions

As much as I dismiss Hallowe'en as a kids holiday and don't get into the spirit of Thanksgiving, I do love Christmas.

Growing up we had a tradition that starting December 1st we would receive a little gift everyday until Christmas. Once I had kids I decided to continue the tradition. I had assumed that the gifts were from Santa as we got them in our stockings, but traditionally I guess they are from the parents. At this point my kids also believe that the gifts are from Santa (or actually his elves, who are checking in on Santa's behalf).

Traditionally the first gift I give is a Christmas calendar. My parents give the chocolate one so I just do a regular paper one. That was yesterday's gift. Tomorrow's gift will be a little Cars book for my son and Christmas puzzles for my daughters. I try as much as possible to get little things from the Target $1 section or holiday crafts from Michael's or packs of things at Marshalls that I can split up. For my son I managed to stay under $1 a day. The girls will end up being a little more and I still have 10 days worth of gifts to get for them. I try not to get candy but should be able to pick a few more things before the big day.

Cajun Chicken with Linguine

2 medium onions, diced
1 1/2 lbs. of chicken breast (cubed)
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 tsp cajun spices (they sell this in the spice section)
1 tsp cayenne
1 cup of chicken broth
1/2 cup of milk
1 Tblsp worchestershire
2 Tblsp of diced jalapeno
1 cup of Monterey Jack (shredded)
1 cup of sour cream
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 lb. of linguine

Clean and cube the chicken. Season chicken with S& P, cayenne and cajun seasonings.
Saute the garlic and the onions until nicely browned. Add the chicken. Brown the chicken and remove.

Add the chicken broth, milk, worchestershire and jalapeno.
Simmer for about 20 minutes to 1/2 hour. 

Add the cheese, sour cream and the red peppers. Return the chicken to the pan, and simmer until tender and peppers are slightly soft.
Serve over linguine.

Notes:  A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I like the idea of the recipe but even though I've tried it a few times, I still can't get the consistency right.  Mine ends up soupy when I prefer thicker creamy sauces.  That said, I keep trying because my finicky kids ask for it. I also skip the jalapeno since neither my kids or I like things real spicy.  I'm sure my husband would prefer I add the jalapeno though.


Thanksgiving has never been a very meaningful holiday for me. As a kid my Mom never made turkey since we weren't American. All the years living in the US as a kid I remember a handful of times that we would go to a friend's house, but more often than not we'd just stay home and have a regular dinner, which was fine with me since I don't like most of the Thanksgiving food anyway.

For my husband it is a more meaningful holiday. For a long time, it was the one day out of the year that his parents would actually cook and they did a more Southern style spread. They have the tradition that before we start eating everyone says what they are thankful for, which is probably a common tradition but a nice one. In the years since college we've been adopted by friends and families again as my husband's schedule usually did not afford him enough time to fly home.

There was one Thanksgiving where my husband had to work. I never told other people that I was going to be alone. Instead I had a very peaceful day at home by myself. In the afternoon I walked along Michigan Avenue looking at the store displays and started to mentally put together my Christmas lists. No I was not preparing for Black Friday madness.  I usually avoid the malls at all costs until that first crazy weekend has passed.

The past few years we've been invited to my husband's partners house. Their kids are a bit older than ours but some of the cousins are our kids' ages so everyone has fun, and after all these years we know the whole family pretty well. They do the traditional meal plus the deepfried bird which is delicious.

This year we all flew to my sister's house. It was the first time we had gotten everyone together in about 5 years. She has been cooking the full spread every year for years. She enjoys cooking and did almost all the cooking herself. I did make an apple crisp and gave each of the kids a task to do to help me. Earlier in the day my sister had been shooing the kids out of the kitchen as most are not old enough to help, and we wanted to keep my little guy far from the hot oven.  I think they all enjoyed helping me, and when they finally got to eat some I told them it was thanks to their help it turned out as well as it did. 

The thing about Thanksgiving is that the meal itself is such a lot of work to put together and even with the snacking all day, it always seems like the actual meal is almost anticlimatic. I mean, you cook all day and then eat the formal meal in about 30 minutes.  Maybe it is supposed to be that way.  I guess the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to be thankful and to enjoy the company of the people you are with. Every year I try to get myself to get more into the spirit of it, but so far it hasn't happened.  Having said that I do have a lot to be thankful for and need to spend more time focusing on that in general. I had a friend who for about 2 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving posted things/people she was thankful for. It wasn't every day, but each post was well thought out, well written and quite touching.

I'm not going to go in to a long list of my own, but am definitely thankful that we finally got everyone in my family together for the first time in 5 years. The kids really enjoyed spending a week getting to know their cousins and are already asking when we can see them again. From what my sister told me, the feelings were mutual from her kids.

I am thankful for my health and the fact that my children are healthy. I realize how lucky we are that all our kids are healthy, and as a sidenote am happy to say that the little boy with leukemia I know is home from the hospital and getting stronger every day. 

When dinner was finally ready I went in to take a picture of the kids at the kids table and asked them what they were thankful for. Some of the answers I got - family, friends, food, cheese, Obama, bologna :)

I think for me Thanksgiving is mostly a milestone before Christmas. I get annoyed at the stores who decorate and turn on the Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  Once Thanksgiving is over we start decorating our house.  We don't get our tree until closer to Christmas, but everything else goes up November 30th at the latest. 


1 cup snaps or vodka
4 cups red wine (do not waste an expensive wine on this)
1-2 cinnamon sticks
6-8 whole cloves
2 tbsp sugar
1 orange
Raisins and sliced almonds as desired

Boil stick of cinnamon and cloves in a little water in a large pot for a few minutes.  Add the wine, sugar, raisins and almonds and heat.  Do not boil.  Add the zest and some of the juice from the orange.  Serve in small cups or glasses with spoons for the raisins and the nuts. Best served with æbleskiver