Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Stars of the Show

The other night, we went over to Xander's school for his annual Christmas concert. All the preschool classes are assigned a different Christmas song to sing together, and then they come together at the end for one big group number. We weren't sure how Evan would react to being in a big gym full of people, but we knew he would love the singing.

As it turned out, we shouldn't have been concerned about Evan being shy. As soon as we put him down on the floor of the gym, he took off! He started running all around the gym, and he was talking up a storm. He waved at people. He pointed at people. He whooped and yelled because he loved the fact that his voice carried well. And he loved the wide open space even more. I didn't even know he could run as fast as he could until that night, because he'd never had a space that huge to roam freely! It was adorable to watch, and he quickly became the center of attention among the crowds of people standing around him.

When it came time for Xander's class to sing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Xander's voice boomed louder than anyone else's. He was so exuberant that at first, he was singing louder and faster than anyone else. He slowed down though, and just sang his little heart out. At the end of the song, he had turned red from the exertion, and he literally blew out a huge breath, exhausted from his effort. We were very proud parents, because both of our boys had been stars that evening in their own ways.

There will undoubtedly be more Christmas recipes I will put up in the near future, but for now I wanted to post this one (see below). It's simple, it's yummy, and it looks so darn festive!

18 oz. white chocolate (use white chocolate chips, or white chocolate baking squares, chopped)
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (I used fat-free, with no problems)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract (you can also use 1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup dried, sweetened cranberries (I used Craisins)
1 1/2 cups shelled, skinned pistachios (mine were roasted and lightly salted
Your choice of decorating candies (I used red and green jimmies)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine white chocolate, condensed milk, and both extracts. Turn heat to low and melt the chocolate. Stir occasionally.
2. Allow chocolate to combine with milk and extracts. When mixture is smooth, turn off the heat and add cranberries, then pistachios. Stir well to combine.
3. Pour mixture into a prepared 8-inch round or 8x8 inch square pan. (I prepared mine by lining a square pan with foil, then spraying the foil with Pam.) Press mixture evenly into pan, then decorate with your choice of sprinkles or candies.
4. Allow fudge to set in the refrigerator for several hours. Once firm, you can cut the fudge into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Evan's First Birthday

This is a couple weeks late, but we had Evan's first birthday celebration recently. I was excited to try out the pirate ship cake pan again! I was experimenting with the cake itself, and tried to make a cake with no eggs and no milk. In other words, a cake that was probably doomed to fail before it began. I wanted him to be able to eat a cake that contained nothing new to his little system. Unfortunately, the recipe I test drove was an utter and complete failure. It smelled great while it was cooking, but then as soon as it came out of the oven, it sank in the middle. By the time we tried flipping it out of the pan, it fell apart, a mushy mess. However, Andy was able to salvage enough to cut the cute number 1 cake you see above.

So the pirate ship you see here is attempt number 2, the good old boxed white cake mix. It turned out just fine! And I had fun decorating it too. It was actually less nerve-wracking to do this at home, rather than in a cake decorating class. Less pressure, I guess.

As you can see, Evan was delighted with his little number 1 cake. He tore it to teeny bits, sampled just a little of it, and then proceeded to throw the rest onto the floor. Oh, and Andy thought it would be fun to put the cake on a ceramic plate, so when Evan tossed the cake onto the floor, he tossed the ceramic plate along with it. Needless to say, it was tons of fun to clean up. I think it was all good, though, considering you only turn 1 once!

He had fun with his gifts, too, although I think it was a bit overwhelming for him at first. So much to open all at once! Then suddenly there were all these new toys, and it seemed like he didn't know what to do with it all. Fortunately, Xander was right there to commandeer half of the toys right away! We've had trouble with the whole sharing thing now that Evan has so much new stuff. All I can say is, I'm glad that Christmas will yield new stuff for the both of them, rather than just one of them. When it was all said and done, Evan recovered from his birthday just fine....then he had an accident involving a toy wheelbarrow, and sustained the injury you see below. The fun never ends! And you'd never know it, judging by the affection he is showering on his big brother in the picture, but Xander may have been the cause of the wheelbarrow incident. Good thing babies are forgiving.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Year of the Pirate

So this year, we decided to dress the boys up as pirates for Halloween. We didn't jump on the pirate bandwagon last year, when it was really popular, but better late than never, right? It was hard to get a picture of them together, or with their hats, for that matter. But we did manage to sneak a few good ones of them separately!
Xander had a wonderful time trick-or-treating this year. In years past, he has requested to come home early, and last year he had way more fun handing out the candy than actually receiving it. This time, though, the fun of the whole knocking on peoples' doors and getting some candy thing really took over. He was high on life for hours that night! Evan had fun, too, even though he had no idea what was going on. He did enjoy watching the spectacle around him.

I felt bad having Evan receive candy from people, considering he won't be eating any of it. So we just walked along with Xander for the most part, and let him get all the loot. I think we got plenty of candy, even without Evan getting some! And Xander barely eats any of it, so we are better off.

Well, this post felt naked without a food picture and recipe, so here it is. Spiderweb Pumpkin Cheesecake. Now, I don't actually like pumpkin-flavored things, so I did not eat any of it, but I hear it's really good! You can find the recipe here. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beer Battered Asparagus

So we got it in our heads that it would be a really good idea to make up a batter of flour, salt, pepper, and beer, and toss asparagus in it. From there, we would submerge the battered asparagus in oil and fry it up. With the leftover beer batter, we decided to take a stab at frying chicken thighs and chicken tenders. Well, how did it all turn out? It was beyond our expectations.

As it turns out, frying beer battered asparagus really is a great idea! We were afraid that the batter was a little too simple, that it would have no flavor or just taste really weird. Thankfully, we were wrong. Frying the asparagus actually really brought out the flavor of the vegetable, and they were perfectly cooked inside. They only took about 5 minutes per spear to fry up. Delicious! However, they weren't so good as leftovers, not that I expected them to be. The outside crust turned totally mushy and soggy, not a good combo. We were pleased that we got the chicken to turn out well, too. The first chicken thigh we fried up didn't turn out. We pulled it out of the oil way too early, and it was severely undercooked. A quick internet search taught us that chicken thighs take a much longer time to fry than you would think. I ended up frying each for 15 minutes, and they turned out just perfect. The tenders were good, too.

Before our magical dinner, we had a cupcake decorating party. The ones above were done by me. I figured I would put my new cake decorating skills, as well as all that leftover frosting, to good use and make some cute Halloween-themed designs. Xander found out what I was doing and wanted to do some of his own, so below you will see the ones he decorated all by himself.

It was a splendid mess, but we had a lot of fun, which makes it all worthwhile. Next time I will be better prepared. I need to make sure I cover the whole kitchen table in newspaper so I can just pick up the whole mess of sprinkles and such and dump it right in the trash. A beautiful thing!

Beer Battered Asparagus
adapted from Recipezaar

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 cup beer
1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan (we used our wok) until it reaches 375 degrees.

2. Whisk together flour, salt, pepper, and lemon zest until combined. Add beer and whisk ingredients until smooth.

3. Dip each asparagus spear in batter to coat. Shake off excess batter, then drop asparagus in oil, a few spears at a time. Stir gently to prevent spears from sticking together. Fry until golden.

4. Transfer spears to a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and keep warm in a 200 degree oven until all the asparagus is done.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cake Decorating Class

Rather than bore you with excuses as to why I haven't written a blog post in months, I thought I would just jump right in with a cute picture of the boys. If they can't entice people to read on, who can?

Anyway, so I have just finished taking a 4-week Wilton cake decorating class at our local Michael's. I had a blast, and I think that with practice I may be able to become good at this whole decorating thing. Right now I still feel like I have a long way to go before I will be ready to have anyone besides my husband and sons actually see one of my finished products up close and personal. The cakes I completed for class always had help and direction from my teacher, so I don't think they really count.

The first cake was this pirate ship cake. I bought a brand new pirate ship cake pan for the occasion. I figured I could practice in class, and then I could attempt to make another one of these for Evan's first birthday. In the future, I think I will change the color scheme. Overall, I think it turned out all right. If I squint, it looks even better!

The next cake we did was a rainbow cake. I feel like this one turned out pretty badly. The rainbow is much thicker on the right side than on the left, and so are the clouds that underline the bottom of the rainbow on that side. But I was proud of the colors that I mixed up, and I dig the stars on the lower half of the cake!

Then, this past Sunday, we did the final cake where we learned how to do the Wilton rose, a crazy feat of frosting if you ask me. I have to admit, I can't take the credit for two of my roses. The teacher actually used my cake as the teaching cake, so she made a couple to demonstrate and then put them right on my cake for me. Part of me was happy to have such attractive flowers adorn my cake! The other part of me was almost disappointed that I had to put my much inferior roses alongside hers. To me, there's a big difference. If you look at the top flower cake picture, mine are the two roses on the lower half of the cake. I know it's hard to see, because the roses are small in the picture, but the two roses on top are so much prettier!

Oh well. Practice will only help at this point. I have a ton of frosting left over now, so I'll have to find something to do with it. Xander and I are overdue to make cupcakes together, so maybe that'll happen this weekend. If we do make some, I'll have to post them on here. And hopefully, it won't be three months from now!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Evan's Baptism Weekend

We had Evan's baptism this past weekend, which was long overdue. I think it's probably been a while since an 8-month-old baby has been baptized at our church. Usually it's done at a much younger age, but we'd been really lazy about arranging it. I was pretty concerned with how he would behave. There really wasn't a chance that he would just sleep through the whole thing like some younger babies do. I was worried that he would freak out when Father Jim tried to take him from us. Part of the baptism is to have the priest take the baby and walk with him down the aisle to the baptismal font, where the whole thing takes place. Since Evan isn't always so good with strangers, or with other people holding him, we kept our fingers crossed that he would stay calm.

Well, I am happy to report that not only did he stay calm, but he actually seemed to enjoy himself, and enjoy all the eyes that were on him. Even from the moment he got dressed in his little white christening suit, he had this air about him, like he knew that he was special, that it was his day. I know it sounds silly, but he acted excited and eager all the way to church, and all during the service, up until his baptism. Then, when the baptism itself was going on, he kept giving Father Jim these awed stares, like he was really listening to everything and taking it all in. It was pretty cute. He was on his best behavior the whole time, and even when it came time to have holy water poured on his head, he took it very well. He looked a little confused, but he didn't seem bothered by it at all.

When it was over, Father Jim held Evan up high over his head and introduced him to the whole congregation as its newest member. Then, Evan got a huge round of applause. It was so cool to watch, I have to admit. I know I'm biased, being his mom and everything, but I'd like to think that if I had been a mere spectator that day, I still would have thought it was a very beautiful, special christening. I couldn't have asked for everything to go better than it had.

Afterwards, Evan passed out almost immediately in the car. I actually had to drive around for a half hour or so in order for him to have a long enough nap before his party. I was glad I did that, because when we got back home, everybody was already there for lunch, and Evan was well-rested and very happy. He hammed it up for all his guests, and thrived under all the attention he received. I think he really blossomed this weekend, no longer a timid, wary baby when it comes to strangers. In fact, he's actually pretty social! Unfortunately, he came out of the whole experience with a bad cold. I think maybe he caught it when we took him to the children's hospital for some appointments last week. On top of that, he's about to cut some teeth, so it's making him extra miserable. I'm glad he was able to have this past weekend, though. I'm grateful for everyone who was able to come and be a part of his special day. Also important? We survived our first official party in our new (not so new anymore) house!

P.S. Yes, I realize all my pictures are on the left side of the page, and not centered or embedded properly in the text. I plead computer ignorance and exhaustion, and promise to do better next time. Or my husband will do better next time!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Birthday Cupcakes

So I had my 30th birthday. I actually feel pretty good about it, even though my son keeps reminding me that I'm starting to look my age. Long ago are the days when I could pass for a college student. Now I get questions like this from Xander: "Mom, why are there so many lines around your eyes?" Or I get exclamations such as this: "Mom, I can see all your white hair!" Ah, kids. You just have to appreciate their pure honesty, and laugh because it is at your expense.

I had a hard time trying to decide what kind of cake to make myself. Originally, we debated the idea of having Andy make a cake for me, but we decided that it would be fun for me to get a break from the kids and just bake in a quiet house. So he took off with the boys and I holed up in the kitchen with my brand-new cookbook, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. After much consideration, and after finally asking Xander his opinion, I decided on Red Hot Velvet Cake with Cinnamon Buttercream. Because the cake itself is a three-layer cake loaded in between its layers with piles of buttercream frosting, I didn't want to make the whole entire cake for just myself, Xander, and Andy. I had the good fortune of finding an adaptation of this recipe on Recipezaar where it was turned into cupcakes for Oprah's magazine back around Valentine's Day. So I simply used this idea, cut the recipe in half, and ended up with 12 cupcakes. Perfect! Or at least, a perfect amount for our little family.

The cupcakes turned out really good. I was a little bummed because even though the recipe called for dark cocoa powder, I used regular because I was certain I had used all my dark for a different recipe. About a week after I baked the cupcakes, guess what we found in our cupboard? That's right, the dark cocoa powder. I'm sure it would have made the cakes taste richer and even yummier, but they were still good. Next time I will definitely use the dark. It was also fun for me to play around with using a piping bag to get the frosting onto the cupcakes. I think I've been inspired now to take a cake decorating class or something, because I know I'd have a blast. In the meantime, I'm going to have fun at home experimenting with the delicious-sounding recipes in my new cookbook.

Oh, by the way, in the picture of Xander, he is eating a cupcake, not losing a bloody brawl in a dark alley!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Breakfast (and Leftovers) For Dinner

I love eating breakfast for dinner. It's probably one of my favorite things to eat for dinner. So when Xander suggested having pancakes tomorrow night, I responded with, "How about tonight?!" So thanks to my son, we all had pancakes with bacon, sausage, and some seriously delicious hash browns.

Last week, we were given the gift of fresh vegetables from Andy's parents' garden, as well as a new herb garden. We've already made basil pesto, with basil fresh from the overgrown herbs, and Andy made an inspired pesto pasta frittata this morning with the leftovers. It was awesome. Anyway, we used some of the vegetables in the hash browns this evening, and the result was a really scrumptious hash brown concoction. The fresh veggies liven up the frozen hash browns, and gives them a whole flavor makeover. Plus, cooking everything in the leftover bacon fat doesn't hurt either!

But what I really want to talk about is the pancakes. Oh, the pancakes. I love pancakes to begin with, and I am hardly discriminatory. However, these pancakes were truly something special. I don't know what it was about them. Maybe it was the fact that it has been quite a while since I've made pancakes from scratch. Bisquick pancakes are great, don't get me wrong, but there's no real substitute for pancakes from scratch. They're just so much lighter, and moister, and more flavorful. I found the recipe for them on Recipezaar, my favorite recipe website. There are 217 reviews on this particular recipe, and almost all of them give these pancakes five stars out of a possible five. They are seriously, seriously delicious. Seriously. Here is the recipe, with my slight modifications.

Pete's Scratch Pancakes
adapted from Recipezaar
makes about 16-20 pancakes

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk (I used 2%)
2 eggs, beaten in a separate bowl before adding to other ingredients
1/4 cup butter, cooled slightly (I used Smart Balance 50/50 Blend)

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the butter and milk, then whisk in the beaten eggs.
Slowly whisk in the flour, making sure not to overmix.
Let batter sit for at least 10 minutes before forming pancakes.
Drop 1/4 cup-sized batter circles onto a greased griddle, flip once bubbles start to form, then cook another 2-3 minutes on the other side, checking to make sure they do not become overly brown.
Serve with your toppings of choice, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bacon Cupcakes: No, Really, They're Good

Evan and I were shopping for Father's Day cards the other day and I became distracted in the store by the latest issue of Food Network Magazine. I started perusing its pages, and I came across the weirdest, most outlandish, yet most wonderful-sounding recipe I'd seen in a while. I'm a sucker for cupcakes, and these cupcakes I found were just too unique not to try. Maple French Toast and Bacon Cupcakes, for the record, are awesome! Yes, they are sweet little treats, and yes, they contain cooked, chopped bacon. It's delicious. I've always liked the maple syprup/bacon combo, and this recipe marries the two wonderfully. The cakes are great on their own (just ask Xander, he ate three mini cupcakes for breakfast), but when you add the frosting, it just takes these way over the top. That's right. These little lovelies have a maple cinnamon cream cheese frosting on them, too. The original recipe even garnished the cupcakes with more cooked, chopped bacon, but I held off on doing that. One, I was too lazy to cook more bacon, and two, I thought if we liked these and I made them again, maybe I'd be braver next time and add the extra bacon.

So the verdict is that everyone loved them. They made a great Father's Day treat for Andy, even though he ate too many and was then plagued with a cupcake coma for about an hour afterward. I ended up with 12 regular-size cupcakes and 12 mini cupcakes, so I frosted the regular ones only so that Xander could have the mini, unfrosted ones all to himself. Either way, these are fantastic. The only problem with them is that you can't quite figure out if you should be eating them for breakfast or for dessert! They're definitely decadent enough to be a dessert, but they have all the flavors of breakfast, and are filling enough to be a breakfast. I think we'll probably solve this predicament by just eating them at both times of the day!

In other news, we bought Xander and Evan bunk beds. Obviously, with Evan being just 7 months old, it'll be awhile before they get to share the beds, but Xander's pretty excited about the whole thing. Andy got everything assembled yesterday, so Xander was able to sleep in his new bed for the first time last night. We were all a little disappointed initially to find out that the bed came with instructions stating that a child has to be 6 years old before he can sleep on the top bunk. However, once everything was put together and I actually saw the top bunk, I have to say I am a little bit relieved that I don't have to worry about him falling from a great height for at least another two years. Xander took the news better than I thought he would, too. I guess his brand new Transformers bedsheets softened the blow.

Now, his bedroom is his new favorite hangout. He was extremely eager to go to bed last night, and took great pleasure in tucking in all his stuffed animals and snuggling in himself. This morning, he played in his room, which is a rare occasion. Then, about two hours after he got up for the day, he actually - get this - requested to take a nap! All because he wanted to hang out in his new bed! It was hilarious. He actually stayed in his room for over an hour. We don't know if he actually fell asleep or not, but he at least entertained himself and got a little rest. Too funny. We should buy him a new bed more often. Just like I said in my last post, why spend money on toys when you can just invest in normal, everyday household objects?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Xander's Stuff

I don't know why we even bother to provide Xander with toys. Really, sometimes it seems like anything else is infinitely more interesting than the things he owns, that are his to play with and enjoy.

Right before (or maybe it was right after) Evan was born, I had mentioned to Andy that it might be nice for us to buy Xander a doll, a baby of some kind. I know, boys don't usually play with dolls, blah blah blah, but he's such a nurturing kind of kid, and he genuinely enjoys caring for his stuffed animals. I figured if he had a baby of his own, then he could take care of his while I took care of mine (Evan). He likes to role play just about everything Mommy and Daddy do, so I thought baby care would be no exception.

Well, as it turns out, we didn't buy him a doll. However, he does enjoy playing caretaker to a baby of his own. In his case, his baby is Fred, his favorite stuffed doggie. Nowadays, he follows along with just about everything I do with Evan. Is it time for Evan to take a nap? Well, it's time for Fred's nap, too! Where does Fred sleep? In a "crib" of his own, which is just a cardboard box that Xander nestles him in with a blanket. Where is that crib located? It used to be right next to Xander's bed, just like Evan's crib was right next to our bed. Last week, Evan moved into his own bedroom, so now Fred has moved into his own bedroom, too. When Fred is "sleeping," Xander becomes very concerned about how Fred is doing, so he'll get up out of bed a lot to check on him. Eventually, I think Fred ends up in Xander's room every night, anyway.

Xander has gotten very creative in making sure that Fred has all the same necessities as Evan. This morning, his toy farm silo was sitting on our kitchen table, and I later found out it was because the silo was really Fred's baby monitor, and he was using it to listen for him while he slept. When we ate couscous for dinner the other night, Xander fed couscous to Fred, too. He threw Fred into a box (I guess that was his high chair or something) and tossed a bunch of loose change in there with him. The pennies and dimes were little grains of couscous. When we are playing with Evan on the floor, Fred will take the opportunity to use Evan's rocking chair. The list goes on. There are seemingly endless ways in which Xander will use what we already have in the house and turn it into something else, something that serves the purpose of this elaborate Fred-as-baby game we play. It is so funny to me that half the time Xander whines and begs us to come up with something for him to do, because he's bored. With an imagination like his, how could you ever be bored?

As I said in the beginning, we don't ever need to buy Xander toys, it seems. He either plays with things in the house that aren't really toys, like chair cushions or empty envelopes, or he plays with Evan's toys. This is particularly interesting to me, considering that Evan's toys are baby toys and should therefore be rendered useless by Xander. I was wrong to think that, I guess. Turns out Evan's toys are way more fascinating than just about anything else we own. Of course, you can guess what happens when the shoe's on the other foot and Evan touches Xander's toys! It's like the end of the world! I'm still figuring out how to entertain a boy with so much going on in his little head. One thing I do know for sure now, though, is that we could have saved so much money on toys these last few years. Oh, well, we've learned, and now we're better prepared for Evan to be three.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cookies and Changing Rooms

Well, I have been missing for a while now! It has definitely been too long since I have posted here. There has been a lot of change and adjustment going on in our household lately, and that has been part of the reason why I haven't been good about updating the blog.

First of all, we had Xander's last day of school last week, and then we've been transitioning him into his summer preschool class. So far he seems to be loving it. It is only for two days a week, though, so I'm getting used to having him around more. It's been a little challenging, coming up with new and exciting things for him to do, but we're working on it. I try to use this genius booklet that his teachers came up with and handed out at the end of school. In it, they list tons of things to do with your child, so that he/she doesn't forget or lose all that they've learned this past year. I figure if I use just one of the ideas every day that he is home with me, we'll get to do lots of different activities that are fun and educational for him, and it really helps to have the variety. He is also old enough now that taking him to the pool, even if I have Evan in one arm, should be much easier, though I have yet to attempt it. Maybe I'll be brave next week.

Evan has finally gotten his own bedroom! He has spent his first six months bunking with us, first in his little cradle and then in his crib at the foot of our bed. Now we have done a big room swap, converting what was an office next to our room into his nursery. Tonight will be his fourth night sleeping in there, and I have to say that so far I am happy with how things are going. He still has yet to sleep through the night, so it's a little rougher for me to get out of bed and head next door to his room for nighttime feedings. Plus, I am so paranoid that he's going to wake up and be upset, I tend to lie awake and listen to the baby monitor a little too much. However, Evan himself is doing just great! He is sleeping over four hour stretches, and this morning he woke up at 7 a.m. in the crib, just as happy as could be. I'm really proud of him; he's adjusting better than I thought he would. Now I just have to follow suit...

This past weekend I baked some cookies, which was fun to do alone. Originally it was going to be a project for Xander and I to do together, but let's just say things took an ugly turn with his behavior and I had to take away the baking party. Anyway, the cookie recipe was the first I made out of a cookbook I received for Christmas, Martha Stewart's Cookies. They were a fun, interesting twist on an oatmeal raisin cookie. I especially liked the fact that there was only a half a stick of butter in the whole recipe, which meant I could actually eat them! That's right, these were relatively healthy cookies! They were delicious, too. Here's the recipe, and some pictures of the finished product.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another Mother

Most of the time, parenthood feels like one of the most difficult jobs in the world, yet it definitely feels rewarding at the end of the day. Everything we do, it's for the kids. Even when they're not around, whether Xander is at school or if they're sleeping, we are thinking about them, trying to come up with ways to make their lives better in some way. What do we want in return? Well, we want our kids to turn out well. We don't want to do anything that we think may scar them, or that will make them an unhappy person. Mostly, we want to know that despite all we've been through together, they still love us and are glad that we are their parents.

These musings, of course, lead me to an entertaining story. The reason I was thinking about all this parenthood stuff was because of what happened while I was driving Xander into preschool this morning. We were chatting, and he started asking questions about why Daddy and I don't live with our parents anymore. I was explaining how, eventually, people grow up and want to live on their own, or with their husband or wife, and how it's a totally natural thing. I felt like mentioning the natural part, since he was starting to get sad about the prospect of himself growing up and moving on. Just when I thought he might say something heartwarming about how much he would miss Momma and Daddy when he moved out of our house, he drops another, completely unexpected bombshell. "Well, I wish I had another Momma." The radio was playing, and it's always somewhat difficult to hear him talk since he sits directly behind the driver's seat, so I asked him to repeat himself. Surely I had heard wrong. "I didn't want you for a mom. I wanted another girl to be my mom. But it didn't happen," Xander said. I was incredulous. He's only three years old; I wasn't expecting such a statement to come out of his mouth until he was at least 11 or 12! It's too soon for him to hate me.

Not entirely knowing how to handle the situation, I asked him to explain himself further. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, I don't know. He elaborated, but he didn't really say anything I wanted to hear. He mentioned wishing for a different mom and something about how before he was born he had hoped I would be somebody else, or something like that. Whatever he said, I know it wasn't pleasant. So I tried to recover as best I could, and started a speech about hurting people's feelings when we say stuff like this. I explained that it hurts Mommy's feelings when he says this, and I asked him to put himself in my shoes for a minute. He didn't like that too much. I hope it made sense to him, that Mommy has feelings too and that he is able to hurt them, but I can't be sure it sunk in. It was an interesting situation, and one I wasn't prepared for.

That's like so many things when it comes to parenting though. You're suddenly faced with a new and unusual scenario, and you need to think on your toes. If you don't, the kid sure knows that he threw you for a loop! Then you're in trouble, because he can use that "weakness" to his advantage. It's kind of like sharks, and how they can smell fear. Kids totally smell the fear and uncertainty. The best thing to do sometimes is to wing your way through, and sometimes I find it's better to just tell Xander that I need "time" to think things over. If he does or says something and I just don't know how to respond, he needs to give me time. It works wonders, too, usually. If all else fails, there's always the patented "Daddy and I need to talk this over and decide how to handle this" speech. It never hurts to have a second opinion!

I'm over the other mother thing by now, and I know he's young and doesn't really mean it the way it could be taken. But it's always going to feel lousy when your child says something hurtful to you, no matter what. All I have to say is that if he keeps saying stuff like that to us, we'll be more than ready to handle him as a teenager!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Developments

What amazes me almost more than anything else about my kids is how quickly they can change. It seems like both of them are growing up faster than ever.

Take Xander, for example. He has always been opinionated; that hasn't changed. Now, though, he has applied his opinions in a way that enforces the rules at the same time. Let me give you an example. Lately, he has been getting up at night after we put him to bed. He'll come downstairs and give us some excuse, with varying degrees of ridiculousness, as to why he came down. Sometimes it's because he has to use the bathroom. Other times, he lets us know that we forgot to perform some part of his bedtime ritual. Well, one night, he came down and I was eating something while sitting on the couch. I forget what it was, maybe a cookie or something. As soon as he saw me, he let me know that he didn't like the fact that Mommy and Daddy do things after he has gone to bed. I think it would be ideal if we went to bed at the same time as him; that way he would never miss out on anything that may potentially be fun. He yelled at me though, and let me know that "we aren't allowed to eat on the couch." Of course, he's right. He gets into huge trouble if he eats on the couch, unless it's movie night and we give him popcorn. It's funny when he catches us doing things that we yell at him for doing. He acts like a little police officer, here to enforce all the laws as he knows them. Another time, he came downstairs and I was writing a recipe down on paper. Again, I got in trouble because guess where I was writing? In the living room. Another no-no. And he tells you you've done wrong in this schoolteacher tone, as if he's explaining the rules to someone who doesn't know them. It's hilarious. It's like he doesn't remember that I'm the one who usually tells him these things!

Then there's Evan. In the blink of an eye, he's gone from a little baby that really didn't do much, and who needed almost constant attention, to a nearly-mobile little squirmy thing who likes to explore and roll around on the floor. This past week has seen him suddenly spending long periods of time playing by himself, happy and content to talk to himself and get to know his toys better. He now rolls out of your grasp when you're trying to change or dress him, so that has made things more fun. In addition, he has now just started to sit up on his own. I think his current record is 3 minutes sitting up independently before he does a face plant into the carpet. Even when he does fall over, he doesn't really mind. He just settles himself down on his back on the rug and continues to play. He's so laid-back, but he's not yet comfortable with people other than those outside his immediate family. He can warm up to others just fine if they are at a distance, but he either needs to know one parent is in close proximity, or he needs to be held by one parent while the stranger interacts with him.

He's just started eating really well. At first, we struggled with getting him to eat his baby cereal, but then when we introduced veggies, he started improving. I'm glad he loves his veggies, but I know it probably won't last! He has a face full of peas in the picture I posted here. It seems like such an accomplishment when they finally start to eat well, especially because he hadn't been eating well in the beginning. It makes you feel bad at the same time, because Xander always wonders why we don't get nearly as excited to see him eat! He has turned mealtimes into a competition now, where he wants to "beat" everybody else at the table and be the fastest eater. I wonder where that competitive edge came from? Maybe it's typical at this age; I don't know.

No matter what the changes are, though, it's nice because it definitely keeps things interesting. It makes me look forward to each new phase the kids will be entering, and it's kind of cool knowing that no two phases will ever be exactly the same. Now, if we can just work on ending Xander's interrupting phase...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Healthy Granola-ish Bars

I have an addiction. It's a problem, really, and one that I have trouble overcoming. I am in love with granola bars. Well, any kind of breakfast-y bar, really. Cereal bars. Crunchy, nutty bars. Sweet, fruity bars. Chocolatey bars. I am not really discriminating when it comes to my bars. I buy them by the truckload, it seems. Seriously, at one point we must have had about 20 boxes of bars in our pantry, all different brands and varieties. Like I told you, it's a problem. I just can't seem to help myself. When I see them in the grocery store, I have to stop and stare at all the different kinds. Normally, at least one or more are on sale. Why, oh why, do they always have to be on sale? That's only going to make me justify buying them!

But I think I may have come up with a solution. You see, last winter I decided to try my hand at making my own granola bars. I pored over recipes on my favorite recipe website, Recipezaar, until I had narrowed down my search to oh, maybe 20 different recipes. The first type I tried turned out really well. They were peanut buttery ones, and all the cooking was done on the stove, no baking required. They were a little bit of work, though, because you had to combine all the ingredients before the cooked, liquidy ingredients hardened on you, and then press it all into a pan to set up. I loved that recipe, but now that I have the two kids and a whole lot less free time on my hands, I have to find something that will be much easier to throw together.

Then I found happiness. I found a recipe for Healthy Chocolate Nut Squares, also on Recipezaar. I retooled the recipe just a tad and gave it a try. They are delicious. They're much better homemade than out of a box. They're more of a treat this way; they're more like a cake-like oatmeal cookie or something. Plus, they're loaded with good, wholesome ingredients, and no preservatives! I wrap them each in plastic wrap, throw them in the freezer, and then I take one out each morning so it'll thaw for later on. They stay fresh, and each batch lasts nearly two weeks. So I've found a way to save money, provided I can resist the lure of the grocery store bars from now on! Here's the recipe, with my modifications.

Healthy Chocolate Nut Squares
adapted from Recipezaar
yields 12 bars

1 cup Grape Nuts cereal
3/4 cup quick oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons ground flax seed (I used this once, and then whole flax seeds the second time. Both turned out fine.)
1 1/2 tablespoons wheat germ
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (the original recipe calls for 1/3 cup walnuts or pecans, but I thought the almonds worked well)
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (butterscotch, white chocolate, or cinnamon chips would be great, too)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 oz. nonfat yogurt (I used plain, but flavored could be used as well)
1 large egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup applesauce (I used a sweetened kind)
1/2 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 2/3 cup, but 1/2 was plenty for me)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 baking dish by coating it with cooking spray, or by lining it with aluminum foil that has been sprayed.

Combine all ingredients, from Grape Nuts down through cinnamon, in a large mixing bowl. Once combined, add in the remaining six ingredients. Stir well.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely, then cut into squares. (I cut evenly into 12 rectangles; they are roughly the size and shape of a - you guessed it - store bought granola bar!)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pizza Night

We had a great weekend this past week. It was productive, yet relaxing. Fun, yet lazy. Saturday, after we'd gotten some chores and essentials done around the house, we decided to make pizzas for dinner. Usually, we make our pizza dough in our trusty bread machine, and divide the dough into two equal halves. With these, we'll make a "Xander" pizza, which is made with toppings he'll like, and then we'll make a "Mom and Dad" pizza, that we can do fun, experimental things with, knowing Xander would probably never touch it!

This time, we decided to make a Shrimp and Feta Pesto Pizza. I had made some cilantro pesto a few months back, and frozen it for a later date. Then, of course, I never got around to using it, so I figured now was the time to thaw out that bad boy and put it to good use! We sort of made this pizza up as we went along, but I did have a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, based on my earlier perusal of the internet for pesto pizza recipes. I included our recipe below, but keep in mind that this would be great with other toppings, too. Even just some pesto and cheese on a pizza is never a bad thing!

As for Xander's pizza, he first requested a pepperoni pizza. Then, when Daddy accidentally left the grocery store without the pepperoni, Xander's request became a pizza with "no sauce and no pepperoni." I believe he may have changed his mind at one point to a pizza that was only bread, but we managed to convince him that it wouldn't be a pizza unless it had something on it. Of course, then he wanted to know why a pizza had to have toppings, which turned into another slightly frustrating Q & A session, but that is another rant for another day. In the end, Xander asked for just sauce and "orange" cheese, or cheddar to anyone over 3. We added some turkey bacon and ham, to stand in for the pepperoni. The verdict? He hated it! Sigh.

We constantly struggle to get him to eat new things, and now he has taken a dislike to things he previously ate with no problems. He has suddenly become averse to french fries, of all things. Now pizza is gross to him. Tonight at dinner, he told me he hates milk. What's next? A passionate hatred for fruity snacks? Ha, that'll be the day! We did at least get a picture of him acting happy with his pizza. Too bad it was only an act. Better luck next time, though. Maybe for an upcoming pizza night we really will give him a pizza with no toppings....

Shrimp and Feta Pesto Pizza
serves 4

1 pizza dough (we used whole-wheat dough)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, sliced into long, thin strips
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 head garlic, roasted and smashed into a paste
1/2 - 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 lb. medium-size shrimp, already cooked and chopped into thirds
1/2 - 3/4 cup cilantro pesto (recipe from Recipezaar, here)
optional toppings: black olives, sliced cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini rings

Begin by melting 1 tablespoon butter in a medium pan over medium-low to medium heat. Add sliced onion, allowing to soften for 5 minutes with the lid on. Remove lid and continue to cook onions on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes more, until soft and sweet. Remove pan from heat, add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, and stir to combine. Set aside.

While onions are cooking, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare pizza dough by stretching and shaping into a 12-inch round pizza shape, or a long rectangular shape. Spread mashed, roasted garlic all over the pizza dough. Top the garlic with the cilantro pesto, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides of the dough.

Next, scatter the caramelized onions over the dough. Sprinkle feta cheese, and any additional toppings. Bake for about 5-7 minutes, then remove from oven. Add pre-cooked shrimp to the top of the pizza, and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until shrimp are heated through and the cheese has softened. Cut into wedges and serve.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Some Crusty Stuff

Well, it has been a week of adventure and mishap here, which is part of the reason why I haven't been good about blogging lately. The other part is that, well, I've just been a little too busy. I have a new routine now, as I am trying to get back into the groove of balancing the normal everyday stuff with staying active and getting in all my exercise. It's a tough balance, and therefore it only leaves me with a couple nights a week to do anything else.

This past week, one of those extra nights was occupied by Xander injuring himself. He's totally fine, but the event was just scary enough for all of us that it reminds us just how lucky we are. I mean, up until now, Xander has only hurt himself to the point of needing a doctor one time. He had taken a nosedive from the couch right into the coffee table when he was about a year and a half, and he still has the tiny scar over his eyebrow to prove it.

So one night last week, he was cleaning up his toys in the living room. He was talking to me as he worked, and was walking backwards. Not paying attention to where he was going, he tripped over a toy and fell back into the brick fireplace, and of course his head hit the sharp corner. Now, one thing about me: I'm not calm in situations where my child is bleeding. I mean, I can act calm enough in front of the child, so as not to make him completely panic, but inside I'm a mess. It causes me to lose all sense, and I find myself not knowing what to do. It's really not a good feeling to have, and I need to work on it seeing as how I'm the mother of two boys and will inevitably need to keep my wits about me the next two dozen times one of them hurts himself.

Xander's head started bleeding, so immediately I ran to get Andy. Once Andy was involved in the situation, I took a backseat. In fact, Andy told me to back away because he didn't want me scaring Xander (guess I didn't have much of a poker face once I caught sight of the back of his head!). We put ice on it, got the bleeding to slow down considerably, checked for a concussion, all that fun stuff. While we were both keeping him calm, Xander wanted to know if he would ever stop bleeding. After he continued to ask questions, Andy finally explained that he would form a scab on the back of his head. Well, that just opened up a whole new can of worms. Suddenly all Xander cared about was the scab. I tried telling him what a scab was, and described that it was "crusty stuff" that covers a boo-boo and makes it heal up. So now Xander was crying in fear over having "crusty stuff" on his head. It's so hard to know what will calm him down and what will freak him out more sometimes.

By the time he went to school the next day he was proud to show off his scrape. I think he pretty much showed or explained it to anybody who was willing to listen. He did a really good job of forgetting about it, and not fixating on the scab when it did, in fact, form. I was glad that was over with.

Then, on Sunday evening, he skinned his knee. A common occurrence for little boys, right? Well, not for Xander. He has really only fallen and scraped himself once before, and I believe he was too young to remember that. So the new obsession, once the Band-Aid was on and the bleeding had stopped, became not disturbing the knee. He was very paranoid about making it hurt again. Turns out he had applied his Band-Aid all by himself, which resulted in him placing some of the adhesive on the actual cut, so no wonder the thing still bothered him as much as it did. It's been two days since he scraped it, but he still gets upset when I try to help him, say, put his pants on, because he's worried that I'll perhaps rip off all the skin by sliding up his pants. I thought boys were supposed to be all tough and eat worms and all that good stuff. Xander is in a class by himself.

Then came last night. Xander was getting ready for bed and Andy was combing his hair down because it gets all crazy and big if we don't try and tame it. Suddenly, Andy asked me where the matches were. Hmm. Why would you need a match to comb the kid's hair? "Does he have a tick?" I asked Andy. Turns out he did. Andy managed to get it out without Xander even knowing what a tick was. Why make him freak out when we didn't need to? We explained it to him after the tick was safely gone, and he took it well, luckily. I just hope that this marks the end of the Xander mishaps for a while. They say bad things come in threes, right? So he should be good for now, I think. At least, I hope!

I do have a picture of Xander's bloody head, actually, but I figured that nobody really wants to see it. Instead, I thought I'd post a cute picture of Evan, since I haven't even mentioned him this whole post. Here you go!