Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Paul's Breakfast Pear Cake

In October, Emily of Raising Barnes welcomed her second child, a beautiful baby boy named George. Although he came a bit early, he is doing well but Emily is in need of a bit of time off from her own blog as she and the rest of the family bond with the new addition! She is hosting a series titled A Blogger Family Cookbook where numerous contributors from different blogs are hosting their favorite family recipes and traditions. I was honored to be asked to contribute!

Today, I am sharing Paul's recipe for Breakfast Pear Cake as well as sharing one of our favorite weekend traditions! To read more, head on over to Raising Barnes and be sure to check out the other great posts in the series.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pecan Pumpkin Butter

After I wrote my post concerning all things Lucy, I realized that I forgot to mention the most important fact about my baby: The secret to calming her down. Whenever she is having a crying fit, the only thing that can quiet her (besides being held) is someone singing "This Old Man" to her. I know it sounds ridiculous, but this is in fact the truth.

Just ask my Mom. We were taking a two-hour long drive and about halfway through our trip, Lucy decided that she had had enough of her car seat. She started caterwauling and thrashing about in the back seat and I told Mom to start singing "This Old Man." She commented about how ridiculous that was but after another loud wail from Lucy, Mom started to sing away. Lucy calmed down immediately and actually fell asleep by the time the old man knick-knacked his way up to heaven. My Mom thought that was hilarious.

But in reality, it works every single time. We've tried getting her to like and appreciate less obnoxious songs, but her preference remains. So, if we want to enjoy a quiet trip walk in the park or drive in the car, we normally end up singing a round of "This Old Man" at some point along the way.

The recipe I want to share with you today is one that could certainly be eaten by a toothless old man. Pecan Pumpkin butter is a soft, sweet, and decadent spread that can be used in so many different ways. My personal favorite is swirling a huge spoonful into my morning oatmeal. It definitely turns a boring old bowl of mush into something a little more special. This recipe is a knock-off of the pumpkin butter sold by Williams-Sonoma. The flavor - a remarkable combination of pumpkin spice, toasted pecans, and hints of orange - comes pretty close to matching theirs. If you are looking for a different pumpkin butter recipe to try this fall, consider this one!

Pecan Pumpkin Butter
from Confections of a Foodie Bride

1/2 cup chopped pecans
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest of 1/2 orange
3 Tbsp orange juice
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
15 oz canned pumpkin or homemade pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread pecans on a baking sheet and roast for 7 minutes, until browned and fragrant.Run the pecans through the food processor until finely ground and the nuts have begun to release their oil and take on a "pasty" consistency.

In a 2-qt sauce pan over medium heat, combine the citrus zests and juices and dark brown sugar. Stir until warmed. Add pumpkin, nuts, and spices and reduce heat to low, simmering for 20-30 minutes, until thickened and the color darkens.

Stir and taste for seasoning and sweetness occasionally, adding additional spices as necessary.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Amore Salad

Matthew and I went on a little date to see one of his friends perform in a stage production of Cinderella. Along the way, Matthew started telling me all about his "girlfriend" at school - a little girl named Lillian. I took it all in stride until Matthew started telling me how he wanted to marry Lillian. I started to get a little perturbed because Matthew always said that he was going to marry me when he grew up and suddenly a precocious five-year-old has displaced me!

When we arrived at the show, who should happen to be sitting in the row directly across from us but the lovely Lillian herself. She was attending the play along with her grandparents. She asked them if she could sit with Matthew and they gave their okay and just like that I found myself sitting directly behind Matthew and Lillian as they watched the play together. They shared the snacks Matthew had brought with him and laughed and clapped and had a jolly good time. My mother-son date had turned into me chaperoning Matthew on his first actual date. I am happy to report that they left plenty of room for the holy spirit. I only had to lay down the law on a few occasions when Lillian insisted on playing with her seat but other than that they were very well behaved. Lillian kept telling me "Matthew wants to marry me!"and I, not really knowing how to respond, just told her that she didn't want me for a mother-in-law. She thought that was so funny she almost choked on her M&Ms. That girl is quite the catch. Matthew should never let her go.

In honor of Matthew and his first love, young though it may be, I am sharing this beautiful Amore Salad. Why is this salad called Amore? Because it is full of all the wonderful goodies that I love to eat! Arugula, farro, cranberries, roasted almonds, and a sweet white balsamic vinaigrette - it's a great salad for fall. To be honest, it's probably my new favorite salad.

Amore Salad
loosely adapted from a recipe seen in Wegmans Menu Magazine

For the White Balsamic Vinagrette:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the Salad:
8 ounces baby arugula
2 cups roasted butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 pound chicken breasts, brined (1/4 cup salt + 2 tablespoons sugar + 4 cups water) for at least 4 hours
1 1/4 cups farro
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all ingredients until emulsified. Set aside.

To make the farro, combine the farro, salt, honey, and 2 1/4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to low, and cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes to allow the remaining water to absorb. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Set aside while the chicken cooks.

For the chicken, remove from the brine and pat dry. Heat a little bit of oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook on both sides until a thermometer in the center register 165 degrees. Set aside, tenting with foil to keep warm.

Slice the chicken thinly and combine with arugula, squash, almonds, cranberries, and the farro. Drizzle with the vinaigrette - you won't use it all! -  and toss to combine. Serve!

Linking up with #TuesdayTalk!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The One Where Emma Holds a Tarantula

One of the best outings we did in October was attend a children's show featuring a magician and an animal trainer at one of our local fall festivals. We rather randomly decided to actually sit down for the show simply because it was a bit chilly outside and also because Matthew would not stop freaking out about the gigantic cannon that kept shooting large pumpkins into the mountainside. He has never been a fan of the noise it makes and each year has only become increasingly fearful. We figured we'd give his little nerves a break and take in a little magic and get our wild animal fix.

The magic show was fun! The magician was hilarious and the kids laughed and laughed at his corny jokes. The tricks were simple and the adults could certainly figure out how the magician accomplished them, but the kids were in complete awe. For the final trick, Paul got called up to assist the magician and we all enjoyed watching the magician tease him the entire time. My favorite pastime is poking fun at my hubby. My second favorite pastime is watching someone else poke fun at him. Just kidding...kind of. But it was truly fun for the kids to watch Dad assist in performing a bit of magic. We took the guy's card at the end of the show because he would seriously be a lot of fun to hire for a birthday party in the future if the costs are reasonable.

The second show immediately following the magician was a wild animal show put on by a local animal trainer named Terry. He brings in a wide variety of his own rare and exotic animals for the children to see up close and personal. Almost each animal was available to be held or petted by the kids that wanted to participate. Matthew and Emma sat up front and center for that show. They both love animals and are generally very adventurous about touching and holding even the scariest looking animals.

However, Emma was truly a tough gal when Terry brought out his pet tarantula. All the other kids shrank back in horror, unwilling to even consider petting the gigantic spider. Paul would have skedaddled out of the room himself if I had not kept such a firm grip on the hood of his sweatshirt. Evidently, Emma did not inherit the cowardly genes of her father when it comes to spiders. But Matthew did. While Emma eagerly held her hand out to receive the eight-legged beast, Matthew put his head in his hands. Paul watched in horror while Emma not only pet the spider, but offered to hold it. She didn't find it scary in the least. I was pretty proud of her pluckiness.

Then, Terry brought out his large sea turtle and placed her in the middle of the room. He then asked if any of the "little ladies" wanted to try riding her. Well, Emma was the first one to raise her hand but he ignored her and instead chose the girl sitting next to her. The little girl went up and then began to shake her head fearfully when he asked her to stand on top of the turtle's shell. As Terry tried to coax the little girl into doing it, Emma decided to take matters into her own hands and before Paul or I could grab her, she marched right up to turtle and sat on him. Terry and the entire audience thought it was hilarious. This was a dream come true for Emma - she has always wanted to ride a real turtle. In fact, whenever she or Matthew rides on Paul's back at home they always say they are "riding a turtle". Now, Emma has actually done just that.

Matthew's favorite part of the entire show was the giant python. He loves snakes and is not afraid of them in the least so he was all about posing for pictures besides the giant snake. Snakes are another phobia for Paul so he cowered in a back corner of the room while his children got up close and personal with their new slithering friend.

Everyone has something they fear. For Matthew, it is gigantic cannons shooting off pumpkins. For Paul, it is spiders and snakes. For me, it is everything besides spiders, snakes, and pumpkin guns. We are still trying to decide what Emma is afraid of...if anything.

Getting together a group picture of these kids always involves a pep talk and some shameless bribery.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Matthew's Fresh Pumpkin Pie

Ever since we picked up our first pumpkin from the farmer's market, Matthew has been itching to make a pumpkin pie. When he initially suggested it, I was a little surprised. While he ate the pumpkin desserts we prepared last year, he really wasn't all that into pumpkin pie. He enjoyed the whipped cream on top way more than the pie itself. However, he had his mind set on making a pumpkin pie. And canned pumpkin puree was not going to do it for him! He wanted to make it from scratch.

On Sunday, I let him have at it. We cheated a bit. We really wanted to get this done with fast and I was feeling lazy so we just bought a pie crust. I was quickly reminded why I never use storebought crusts. It was crumbly, tasteless, and reminded me of a saltine cracker. However, it was easy to work with and Matthew enjoyed being the one to roll it out and fit it into the pie tin. I tried to show him how to flute the crust, but he became rather impatient with it. 

You might ask why we didn't just cheat on the pumpkin puree and use the canned stuff since we were already using a store-bought crust. Well, truth be told, pumpkin puree is a breeze to make at home whereas pie dough, while easy enough, takes a bit more time and effort. But pumpkin puree - my 5-year-old can make it. For reals. First, we cut up our pumpkin, remove the "brains" as Matthew calls them, and roast the pieces until they turned a toasty orange. Once cool enough to handle, Matthew scooped the flesh out and gave it a whirl in the food processor. We then let the mixture strain for about 30 minutes after which time it was ready to go! That's it!

While our sad-little pie crust parbaked, we made the filling for our pie. Most of this pie is made in a food processor, so Matthew was thrilled. It's his favorite appliance of the moment. We always use the scale to weigh our ingredients, so I just told Matthew what number to look for on the scale when scooping and he was extremely precise. Almost to an annoying extent. If the recipe called for seven ounces of brown sugar, he was going to make sure the scale read 7.000 ounces and not a bit more or less.

After cooking the pumpkin filling for a bit on the stovetop to wake up the spices and seasonings and ensure a short baking time, cream and milk are added for richness. Then, eggs are combined in the food processor and gently tempered with the warm pumpkin filling before everything is poured into the hot, parbaked crust. A short 25 minutes later, we removed a beautiful pumpkin pie from the oven. Matthew was so pleased.

Everyone was pleased with how well this tasted! I'm usually not a fan of pumpkin pie - surprising given my love of all things pumpkin and squash - but this version was truly something special. I think it is the homemade puree - it has a sweet, toasty flavor that is unmatched by canned puree. Also, we had just picked up a higher-quality cinnamon and I think that definitely lent a brighter spice flavor to the pie. Nobody loved the pie more than my baker boy himself. He enjoyed a piece for dessert on Sunday and then for breakfast Monday mornings. Before heading into his classroom, he instructed me to save the rest of the pie for his dessert. I love seeing him take pride in something he helped create!

Fresh Pumpkin Pie
adapted from The New Best Recipe

For the Pumpkin Puree:
1 sugar or pie pumpkin

For the Pumpkin Pie:
1 parbaked pie crust, homemade or storebought
16 ounces homemade or canned pumpkin puree
1 cup (7 ounces) brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
Glazed pecans (optional), for garnish
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the pumpkin puree, cut the pumpkin half and remove all the seeds and stringy flesh. Place, cut side down, on a greased, foil-lined cookie sheet. Roast for 45-60 minutes - this will vary depending on the size of your pumpkin - or until tender when pierced through the shell with a fork. The pumpkin will turn a deep burnt sienna color and smell nutty. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. Then, remove the pulp from the shell. It should easily scoop out. 

Run the pumpkin pulp through a food processor until completely smooth. Line a strainer or colander with coffee filters or thick paper towels and let the pumpkin drain. Stir a couple times during this process to adequately remove any excess water. When the pulp is about the texture of canned pumpkin puree, you are done! Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze for up to six months!

Roll out your pie dough and parbake until just golden brown. While the crust is baking, make your filling since you will be adding it to the hot, freshly baked shell.

Process the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a food processor until combined. Transfer to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny. This will take about five minutes.

As soon as the pie shell comes out of the oven, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and make sure the temperature is set at 400 degrees. Whisk the heavy cream and milk into the pumpkin and bring to barely a simmer. Process the eggs in the food processor until the whites and the yolks are combined and then, with the motor running, slowly pour in half the pumpkin mixture through the feed tube. Stop the machine, add the remaining pumpkin mixture, and process for an additional 30 seconds or so.

Immediately pour the warm filling into the pie shell. Bake the pie until the filling is puffed,dry-looking, and the center wiggles a bit like Jell-O, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour. Garnish with glazed pecans, if desired and serve with plenty of whipped cream!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lucia the First

Lucy is now a smiley, drooly, lovable, playful five-month-old. I have nicknamed her "the inspector" because she must grab, finger, taste-test, and stroke anything and everything that dares to lie within a foot of her reach. In fact, it's getting extra-difficult to get anything done while holding her because she will fight her hardest to get at whatever I am working on. Lucy has doused the computer keyboard in drool, licked and gnawed on every spatula and wooden spoon we own, and left a pile of twisted, shredded, and mangled napkins in the center of our dining room table. She leaves no survivors. She is vicious. I have been applying Mederma to a scratch she bequeathed to me while attacking my face. Should I wear my hair down, it is only a matter of time before it is transformed into a knotted, mangy mess that is damp with drool from being harassed by the petite one.

Despite all this, she is such a joy!

I compiled a quick list about Lucy to commemorate the little person she is now at the tender age of five months.

1. She needs to grasp onto my hand while nursing. It's so sweet and cute despite preventing me from being productive while feeding her. I love that it forces me to enjoy bonding with her while she nurses.

2. Her favorite toy is a Buzz Lightyear action figure and this stuffed lady bug that she gnaws on constantly.

3. Her favorite person besides her parents is probably Matthew. She is obsessed with him. She thinks he's hilarious. He could be sitting there staring blankly at the wall and she'll start laughing at him. It's so sweet and Matthew laps it up. In fact, I think the only reason she is so obsessed with the Buzz Lightyear action figure is because Matthew is the one who first gave it to her.

4. When she is angry or upset, she wrings her feet together. She's done that since she was about a week old.

5. She is all about trying solid foods. Whenever we sit at the table, she'll fuss and I'll end up holding her on my lap and all she wants to do is attack my plate, my fork, and whatever is on my plate. The other day, she tried a curried squash soup and thought it was the best thing ever. I don't know if curry is the best spice to give her at this moment in her life, so I resisted allowing her to gorge on more.

6. She is obsessed with cloths, napkins, handkerchiefs, and anything of that sort. She gets really excited if you wave one in front of her face. Baby Matthew had a similar obsession and we think that's why he ultimately became so attached to Monkey.

7. She loves the outdoors in general - but especially busy playgrounds. She loves watching all the kids run about and play. She gets so excited - almost as if she is itching to join them too! However, the sound of feet crunching through leaves brings her to tears.

8. Speaking of playgrounds, she loves to swing. I've put her in a baby swing at the park with Emma and she will laugh and laugh each time she is pushed. It's the cutest thing - I wish I had a fancy phone so I could have recorded a quick video to share. Unfortunately, she's not a fan of her little baby swing at home. Sigh.

9. She is still a major stinker and wakes up about 2-3 times a night. I have not had a full night's rest since before she was born...the evening of May 16th to be precise. But whose counting?

10. Her hair is an unruly, tangled mess most of the time. I try to keep it at bay with the use of clips and combs, but it's pretty useless. But I love that she still has so much hair!

11. She is scared of loud noises, the shrieking of her siblings fighting, and the garage door opening and closing. She also always wakes up very upset almost as if she was just in the middle of a nightmare. She just seems so insecure most of the time!

12. If she wets or soils her diaper, she wants it changed immediately. IMMEDIATELY!

13. She can be surprisingly quick moving. If I am holding her while working on another task, I have to keep a watchful eye on her because she will pounce on whatever object catches her eye and have it covered in slobber before you have a chance to react. More than once while working on a shopping list, I have absent-mindedly brought the pen close to my chin while I pondering what to write next only to suddenly find it plucked from my grasp by Lucy's incriminating chubby fist. She's a baby ninja.

14. Somewhere, somehow...a baby is always watching. You ever have that feeling like you are being watched? I get that feeling all the time. Then, I'll look up and see that my chunky monkey is staring at me with an eager, wide-mouth, toothless grin just waiting for me to acknowledge her. Brightens my day every single time!

15. We sing her the theme song from "Sofia the First" only we change the lyric to "Lucia the First." If you  have no idea what I'm talking about, look it up on YouTube. It's become her personal anthem. She loves it.

16. Paul has given her the nickname "Chunkles".

17. She is fascinated with her toes. After a diapering, they preoccupy her for a whopping five minutes - just enough time to quickly scrub a toilet or fold a load of laundry.

Lucy is certainly a blessing to our family! My favorite part about having three little kids is how in the morning, Matthew and Emma will wander into my bedroom way too early because they want to give their sister a hug and a kiss. "Please may I see Lucia?" Emma will inquire. Little Lucy is one lucky baby to be so loved.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The One with the Broken Bird

A few days ago, Matthew was attempting to stash his Spot-It game out of Emma's reach and he determined that perching it on the ledge above the fireplace was the perfect solution. In the process of trying to adequately conceal the game, he accidentally knocked off a clay bird that was standing up there minding its own business and the thing shattered against the hardwood floor into no less than 300 pieces. I was quite upset to discover that the bird had fallen to its demise, for it was a trinket (a dumb one, I'll admit) that Paul and I had randomly bought with a gift certificate I had earned while working for the Notre Dame Annual Fund. The gift certificate was to be used at an Irish Imports store near campus and there was pretty much nothing else that I liked, needed, or wanted that fell at or below the value of the gift certificate.

Then, Paul saw the clay bird and thought it was cute - it was a very fat sparrow sitting tall on its spindly legs. We ended up buying it and took it back to campus with us. It spent the entirety of my senior year perched atop my desk, watching me as I pored over textbooks, wrote long research papers, and tried to cram as much information into my brain as possible in preparation for a looming exam. After college, that bird was tucked away into a box and eventually moved with us to the apartment we shared together as newlyweds. Over the years, I had gotten rid of many knick-knacks and "dust catchers" from my childhood, but that bird always made the cut. So, for stupid, sentimental reasons, I was very upset to discover that the bird had met such a violent and tragic death.

I didn't get mad at Matthew. I tearfully just told him that he had to be more careful and that the bird had meant a lot to me. He suggested that we "tape it" but I told him that it was beyond repair. He then responded, "It's ok, Mommy...Daddy can fix it. He knows how to glue things."

I had to reiterate that no amount of glue could fix the bird. The bird was swept up and dumped in the trash. Paul told Matthew that he should apologize to me for breaking it. Matthew just looked down at his feet and walked up the stairs. While kissing him goodnight that night, I again asked Matthew if he could please apologize for breaking the bird because we always say we're sorry if we hurt what belongs to others. He again didn't say anything and just hid his face in the pillow. I got kind of mad at him then. How hard was it for him to say he was sorry? I told Paul what had happened and his insightful comment was: "He's a weird kid."

The next morning, I heard Matthew wake up at 5:00 AM. Normally, he will try to wake one of us up by breathing heavily outside our door or sneaking inside and sticking his nose about a millimeter away from mine until I wake up. It's disturbing. But this morning he did not do those things. I heard him creep downstairs and then it was silent. I went back to sleep. About an hour later, I woke up and started going through the morning routine. I headed downstairs and Matthew ran up to me with a picture. He had drawn a bird. He handed me the picture and said: "Mommy...can you get the scissors and cut it out and then we can paste it up on the shelf where the old bird was?"

I was a little confused. This happened before my cup of coffee. Matthew explained that he was sad that the bird was broken and did not want me to be sad, so he had made a "replacement bird" to take the place of the one that had been destroyed. Clearly, the artistry was very similar so it was an easy swap. But in all seriousness, he said this was such an earnest tone and with his big blue eyes eagerly gazing into mine hoping to please me. I was so touched by the gesture. This was his way of apologizing - only he did not want to say "sorry" because he truly wanted to fix the situation and to him saying "sorry" would just put an end to it. He really wanted to replace the bird and he did so in the best way he saw fit. I hugged him tight that morning - because he really is such a special kid. We have a lot of trouble with him and I really don't know what is going on in his brain half the time, but he really has such a naturally kind, loving nature, and really does wish to please. I never cut out the bird or pasted it next to my fireplace, but I am keeping the picture in the "Matthew" file to remind me of this moment. Much as I wish he would act older and more mature on a daily basis, I know that I will long for these days when the time comes where he will not want me kissing him goodbye in front of his classmates, or he will not greet me in the morning by running to me with arms outstretched, or he will not color me a gazillion pictures a day, or he will not beg me to read him "just one more" story at night. I'm doing my best to treasure these moments today, for they are passing all too quickly.