Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In The Kitchen With Baby

Baby and the oven sharing a special moment.
I have started letting Baby crawl around on the kitchen floor while I'm cooking or doing dishes. It's not the safest room in the house and from now on I promise I will make a point of discouraging her from making out with the oven. She just has such a sense of adventure right now and I imagine roaming the kitchen is doing a whole lot more for her development than watching a TV show while I do a few necessary kitchen chores. It will also encourage me to mop more often. Three birds, one stone.

Oh how times change. My traditional blog food photos now have a lot more action in the background.
The kitchen is particularly full of wonder for her right now because she has learned that drawers open. One of my to do's today is actually to switch around some of our drawer contents because a spice drawer at Baby's level is no longer a good idea. She loves to pull them open, examine the contents and then use that open drawer to pull herself up to the next one. Claire has yet to figure out the cabinet doors, but Jeff put baby locks on them over the weekend because behind some of those contain cleaning supplies and other non-baby friendly items.
 


Baby seemed really convinced that my pumpkin butter on the stove needed some ginger.

 

 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Living With A Nine Month Old


My baby girl is nine months old now. I know I've said this with every age so far, but this really is a good one. First of all, she's mobile. She crawls not just to get to the next toy that's a few feet away, but she crawls from one room to the next in search of adventures to be had. I love seeing that look of adventure and curiosity in my little girl's eyes. Gone are the days of being able to leave her for a moment contentedly playing with her toys. She has places to go!

I'm sure one day very soon her pulling all the books off the shelf won't be so cute, but for now it's adorable!
At the same time that Claire has become an expert crawler, she has also discovered the exciting new world of standing by herself. She loves to pull up on anything she can. Some favorites are my office chair, the couch, her jumper, and her personal favorite, the ottoman. The piping is just the right size for her little fingers to grip and pull herself up. Best of all, once she's up she has a great view of the TV which she finds mesmerizing. If music is on the TV she might also gift us with a little bouncing dance as she jams along to the beat. As you can see from the picture above, footed PJ's have become a bit of a problem because nine month outfits often lack grippers on the feet. She has started spending a lot more time in pants as a result.

video
 

This is Claire's "Don't bother me, my show is on" face.
Claire loves a lot of different TV shows (anything with real people), but her favorite is Yo Gabba Gabba. She was pretty interested in the Fresh Beats Band as well, but YGG is the only one she likes to watch regularly. An episode of that is a life saver when I need a few uninterrupted minutes to get dressed or pack her diaper bag. I do feel guilty when I see her doing the pose in the picture above. I feel like the TV is being beamed directly into her brain, but hopefully it's telling her not to bite her friends and not that she should burn things.
 
Claire is also still happy to play and explore by herself, but she doesn't like to do it in her pen anymore. She usually only lasts ten minutes in there before she gets upset and wants to be out in the main part of the living room with us. She doesn't necessarily want us to be playing with her, she just wants to be in the thick of it all with us and her trusty steed Prince Dog.
 

 
 
 
When it comes to talking, Claire has exploded with new sounds in the last week. Obviously she doesn't know what she's saying yet, but we had our first DaDa. She has done MaMa for quite a while, but since she got DaDa now we're also hearing lots of B's and P's as well. Even if it's just baby babble at this point, it's pretty awesome to hear your kid calling you by name. She's getting really chatty as she expands her consonant vocabulary.
 
video
 
 
One thing Claire is definitely lagging behind on is teeth. She is nine months old and there isn't a single tooth in her adorable gummy smile. Normally by this time a baby would have at least one, but I get the feeling she's going to wait until she passes the year mark. Personally, I love a gummy smile, but it would be nice to start giving her real food to snack on instead of all those puffy treats that dissolve in her mouth.
 
On the topic of food, Claire is still going strong on her homemade purees. Her current food are: carrot, green beans, yams, butternut squash, oatmeal, banana, plums, pear, peaches, mango and her favorite for now pineapple guava. Thank God she loves at least one of the fruits growing in our yard because she HATES apple. I think it has to do with her supper sensitive gag reflex. Even the smallest lump and she throws up, and apple is really hard to get 100% lump free. She is also rebelling against orange veggies this week which used to be all her favorites. Babies are weird.
 
We've been letting her put herself to sleep for her naps. Some days are better than others.
Finally, on the all important topic of sleep, her sttn is about 50/50, and if she does wake up its for one early morning nursing and then straight to sleep. I can certainly live with that. I honestly don't really notice much of a difference between nights when I do get up and nights that I don't except that the ladies are pretty sore in the morning. She currently goes to bed and 9:00 and wakes up at 8:30, and her naps have gotten longer during the day. I can generally count on two two hour naps, one in the morning and one in the early evening/late afternoon. This is a schedule that lets momma get stuff done.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prickly Pear Syrup

We ended up with a decent amount of prickly pear juice from our five gallons of fruit. Since I have a tendency to forget things in the fridge (only to be discovered by my frustrated husband a couple of weeks latter), we froze a little over half the juice for future projects. I have also learned when working with something new it isn't a pleasant surprise to make one huge batch of something only to find out you don't really care for it. This happened with our prickly pear jam that we made last year. I'm not a big jam person in the first place, but the stuff tasted like jolly ranchers. Waaaay to sweet for my breakfast taste. Learning from that experience, I started small with our prickly pear syrup experiment.

Standard syrup recipes seem to go for a 1:1 ratio of sugar to juice. Prickly pear juice is fairly sweet on its own, so I decided to use a 1:2 ratio of sugar to juice. I think it resulted in a thinner syrup, but that's ok since I am mostly using my syrup for drinks. Even with a 1:2 ratio this stuff is pretty sweet, and you could certainly up the amount of lemon juice you put in it if you'd like to tart it up a bit.

You might be asking yourself, what does prickly pear taste like. People generally describe it as being watermelonesk. While this is pretty close, I think Jeff described it perfectly when he said it tasted like watermelon mixed with peach. For some reason the juice got a little smokey touch to it after I simmered it (maybe from the thorn removal). I don't remember it being that way when we drank it fresh.

Plain Prickly Pear Syrup

6 cups of prickly pear juice
3 cups of sugar
3 lemons

1) Stain your prickly pear juice so its nice and clear. First run it through a metal mesh strainer and then through cheese cloth.

2) Add the prickly pear juice, the sugar and the juice of three lemons to a pot and gently simmer for 15 minutes.

3) Remove pan from heat and allow to cool. If you like to can you can water bath can the syrup to make it shelf stable. If you will be using your syrup as a mixer for alcoholic beverages, you can add a shot of vodka to it  (works as a preservative) and store it in the fridge.

Some fun additions you can add if you plan to use the syrup for things such as french toast are cinnamon and vanilla. I split my batch in two and added one stick of cinnamon to it while it simmered and then let it steep in the syrup for about an hour afterwards. When I bottled it I just removed the stick and added a tiny splash of vanilla extract. If you have a vanilla bean you could use that instead and just let it steep along with the cinnamon. The spiciness of the cinnamon complimented the sweet of the syrup nicely.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Prickly Pears: A How To

I've never been a big cactus fan, but we inherited a group of prickly pear bushes that were growing in our chicken run when we bought the house (you can probably scavenge them around your area too if you look hard enough). As my husband hates to pull up any green and growing thing, I have to pick my battles on what I try to get rid of. This year however, I gotta say I had fun harvesting and processing the fruit with him. It's been a long while since he and I were able to work on a food/garden project together because someone usually has to be keeping an eye on the Wee One. Claire was a good girl for this project though, and went down for her nap when we started and woke up from it just as we were cleaning up.

The biggest thing to deal with when working with prickly pears are the thorns. Its not so much the big obvious thorns that will get you. What you need to be concerned with is the layer of fine as peach fuzz thorns that also cover the fruit. How to get rid of all of these thorns is the subject of this post, along with lots of fun pictures involving fire and the like.

After a little online research, Jeff found the best way to get rid of the thorns was fire. Other ways that people take care of them is by rolling them in sand or straw/weeds. Fire won for many reasons like it sounded more fun, less labor intensive, more effective at getting rid of all those little buggers that are so fine you can't see them and we happened to have a fire pit full of wood in our back yard. The Internet recommended using a blow torch, but I think our way was more romantic and probably the way great grand pappy would have done it. Well, that is if our great grand pappy's were a little less European.

The basics of the process is as follows.

1) When your prickly pears have turned a nice red color, carefully pick them with a pair of tongs. We found the kind you'd use in the kitchen (as opposed to BBQ tongs) worked best for this step. The fruit will be pretty delicate so just gently twist and pull until it pops off. DO NOT TOUCH THE FRUIT WITH YOUR BARE HANDS!!

2) Whatever fire source you are using needs to be big in the flames department. You want them to actually lick the fruit. Using BBQ tongs, roll your fruit around in the flames until the skin becomes shiny and a little dark. Be sure to pay special attention to the ends of the fruit where the big thorns are. Heavy gloves to protect your hands from the heat are recommended.

3) Place your fruit in a bucket of icy water to cool.

4) Peel the fruit by cutting off the ends and then running your knife along the sides. The skins should come off pretty easily.

And that's all it takes my friends! This was effective enough at taking off the thorns that I didn't wear any gloves to peal them. I'd be lying if I said no thorns poked me, but after a good hand washing they seemed to all come out. We harvested five gallons of prickly pears and juiced them. In my next post I'll let you know what we made with them!

 

 
 




After a while we realized doing one at a time was a waste of time.

 

Well I'm pretty sure my grandpa never juiced prickly pear back in his day, but this juicer of his still has a lot of life left in it.

 
The final product.


 
 



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Halloween Decorations

I am very excited to report that I finally actually decorated for a holiday! I have always been a holiday decorator, even when I was renting with roommates who thought I was a bit strange for decorating the house when no one else was into it. Even for minor holidays I like to put up at least a few things as a reminder that there is a special day coming. I love that holidays are a time when you can see our shared culture and can take a day out of the normal march of time and make it special (even if its a silly made up  kind of special like American style St. Patrick's day and Cinco de Mayo). Who wouldn't like an excuse to have fun?

In the last year, however, I have found something that would be strong enough to dampen my decorator's spirit, morning sickness and a very young baby. Now that Claire is old enough to entertain herself a bit, I have no excuse to not bust out my bins of decorations and channel my inner Martha Stewart. Considering Halloween is one of my favorite holidays I think its appropriate that I got back into the swing of things with it. I don't think I go overboard, I just like to add touches of the holiday around the house on bookshelves and table tops mostly. Here are a few pictures of my Holiday/Fall decor. 
Decorating also gave me a cleaning bug. I scrubbed down my front door for the first time ever (though I ussually use Halloween as as good excuse to leave up spiderwebs) and purchased a new welcome mat from Costco.
 

 


 
 

 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oven Roasted Tomatoes


As the Summer harvest slows down, its not uncommon for me to end up with an awkward amount of tomatoes left over. There aren't enough to be worth pulling out the caner, but too many to make one dinner of pasta sauce. Normally this is the time I'd whip up a batch of salsa with the last of the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Salsa and sauce are the two big uses we have for tomatoes in my house because Jeff won't eat them raw, but this week I also wasn't planning any Mexican food to pair the salsa with. After being taunted by them for several days with no inspiration of what I was going to make out, I stumbled upon this post on The Hungry Tigress.

I had seen oven roasted tomatoes on other blogs before, but had never quite gotten around to giving them a try. I figured they'd be a hit around here because they are often compared in flavor and use to sun dried tomatoes, and Jeff is definitely a fan of those.

I am now happy to have a new option when it comes to using up my tomatoes. I actually wish I had tried it earlier in the season when I had more on hand. I only have one jar in the freezer now, but there are still a few late tomatoes hanging on the vines outside. As soon as they ripen, I think I know just what to do with them.

 
I forgot my oregano so it had to go on top. Learn from my mistake.


Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients

20-30 small tomatoes
8 cloves of garlic
1 large sprig of rosemary
2-3 tbsp. of oregano and thyme
3-4 tbsp. sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

1) Cut the garlic into thick slices. Don't cut it too thin, you'll want it to be able to hold up to a long time in the oven.

2) Roughly chop or tear up the herbs. Sprinkle the garlic and herbs in your baking dish(es).

3) Cut tomatoes in half and place cut side up on top of your herbs and garlic. Sprinkle with sugar and pour a liberal amount of olive oil over them.

4) Put the tomatoes in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature of 325. Bake for two hours.



To store the roasted tomatoes you can add some more olive oil to them after cooking and store in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze them for later use.

This recipe is very versatile and you can jazz it up with whatever seasonings suit your taste. I think some red pepper flakes could make a nice addition.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chop

Today is one of the first days in a long while that I feel I can just let out a big sigh and take the time to do a blog post. I feel silly for always feeling behind on things, and for my house always just barely being kept up, because it seems like as a stay at home mom with only one baby to tend to I should be able to find more time to get things done. I foolishly thought when I had Claire that I would continue to have time to blog during the day like I did when I worked in an office and sat in front of the computer all day waiting for the phone to ring or for someone to need copies made. Today, however, my house is fairly clean (my standards are modest), the dog has been walked, my yard is pooper scooped and my baby is asleep all at the same time. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Even time seems to be moving slower today. No racing against the clock wondering how its already time to start dinner (at least I'm too busy to worry about boredom of SAHM life). So in celebration of free time, I would like to share a recipe I tried recently and to save it here so the next time I need it I'm not searching the Internet trying to remember how to make the darn thing!

Before I moved in with Jeff, I didn't do a lot with pork chops. I liked them when other people made them, but non-bacon pork always seemed a little bit of a mystery to me when it came to how to cook it. Once Jeff and I discovered how easy it was to BBQ up with very little fuss, just a bit of salt and a little time on the grill, it became something I always kept my eye out for in the grocery ads. As much as I love pork with just a bit of salt and a side of apple sauce, I was recently looking for something to go with polenta (a few too many mashed potatoes had been gracing our plates) and for some reason pork just stuck in my head. This recipe also fits into the category of looking more impressive than the preparation of it really justifies, and I always like to have a few of those recipes up my sleeve. Nice enough looking for a dinner with company and easy enough to make on a weeknight. Win, win.
Obviously I was not thinking of blogging this when I snapped this photo. Welcome to the harsh reality of how we eat. TV trays are our best friend.

Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chop
Original recipe from
Cooking Light can be found here.

ingredients
 
  • 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 (4-ounce) boneless pork chops
  •  polenta

  • 1) In a bag or Tupperware combine the rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic and meat. Allow the meat the marinate for an hour.

    2) Pour the vinegar into a saucepan and simmer until it is reduced by half. Vinegar reduces fast so don't walk away from it. This step will take less than five minutes.

    3) Grill on medium high heat for five or so minutes per side depending on their thickness. Pork is done when it reaches an internal temperature of about 150 degrees. Baste the pork with the reduced balsamic vinegar while it cooks.

    Serve with creamy polenta that is made following the package instructions. Using chicken broth instead of water and throwing in a small handful and Parmesan cheese and a tablespoon of butter when its almost finished will make it particularly tasty. Of course you could also just be lazy and buy pre-made polenta, but I think making it yourself is worth your time.

    I hope you enjoyed the recipe. As for me, my baby appears to still be asleep, and I still have another hour before I have to think about starting dinner. Now the question is should I be good and put away some laundry or throw my cares to the wind and do a little knitting...