Friday, November 30, 2012

What's Cookin': Thanksgiving favorites

We alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas between my family in Lexington and Mike's family in Pittsburgh.  Although we're blessed with wonderful and welcoming families, it's always hard to be away from your own family and traditions on any given holiday, so this year I hosted "Pre-Thanksgiving" for my side of the family in Cincinnati the weekend before we left for Pittsburgh.  We hosted seven adults and two children and the menu included a roasted turkey breast, green bean casserole, corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, stuffing / dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce (out of a can due to popular demand), rolls, Paula Deen's pumpkin pie, and chocolate cream pie.  My Mom provided guidance (and baby-sitting!) during most of the prep as this was my first big solo meal, and everything went off without a hitch.  Of course it didn't hurt that I was using tried-and-true recipes from years of practice.  If full bellies were any indication, I'd say the meal was a success and I hope this becomes a tradition with both sides of our family.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the day and the icing on the cake was Anna having a chance to play with her cousin, Aiden.  It took a bit for Aiden to warm up to Anna's "in your face" welcoming nature, but when he did, they literally ran circles around the house for an hour and had a blast playing with one another all afternoon and into the evening.  I love holiday food, but I love the fact that holidays gather family even more!

I love, love, love how the turkey turned out, it was quite possibly the best turkey I've had, ever (if I do say so myself), and I was pretty proud that I carved it myself.  I've copied the full recipe below, but I took a few shortcuts using dried herbs, and also chickened-out (or would it be turkeyed-out?) in regard to putting any of the mixture under the skin; I think I'll try that when I'm not cooking for a crowd.  The corn pudding recipe is a family tradition that my Mom has been making since I was born.  It's so, so, so, so good.  And super easy.  I hesitate to even post it here, but it deserves to be shared with the world, aka my 12 readers : )

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
Courtsey of Ina Garten
1 whole bone-in turkey breast, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack in a roasting pan.

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice to make a paste. Loosen the skin from the meat gently with your fingers and smear half of the paste directly on the meat. Spread the remaining paste evenly on the skin. Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Roast the turkey for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest and meatiest areas of the breast. (I test in several places.) If the skin is over-browning, cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil. When the turkey is done, cover with foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with the pan juices spooned over the turkey.

Corn Pudding
Courtesy of Patricia Miller's kitchen

1 can cream corn
2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick of butter, melted
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream or half and half
2 eggs, separated

Mix the corn, sugar, flour, butter and two egg yolks in a greased casserole dish. Beat the egg whiles until they form stiff peaks. Fold in egg whites to corn mixture, very gently. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower oven to 300 degrees for 1 hour, alternatively, bake at 350 degrees for a little over an hour, or until set.  Let rest for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thankful Thursday: My partner in crime

I'm probably most thankful for my husband, Mike, and so I've saved the best of my Thankful Thursday, November 2012 edition, for last : ) 

Mike and I met through a mutual friend in the fall of 2005, right after I moved back to Cincinnati, but we didn't get to know each other until the following January when we sat next to each other at a group dinner and ended the evening with a competitive game of flip cup.  He asked me out over the phone a few days later and our first day followed at a venue that's changed ownership no fewer than four times in almost seven years, but still makes for a great date night full of memories.  Sometimes I even make him reenact how he called to me across the parking lot as we were both leaving and asked if I'd want to go out again ; )

So, thank you, Mike, for being my best friend and my partner in crime, I truly can't imagine a world where you're not by my side.  Thank you for being the best father imaginable to our daughter; I knew you'd have a special bond with our children, but I couldn't have imagined how amazing it would be to see it form.  Thank you for letting me come up with crazy ideas, not squashing my dreams immediately, and letting me realize on my own they were a little far-fetched.  Thank you for cleaning up the dishes on the nights I cook and taking charge of at least one meal a week so that I have a bit of a break; nothing tastes better than a meal you don't have to prepare.  Thank you for doing pretty much all of the heavy lifting around the house, including the garbage/recycling every single week.  Thank you for understanding my need to make the bed daily and appeasing me by doing so most days.  Thank you for being one of the neater husbands I know and keeping your towels and clothing off the floor.  Related to that, thank you for taking turns doing the laundry.  Thank you for being a gentleman and opening doors for me, letting me go first, and generally watching out for me.  Thank you for understanding when I'm emotional and letting me cool down so that I realize on my own I'm a little loco.  Thank for so many times being the voice of reason and always keeping a level head.  Thank you for always being able to make me laugh, for being a great travel companion on so many fun and fantastic adventures, and for just being you, I can't wait to continue exploring our world with the best person I know! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksful Thursday: Perspective

I'm thankful for perspective. 

The perspective that comes from my Mom when I'm rushing around to clean the house and prepare the perfect meal for my family; and she reminds me "they're not coming to see a spotless house or eat at a 5-star restaurant." 

The perspective that comes from my time volunteering for various charities; nothing reminds you of how lucky and blessed you are to live the life you live, than helping those with so much less.

The perspective that comes from being a Mother to a young child; when an hour on Sunday evening is spent singing ring-around-the-rosie in the living room over and over and over again until we're all dizzy, but can't stop laughing, and then having your child come over to give you a big bear hug.

The perspective that comes from being a working Mother, when you want to have that spotless house, a healthy and home cooked meal on the table each night, and to spend quality time with your child(ren) each day, all while climbing the corporate ladder.  Something's got to give and I'm glad I have the perspective of other working Mothers to help me find a balance.

The perspective that comes from a weekend with friends where you can ask the questions you might not ask without having the luxury of time mulling around a hotel room getting ready for the day, like "how much organic do you guys actually buy?", "how often do you wash your bras?", "how much are you putting away for college for your kids?"  Honest answers from friends can do wonders for your psyche and can make you feel "normal," just the perspective you need. 

The perspective that comes from growing a baby inside you and realizing that every life is precious, every life is a blessing and we're all meant to be here for a reason grander than we may ever know. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksful Thursday: Lifelong friends

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words."

My first best friend and I literally grew-up together, our parents met in Lamaze class while pregnant and we've remained friends to this day.   We taught each other how to be good friends and from those early days I've cultivated friendships that I will always cherish.  From friends I met in high school to college/sorority to a little toy store that brought a big group of 20-somethings together, to friends I've met in Cincinnati, Chicago, Charlotte, and now as a Mom.  Some I may not talk to once a month, or even once a year, but you can bet that when we're finally able to get together, we'll carry-on like no time has lapsed at all.  I cherish my friends, work hard to keep in touch, and you can be your bottom dollar that I wouldn't trade any of them for a million bucks.  For that, I am very, very thankful.

"If you're alone, I'll be your shadow. If you want to cry, I'll be your shoulder. If you want a hug, I'll be your pillow. If you need to be happy, I'll be your smile... But anytime you need a friend, I'll just be me."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Letter to Anna: Month Eighteen

Dear Anna,

You’re a year and a half old, how did that happen?!?! I am amazed each day by how much you are learning and growing and am so proud of the little girl you are growing into.

I could say this over and over, and I probably do, but you’re so smart and have such a sense of humor and personality. You’re vocabulary is growing quickly and you literally come home with new words almost each day. You love books with letters and related pictures because you can somewhat say most of the words and “read along.” Your favorite ABC word is “apple” and you still love to call everything that’s a circle a “bubble.” You’re also really good at scolding the cats with that finger shake and “bad” or “bad cats” line, it’s adorable. Perhaps the most welcome addition to your vocabulary this month has been calling your Dad and me by “Mommy” and “Daddy.” It melts my heart every time I hear you say either of those words. I went away this past weekend and I can’t begin to tell you what a joy it was to hear you say “Hi Mommy!” over the phone when Dad put you on speaker. You love to tell us “Bye Bye Mommy (or Daddy)” when we drop you off at school. And, I can’t forget to mention that every time we walk by the photo display in the hallway with our many family pictures, you *have* to stop to point out “Mommy, Daddy, and Baby Anna.”

Speaking of being away, you and Dad spent a weekend together while I went out of town with my girlfriends. Although we talked about our kids most of the weekend and compared tricks and tips, it was nice have a change of scenery and you and your Father had a great time. You went to the zoo, out to dinner and the park together; you played games, read books, colored pictures, and generally wore each other out. I’m not sure who was more tired when I got home, but it sure was great to see you both. You and your Dad have a special bond and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s the rough-and-tumble parent and just when I think he’s gone too far with a game of a chase, you giggle with ultimate joy and I realize that you’re a much tougher cookie that I give you credit for. I can’t wait to see your relationship continue to blossom!

You LOVE to read. You would be happier with nothing more than a stack of 20 books and a parent to turn the pages most evenings after school, so that’s what we do. You are at a point where you will sit and pay attention and not try to grab the pages to prove your independence, which means we can read books with “real” pages and aren’t stuck in the land of board books. Your favorite books are ones where you can provide sound effects or say some of the words. You also love to color, but it’s not a completely independent exercise yet as you’ve been known to snack on a crayon or two. It does buy me a few minutes if I’m making a meal or cleaning up a mess and I can’t wait to display the many works of art you will create over the years ahead.

You also enjoy independent play and reading. At times you’ll sit and read to yourself or play with toys and stuffed animals, and you impress me every day when I look over and see what you’re doing by yourself. The other day you grabbed a stuffed bunny and started making him “hop” around the room, complete with the words “hop, hop, hop” at the right times. You remember what we show you when we play together and I swear you have an elephant’s memory. It’s been at least 6 weeks and you STILL remember where that bubble was on your hand when Grandma was visiting; you even point it out to her when you Skype.

You’re literally growing each day, but are still long and lean. I don’t need your 18-month appointment that’s scheduled for next week to confirm, I’ve got a drawer full of button-waist-pants that slide off, but are on the verge of being too short, to confirm. This means you live in comfy, cotton, elastic waist pants, which isn’t a horrible alternative. Your shoe preferences have started early in that you have a pair of “sparkle” shoes I found on sale a while back that you insist on wearing around the house in the evenings and occasionally to school. And then there was the Saturday that I came home with a pair of snow boots I found at a consignment sale that you wore around the house all day. You’re also a huge fan of your hat and mittens, which is a relief given that it’s getting chilly in the mornings.

Although you still approach new situations and children with caution, you’re a social butterfly. We met two other families at a Fall Festival last month and then hosted dinner for everyone back at our house. You loved playing with the other kids in the hay maze and really took a liking to the oldest of the children who is five. Back at our house, you loved sharing your toys and thought the other kids were hilarious. With your personality I know that it’s only a matter of time before you have too many friends to count. You move to a new room at school next week and I know I’ll be sentimental and hesitant to make the change, but I know you’ll be more challenged and will do wonderfully with new teachers and friends. I see how much you’re learning and growing each day and worry sometimes that we’re not doing enough at home to stimulate you, but then I see how much you absorb just being around us and I figure we’re doing OK.

My favorite part of this month as been hearing you call me Mommy so many times. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve called my Mom for guidance, support, to cry, or to just hear her voice. Nothing replaces your Mom. Ever. I know that down the road you won’t always be calling my name to talk or to tell me how amazing I am, or to ask for advice, sometimes you’ll be upset at a decision I’ve made about your life or how un-cool I’m being, and that’s part of being a good parent and doing what’s right for your children. But, I hope you know that no matter what, you’re never too old to call your Mom, I’m never too busy to listen, and you’ll always be my little girl who not so many years ago melted my heart with one simple 5-letter word.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fitting room

Mommy bought all of this last weekend ...

... so naturally someone had to try out her new boots ... all morning ... oh, you don't see them in the pile of loot? That's because they lastest there about 3 seconds before someone snatched them away : )  Don't you wear your new snow boots around with your PJs and a new hair bow on your Saturday mornings?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walking in Daddy's shoes

Friday, November 9, 2012

No one puts Anna in a corner ...

... unless it's that one corner by the bookshelf and she puts herself there so that she can play the same song, over and over and over again with her talking puppy ...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Technology

This may seen trivial, but I'm thankful for technology this week.  I'm thankful that this blog allows me to keep our out-of-town family and friends updated on our lives and also  allows me to keep a living scrapbook.  I'm thankful that I have a camera phone I can use to send Anna's grandmothers a text picture almost daily.  I'm thankful that we can quickly share good news (or bad news) over e-mail.  I'm thankful I can quickly order the ever-needed new wardrobe for my child without leaving the comfort of my own home.  I'm thankful that DVR exists and kept me from going insane during this political season and also allows us to provide Anna with educational shows of our choosing when she just needs those 15 minutes to unwind.  That said, there's nothing that can replace a phone call, sitting next to someone and talking, or a big bear hug.  As much as I'm thankful for technology, I guess I'm probably more thankful for the people on the other end : )

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Confessions of a cookie monster

Anna's had limited exposure to sweet treats in her short almost-18 months, but we did let her indulge in an iced cookie among friends when we hosted two other families at our house the weekend before last.  They insisted we take an extra cookie, so we saved it for Halloween.  To say she enjoyed it is an understatement.  I love these shots!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Craft Corner: Halloween

I took a page from Anna's teachers and got crafty this past Halloween season and created one-of-a-kind spook-tacular cards to send to close family.  I've already got my thinking cap on for future holidays : ) 

Spooky feet about to turn into ghosts -- OOOOOOO -- !

The finished product, so spook-tacular : )
(of course I didn't take a picture of a ghost that didn't smudge before sending them out)

The prototype from last year ... can you believe how much her tooties have grown? 
(red lines added for effect)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What's Cookin': Loaded Baked Potato Soup (Slow Cooker)

I knew on Halloween night it would be nice to have an easy, hot dinner ready to go before our neighborhood Halloween parade started at 5:30 and considering it was going to be a COLD night, I thought this hearty soup would fit the bill perfectly.  It doesn't get easier than this, folks. My only warning is that the recipe makes A LOT, which makes me feel better about the butter and cream.  I'll probably cut the recipe in half the next time I make it for just our family, unless the leftovers I freeze thaw well.  I like that you can add toppings you please and just love the creamy texture.  I even mixed peas and carrots into Anna's bowl, a sneaky way to get more veggies into to diet ; )  I have a feeling this will lead to many a winter root vegetable soup in our house, up next squash and sweet potatoes : )

Loaded (Slow Cooker) Baked Potato Soup
From The Crockin' Girls

6 Large Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Large Onion, diced
1 Quart Chicken Broth
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/4 Cup Butter (just throw half a stick-ish in the crock)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Cup Cream (I used half and half)
1 Cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (I used mild cheddar)

Combine all ingredients except for cream/ half and half, and cheese in your slow cooker.
Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours (potatoes should be tender).
Mash potatoes until coarsely chopped and soup is slightly thickened (I used my immersion blender).
Stir in cream and cheese and keep warm until ready to serve. Garnish with toppings (bacon, chives, sour cream, cheese).

Friday, November 2, 2012

All treats, no tricks

We weren't sure how Anna would do with her costume this year given the fact that she absolutely hated it when she tried it on for her grandparents a few weeks prior to Halloween.  Come Halloween night, though, she had a blast and loved being a duck, quack quack.  I was relieved that we didn't have to be "that family" with a child dressed up as her toddler self : )  I think the trick was Mike showing her how cool she looked in the mirror after she was dressed, mental note to all you mothers of toddlers out there. 

Big cheese in her duck costume ... this is her new favorite smile

The best full-body shot I could manage.  She LOVED that pumpkin and still plays with it daily.  I can't get over the tights, hopefully we can find a reason to wear them again this fall.

These are blurry, but I love the shots.  Mike had gone to get his shoes, came back and opened the front door to see the parade participants starting to assemble.  This shows you how excited she was from the time the door opened to when Mike asked "do you want to go outside and join the parade?"

Waiting to head out and then excitement during the parade. It was the first year our neighborhood did a parade and even though it was cold, dreary and raining, there was great attendance. It was a big hit!

We took our duck to three houses (close neighbors) and then Anna helped pass out candy until her bedtime.  She was SO excited each time the doorbell rang.  Of course she had to test out a few pieces to make sure they were fit to hand out : )

Cutest duck I've ever seen!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Life is good

I'm copying this series title from a friend and thought it was approprate that this is my first post for the month of November, the month of giving thanks. I was asked a few weeks ago if I'd provide a couple of paragraphs on "what I've been up to over the past couple of years" by the director of our local Team in Training (TNT) program. For those that don't know, I'm a leukemia survivor and work as a volunteer and am a "honored hero" for our local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Mike and I have run two races through the TNT program and those prompted us to run another half marathon together and I went on to run two more half marathons with friends.

As I sat down to write my update, I became nostalgic. For something SO bad and horrible to happen to a person (cancer), SO MUCH GOOD has come out of it. I met the love of my life and best friend because I moved back to Cincinnati to be closer to home during treatments. I've been somewhat miraculously able to give birth to one healthy baby and have another one on the way even after a body-draining chemotherapy regime. I found my way to running, something I would NEVER have predicted I do, be decent at, or enjoy. My life isn't just good, it's great. I'm especially thankful on this Thursday!

(In case you're interested, here's my "updated bio"and you can read more about my "story" by clicking here)

I began my journey with LLS and TNT in 2006, shortly after I was deemed to be in remission from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). I began as a general volunteer, but was quickly recruited to become part of the Honored Hero program that serves TNT. Working with TNT and the "hero" program was a natural fit for me, I had always said that if my story was able to help others, then my journey was 100% worthwhile. After hearing many past participants speak at the same meetings where I shared my story, I was encouraged to sign up for my first full-marathon, the Flying Pig 2008. I had never been a runner before in my life, but knew with the proper training and dedication, I would cross the finish line. I persuaded my then-boyfriend, Mike, to sign up with me. Mike and I both met friends we still keep in contact with today during that training season, and I received the shock and joy of my life when he proposed in February 2008. We crossed the finish line in May and our journey with TNT has continued to this day. We completed the Flying Pig half marathon in May 2009, a mere three weeks before we became husband and wife on May 23, 2009. Since then, together we completed the Chicago Rock n Roll half marathon in August 2009 and I completed the Disney Princess half marathon in March 2010 and the Nashville Women's half marathon in September 2010.

You'll notice my race-running stopped about two years ago, and for a really good reason. When I ran the Nashville half, I had discovered I was pregnant with our first daughter earlier that week. With clearance from my OB I completed the half and continued to run sparingly throughout my pregnancy. On May 14, 2011 (one day before my 5-year remission "birthday") we welcomed the joy of our lives, Anna Elizabeth, to the world. I can't tell you what a blessing Anna has been to our lives! We've had so much fun with her that we decided to saddle-up again and I'm due with our second child (another girl!!) in March 2013. We feel blessed beyond belief! Having a family is a dream come true, literally, for me. Before starting my 6 rounds of chemotherapy treatments in October 2005, my oncologist referred me to a reproductive specialist. Because I was such a young CLL patient, there wasn't much, if any, research on the effects of my treatment regime on reproductive organs and my doctor pronounced my abilities to have children as fairly grim. That said, to have one healthy baby and another one the way is nothing short of amazing. The fact that I'm in remission 6+ years later is a true testament to the fact that research leads to results! My "chemo cocktail" had been published in a medical journal just months before my treatment began. I will forever be grateful to the LLS for their tireless dedication to the cause and I can't wait to lace up my running shoes again for TNT!