Wednesday, February 25

Pictures of your kids with your fave Grandma... Priceless.

I know it's ridiculous to say I'm in a rut for writing.

Hi. I have two followers! Who is really going to protest with torches and charge my back door if I don't deliver more entries? [Enter protesters, now, please.]

So anyway. I'd like to think that most people with a creative brain cell tend to have periods of time when they are on fire, and ideas come pouring out of their minds. Other times the juices dry up, which is in my case, [but I have to say I would enjoy the former happening more frequently].

Yesterday I was catching up on some reading from the few blogs I do read, and I stumbled upon an entry written by Mom-101 who is hilarious altogether and I love her style of writing. Her most recent entry to date sparked something in me as well. The title was Four Generations of Separation. So cheers to her for reminding me of some of the important small things in life.

This week, Jason just downloaded a 700-something picture DVD of the past six months from my camera. Yes I am a bit neurotic about photography when it comes to my kids. I just don't want to miss anything in their life that could be captured on film. Like Peyton discovering how much of his fourteen month old finger can discreetly fit up his nose. Or Mason feeling so proud of himself wearing my dusty-but-still-stylish-old-work-Ann-Klein-stiletto pumps. Sigh. Or the look of astonishment on Justine's face as she watched the half demonic Elmo Live doll talking on Christmas night.

There are tender moments too. Like the photos from a June vacation our family took last summer to Florida to visit my grandparents. It was a trip unlike any other captivating emotions I had not yet known. I touched on these emotions before when I would engage in Skype conversations with my grandparents which was used so they could see their great-grandchildren in the flesh, even if only over the internet connection at my parent's house. I remember shortly after Peyton's birth we Skyped my Grandma and Grandpa, and prior to signing off my Grandma dabbed her eyes and thanked me. Thinking back on this I still feel the knot enlarge in my throat. Being a world a part from my grandparents was always hard growing up, but even more so now that I have kids of my own because I want them to know my grandparents and love them just as I do.
I know how unique and special they are, and to be able to have my kids know them is so important to me. When we flew to Florida it was a draining ordeal, with a six month old and 20-month old, but it was worth the efforts of traveling. We had heavy duty back ups: my parents and step-daughter who all could trade off with one of the kids if Jason and I needed to, like, pee or something in the airport.
It was the first and last time my kids ever got to meet my Grandpa. He died four months later after his kidneys failed, and he graciously bowed out of the endless cycles of dialysis. My Grandma, is amazing, in all of her might to move on and accept her life as it is now. After sixty one years of marriage, two quadruple bypasses, a valedictorian honor, raising five kids, a lifetime in the medical community, a hip replacement, and a forty-lap swim every day I believe I have a bit much to live up to when I look at her in all her glory.
Prior to the trip, I didn't know what to anticipate. But I was able to capture some precious moments. My Grandma's tender hands on my baby's feet, which shows an amazing contrast in the years. But my Peyton is squeamish with new people. I swear he didn't move from her gaze or the comfort of her lap for 45 minutes. It was those moments I was happy to record one after the other until my memory was full in my camera.

I think kids sense our hopes sometimes. Because there were some touching moments I was able to catch with Justine, playing cards with Grandma-- gently leaning over on my grandma's shoulder to accept some tips on the game. And Mason, who received a stuffed Cookie Monster doll on the floor from Grandma, I was able to catch him signing thank you to her with a small gentle smile across his face, and my Grandma's smile beaming across her with the evident visible connection between their two eyes.

I agree that it's not just precious for our loved ones to meet the little ones in our lives, but it's equally if not more amazing to see our kids open up a piece of their tiny hearts to love them in return.

Tuesday, February 10

Sgt Pepper's, Torchy's and eight other reasons I loved Austin

I think it was literally after I unbuckled my "safety belt" in the plane in Austin that I could feel a different vibe of the city, and began to take on a new persona myself: Steph, and no longer Mommy. Half a country away from home, but I strangely felt at ease knowing our new home-away-from-home was only five minutes from the terminal with a cold Mexican beer and smokey homemade fajitas steaming. But wait! Our kids were not attached to our hips! My arms felt empty without a stroller to push, or diaper bag strapped to my back. My voice was not hoarse from its echoing mantra of "Mason. Stop. Peyton. No." Justine is a self sufficient teenager and requires little beckoning unless it includes a checklist of, "Homework? done. Dirty clothes? laundered. Showered? smelling like a rose." It's a broken record but doesn't require a droning voice and draining source of energy needed for toddler boys. How could this new place feel normal? Quite simply, I learned.

Yes. A second honeymoon. That idea could easily be followed by a third... fourth... maybe fifth honeymoon anytime soon. Just as soon as that stimulus check in debate could kindly float into our mailbox I would gladly hop a plane to Austin with Jason at a moment's notice.

Austin was awesome. And really, as a fellow Austinian commented to me and Jason as we awaited our flight in Baltimore, "Five days is plenty of time for y'all to fall in love with Austin." We certainly did. It wasn't even warm-- freezing by their accounts [all 60 degrees of it which is a heat wave to us Northeasterners].

Here are just a few reasons why you should book a trip to Austin and when you do try to hit up some of the recommended spots as I became a Tex-Mex junkie before leaving to come back to cow-pie country.
  1. Citizens of Austin are just friendly. It's borderline weird to me for complete strangers to start talking to me in public as I'm wary of what they might sell me or how easily they pick my pockets only to find dryer lint. They are really just that nice.
  2. You will soon realize how far behind your own community is in becoming a green town. Their recycling "bins" are as large as my trashcans, and their trashcan is as small as my recycling bin. Their roads are only littered with a few sparse SUVs, and the traffic is jammed with economy cars, and hybrids. Smaller is better and most people opt for that. Recycling is everywhere; farmer's markets abound with fresh-from-the-garden awesome food finds. Gardens are fairly common, and this leads me to number three...

  3. East Side Cafe is unbelievable. It's a small restaurant based out of an old converted home. They have a large garden that produces a host of fresh veggies that make their way to becoming features on the menu when they're harvested. The flavors are fantastic from appetizer to desserts, and their adjacent gift shop has wonderful one-of-a-kind finds. It also happens to be the employer a favorite sister-in-law of mine, so perhaps I'm a bit biased.

  4. Okay so a lot of the trip revolved around food. They have some uh-may-zing places that are great but won't break the bank. My favorite place was Torchy's. I insisted going there for round two after we ate lunch one of the days and I tasted the Fried Avocado Taco. Who knew you could fry avocado? The next day I enjoyed the Baja Shrimp Taco which was the best in my opinion. Hands down-- great bite to eat, and it was worth every penny of my ten dollar bill.
  5. Bob Schneider. Need I say more? In addition to fabulous food, my brother and sister-in-law have found some of the best music in Austin and Mr. Schneider is the top of the list. Now, whenever I put his music in the stereo of our basement, it takes me back to Austin despite the toy-littered basement and two toddler maniacs running around me.
  6. Going to the movies these days is enough to break the bank, but it was completely worth the money to see Seven Pounds [which I totally recommend] at The Alamo downtown in Austin. Obviously this has nothing in common with the infamous battlegrounds of the historic Alamo in San Antonio other that its shared name. This movie theater doubles as a restaurant, and serves up some delicious food. The lighting is dim, but worth the extra effort of focusing on food-to-mouth action and that on the big silver screen in front of you. Order up drinks, appetizers, and dinners as often as you'd like until "last call". Could it get any better than that?
  7. Blue sky. Yea I know this is abundant just about anywhere, except for perhaps the smog-ridden areas of the good ol' USA, but the sky in Austin just seemed to stretch on forever. Colleen remarked to me one day that when they moved there, she couldn't get enough of the sky. It was so blue, and encompassed such a vast area that wasn't polluted with gray skies and smog. And I had to agree. Maybe not worth a $200 ticket to fly there, but I definitely enjoyed the perk of seeing it every day.
  8. As mentioned a few numbers up, I fell in love with the fresh farmer's markets. The massive Whole Foods store was enough to be stifled by, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking from tent to tent at one of the farmer's market locations in town. We went at ten in the morning, but that didn't hold me back from enjoying some fresh Thai vegetarian egg rolls, red curry sauce, or chipolte pesto. The last on my list has become my obsession or sorts. Sgt. Pepper's pestos are fantastic. I purchased four containers, froze them, brought them home safely, and currently I am contemplating contacting the owner to send me more if I pre-pay in advance. From roasted jalapeno, to Serrano cilantro, to the less spicy black olive pesto, the flavors are amazing. The New Mexican red chile pesto lasted all but about four days in the fridge before I was tempted to lick the container clean. I wish there were an easier way to obtain it. GO GLOBAL Sgt Pepper's!
  9. It was an odd feeling to literally feel like the oldest 26 year old on the Longhorn campus, but as a proud sister of a Longhorn graduate student we graced the UT grounds. Despite my insecurities, the college town is beautiful, as much as it is a tight knit community. I went to a small university, so really any campus over 15,000 students exudes an unparalleled camaraderie that I'm unaccustomed to experiencing. I would have loved to go to school there, but it was just as cool going there as a visitor.
  10. Lastly, the best parts of Austin were hanging out with Josh and Colleen, and Jason. Reconnecting with my husband was long overdue, but just as much was missing out on my brother and his wife who at times just seem two damn far away. But that type of bonding can take place anywhere. It was just much more worthwhile to do this out of the proximity of our lovely darlings and instead in the comfort of their beautiful surroundings.

Cheers to Austin, finding family and regaining a marriage.

Monday, February 9

Roasted Winter Salad

Roasted Squash Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette Salad [serves 6]

1 [3lb.] butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" dice
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2" slices
Salt & Pepper
6 oz. package of baby spinach [8 c]
½ c. pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1/3 c dried cranberries
Vinaigrette [yields ½ c.]
3 T Blue Cheese
1 T White Wine Vinegar
1 ½ T EVOO
2 T water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While your oven is preheating, throw pecans into a roasting pan to allow them to toast and bring out flavors. In about 10-15 minutes you will smell their fragrance which is when you'll want to remove them to cool. Transfer and reserve pecans for later. Place diced squash into roasting pan, and liberally drizzle with EVOO and season with S&P in a single layer. Stir to coat and combine. Place onion on same sheet and season in same manner with EVOO and S&P but keep separate from squash since the onions will finish first.

While the onions and squash roast, add all dressing ingredients in the bottom of a large salad bowl and whisk. Add spinach and toss to combine. Set aside.

In about 15 minutes your onions will be complete when they begin to look translucent. Remove onions and transfer to a medium bowl to cool. Continue to roast squash for another 15-20 minutes. Place squash together with onions in the bowl, lightly mix, and allow the flavors to combine while they cool. I prefer to cool the mixture so the salad does not wilt.

When the squash mixture is cooled, lay it over the dressed baby spinach. Add pecans and cranberries over top for a gorgeous presentation. Admittedly this recipe is my version of my boss' salad [Riverdale Manor]]they serve and it's awesome. She recently told me it was their own version of a recipe found on Southern Living which is where I retrieved the vinaigrette recipe which I could not decipher on my own. I would eat it any day of the week over any cut of cow. Well maybe not over a filet, but it is just that good.