Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Elsie is 4 months old

Today Elsie is 4 months old!  I can't believe it.  Yesterday, Lee was having a cry because he had to do his homework, and I told him, "Back when you were a baby, Lee, I kept asking and pleading with you to quit growing up, but you didn't want to.  You chose to grow up and be a big kid.  Now, here you are in first grade and you have to do your homework--it's just part of being a kid."  His response, "I'm changing my mind!  I just want to be a baby now!"

I had to laugh with him for a while and kind of backpedal and explain that I was teasing him and growing up is just part of life.  I keep telling Elsie to quit growing up too, but she doesn't want to listen either.  All we can do, then, is to cherish every moment of her infancy--and I do.  I adore the moments I have with her.  She is the sweetest, most perfect baby.  She coos and smiles and giggles now, loves watching her older siblings play, and especially loves to snuggle with mommy.  She's also the most patient baby I've ever known, for which I'm immensely grateful.  Granted, she'll let me know if she's hungry or uncomfortable, but if I've fed her, she's becoming very content to just lie on the floor and play.  She's become a finger sucker.  She hates binkies, but now she'll get two fingers in her mouth and self-soothe and just be happy for an hour or more.  It's really helpful on nights like last night, when Katie completely missed the toilet and everyone needed baths.  I spent about forty minutes bustling through bath and bedtime, reading to Lee, helping with homework, trying to pick up the clutter, getting on jammies, and finally, I realized, "I haven't heard Elsie make a peep this whole time!"  I went back to where I'd left her, and she was just kicking her feet in the air, sucking on her fingers, and when she saw me, she gave me a huge smile and suddenly the stress and frustration of the last forty minutes melted away.  I gave her a big kiss and held her the rest of the night, trying to thank her for what she'd given me.  She is the sweetest baby ever.

She's getting stronger every day and can now roll over 360 degrees.  Her eating and sleeping schedule is becoming more regular as well.  Unlike my other kids, she will not eat if she is not hungry.  If she is sleepy, all she wants it to be wrapped up and put to bed.  But she really only cries if she has a tummy ache from gas or if she is tired.  Such a delight!  Our favorite little feature is the curl right on top of her head.  Yes, I assist it with a bit of baby lotion right after bath time, but then it will stay perfectly curly until bath time comes around again.  It is A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E.   

Enough talk.  More pictures.

Happy 4 months, E!

Thanks to Aunt Sara for eliciting her first big laugh.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Our Olympics food journey

About eighteen months ago, during the London Summer Olympics, I got the idea to make dinner based on whichever country was ahead in the medals statistics. After just one night, I realized I wanted more variety (USA was ahead in medals quite often) and I wanted this to become an international journey of food and diversity and excitement, the same way the Olympics unifies the world through sport. We had fun trying cuisine from different cultures-so much fun, in fact, that I started planning my Olympics food party several weeks before the 2014 Sochi Olympics started. My goal was to use the Olympics as inspirations for which country to choose, then to make a dish from that country and present it to the kids along with pictures, maps, and other cool tidbits (whatever I could scrounge up on Facebook and Google Images). Of course, this was meant to simply be fun, so I didn't beat myself up if I needed a day off or if my dish wasn't perfectly authentic. I also didn't want to break the bank buying a slew of unusual ingredients every day, so I tried to choose dishes that I already had the ingredients for, and I sometimes had to make substitutions. I just did my best. I also usually added a bunch of veggies on the side, after I'd taken a photograph.  After all, I did still need to provide healthy meals for my family!

So, here's our International menus!

From Austria: Gröstel
This was a comfort-and-a-half-food; hash of caramelized onions, red potatoes (that I made extra special by first pressure cooking them with chicken stock), ham, and topped with a fried egg.

From The Netherlands: Erwtensoep
A super hearty, thick split pea soup loaded with bacon, pork, AND sausage. Though, to be honest, I left out the pork. We just don't eat as much meat as the Dutch, I guess. Still, it was velvety and flavorful and Lee ate 3 bowls full.

From Canada: Nanaimo bars
I didn't want to slight Canada by just doing dessert and not a full meal, but I've been wanting to try these for some time and decided to just go for it. 3 layers: chocolate with coconut and almonds, buttery vanilla cream, and dark chocolate topping. I thought, "Hmm, the recipe only makes an 8 x 8 pan, that will be a good size for us to just get a taste." HA! I ended up cutting them teensy tiny small and Cody took them to the youth at Mutual and we STILL had leftovers. So yummy, so very very rich and decadent!

From Japan: Onigiri and Udon noodles
After the uber-rich night from the Netherlands and Canada, I was craving something light. Japanese food to the rescue! Since Cody served his mission in Japan, we have Japanese quite often in our house. Just for fun, and since Onigiri are pretty easy, I decided to try my hand at homemade Udon.  It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had feared and they turned out really delicious!

From the United States of America: Pizza
Because I promised myself I wasn't going to stress. And because I'd spent the afternoon making chocolate covered strawberries. And because sprained my ankle and couldn't walk.

From Switzerland: Cheese fondue
It was Valentine's day to boot. What a luscious dinner! I added some kielbasa to give a nod to Slovenia, since I really wanted to do Slovenian food but everything I found on Pinterest was more complicated than I was willing to take on.

From "China": Panda Express
Yeah, not really authentic Chinese food, but Cody surprised me with a party the day before my birthday.  It was fun not to cook!

From Belarus: Draniki
These potato cakes, also known as latkes, are popular all over Russia and eastern Europe, I found out, but are the national dish of Belarus.  I also learned a lot about Belarus that night, and since all this international food was seeming heavy on the meat, we just had the draniki with sour cream and applesauce and some veggies.  It was a yummy, easy dinner.

From Germany: Schnitzel and Noodles
Yes, I sang "Doorbells and sleighbells and schnitzel with noodles" all night long.  Similar to the draniki, schnitzel is found all over the place, sometimes with different names and made with a variety of meats and sauces.  Since we hadn't had chicken in a while, I made chicken schnitzel (though I think pork or veal would have been more authentic... I was porked-out and can't get veal at my small town grocery store).  I also made simple sage-buttered egg noodles.  Someday I want to make some spaetzle, but it wasn't going to happen this time.

From Great Britain: Bangers and Mash
This one took a while to decide on, but was a huge success with the kids. More sausage!  That's ok.  It was awesome and a great fast-fix dinner, especially when I used my wonderful new electric pressure cooker to do the potatoes.

From Norway: Lefse
I made double mashed potatoes the night of the bangers and mash so that I could make homemade lefse for breakfast.  I have been wanting to make lefse for some time.  Have I ever mentioned that I grew up in North Dakota?  Well, I did.  There's a strong Scandinavian influence there, and we could always buy packages of lefse just like tortillas in the store.  But I haven't had it in over ten years now, and knew I'd have to make it from scratch.  It was mostly an experiment, and I found out I needed to do a better job mashing my potatoes, but spread with honey butter, it was a trip down memory lane and really fun to introduce my kids to this simple (simple in flavor, not in cooking method) Norwegian treat.

From Australia: Meat Pies
About two days before the Olympics were supposed to end, I realized I'd been sorely neglecting the southern hemisphere.  I also realized there was no way I was going to get to all the countries I wanted to before the end of the Olympics.  But that didn't stop me from making this yummy dish and teaching the kids about some of the warmer countries that still participate in the winter Olympics.  This was definitely a hit, and I'll keep my eye on the local Pepperidge Farm thrift store for boxes of puff pastry, since it made for a very quick, easy dinner that is simply to die for, and very impressive.

From Italy: Chicken Cacciatore
I made this in my slow cooker and served it over some fusilli pasta.  Surprisingly, this was probably the hardest meal to get the kids to eat.  I'm afraid they've come to expect their pasta to be covered in cheese.  :/  But I LOVED it.  So flavorful without being heavy.  So rich without being fatty.  Mmmm.  I really do need to use less cheese in my cooking.

From Russia: Borscht
The day of the closing ceremonies and it's time to, at last, pay tribute to the host nation.  Even though I rounded up an arsenal of Russian dishes, I wanted to go with the most iconic of them all.  I did make some tasty Russian cheese pastries to go with it, called Syrniki.  I admit, I was a little bit afraid of such a pink soup, but this was Cody and my favorite meal of all.  Sweet and savory, warming, but not stodgy or overwhelming.  The soup was earthy and scrumptious, and the syrniki were simply divine and are officially on our breakfast short list.

So, at the end of it all, what did I learn?
First, I was quite surprised that I already use a lot of international influence in my cooking.  There's actually not a ton of truly American dishes.  We American-ize a lot of foods, but strip away a few processed ingredients, and you'll be right back at the country you started from.  It really made me recognize that I live in a melting pot society, with a diverse, multicultural background.

Second, kind of like the first, humans are humans, no matter where we live or what we look like.  The foods we cook and eat are based on what is readily available where we live.  Our tasetbuds are pretty similar between all countries and cultures.  So, trying things from other countries wasn't as wild of a ride as you might think at first.  If people across the world LOVE some dish, there's a reason!  Granted, all places have those things you have to 'learn to love,' but since I was sticking with things I could find the ingredients for, I didn't come across anything we just didn't like.

Third, doing a food journey with the Olympics made them much more fun to watch, and made dinner much more fun to cook!  Instead of rooting on just the USA like I used to in the past, I started rooting on the underdogs, watching for those special stories from around the world, and being excited when amazing things happened like Norway sweeping the medals podium or Italy winning their first medal in ladies figure skating ever.  Plus, I could use the excuse to watch TV because I was "trying to figure out what to make for dinner."  Since I really enjoy trying new foods, making something from a different country was exciting.

Fourth, my family are good sports.  A friend asked me how the kids were holding up during all this unusual food.  I'm glad they're not too picky of eaters (yeah, they still have their moments), and most everything was tried without a fight.  A few times I was shocked and they ate every last bite (Erwtensoep), and a few times I was shocked and they wouldn't much at all (chicken cacciatore).  I guess the lesson of the day is, I'm glad they were always willing to try it and I hope they had as much fun as I did.  I think they did.  They really loved the pictures and trying to pronounce the names of the meals with me, and I only put away leftovers once in two whole weeks.

I'm not very well traveled.  I've only left the country two times, both for day trips to Canada while I was growing up in North Dakota.  I don't even own a passport.  But, this Olympics food journey helped me feel connected to the rest of the world in a very special way.  Tonight, I'm kind of sad the Olympics are over.

but just a little bit glad because I'm totally craving sloppy joes. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Goin' Krazy

I've mentioned before we now live in a small town, about 10,000 people. We really love it here. Today made us feel like real-life rural farming red necks. :)

Seeing that our sweet little town is only about a 10 minute drive from a bigger community stocked with plenty of big-box stores, shopping is pretty limited here.  We have a grocery stores, a couple of small gas station markets, and a lumber store.  But there is one place all the locals shop: a sort of general store where you can find everything you never knew you needed.  They are particularly known for those items that you pick up and say, "I've always wondered where they sold stuff like this!" like chain-by-the-foot, pink cowgirl boots in toddler sizes, every type of canning lid and mix known to mankind (seriously.  They sell ketchup mix to bottle your own ketchup.), and even toy-sized Dutch ovens.  It's just a great old store with creaky floors and dinky aisles and happens to be only a few blocks away.

They have one big sale a year, called "Krazy Daze". Everything is at least 15% off. You heard me, 15%!  They had a free pocketknife for the first 200 people through the door, so I told Cody we could head over about 9:00 since there was unlikely to be a line and we could get Lee a free knife.

Boy oh boy did I underestimate the power of 15% off in a small town.  There was a line wrapped around the building at both entrances.  We showed up right as the doors opened, jumped in the line, and made it in with 3 pocket knives left.  Phew!  Lee loves his new pocket knife, though.  He told me, "This is the best pocket knife ever. It has everything a scout needs.  Like, fingernail clippers, and 2 can openers, one for soda cans, and one for green bean cans!  I'm the awesomest kid ever; I'm seven years old, I'm not even a scout, yet, AND I  have my own pocket knife!"

So, after squishing my way through the crowds of people, I had to pick up a few momentos from this exciting day.  I got the kids some John Deere shirts and got myself a new Lodge cast iron roasting pan that was marked down $40.  Nice.  I also re-stocked my canning lid supplies, since they were on sale (15% off!  15% off! Eeeee!) and last summer I used twice as many as I thought I would.  I'll probably still need to get more at some point, but my hands were full, and carts and shopping baskets were a hot commodity. 

We came home just giggly and grinning from ear to ear.  It's official.  We battled a huge crowd for 15% off John Deere sweatshirts and cast iron and canning lids.  And free pocket knives.  We can now call ourselves small-town folk.  I love this place.