Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cooking for Those Who Cannot Cook

Dinner tonight was fantastic. Absolutely one of the best meals I've ever made. And I can write so confidently because my husband told me so, and he usually isn't afraid to tell me the truth. And I've had a couple of glasses of wine, so I basically think I am Rachel Ray's twin sister who is just a little taller with a bigger nose. Anywho, while my hubby is making my beautiful daughter look like something resembling a Garbage Pail Kid on the Photo Booth Ap on his new IPad, I am going to pretend to know how to cook and share my wealth of knowledge with those of you who were once like me. You just needed a little help and encouragement . . . and lots and lots of easy recipes and shortcuts.

For the record I am a horrible cook. Absolutely awful. I buy minced garlic instead of the real stuff for goodness' sake. I even made some baked chicken taste a lot like a rubber tire about a week ago, but I press on. I did continue to cook a few times a week while I was working (which, by the way, seems like a bad dream. Deciding to stay at home again was the best decision ever for me), but GrubHub was my family's best friend for dinner on many nights. Now that I'm a SAHM I do have a little more time to actually put thought into dinner, so I'm experimenting once again. Hang on, I need to laugh a second because Clint has Mimi bobbing her head to some Rhianna song. Hilarious. Anyway, it's not the most fun thing in the world to take two little ones to a grocery store, BUT I have a Jewel (similar to Kroger), Whole Foods, AND Trader Joes's in walking distance making it super-easy for me to stop by after we've been at the park to grab a couple of items I need rather than making a ginormous grocery trip.

This week I have been craving something really tasty but wanted to find a super-easy recipe. Then I remembered a fantastic Italian sausage pizza I made a few months ago that was so easy a two-year-old could make it (but probably not my two-year-old. She would eat all the toppings before even cooking the pizza). When I went to Jewel to grab the Italian sausage and a few other items, I noticed that the sausage only came in a 16oz package even though I only needed 8oz. I HATE to over-buy food that I know I'm going to waste such as when I only need half an onion, and I put the other half in the fridge to rot and stink everything up. So I bought the 16oz package while huffing and puffing about wasting the other half, and then, duh, it hit me that I can totally use the other half for dinner the next night.

So I am giving you two fantastic and easy-peasy recipes for very flavorful meals with ingredients that can be used in both (spinach, Italian sausage, goat cheese or feta, tomatoes, basil, Italian seasonings). Warning: I am NOT a health freak and I take as many short-cuts as possible. If you are a snob/foodie type of person then please do not judge. I'm sure you can totally take the recipes and "fancify" them if you choose. Also, I really, really wanted to take photos, but our mouths were watering so much from the smells coming from the kitchen that we couldn't wait to eat. I could take a photo of the dirty dishes or empty wine bottle, but I don't really thing you care about that sort of thing.

Meal #1: Italian Sausage Focaccia Pizza (feeds 2 if you're really hungry like my hubs and I always are. Maybe more if you add a salad). I ripped this from BH&G a couple of years ago.

-1 12-inch round flat rosemary or garlic focaccia. I could only find a tomato garlic on the day I stopped at Jewel, so I totally skipped the next ingredient.
-3/4 cup oil-packed dried tomato halves with Italian herbs (3oz). Honestly, I can never find these, so I just use tomato slices, EVOO, and some Italian spices.
-8oz Italian sausage (I bought mild)
-4oz (4 cups) baby spinach
-2oz goat cheese or feta (I always prefer goat)
-a little chopped basil if you have some

1. Heat oven to 250. Drain tomatoes (if you could actually find these tomatoes), reserving oil. Place focaccia on large baking sheet and brush with 2 tsp of the oil. Cut in 8 wedges (but keep pieces together) and place in warm oven.
2. Meanwhile in a 12-inch skillet cook sausage over med-high heat and break up with a wooden spoon. Drain sausage reserving 2 tsp drippings (don't you hate that word?) in skillet. Cook spinach in drippings just until wilted (just when you thought the spinach would make it a little nutritious).
3. Set oven to Broil. Top warmed focaccia with cheese, tomatoes, sausage, and spinach (and basil if you're up for it). Broil 4-5 inches from heat for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is softened and toppings are heated through. BE CAREFUL TO NOT BURN! Drizzle wedges with additional oil from tomatoes.

Meal #2: Italian Sausage Penne Pasta (this was enough for hubs, Mimi, and me)
-Penne Pasta (I used about half a 13.25oz box. I'm horrible at pasta servings)
-8oz Italian sausage
-1/2 yellow onion chopped (now I have to figure out what to do with the other half!)
-1 tbsp minced garlic
-1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper (or more)
-2 tbsp chopped fresh basil (do yourself a favor and just buy a basil plant)
-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or shredded if you're lazy like I am)
-1/2 can of tomato basil or traditional herb pasta sauce (I use Newman's)
-1 can of chopped tomatoes with Italian seasonings
-Tone's Spicy Spaghetti Seasonings or some type of Italian spices
-Side salad: Spinach (or 50/50 Spring Mix/Spinach is great), tomatoes, goat cheese or feta, balsamic vinegar, and EVOO

1. Cook the pasta according to the package (add a little salt and olive oil)
2. While pasta is cooking, cook the sausage in a large skillet over med-high heat while breaking apart with a wooden spoon for about 7-8 minutes or until evenly browned. (Meanwhile, warm the pasta sauce, chopped tomatoes, basil, Italian seasonings, and pepper in a pot on med-low.)
3. Add the onion to the sausage and cook about 7-8 minutes more.
4. Add the garlic, some salt, and pepper to the sausage while stirring and cook about a minute. Add some olive oil and basil to this mixture just for the heck of it.
5. Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the pot. Stir in both the sausage mixture and sauce to the pot of pasta. Add the parmesan and stir or leave it on top to get melty and gooey. Remember: you can NEVER have too much cheese so make sure you have a bowl of parm on the table (or bar since the Darbys are too cool for a dining room table).
6. Serve a yummy side salad made of spinach, tomatoes, goat cheese or feta, and a dressing made of balsamic vinegar and EVOO (I use about 2 parts EVOO and 1 part balsamic).

I picked up a fantastic Red Zin called Varietals at Trader Joe's for about $9 that went perfectly with the pasta.

Okay, so try them out and tell me what you think. Just please let Clint know when you plan on cooking the pasta so he can show up at your door with a fork :).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A-WAAAAKE, my soul

I fell in love with a guy named William my senior year of college.  Yes, that was the same time I began dating Clint, and I've never told him about this infatuation I had.  He was in one of my classes twice a week and the words he spoke were like none I'd ever heard.

And then this morning I heard about him again -- about his works and his passion -- and was loving it so much I almost ran off my treadmill into Al Roker's face on the TV.  His words were in the songs sung by Mumford and Sons on my IPod . . . and it was truly magical.

I get very nerd-excited when I recognize wonderful literature alluded to in modern songs -- especially when the band is so bad-ass.  And I love that some of the "Sigh No More" lyrics are from one of my faves Much Ado About Nothing. It's a really cool story about Benedick and Beatrice, who crush on each other but will not let the other know out of pride.  Their friends trick them into confessing their love for each other, and they put an end to Benedick as a self-proclaimed bachelor.  In defense of himself, Benedick says, "Man is a giddy thing."  How true is that line?  Isn't that what keeps women's magazines running?  We can't seem to figure them out.

Anyway, it is a frosty 12 degrees outside, and I'm so glad this music energized me enough to jog a little this morning.  Without realizing it I had turned up the speed on the treadmill to keep up with the beat, and had jogged a couple of miles in no time.  I promise I didn't raise my arms or sing out loud.  But I wanted to.

So add these to your workout playlist:
"Roll Away Your Stone"
"Awake My Soul"
"Little Lion Man"
"The Cave"
and for cooling down "Hold on to What You Believe"

Or just sit on your couch and blast it through the speakers.  It may even make you dance. :)

Little Man

He has such an innocent face . . . 

. . .but will look me square in the eye and throw his entire plate of food in the floor.  Then giggle.

He can say a few words -- "Tank tou" (thank you) is my favorite, but he prefers to make animal sounds.

He stands in the middle of the room with his hands behind his back like a little groomsman . . . then sends his Matchbox cars flying through the air with an ear-piercing squeal.

He is mesmerized by "The Tummy Song" on the new Winnie the Pooh movie, 
and dances with so much happiness whenever Curious George comes on TV.

He likes to find out if he can sit down on little ledges and stairs, 
and giggles when his sister joins him.  (Yes, we've thrown that nasty pumpkin away.)

His blue eyes melt me.

He loves climbing on the couch by himself.  Then off the couch.  Then back on the couch.
And off.  And then on again.

And I love finding him snuggled up by himself on the couch.  He always giggles when I find him -- it's as if he's playing hide and seek.  He thinks no one can find him if his head is down.

His sister loves to run from him and yell, "the Macky Monster is going to get us, Mommy!!  Hurry! Hide!"

And then I look over and see this.  My sweet little monster.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Best of 2011 List

Although it's just the middle of January and I should be focusing on my NY's resolutions to floss my teeth and squeegee the shower, I'm already bored with it.

I KNOW!!!  How can I already give up on the excitement of two fantastic resolutions??

Well, I haven't given up on the resolutions, but I am going to challenge myself to find even cooler things to get into this year.  AND I also want to work on making 2012 even better than 2011 (which will be difficult), so I'm going to go back and meditate on what was so great about last year.  We'll call this list . . .


So here we go . . .

1.  I started jogging a little.  Favorite Pandora Station for Jogging:  The Killers station.  Mumford and Sons is a close second.  I think I've actually jogged more since NYE than I did the entire year last year (go me).

2.  Clint and I were able to attend some really cool concerts.  Best Concert of the Year:  David Gray.  Hands down.  I sat on the edge of my seat and swayed and sang along and came really close to being that girl and screaming, "I love you, David!!"  Oh, swoon.  

3.  I made time to read a little.  Best Book I Read This Year:  Loving the Little Years:  Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic.  Changed.  My.  Life.  If you're a mom, buy it and read it.  And highlight it.  And read it again.

4.  We learned how to function with energetic kids in the winter.  Favorite Playspace:  Pickles Cafe.  Ahhh-mazing.  Much better than any of the others on the north side of the city.  It's big but not too big.  They play cool music for the parents.  Their sandwiches are awesome.  They have a toddler slide and rock-climbing wall.  AND it even has a salon with cool chairs and small TVs with cartoons.  Fantastic.

5.  Mimi started taking some classes.  Best Way to Burn off Toddler Energy in the Winter:  Lil' Kickers Soccer.  They run and run and run and run and kick and kick and run and, whew, and run some more.  AND the coaches are so cute that Mimi has mini crushes on them.  I'm not even kidding.

6.  We discovered really great local pizza.  Best Pizza:  Pequod's.  If you're a visitor and want to try one of the popular pizza places, let me suggest a local place called Pequod's first.  We usually order regular crust, but if you want to try deep-dish their crust is caramelized and not too gooey or doughy like some of the others.

7. We learned how to eat a great dinner while I was a working mom.  Best Chinese Delivery (I didn't say healthy):  Yen's.  And order the Crabmeat Wonton with Cheese.  Don't call it anything different or they get mad.  We also discovered Big Boy Gyros, which is just as awesome as its name.

8.  I learned how to dress my children in clothes that aren't smocked.  People just don't do that here, and I was happy to find something new.  It also pushed me to sew more for Mimi, which has been so fun.  My favorite local store:  Little Threads (they are about to turn the back of the store into a Tea store -- hooray!!).

9. Favorite Old TV Series to Watch on Netflix:  Friday Night Lights.  Thank you, Lacy Finkle.  Wow, Clint and I were just a little obsessed with this one.  A small, southern town whose drama is centered around a high school sports team.  Isn't this how most of us grew up?

10. Best, Yet Most Difficult, Decision I Made this Year:  Going back to work and then realizing I needed to stay at home.  Now I know what it's like on both sides of the fence, and I can say this -- they're both really, really hard.

11. I learned to enjoy my children as individuals.  Favorite Thing to Do with Mimi:  Go on a walk.  It's a little stressful because she stops and touches and wants to talk about EVERYTHING (even dog poo), but it forces me to slow down and really talk to her.  Because she asks a million questions (even about dog poo).
Favorite Thing to Do with Mack:  Read.  If things get quiet in the den I know where to find him:  in Mimi's room pulling books off her shelves.  He will push me down, shove a book at me (sometimes leaving bruises), stick his little booty in my face, and plop down in my lap.  He loves a lap and a book.  And I do, too.

12. 2nd Favorite Morning Drink:  Coffee is a given, but it sometimes it turns me into a spaz way too early in the day.  So my new second favorite is (not bloody Marys or mimosas -- don't want to go to playgroup tipsy, now do I?) is Chai Tea.  It smells good and is easier to make than coffee.  And it's one of those things that makes me feel all Zen-like.

13. Best Lesson I Learned:  To love my life right now.  To stop being jealous of my mid-twenties single, care-free life or to stop saying, "I can't wait until the kids are older and . . .".  My life right now is pretty awesome just the way it is right now.  Sure, my floors are sticky, I rarely shower daily, and I can't sit on the couch for longer than 5 minutes 1 minute at a time, BUT I have two of the cutest and funniest little monkeys to hang out with all day.  My twenty-four-year-old self would be pretty jealous of all the love I get from them. :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Chin Up

Yesterday was bad.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

The weather was nice. My children were sweet and funny. My husband had a great day.

I was the one who was so bad.

Like so bad that I raised my voice and actually threw something and broke it. Wow. I don't think I've ever done that. My tone sounded like Darth Vader's. I had so much anger that flames could have burst out of my ears at any moment.

I usually try to giggle when things start to spin out of my control because I know that one day I will laugh at this, and I know that I am never actually in control of my world. But I had absolutely zero control over anything. Nothing. And so I lost my shiz. A lot.

I could pinpoint a bazillion things that happened -- Mimi was exhausted but refused to nap. Mack ran as I was changing his diaper and pooped in the floor. Some dumbass parent didn't shut the gate at the park, so Mimi and a buddy escaped and ran toward a busy intersection. After cleaning up all the pine needles in the floor after removing decorations and lights, Mimi grabbed my broom and scattered them EVERYWHERE. And then immediately did it again. And again. Both of my kids were extremely picky eaters at dinner. And the list could go on and on and on.

Now that I have it typed up in front of me it all seems a bit silly. I'm embarrassed that I couldn't control my emotions. I'm angry that I broke my favorite dust pan. I'm sad that Mimi saw me make a complete jerk of myself.

God gave me these specific children for a reason. I'm sure of it. And it's time like these that I begin to see a glimpse of why.

When my tone turned angry, Mimi started imitating it, roared at me, and then told me that she also wanted to play monsters.

When I threw the dust pan and broke it, she told me I needed to play nicely with my toys so I don't break them. Then she said I should go to time out and think about it.

When my two children were running around screaming like wild monkeys at the park with another little girl, her mom told me, "Wow, they are little daredevils. I love their energy! Aren't they so entertaining and fun? My daughter is having a blast with them."

Mack had at least ten serious giggle fits last night. Like I thought I might tee tee in my pants giggle fits. And he and Mimi really played together well. When it was his bedtime, she begged for me to let him play with her longer. Melt me.

So, chin up, Jeri Anne. Today is a new day. A better day. Snow is coming and everything should be clean and white and pretty by tonight. I'm going to let yesterday go and force myself to giggle . . .

Saturday, January 7, 2012

It's Not Every Day . . .

. . . that my daughter begs to wear her new tutus and a gigantic flower in her hair AND allows me to get in her face with a camera.

I must take advantage of rare times like this.

This might be my fave.

Out with the Old

It's so cool to have a New Year's Resolution, and I strive to be cool on a daily basis. I fail miserably. Daily. But I still must play along for fun.

So I have two resolutions:

1.) To floss.

And not just because the dental assistants always take a disgusted deep breath when they begin flossing my teeth and realize that I don't ever bother. But because I could actually live longer. I remember reading something about how the plaque build-up in between my teeth can actually lead to a heart attack. I have no idea if it's true or not, but flossing leads to better health and better breath. I say "why not?"

2.) To fix all things broken and dirty.

Around the house, that is. We don't really have anything broken, but there have been several light bulbs that I needed to replace. Also, there is serious soap scum build-up on our glass shower doors, and I've let it go long enough. That's right. I finally pulled out some Lysol and bought a squeegee. Yes! That is a real word. I Googled it. And I thought it was just something that rich people and my sister bought, but I've begun noticing that basically everyone with glass shower doors has one. Oh my. So now I do, too.

Okay, I know this is not what you were hoping to see. I'm sure you wanted me to resolve to do something fantastic, but really that's all the energy I have right now. The holidays absolutely wore me out, and these are the only two achievable things that come to mind.

The only other thing I could possibly think about is maybe getting a job. Not a real job. But maybe a small part-time something. But I don't really want set hours or a whole lot of responsibility. Because my real job is being a mommy, which I take very seriously and is full-time with some crazy over-time hours. I've just been thinking that maybe I could find some sort of outlet for all this creative energy I have that is dying to get out (I mean, did you see my last post with all the ridiculous homemade nonsense?). Maybe I haven't written about this on the blog much, but I get a wee bit of anxiety occasionally when I haven't had time to "make" something. I can write a little, draw a little, paint a little, sew a little, cook a little, and dabble in a few other things, but I'm not really fantastic and any of this. Basically I just want someone to babysit my monkeys a few hours a week so I can create something. So I need to get paid enough to cover a sitter. Sewing and blogging help me a little but they pay nothing (unless I sew for someone else but I'm not good enough to actually expect someone to pay for it). Wanna hire me? Or better yet, do you want to babysit for me for free? Oh, I can hear the people lining up outside my door right now.

Moving on. In case you didn't notice, we just started a new year. Hello, 2012. So far you're not too bad.

And most cool people dress up in sparkles and make reservations, and then yell numbers backwards loudly while blowing into a shiny paper horn thing.

But if one is REALLY cool, he or she actually hosts a party.

Meet the two coolest folks around.

Mr. and Mrs. Darby. New Year's Eve party hosts extraordinaire.

And what would good hosts be without posting some fantastically embarrassing photos on-line? Well, probably hosts that no one would be mad at but whatever.

We can't take all the credit because the two love birds below actually co-hosted. But they don't have a blog so I guess I can write whatever I want.

And the monkeys were there. At least until their bedtime.
What happens when you mix MY children in with a NYE party?
Everyone starts having more fun, that's what.

A night at home with wonderful friends was perfect. No crowds. No lines. No uncomfortable shoes that I couldn't take off for risk of cutting my feet and developing an infection. This was exactly what I wanted for a start to a new year. Cheers to 2012 and sweet, sweet friends.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Christmas

Why do we say "Merry" Christmas and "Happy" New Year?

My South African neighbor recently told me "Happy Christmas," and I couldn't stop giggling.

So I have absolutely no point to that and this is going nowhere, so I'll get on with the photos that have taken me forever to get together and post for my two readers -- who are probably family members who are hoping their faces show up on the internet. Just kidding. :)

The Darby family put up a real tree and covered it in sparkly twinkle lights and plan to leave it up until almost every last needle has fallen off. And I let Mimi begin the decorating this year.
And this is where all the ornaments are placed when one allows a tiny creature to decorate the tree.
We played in a little snow. Although it was only a little. And it was gone by Christmas.
I felt the need to be crafty and finally made a stocking for Mack. The poor guy didn't even have one last year.
And jommer pants for Mimi.
And then got all cocky and made matching jommer pants for Mimi and me . . . I know this is getting ridiculous, isn't it?
And I made Christmas pillows for my neighbors (by the way, totally stole some of these ideas from Bumbletees. "Like" them on Facebook because they're awesome).
And kitchen towels for Mimi's teachers.
And then a reversible skirt and matching headband for Mimi.
And then I almost lost my marbles because I was pretending I had enough hours in the day to sew all this crap along with actually getting everything else prepared that needed to be prepared.

And I broke down and bought one of those stupid little elves. You know the one that everybody and her sister posted photos of on FB every morning? "Look what my silly little elf Bozo did last night. He threw all the clean, folded laundry all over the den and cracked eggs all over the kitchen!" I just couldn't go to those extremes, so "Chippy" (that's the name Mimi gave him. And then I learned it was the same name as in the movie, which makes the little elf even more freaky) had about 5 spots that he moved to in the middle of the night. We read the book and I get why so many parents and kids think this is fun, but I think it's manipulation.

And I'm also a little weird about the Santa thing. Of course we read stories about him and the kids had gifts from him and normally have their photo taken with him (somehow didn't happen this year), but I tried very hard to not talk about the whole "if you're good you'll get gifts. If not, then Mommy will need to talk to Santa." I actually saw a dad take a little one out of Old Navy and lecture him in the freezing cold about how he and Mommy have a direct line to Santa . . . all while the tyke was crying his eyes out. How about we just teach them to be good because, well, that's what we're supposed to do, right? We don't hit because it hurts others. We listen to Mommy because she's smart and wants to take care of us. We are patient in line because others are also waiting. Geez.

But, like I said, we do allow Santa to come to our house . . . . simply for this reaction:
Whew. So glad the big guy pulled it off this year because it's getting harder and harder for him to sneak down the chimney and quietly get all those little pieces set up just right.
That is the coolest doll house ever, by the way. It has a grill and a laundry hamper and a high chair and bunk beds. And Mimi has almost as much fun playing with it as I do.
And my little man received cars and wooden pegs and a hammer and a t-ball set and lots of other boyish and noisy items. He was in H-E-A-V-E-N.

I am the Queen of Christmas presents! You will bow to my light-up sceptor! (which was broken within 4 hours)

Do you have any idea what they are supposed to do with that red bowl-shaped thing in the photo above? It's called a Bilibo. Nope? Me neither. I bought it on sale at a local toy store simply because I saw that it won a bunch of awards, and then I got on-line to see exactly what to do with this thing. And guess what. The makers of this thing don't know what to do with it either! I read several articles that ask, "What exactly is the Bilibo? It's whatever kids want it to be!" How ingenious! Why can't I make a product like this?

Santa actually came to our house a little early since the monkeys and I were flying to Nashville before Christmas. Yes, the flight was awesome. The kids were so psyched about it that this is what they did as soon as they got in my sister's car:

That RARELY happens.

We had beautiful weather in Nashville, and the kids (all 7 of them! No, my sister's not a Dugger. That's her children plus mine plus my brother's) were so amazing. They are old enough to entertain themselves along with entertaining mine. Soooo fan-tastic!

Teaching Mack to play football. The pacifier helps him concentrate.
Lainee-Luckett still has the best arm in the family. And she brought her own jersey. Watch out for her as the first female Ole Miss player. I'm serious.
M & M kept wandering over to the neighbor's yard because they were fascinated with their little bridge. And when there are two children and bridge, what is a mom to do? She is to teach them to play "Pooh Sticks," of course. Now I'm not going to go into the rules of the game because they are just too difficult to explain to common folk. Get a copy of an old Winnie the Pooh book, and if you're smart enough, maybe you can figure it out. My clever children are quite fantastic at this sport.
Where we put the children when they got too rowdy.
Sweet girls. Watch out for the two older ones. They are trouble. :)
Oh my, oh my. What is that book Mom is reading to Mack? It's Curious George, of course. He is OBSESSED with George and Pooh. Almost as much as I am.
Clint is the Dog Whisperer. All creatures love him. (or maybe he just smells like bacon)
You are about to see a photo of the happiest man alive . . .
. . . and this is why . . .
Have we lost our minds to give this man a gun? It's quite possible, but it's all he's wanted for the past few years. I feel like I should send a hand-written apology to his neighbors.

Some kitty cat love at the Darby's in Memphis.
Stinker pants. He used Mimi's Tinker Toy box as a drum. I think we may have a musician in the family. Is he carrying on the legacy, Top?
Chaos in the kitchen floor. Just give them some pots and pans . . . and a pirate ship, and that will keep them busy for, oh, at least 7 minutes.
This was the only moment these four monkeys were still the entire time we were in Memphis. What a fun little group they are.
And then home again, home again . . . back to reality. And I do hope your holidays were as happy as ours :)