Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmastime is Here!

The tree is trimmed. The lights are up. Holly, ivy, bows, and silver adorn our staircases and mantles. Everything looks merry, bright, cozy, and charming. Not that it wasn't a battle to get it looking that way. Every year, decorating is such a struggle for me because it is not something that I particularly enjoy doing. I enjoy it all once it is all in place, but I really detest the whole process of dragging the various boxes from the attic and cellar and then opening them, dusting off the contents, and finding a place for them. The only part of the whole process that I truly enjoy is selecting our Christmas tree.

For the past couple of years, we have driven outside of town to a little Christmas tree farm where we are given a little tractor ride into their tree fields where we then select and chop down our chosen tree. We decided to go tree hunting on a Sunday which might not have been the wisest choice considering we get up early in the morning for Mass and everyone is pretty grumpy and ready for a nap by 10:00 AM. But, off to the tree farm we went, grumpy kids and all.

It was bitterly, bitterly cold that day. The chill in the air did not seem to bother the kids but I made sure we were all wearing gloves, hats, and warm pants despite Matthew and Emma's insistence that a light jacket was sufficient for them.We bundled Lucy up in clothing so warm and so fluffy that she could barely move. It was quite the sight to watch her waddle her way around the tree farm.

Last year, we had no problems choosing a tree. We glanced at perhaps no more than four trees before finding one that was perfect for our home. This year, however, we took quite a bit of time wandering in and out of rows and rows of fraser firs before finally settling on one pleasing enough to the both of us. Matthew was not at all picky. He went for the first tree we saw, which we quickly rejected because it was only four feet tall. After we rejected a few more of his suggestions, he began to get discouraged and proceeded to go fight with Emma over who got to pull the wagon with the saw. When Paul and I finally chose a tree and asked the kids what they thought of it, their answer was basically something along the lines of :"Looks great now chop it down already!"

Paul had a bit of difficulty with that part. He sawed and sawed, but that tree stayed rooted. The kids began to entertain themselves by arguing once again about ownership of the wagon.

Finally, the tree fell over! Time to take it home and decorate!

While picking out the tree is my favorite part of the decoration process, adorning the tree with lights and ornaments is my absolute least favorite part. I simply detest it. The kids were so incredibly excited about it but they broke two ornaments before even placing a single one on the tree. Plus, our lights were burnt out so we had to make a special trip to the store just to get some lights for the tree before we hung the ornaments, which frustrated everyone further. In addition, both Matthew and Emma kept fighting over who got to put what ornament on the tree. They both only hung their ornaments in a 6-inch radius along the bottom of the tree, so I spent the majority of the time rearranging their ornament placement. The fighting was nearly constant! Paul and I were so incredibly frustrated by the end, so much so that we both were repeating under our breaths: "We are creating memories, we are creating memories...."

Paul, at one point after yet another ornament shattered, was ready to throw in the towel. I reminded him of what so many people readily remind me: we will miss all this some day when our kids are grown. Paul just raised one eyebrow and said: "Really? I'm not so sure."

In the end, we did get that tree decorated. It is beautiful and the kids are so proud although I need to figure out a way to keep Emma away from the tree. She's constantly removing ornaments, playing with the tree branches, or sticking her hand in the tree stand to play with the water. She's worse than a cat.

Speaking of Emma, I have really been struggling with her lately. My sweet, fun, spunky, adorable little girl has been replaced with the most stubborn, obstinate, and completely unpleasant minion. She breaks my heart on a daily basis with her lack of obedience. The other day, I broke down to Paul and lamented my parenting and he reminded me that I had similar struggles with Matthew around the same age. In time, it will pass. It's just a phase. But in the meantime, the girl needs discipline and she had a major lesson taught to her on Saint Nicholas Day.

Each year, Paul and I leave treats for the kids in their shoe on the evening of December 5th so that when they awake on the morning of Saint Nicholas' Feast Day, they are magically greeted with the goodies left for them by the generous saint. We warned the kids that if they were not well-behaved, Saint Nick would most certainly not leave them anything special in their shoe. Much to my dismay, all our threats had absolutely no effect on Emma. While Matthew has been a perfect angel recently, Emma's behavior only seemed to get worse. When we sent them to bed on the night of the 5th, Paul and I knew that there was no way Emma would be getting any treats in her shoe.

When Emma awoke the next morning, she saw that Matthew and Lucy had received cookies and chocolate. Rather than treats, she found rolled up in her shoe the following note from Saint Nick.

And you know what? She has actually been behaving better. I'm hoping that her behavior continues to improve because I would really hate to leave a lump of coal in her stocking on Christmas morning!

Oh, and Matthew got a note from Saint Nick too. Before he went to bed, he placed his shoe by the fireplace and folded up a picture he drew of Mary the mother of Jesus with instructions to Saint Nick to take it up to heaven with him and show it to Mary. We couldn't not write back.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Turkey, Apple, and Cheddar Sandwich

Whenever Matthew has the day off from school, we have started a little tradition of going out for lunch at a tiny local Chinese restaurant. The restaurant opened less than two years ago and we would drive past it regularly on our way to the gym. Matthew, seeing the "Grand Opening" signs waving and liking the restaurant's eye-catching logo, kept begging me to take him there to eat. I had never before considered Matthew a lover of Chinese food, so I delayed taking him thinking it would just end with me eating two lunches. Finally, as a special treat, we stopped in on our way back from the gym. This particular restaurant has a full menu as well as several pre-made options in warming trays that can be quickly scooped into a box, paid for, and taken to go. These options were available for only $1.00 per large scoop and Matthew loved that he could see what the food looked like before he chose it, so we went with this option. He picked out the Honey Chicken, the Sweet and Sour Chicken, and an egg roll. He cleverly bypassed any rice options because he hates it simply because he finds it very difficult to eat and frankly not worth the effort.

Why is he wearing noise-cancelling headphones? We were at a festival that shot off a 
gigantic gun every couple of minutes. Matthew has sensitive hearing and freaks out whenever
he hears the gun. Our solution? Walk around looking like a dork and simultaneously be completely 
deaf for the day. Worked like a charm and he actually enjoyed wearing them!

He enjoyed that meal so much that it has become a little tradition to stop by for lunch if he has a day off from school. I'm thrilled that he likes to eat something besides the typical cheeseburgers and pizza.

The girls, on the other hand, are not as enamored with the Chinese restaurant as Matthew. Typically, I'll pick up the Chinese for Matthew and then head home to serve Lucy and Emma a peanut butter sandwich. They do enjoy the fortune cookies although if I don't intercept her first, Lucy tends to eat the fortunes.

My favorite place to lunch with my girls is Panera. Emma especially loves the pleasant atmosphere, the fireplaces, the calm jazzy music playing in the background. Both girls love choosing our table and then feasting on a carb-centered meal of bagels, fruit, and milk. Emma chats away about the things floating through her little mind and Lucy laughs, chatters, and points gleefully. It's an entirely enjoyable experience.

Whenever I go to Panera, I usually order the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich. It's simply amazing. If you haven't tried it yet, you should. This fall, however, I decided to branch out a little and tried Panera's new sandwich - the Turkey Apple and Cheddar sandwich. It's freshly sliced turkey piled high on cranberry-walnut bread with apple slaw, Vermont cheddar, and a horseradish-mustard spread. I was completely blown away by it.

After making this sandwich, I still had half a loaf of cranberry-walnut bread left. What better opportunity to recreate that sandwich? I made a basic sweet slaw, thinly sliced up some honeycrisp apples, and whipped up the horseradish sauce. I already had a brick of Vermont white cheddar in my fridge and some leftover turkey in the fridge so within minutes this sandwich was ready. I think the homemade version was even better than Panera's. Sweet, salty, and crunchy - so many textures and such incredible flavor. I served the sandwiches for dinner along with additional apple slices and soup. The whole family was happy! This just might be my new favorite sandwich.

Turkey, Apple and Cheddar Sandwich
inspired by Panera Bread

For the slaw:
4 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (not chopped)
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of Pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

For the Horseradish-Mustard Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

To Finish the Sandwich:
Sliced Turkey
Cranberry-Walnut Bread
Thin Apple Slices (I like Honeycrisp or Braeburn)
Generous Slices of Vermont White Cheddar

To make the slaw, combine the cabbage and onion in a bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, sugar, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and vinegar. Pour over the cabbage and toss gently to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside for about 30 minutes while gathering the other sandwich ingredients.

For the horseradish-mustard sauce, whisk together all ingredients. Set aside.

To make the sandwiches, spread the horseradish-mustard sauce on each slice of bread. Layer one slice with cheddar, the sliced turkey, a few apple slices, and a generous scoop of slaw. Press the second half of bread on top of the slaw and cut the sandwich in half. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why Do I Blog?

Why do I blog?

I get this question a lot and I have to say that the answer has evolved quite a bit since I started this project. Initially, I began the blog as a way to share recipes with my sister-in-law since we both enjoyed talking about food so much. She started her own blog and inspired me to do the same. Then, the project became a way to record the evolution of our family as well as serve as an outlet for my cooking hobby. It also has been a great way to force me to keep our photographs updated and organized. Lately, however, I have been seeing the blog as a vitally important way to remember my children when they were young.

I was terrified to find that with each baby we added to our family, the memory of the infancy of my eldest child became increasingly more distant. It's not that I don't have memories of him at all. There are specific memories I have of him that I hold very dear to my heart - the conversations he used to conduct with the stand mixer, how he used to sit all hunched over while perusing his board books, and the time Paul kept scaring him by sneaking up behind him with an orchid. But what I do not remember is how he used to feel while asleep in my arms, the exact contours of his fat little hands and feet, or the sound of his voice when he finally began to speak. Those things are very hazy to me now and it saddens me. Every time one of the kids says or does something amusing or cute, I immediately want to write it down and record it so later on, after I have most certainly forgotten all about it, I can go back and read it and perhaps enjoy the thrill of some of those memories flooding back.

Facebook has honestly been great for this reason. When Matthew was my only child, I used to post a lot of status updates with little anecdotes about him. It's been quite the treat to open my facebook account and have a new memory from five or six years ago pop up in my feed, reminding me about a precious moment with my first born. Usually they are just little funny things he said or did. This one popped up the other day from when Matthew was two years old and we were expecting Emma:

Paul points at a picture of me pregnant with Matthew: "Hey look! Baby Matthew's in mommy's tummy!"
Matthew replies: "She EAT HIM?!?"

Maybe these little anecdotes are amusing only to us, but I most certainly do not want to forget them. This has become my main motivating factor to continue writing. I do enjoy cooking and I love sharing recipes and it is thrilling to have one of my food photos picked up by Foodgawker, but I am most passionate about preserving memories of our family. Maybe one day, when my kids have grown and are ready to start their own families, I can present them with a copy of this record of our family life when they were little - what we did, what we ate, what we looked like. That, above all else, is why I blog.

With that in mind, I am going to retell a couple funny incidents from the past week. The first concerns Matthew, our scholar and resident know-it-all about all things dinosaur and, most recently, anything extraterrestrial. When he began reciting off all his knowledge about the solar system, I rocked his world by telling him that I was taught that Pluto was a planet because when I was young it was still listed as one! He couldn't get over that.

"That's ridiculous! Pluto is too small that's why it is called a dwarf planet," he lectured me.
"Matthew, believe me, I am more than aware that Pluto's status in the solar system has changed!" I told him, hoping to end the conversation. But he just couldn't get past it.

As we were driving to our Thanksgiving celebration in Indiana, Paul began teasing Matthew that we were planning on moving to Indiana. Matthew was adamant in his disdain for that idea: "I do not want to live in Indiana. That's a bad idea!"

"Why is that such a terrible idea, Matthew?" Paul asked curiously/
"Because they have bad schools in Indiana. Just terrible. They taught Mommy that Pluto was a planet!"

My child now holds a disdain for my home state of Indiana because, in his mind, they have an inferior educational system where poor children are fed misinformation concerning our solar system. Like his dolt of a mother.


Each year when we set up our nativity scene, we traditionally hide the baby Jesus until Christmas Day, symbolizing that we are waiting and preparing for his birth through Advent. We failed to explain this adequately to Emma, either that or she was just not listening, for this morning I found her rummaging through all my cupboards and desk drawers, pulling out the contents in a desperate search.

"Emma! What are you doing?"

She spun around and motioned towards the tiny, empty manger and whispered: "I'm looking for the baby Jesus because he escaped from his bed!"


While visiting the zoo one last time before the cold keeps us inside, Lucy took a horrible tumble right in front of the duck pond. I ran to comfort her and she cried and cried inconsolably. Suddenly, she perked up, wiped the hair out of her eyes, and pointed behind me: "Wook! Ducky!"

Standing right behind me was a female mallard, her head cocked curiously to the side probably wondering if we had some food we were planning on sharing with her. I seized the opportunity to make Lucy forget her skinned knees: "Look Lucy! The duck wants you to feel better. She was worried about you so she came over to make sure you were ok!"

Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly spied Emma, who had been listening and watching the whole scene, throw herself dramatically onto the concrete, cover her face with her hands, and emit the most pathetically contrived crying fit I have ever heard. After about 10 seconds, she peeked through the slits in her hands and, not seeing any fowl coming to her rescue, removed her hands from her face and proceeded to scowl: "Why are the ducks not coming!?"

Ironically, later on as we were leaving the zoo, Emma was dragging her feet and walking behind the rest of us because she was angry that it was time to leave. As I glanced back to urge her to catch up with the rest of us, I saw that she was not alone on her slow trudge across the zoo. For unbeknownst to Emma, not more than two feet behind waddled a duck, keeping in perfect step with her as she slowly shuffled along her way. It was the most hilarious sight - and Emma was not even aware of it!

Never a dull moment with these wonderful, crazy kiddos I am blessed to call my own!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Toasted Quinoa and Vegetable Soup

For Thanksgiving this year, we traveled to visit my parents and enjoy the holidays with them. It was a fun extended weekend filled with food, wine, family, laughter, and the occasional sibling fight (entertainment for the rest of us). We also were on "baby watch" nearly the whole time because my brother Raymond and his wife Mary went in for an induction on Thanksgiving night and that child of theirs waited until Saturday morning to finally show his adorable little face to the world. Joseph Raymond was born just after midnight on November 26th and weighed in at 7 lbs. 14 ounces. He's so incredibly adorable, a miracle considering he's half Raymond. But Mary's awfully pretty so that explains it.

Unfortunately, Lucy and I were fighting the beginnings of a cold and so we refrained from visiting our newest family member at the hospital. However, Matthew and Emma were both very excited to hear about Baby Joseph. They just love babies. Emma was especially bummed that we were not planning on visiting "Uncle Raymond's House" because "he's a really funny guy." When I told her that things would be a little different from now on because Uncle Raymond has a baby, she said in amazement: "WHAT? Does he even know how to take care of a baby?" Gosh, I hope so. He's had lots of practice.

In addition to waiting for news of adorable baby Joey, we just enjoyed our time together as a family. I handed my camera to Paul hoping that he would record some of these treasured family moments while I helped my Mom finish up preparing the Thanksgiving feast, but I unfortunately received some pretty pathetic shots, including a closeup of my sister Adrienne's lovely cheekbones and a few shots of television screen displaying the football game Bruce was watching. My husband is many things, but a photographer is not one of them.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I had sent a note to Adrienne and Sophie asking them to contribute a bottle of wine to the "wine table" I was planning on setting up. Paul and I were bringing a couple bottles as well as some sparkling cider for the under-21 crowd. Well, they certainly took my suggestion to heart because we had plenty of options when it came to wine which made for a most merry occasion indeed.

The Thanksgiving meal was fantastic - my Mom made a moist turkey, my favorite sweet potatoes, her signature cinnamon-apple stuffing, and from-scratch green bean casserole. Matthew immediately requested one of the giant turkey legs for his main course and Bruce quickly followed suit and the two of them were happy little cavemen munching on their carnage for the rest of the meal. Emma politely refrained from eating most everything I served her with the exception of a roll slathered with butter and a hefty serving of jello. Lucy refused to eat any of it but did enjoy a very large serving of pie and whipped cream later in the evening. We all had a wonderful time relaxing and catching up but the best part for me was watching the kids having a blast with their cousins, aunts, and uncles. Lucy was a little clingy, but even she started to relax by the end and enjoy being spoiled by someone other than me.

My favorite picture from the whole weekend.

After coming home from our Thanksgiving, both Paul and I felt like we needed to eat a bit healthier. I asked Paul what he wanted for dinner during the week and his reply was...and this is quite shocking for those who know anything about Paul...SALAD.

So, we have been eating a very vegetable-based diet ever since coming home. I picked out a recipe for this Toasted Quinoa and Vegetable Soup from a recent issue of Cooking Light. I am a huge fan of quinoa and I just loved how many vegetables Amanda Freitag packs into this recipe. Plus, it features fresh chopped rosemary and neither Paul nor I can resist fresh rosemary. This is one of those soups that, while both filling and comforting, will not weigh you down or make you feel sluggish. I enjoyed mine with fresh cracked pepper and an extra handful of chopped parsley. Paul preferred a side of fresh bread for dunking. The girls boycotted the meal while Matthew finished his entire bowl and gave me the following critique: "Mom. Your soup was very delicious. But can you please add some chicken to it?"

Toasted Quinoa and Vegetable Soup
adapted slightly from Cooking Light

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup diced white onion
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup diced russet potato
1/4 cup diced, peeled sweet potato
1/4 cup diced, peeled celery root
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Spread the quinoa in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until browned, about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic; cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover and stir in the rosemary and cumin. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the stock, potatoes, celery root, and toasted quinoa. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook 12 minutes. Stir in zucchini and Brussels sprouts and cook until vegetables and quinoa are tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and salt to taste.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turkey, Cranberry, and Brie Sandwich

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We are heading to celebrate with my side of the family after quite the hectic week. Looking forward to some great food, conversation, and company! I am only in charge of a couple side dishes that were so easy to make that I employed Matthew to whip up one of them for me all by himself. Here is the kid finally earning his keep around here:

In case you're wondering what he's doing, he is pulverizing a bunch of pretzels to use for a crust. It's pretty much his favorite kitchen task.

Remember that bread I posted about far too long ago? Here is finally the sandwich that you should make with it! In fact, this sandwich is not only tasty when using good-quality deli turkey meat but would be absolutely phenomenal using some of the leftover turkey breast we are all going to have hanging around after tomorrow's feast.

Brie is one of the stars of this sandwich and if you're not a fan of the "mushroomy" aroma that can accompany it, ask the representative at the cheese counter in your grocer to direct you towards a very mild brie. I personally do not really notice nor mind the flavor of more intense brie, but Paul is very finicky about it so I always use the mildest one I can find. The one we have here is very buttery, soft, and mildly sweet. It's pretty perfect for this sandwich.

The basic construction of this sandwich is as follows: a generous slice of cranberry-walnut bread, a generous smear of cranberry chutney, an ample slice of brie, some thinly sliced roasted turkey, a handful of baby arugula, and another large dollop of chutney. A second slice of cranberry-walnut bread is added to the top and the whole sandwich is grilled until golden brown on both sides. Slice, serve, and enjoy one of the best things you'll ever eat.

Thanks again to my sister Sophie for the inspiration!

Turkey, Cranberry, and Brie Sandwich
inspired by Chicory Cafe

For the sandwiches:
Cranberry-Walnut Bread, sliced
Roasted Turkey, thinly sliced
Cranberry Chutney, store-bought or homemade

Spread a generous portion of cranberry chutney on one side of bread. Pile on slices of brie, turkey, arugula. Spread chutney on a second slice of bread and place face down on top of the arugula. Grill the sandwich, pressing down with a large, heavy skillet to flatten slightly until the bread is golden on both sides. Let cool slightly, cut in half, and enjoy!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cranberry-Walnut Bread

A month ago, my sister Sophie informed me that the next time I visited her she wanted to take me to a cute little New Orleans-style cafe to try a sandwich. This sandwich was not just any ordinary slap-two-pieces-of-meat-between-bread-and-call-it-good sandwich. Nope. This was a very special sandwich made with fresh roasted turkey, cranberry chutney, melted brie cheese, pressed together between two perfectly toasted pieces of house-made cranberry walnut bread.

"I want you to try this sandwich and then recreate it for your blog!" were her exact words.

Never one to turn down brie, or a sandwich for that matter, I dutifully accompanied her for dinner and we had a grand old time and I tasted what truly proved to be a magnificent sandwich. I assured her that I could and would most definitely recreate it. But, I'm going to do it in steps because like all works of art, this sandwich is going to take a bit of time.

Thankfully, Sophie is patient with me. For those of you who don't know her, Sophie is my hilarious sister with a booming laugh, an obsession with cats, and talent for all things theatrical. She was also my maid-of-honor eight years ago.

This is Sophie...

And so is this...

And this...

And this...

And this was about the time she was ready to kill me for continually stalking her with my camera.

The other lovely looking lady there is my sister Catherine. She's a hoot too. And so photogenic!

Enough shenanigans, back to the food!

The first step in building this sandwich masterpiece is, of course, the Cranberry-Walnut Bread. I knew exactly where to find the perfect recipe for this purpose: my beloved copy of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. In this bread-baking treasury is a fabulous recipe for Cranberry-Walnut Bread that I have made at least once a year for the past seven years, usually around Thanksgiving or Christmas. In fact, I normally made it just to spread with a thick layer of brie and then top with a bit of caramel-pecan chutney. Paul and I used to enjoy this delicacy while watching a Christmas movie on December 23rd before we had three children and pass out from exhaustion after getting everyone to sleep by 8:00 pm. The tradition might need to be resurrected this year.

However, memories of that bread still linger and to the kitchen I went this week to bake a loaf for Sophie's sandwich. This is probably the simplest of all Peter Reinhart's bread recipes. It just requires a little bit of patience because, like most sweeter yeast breads, it needs a longer proofing time. Reinhart dictates that the bread should be braided like challah in order to give it a decorative appearance worthy of the centerpiece for a holiday gathering. Since I am planning to make sandwiches, I did a simple three-strand braid and then tucked the ends under and stuffed the entire thing in a 9x5" loaf pan. An egg wash is added to give the finished loaf a dark, shiny appearance and after being allowed to bake for about 50 minutes the most gorgeous loaf emerged! Naturally, I helped myself to a slice as soon as it was done cooling and it did not disappoint!

The rest of the sandwich shall be revealed later, but this loaf of bread is truly a crowd-pleaser on its own! Slightly sweet from the generous amount of dried cranberries baked into the slightly sweet dough and studded with toasted walnuts, a loaf of this bread would make a wonderful gift for friends, relatives, teachers, and coworkers. Just send along a little wedge of buttery brie to go with it and you will be loved and praised forever!

Cranberry-Walnut Bread
barely adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

3 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 orange or lemon zest (good, but I omitted this time around)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup water, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sweetened, dried cranberries
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

Stir together flour, sugar, salt, yeast and zest in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk and butter. Stir, slowly adding water to make a soft, pliable dough.

Transfer dough to a floured counter and knead until smooth, soft, and slightly bouncy when poked. Alternatively, you can need using the dough hook of the stand mixer. Add water or flour as needed to adjust the consistency. Add cranberries and knead for another 2 minutes, then add walnuts and gently knead in until evenly distributed.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover in plastic wrap. Let rise for about 2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.

Transfer to a counter and deflate slightly. Braid as desired and then transfer to either a loaf pan or a baking sheet. Brush with half the egg wash and place the remaining egg wash in the fridge for later. Proof uncovered at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until dough nearly doubles. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees while the bread proofs.

When the loaf is ready to bake, brush with the remaining egg wash and slide in the oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, then rotate pan and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes. The loaf should be a deep golden brown and register between 185 - 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread (It's how I test all my yeast breads for doneness. It's foolproof!)

Remove the cranberry walnut bread from the pan and transfer it to a cooling rack. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Green Chile Stew

Little Lucia has grown into such a doll. She is in one of my favorite stages right now; still a baby, but very self-sufficient, confident, and with relatively no attitude, unlike her older sister who has been giving me all the attitude lately. She brings everyone so much joy with her infectious laughter and fantastic sense of humor. I have always said that all babies are natural comedians and Lucy is certainly proving that to be true. For example, we have this little game that she invented where she will request a song ("Little Star?") and I will begin to sign the first few lines of the song and then Lucy will hold one finger up and indicate for me to stop singing by saying with conviction: "NO!" Then, she will request another song and I'll sing the first line or two and she will stop me again: "NO!" It might sound silly, but it puts all of us - Matthew, Emma, Paul, Myself, and Lucy herself - in stitches every single time.

The other game Lucy likes to play involves us taking turns asking her to say different words. At first, Lucy plays along and obediently repeats the requested word but then eventually begins to deliberately respond with the wrong word and then laughing hysterically afterwards. It usually goes something like this:

"Lucy, can you say Puppy?"
"Can you say Kitty?"
"Can you say Mommy?"
"Can you say Emma?"
"Hot Dog!" *Hysterical Laughter*
"Can you say Matthew?"
"Chicken!" *More Hysterical Laughter*

Maybe it's not all that amusing to you all, but this silliness certainly keeps all of us in stitches!

Lucy also has developed an obsession with all things Frozen. She loves the music and often requests for me to play it on my phone so she can dance about and sing. Yes, she knows most of the words, or at the very least she imitates the sounds that the words make even if she is not enunciating properly. Lucy also loves giraffes, kitty cats, dogs (although she does not like it when they lick her), and birds. She loves to read books, either by herself or with me. When she wants me to read her a story, she will come up waving her book of choice while asking: "Lap? Lap?" Then, she will back up into my lap and snuggle in as I read to her. She always has such a serious expression on her face as I read as if she is studying every word I say along with every picture on the pages, earnestly committing them to memory. She also loves to help me unload the dishwasher. I usually put her in charge of the utensils and baby cups because she can reach those drawers and actually does a decent job putting them in the right place. However, she doesn't understand that the dishwasher isn't always clean and more than once I have had to stop her from unloading and putting away dirty dishes! She also adores the outdoors and long walks. One of my favorite things to do with her is go for a slow walk around the neighborhood, with one of my long strides matching up with six or seven of her little quicksteps, and listen to her point out things she sees along the way - the leaves, the trees, the animals, and people. She loves it all. My heart breaks for her as I think of the long winter months ahead where it will be much too cold to go outside.

Lucy also adores her siblings, but in different ways. She looks upon Emma has more of an equal and thus tends to fight and compete with her a bit more. Whenever Emma tries to patronize her, she passionately protests because why the heck would she take direction from someone who is basically on the same rung of the social ladder as herself? However, Lucy looks up to Matthew with adoration. She loves it when he assists her and if she had her choice Matthew would be her playmate every single time. Matthew is incredibly sweet to her, reading her stories, building block towers with her, fetching her food and drink, and even helping her brush her teeth at night. Speaking of brushing teeth, that is also Lucy's current favorite activity. No matter what she may be doing - be it playing, eating, or dancing about - as soon as she hears that it is tooth-brushing time, she drops everything and makes a beeline for the upstairs bathroom as fast as her short, stubby legs can take her while chanting over and over: "Teeth! Teeth!! TEEEEEETTTHH!" The girl is obsessed.

But back to Matthew and Lucy, I have really noticed a huge maturation in Matthew due to how seriously he takes his role as Lucy's big brother and protector. He is very careful with her and is always keeping an eye out to make sure she is not getting into any dangerous mischief. It certainly helps me to have a second set of eyes around! He also is excellent at keeping her entertained for me when I need to cook, clean, or just get some other task done. At the same time, I love just watching them play that I end up not getting much accomplished anyway! For example, yesterday afternoon after Matthew came home from school, he took Lucy outside to play baseball with him. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. They took turns playing the role of the batter and the pitcher. Lucy actually was pretty good at swinging the bat, albeit a bit late, as the ball zoomed past her. When it was Lucy's turn to pitch, Matthew would laugh hysterically because she would throw it maybe two feet, certainly not far enough for him to have a decent chance of whacking it with his bat. I loved seeing how much they were enjoying one another's company. In case you were wondering, Emma was inside passed out on the couch. She doesn't nap often, but when she does she is out for the long count.

A swing and a miss!

Lucy takes her pitching duties very seriously...

But the ball never seems to travel too far!

The recipe I want to share with you today is one of the best things I have eaten this Fall! As I mentioned a while ago, Paul and I bought about 30 pounds of Hatch chilies from our grocer when they rolled in at the beginning of the season. In addition, Paul's younger brother who lives in Albuquerque also sent us some bottled peppers after hearing that we love them so much. With so many peppers on our hands, I was in need of new ways to incorporate them into my dinner plans. My dear friend Shelley, the busy mother of three adorable kids of her own - who get along fantastically with my own children, is also from New Mexico. She instructed me on how to make the delicious New Mexico Stew and when I heard that it called for a large portion of Hatch chilies, I was sold. Of course, I couldn't help add a few vegetables to the mix along with some fresh cilantro and hominy. When I confessed to Shelley that I added more vegetables to it, she jokingly called me a "heathen." Mea Culpa. I know that you really shouldn't mess with traditional, regional recipes.

So, the recipe below might not be the most authentic version of New Mexico Green Chile Stew, but I promise you that it is certainly tasty. We loved this so much topped with freshly shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and more cilantro, because I'm one of those people who can never get enough cilantro. It is a bit on the spicy side, but you can use different pepper and omit the seeds and membranes to majorly tone down the heat. While I used chopped pork loin as my protein, Shelley told me that anything from ground beef, ground turkey, or pork shoulder can be used. Just be sure to drain the fat after browning. This is one of those perfect, comforting meals for the cold winter months ahead. Make it and enjoy it!

Green Chile Stew
adapted from my friend Shelley

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds pork loin, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 large white onion, diced
1 1/2 cups diced Hatch chile peppers (may substitute anaheims or poblanos if necessary)
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 15-ounce cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 large bunch cilantro, leaves chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the pork with 1 teaspoon salt. Working in batches, cook the pork, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and discard the fat from the pot.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in the pot. Add the onion, chile peppers, bell peppers and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Return the pork to the pot along with the chicken broth; cover and bring to a boil. Stir the stew and reduce the heat to medium low; simmer, covered, until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium high and bring the stew to a low boil. Add the potatoes, hominy and enough water to cover the pork and potatoes. Add half of the cilantro and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and the stew is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.

Serve topped with shredded cheese, sour cream, more cilantro, and a side of warm flour tortillas for dipping.