January 28, 2011

Sweet Potato, Pear, and Carrot Soup

Another snowstorm.  Another cold winter's day.  Another perfect day for soup.  I had 3 large sweet potatoes on hand.  But I wanted to find something that would complement it.  So I looked in the fridge and found a glistening Bosc pear.


I also saw some carrots which I decided would be a good addition to the soup as well.

I adapted a recipe from Taste of Home, and it was fabulous.  I will definitely be making this again - snowstorm or not.  But quite truthfully, I'm hoping to never see another snowflake again this winter unless it's a garnish on a soup.  :)

Sweet Potato, Pear, and Carrot Soup
{ Makes: 6 servings; Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 30 minutes }
Adapted from Taste of Home

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large pears, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  1. In a large saucepan or pot, combine the sweet potatoes, carrots, 2 cups of chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until tender.
  2. Meanwhile in another large saucepan, cook and stir the pears and onion in butter over medium heat for 5 minutes until onion is translucent.  Stir in 1 cup of chicken broth.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Stir into the sweet potato mixture.  Cool slightly. 
  3. In a blender, cover and puree soup in batches; return all to the pot.  Stir in the cream, pepper and remaining salt; heat through (do not boil).   Garnish with slices of pear.  

January 26, 2011

A Mother's Calling

{ my beautiful calling }
I miss the point, and I miss it all the time.  I focus my time, energy, and emotions on things that mean so little when you look at the big picture of life.  I want things to be organized and orderly.  I want my home to be orderly, my kids, my day, my life.  I want it all put together, flawless, and simple.  And when things don't go that way, I lose it.  I get flustered, frustrated, and frantic.  Why don't things go the way I plan???

And when you have two boys - 2.5-years-old and 16-months-old - it NEVER goes as planned.  Meals I spend a good deal of time preparing get chucked on the floor, or someone poops again at the most inopportune time, or one wakes up due to night terrors while the other is restless from teething, or toys get dumped in the middle of a room that I just straightened out, or projects I want to work on get delayed because nap time is a bust.

I have asked myself several times this past month if this has been the right decision for me to stay home.  Maybe I'm just not cut out for this.   And yet, God has been good in gently reminding me this is what He has planned for me right now.  My most important calling is to nurture and raise my sons for the glory of the Lord.  If I neglect to do this but strive to do everything else well, then I believe I've missed the point.  I can pursue ministry opportunities and my passions, but if I neglect to nurture my children and love them well, then I have failed and not properly cared for what God has entrusted to me.

During a very hectic, stressful, and tiring day, I had this conversation with my 2.5-year-old while changing his diaper (yes, he really ought to be potty-trained):

Me:  Oh, CJ.  When are you going to start telling Mommy when you need to go pee-pee or poo-poo?  You're too big for diapers, and I'm tired of changing them!  [Frustrated and now thinking aloud]  When is Mommy's life going to get easier?  I guess life will never be easy until I get to heaven.  [Trying very hard not to inhale the fumes of the stinky diaper.]

CJ:  Mama, why you going to heaven?

Me: [Caught off-guard that he heard and understood me.  I smile.]  Because Jesus loves me.

CJ:  Mama, may I go to heaven, too?

Me: [Choked up and kissing him on forehead]  Of course, darling!  Jesus loves you and died for you, too!
In my frustration of trying to take care of every little thing, manage a hectic life and wishing for a simpler one, I often miss out on what God is doing.  I easily get caught up in trying to complete the to-do list and check off all the boxes.  But my most important calling is not to strive for a home that could be featured in Martha Stewart's magazine but rather to be a godly wife and mother.  I am to encourage, support, and love my husband well.  To nurture, raise, and ground our children in God's Word and His love.  And to be an example of a woman who loves the Lord and is kind, compassionate, and gracious.

Every day, the Lord gives me an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel and minister to my husband and my children.  I pray and pray the Holy Spirit would help me to do that well.  And that instead of a grumbling heart, He'd give me a grateful one.

O Lord, help me to be a Proverbs 31 woman.  Help me to love my husband well, provide instruction for our children, and to use the gifts You've given me for Your glory and honor.

Korean Vegetable Pancakes

{ crispy, savory vegetable pancakes }
Korean pancakes (pa-jeon) are a popular appetizer or side dish in Korean culture.  It's hearty and filling enough to be a meal in itself.  Pa-jeon is absolutely amazing when eaten piping hot straight off the stove.  So wonderfully savory and delicious.   It's usually served with a dipping sauce consisting of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar.  You can find many variations of the pancake - most common are scallion, kimchi, or seafood.   Seafood pancake (called hae-mul pa-jeon) is my absolute favorite; it consists of squid, clams, shrimp, and scallions.

I normally use a prepared pancake mix bought from the Korean market .  But I didn't have any on hand.

Nor did I have any seafood.  So I decided to make vegetable pancakes using flour.  If you have some fresh veggies, flour, water, and egg available, this is a simple meal to make. 

I have screwed these up horribly many times before and have learned from my mistakes.  So here are a few tips:
  1. Don't make the pancakes too thick.  Otherwise, they're bound to be soggy.
  2. Don't be stingy with the oil.  In the past, I tried using as little oil as possible to keep them from being greasy and it would be a flop (literally).  You don't want to go overboard with the oil, either; these are not meant to be deep-fried.  Just be sure to use enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
{ vegetables sliced thin and ready to go in the batter }

{ mix, mix, mix }

{ fry in the pan }

{ and voila! }

So how good are they?  I think this says it all. 

Korean Vegetable Pancakes
{ Makes about four 8-inch pancakes }

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups ice cold water
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for pan frying (approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons for each pancake)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned (or grated)
1 green pepper, cut into thin slices
1 red pepper, cut into thin slices
1 bunch of scallions, sliced

  1. In a medium bowl, mix flour, egg, salt, and 1 1/2 cups water until a smooth batter is formed.  If batter is still thick, add a little more water (you want it to be the consistency of pancake batter).  Stir in the potatoes, carrots, peppers, and scallions.
  2. Place an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Let it heat for 15-20 seconds, and then coat bottom with vegetable oil.  Ladle in about a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle.  Cook for 5 minutes until edges start browning.  Then flip and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  When completed, transfer the pancake on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain oil (if necessary) and then place on serving plate.
  3. Repeat steps 1 to 3 with remaining batter.
  4. When pancakes are all finished, cut into wedges and serve with dipping sauce.  
Dipping sauce (I use this sauce for pajeon and dumplings):

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice or white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch of roasted sesame seeds
Pinch of chopped scallion
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil.  Sprinkle in sesame seeds, chopped scallion, and if desired, pinch of red pepper.

January 24, 2011

Toffee Coffee Dark Chocolate Brownies

My hubby loves coffee.  He drinks it like it's water.  He also loves dark chocolate.  So he went ga-ga over these brownies.  He did prefer it without the frosting, but I liked it with and since I was doing the baking, guess who won?  :)

Toffee Coffee Dark Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens
{ Makes: 20 brownies; Prep: 25 min.; Bake: 35 min. }

1 19.8- or 21-ounce package dark chocolate brownie mix
1/2 cup toffee pieces
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee crystals
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.
  2. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions, except stir the 1/2 cup toffee pieces, the espresso powder, and chopped walnuts into batter. Spread batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes.  In the meantime, prepare frosting (see instructions below). 
  4. Once brownies are done baking, cool in pan on a wire rack.  Remove baked mixture from pan.  Spread frosting onto cooled brownies and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.  Cut into bars.  Makes 20 brownies.
TO STORE:  Place bars in a single layer in an airtight container; cover.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For Frosting:
1  cup  (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4  cups  (1 lb.) powdered sugar, sifted
1/8  teaspoon  salt
2  tablespoons  milk
2  teaspoons  vanilla

In a bowl, with a mixer (preferably fitted with whisk attachment) on low speed, beat butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, and the salt until blended.  Add milk and vanilla; beat until blended. Add remaining powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating until incorporated.  Turn mixer to high speed and beat frosting until fluffy and smooth.

January 19, 2011

Kimchi Bulgogi Pizza

{ you'll never guess the secret ingredient in this pizza.  okay, you got me.  the title gives it away. }
You know those crazy Koreans who eat kimchi with everything?  Thanksgiving dinner, meatballs, Subway sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, pizza.  Yes, pizza. 

Just in case you don't know what kimchi is, it's fermented seasoned cabbage that's a staple in a Korean's diet.  It's usually served as a side dish ("bahn-chan") with the main meal.  Bulgogi is a deliciously marinated beef usually prepared with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and sugar.  You can buy kimchi and bulgogi at most Asian markets.

I remember when someone first told me about kimchi bulgogi pizza back in college and raved about how good it was.  I thought she was completely nuts!  But when I finally tried it, I realized she was so right.

When I told my husband and sister-in-law I was making this for lunch this past Saturday, they gave me that "you're crazy" look, too.  I'm happy to say I've now converted them into believers.

I feel silly writing up a recipe for this when it's so basic.   So I'm just going to provide a pictorial on how this is assembled.

First, gather the ingredients:
Prepared pizza crust
Marinara sauce
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Spinach, lightly sauteed
Kimchi, cut and fried with vegetable oil
Bulgogi, sliced and fried with vegetable oil

    Then, start assembling:

    Add marinara sauce on top of the pizza crust.
    Pile on the mozarella cheese.

    Sprinkle with lightly sauteed spinach.

    Add fried kimchi.

    Add fried bulgogi.
    Bake pizza in oven set to 375 degree F for about 10-15 minutes
    until cheese is melted and crust is ready.

    When done, sprinkle more sauteed spinach on top.

    Finally, slice and serve:

    And await for happy smiles.

    Okay, so I didn't really give my son kimchi pizza because it's a bit spicy.  I made another pizza with marinara sauce, cheese, white beans, spinach and olives for the kids.  They loved it.  But I look forward to the day when I can share this delightful Korean twist to an Italian dish with my sons.

    There are so many variations you can make to this, so be adventurous!

    January 16, 2011

    Cream Puffs with Custard & Fruit Filling

    { this might very well put beard papa's out of business. }
    I wish someone had told me before how easy it is to make cream puffs.  It would have saved me a lot of money and trips to Fort Lee and the Upper West Side for Beard Papa's.  I feel it's my civic duty to pass on the knowledge and share with you how simple these scrumptious desserts are to make.  I may be putting Beard Papa's out of business by doing so.  Sorry 'bout that. 

    [If you want to skip all the verbiage and just get to the recipe, scroll down to the bottom of this post.]

    We had friends over for dessert on Saturday and then our neighbor over on Sunday to watch the football game (go Jets!).  I wasn't sure what to make for dessert for the evenings so I sat skimming through my Taste of Home cookbook when my eyes came across a cream puff recipe.  Glancing at the ingredients and the directions, I thought, "There's no way it can be that simple."

    Well, folks.  I'm here to tell you that it is.

    I did a research online for cream puff recipes just to be sure the one in Taste of Home wasn't steering me wrong.  I saw a few and they seemed relatively similar but had different suggestions for the filling. 

    In reading the reviews for a cream puff recipe on Allrecipes.com, I got a little concerned and thought maybe this isn't as simple as it seems.  A few of the reviews complained about the dough appearing too runny after adding the 4 eggs (some suggest beating in the first 3 and then adding the 4th if the texture isn't right).  I have no idea what the right texture is supposed to be like, but I went ahead and added the 4th egg and it turned out beautifully.

    { the dough is ready to go in the oven }
    Another common comment I read was that the pastry didn't puff and it turned out flat.  A few reviewers claimed you had to poke a hole while the pastry was baking to make sure it would puff.  Being paranoid, I took the precaution of taking this step.  So 20 minutes into the baking process, I took a chopstick and popped a hole in 10 out of the 12 puffs.  I wanted to see what would happen to the couple that didn't get "popped".

    { this puff didn't get "popped" and rose to the occasion }
    Well, they turned out just as beautiful as the rest.  So I'm not sure this extra step needs to be taken, but I guess it couldn't hurt.  But it is important to make sure it's cooked through to the center, otherwise it will get soggy and sag.  And other reviewers said it's helpful to let it sit in the oven with the door ajar for a minute or so after they're done baking to prevent collapsing.  I didn't do this either.  I just transfered them immediately to a wire rack, and it turned out just fine.

    They all turned out quite beautifully.

    { perfect puffs }
    And when you open them up, they're just begging to be filled with some sweet custard and fruit goodness. 
    { "fill me!" }
    Oh yeah, like that.

    It was nice knowing you Beard Papa's.

    Cream Puffs with Custard and Fruit Filling
    { Prep time: 30 minutes; Bake time: 30 minutes; Yields: 12 puffs }

    For pastry puff:
    1/3 cup butter, cubed
    1 cup water
    1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    4 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    For filling:
    1 (5.1 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup whole milk
    1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed
    1 cup strawberries, sliced


    1. Mix together vanilla instant pudding mix, cream and milk.  Cover and refrigerate to set.
    2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
    3. In a small pot, bring water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil over medium heat.  Once boiling, add flour all at once and with a wooden spoon, stir until a smooth ball forms.  Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.  Transfer dough to a stand mixer.  Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each until dough is smooth and shiny.  Mix in the vanilla.  Drop by 2 rounded tablespoonfuls 3 inches apart onto baking sheet.
    4. Place sheet on middle rack in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Centers should be dry (check with toothpick).  Transfer to wire rack to cool.
    5. While shells are cooling, remove pudding mix from the fridge.  Fold in 1 cup of whipped topping and mix.  When the shells are cool, split and fill with custard and then layer on sliced strawberries.  Replace cream puff tops and dust with confectioners sugar.  You can refrigerate until ready to serve.*
    *Tip:  It's best to keep the pastry and custard separate until ready to serve to prevent the cream puff from getting soggy. 
    Next time, I'm going to try this with chocolate and banana pudding mix. 


    January 12, 2011

    Potato Broccoli Cheddar Soup

    It snowed last night here in the northeast (again).  I personally would be happy not to see anymore snow this winter.  But the kids absolutely love it. 

    While the gang enjoyed the white blanket outside, I surveyed our fridge to figure out what to make for lunch.   I thought something hot and hearty was in order on a day like this.

    I found some broccoli, potatoes, onions, and cheese.

    { what's for lunch? }

    Hmm.  What to do with these?  And then it dawned on me: 

    { warm-you-right-to-the-bone potato broccoli soup }
    I found a great recipe for potato broccoli soup from Delish.com to work from and made some modifications.  What I really liked about this recipe is that it didn't let the broccoli stems go to waste!  All the other recipes I glanced at only used the broccoli florets.

    The slight changes I made to the recipe include frying the vegetables in olive oil first, adding whole milk (you can also use heavy cream), using cheddar cheese instead of parmesan (I actually only had Mexican blend on hand but would have preferred to use solely cheddar), and garnishing with bacon bits.  You can obviously tell I don't believe in skimping on the fat.  However, if you are watching your diet, the recipe as-is on Delish.com is probably a healthier option.

    When the family came in from the frigid cold, they were very delighted to see hot, homemade soup cooking on the stove.  Served with three-cheese seminola bread, it totally hit the spot and warmed them right to the bone.
    Potato Broccoli Cheddar Soup
    Adapted from Delish.com; Serves 4


    1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 onion, chopped
    1 3/4 pounds broccoli, thick stems diced (about 2 cups), tops cut into small florets (about 1 quart)
    5 medium-sized red potatoes, diced
    3 cups chicken broth
    1 cup whole milk
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
    1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    2 pieces bacon, fried and diced (for garnish)

    1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add butter, potatoes, onions, and broccoli stems.  Sautee for 5-10 minutes until onions turn golden brown.
    2. Add broth, milk, salt, and pepper.    Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are almost tender, about 10 minutes.
    3. In a food processor or blender, pulse the soup to a coarse puree.  Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer.   Add the broccoli florets and simmer until they are tender, about 5 minutes.   Stir 1/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese into the soup, and serve the soup topped with the remaining cheese.  Sprinkle bacon bits on top.

    Hope you're all staying warm out there and getting to enjoy the snow a bit like these guys:


    January 11, 2011

    Love Language

    I get it now.

    Back in my short-lived aspiring singer/songwriter days, I thought there was no greater love language known to man than music.   How could one resist the tempestuous beats of reggae, or the mesmerizing melodies of ballads, or the intoxicating chords of rock and roll?

    Well, I was wrong.

    I now know the greatest love language is food.   Sometimes the things that can't be expressed with what comes out of the mouth can be by what is fed in the mouth.

    You put food down on the table, and you instantly have fellowship.  Friendships are built over coffee and cheesecake.  Love grows as two people connect over a bowl of puttanesca and a glass of red wine.  A new neighbor is welcomed on the block with a batch of homemade cookies.  A bowl of porridge helps a starving child live another day.

    There is nothing greater which connects any two people than the need for the most basic necessity in life.  To satisfy one's hunger.

    And food can even help mend the most difficult of relationships.  This is where my mother-in-law ("MIL"), who is an amazing cook, comes into the story.

    My MIL and I have what is typical of many mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships.  I was vying for the number one position in her son's life and she was none all too happy about that.  Like many MILs, I think it was difficult for her to let go of her son and let her daughter-in-law assume the role of primary caretaker in his life.   Like many mothers, it's hard to imagine anyone loving more or taking better care of someone than the person who brought him into the world (I'm sure I'll encounter a similar feeling when my sons eventually get married). 

    We struggled in our relationship for a number of other reasons.  She's old-fashioned and traditional.  I'm not.  She's stubborn but so am I.  She insists on her ways, and I insist on mine.  There was no understanding of healthy boundaries.  She also speaks very little English, and I speak very poor Korean.  So the communication barrier made it much harder for us to engage in a deeper and more meaningful relationship.  And it also made it that much easier for misunderstandings (of which we've had many).

    There was a time when I wondered if she and I would ever be able to sit in the same room together without one upsetting the other.

    In the early years of marriage, my MIL would spend hours preparing food, whipping up meals, and bringing them over to our house.  And she insisted I be the first to try out everything.  Of course, I didn't mind tasting and enjoying the food she prepared (did I mention already that she's a fabulous cook?).  But what drove me absolutely crazy was her going into great detail about how the food was prepared and then insisting I be spoon fed by her (as though I were a child) to taste the food!  I'm a grown woman for Pete's sake! 

    Time and time again, she would bring over dishes and try to shove spoonfuls in my mouth while telling me how she woke up at 5 in the morning to prepare the food.  I honestly didn't want her to go to all that trouble, so I told her not to.  I know it hurt her feelings and bruised her ego, but I figured she'd eventually get over it.  Resound in her stubbornness, she continued to cook and feed us.

    Now that I'm a mom laboring in the kitchen, preparing meals and baked goods for my family, I get it.   You spend much of your day feeding and nourishing your spouse and children.  This is one of many ways I'm able to express my love to them.

    And my MIL, unable to communicate with me through spoken language, had been demonstrating her love and acceptance of me through what she knows best.  A delicious, home-cooked meal.   She spends hours in the kitchen washing, cutting, chopping, peeling, slicing, grinding, marinating, frying, steaming, boiling her love into the food she prepares for the people she cares about most.

    So today I find myself grateful for her.  For the generous ways she demonstrates love every day.  I am thankful for the love she lavishes on us.

    And now I even find myself asking her, "Mom, how did you make that?"  You can't imagine the delight it brings to her face.   Thankfully though, she has stopped spoon feeding me (my sons now have the privilege of enjoying that).  :)

    January 9, 2011

    Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle

    I had a whole bag of coconut flakes in my fridge and figured I should do something with them.

    So I made these:
    { coconut macaroons drizzled in chocolate }
    Now I'm not normally a huge coconut macaroon fan.  I don't drool at the sight of them or ever have a craving.  But since I had all the ingredients and it seemed easy enough to make, I figured I'd give it a try.

    I found a recipe in my Taste of Home cookbook that called for coconut flakes, egg whites. vanilla extract, sugar, and flour.  It seemed way too easy to be true.  Well, it was. 

    Now I feel it's important to be open and honest, even in this venture of learning to bake and cook.  So here's the skinny on my first attempt at coconut macaroons:  I misread the amount of sugar (added 2/3 cup instead of 1/3), forgot to whip the egg white, skimped on the coconut flakes, and added more flour than called for (basically I didn't listen to instructions).  What I got was this:
    { coconut UFOs? }
    Coconut saucers, anyone?  If these look appealing to you, I can give you the recipe.  Ugh.  My poor husband.  He hates to let anything go to waste, so he ended up eating all of these.  Crazy thing is he actually enjoyed them.  Glad someone did.

    I had to redeem myself, so I tried making another batch using a different recipe which called for sweetened condensed milk and the end result was so much better!  They actually looked and tasted like macaroons!  YAY!

    { ah, that's more like it. }
    Here's the recipe I used from Ina Garten (you can't go wrong with Barefoot Contessa).   The only variations I made were adding 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, using regular salt instead of kosher, and adding the chocolate drizzle.
    Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle


    14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
    14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon almond extract
    2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips (for drizzle)


    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour (this will help the cookies from sticking).  Use the upper level of the oven to help toast the coconut while baking.

    Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

    Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove and cool on wire rack.

    For the chocolate drizzle, pour 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwaveable bowl.  Microwave on high for 1 minute or until chocolate is smooth enough to stir.  Then drizzle on top of coconut macaroons.

    January 7, 2011

    Love Before First Sight

    Love starts in the womb even before you ever lay eyes on your child.   There is no denying life begins as soon as it's conceived.  Actually, one's life starts even before then:  "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1:5).

    This is a letter written in my journal while I was pregnant with my firstborn.

    January 9, 2008

    Hi Baby,
    { CJ's 13-week ultrasound }
    Mommy and Daddy had quite a scare on December 20th when our doctor called us with the results of the blood and nuchal translucency test (that's the special ultrasound where they take measurements between your neck and the placenta to check for any abnormalities).   Average likelihood of having a child with down sydrome or chromosomal defect for a woman my age is 1 in 450.  After the test, our results came back with 1 in 210 chance.  So we were left with two options:  do nothing or get an amnio to confirm any chromosomal defects.  But there are risks involved with amnio such as miscarriage and infection.

    The news made Mom worry a lot (it didn't help the doctor called me at the office in the middle of the work day, so I couldn't exactly register what he was telling me).  You're not even born yet, and I'm already worried silly over you! 

    After I got the news, I emailed a bunch of other mommy friends and got some good advice and lots of prayers.  Daddy and I spoke to the doctor again the next morning with our list of questions and what ifs.  Doctor reassured us our chances of having a perfectly healthy baby was still 99.95%, so we have to keep things in perspective.  That was reassuring.  Also, the measurements from the NT ultrasound came out normal.  So the results we received were based on Mommy's blood sample (maybe I ate something bad?).  Basically, bottom line is the tests are not very accurate.  Only amnio will tell us for sure.

    Our doctor is really good, so we felt fairly at ease with whatever decision we made.  After Daddy and I talked, prayed, and thought it over, we decided not to get the amnio done.  We didn't want to put you in any kind of jeopardy- even as miniscule as it may be (you're way tooo important to us!).  And regardless of what the tests reveal, we would still bring you into this world with open, loving arms.

    Dear precious baby, even though Mommy and Daddy have only seen you in glimpses of black & white, have never heard you utter a single sound or held you in our arms, we have already fallen deeply and madly in love with you.  And if you should be born with an ailment or handicap, you will still be created wonderfully just as God intended.  None of us are "perfect" (not even Mommy and Daddy as you'll soon find out).  But it's because of Christ that all my imperfections and yours become beautifully and magnificently transformed into everything that is perfect and right!  This is our greatest prayer for you:  that you will know this will all your heart, mind, and soul.

    We can't wait to meet you this summer!  Mommy will be 17 weeks this Friday.  We're going to the doctor tomorrow for another appointment.  I can't wait to see how you're developing.  We already saw all your fingers and toes at the 13-week ultrasound.  It was amazing getting a glimpse of you.  Mommy and Daddy "ooh-ed" and "ahhh-ed" at the monitor the entire time.

    See you soon, baby doll!

    Ever in our thoughts and prayers,
    Mom and Dad

    January 5, 2011

    11 Step Program to Prepare for Parenthood

    The following forward has been going around on facebook (author unknown; I wish I could take credit for being this clever).  It's outright hilarious because it's so ridiculously true.  I'm not trying to deter anyone from having children, because there is no greater joy.  But one should always be prepared and know what you're getting into. 

    Lessons 2, 3, 4, 8, and 9 are my particular favorites. 
    Thinking of Having Kids?  Do this 11 step program first!

    Lesson 1
    1. Go to the grocery store.
    2. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.
    3. Go home.
    4. Pick up the paper.
    5. Read it for the last time.
    Lesson 2

    Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their...
    1. Methods of discipline.
    2. Lack of patience.
    3. Appallingly low tolerance levels.
    4. Allowing their children to run wild.
    5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.
    Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.

    Lesson 3

    A really good way to discover how the nights might feel...
    1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)
    2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
    3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.
    4. Set the alarm for 3AM.
    5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.
    6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.
    7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.
    8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.
    9. Get up. Make breakfast.  Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive).
    Repeat steps 1-9 each night.  Keep this up for 3-5 years.  Look cheerful and together.

    Lesson 4

    Can you stand the mess children make?  To find out...
    1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.
    2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
    3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.
    4. Then rub them on the clean walls.
    5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc.  Wreck it.
    6. Spill milk on your new pillows.  Cover the stains with crayons.  How does that look?
    Lesson 5

    Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.
    1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
    2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.
    Time allowed for this - all morning.

    Lesson 6

    Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van.  And don't think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining.  Family cars don't look like that.
    1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.  Leave it there.
    2. Get a dime.  Stick it in the CD player.
    3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies.  Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.
    4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.
    Lesson 7

    Go to the local grocery store.  Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice).  If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat.  Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight.  Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys.  Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.

    Lesson 8
    1. Hollow out a melon.
    2. Make a small hole in the side.
    3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
    4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.
    5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
    6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.
    You are now ready to feed a nine- month-old baby.

    Lesson 9

    Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you're thinking What's 'Noggin'?) Exactly the point.

    Lesson 10

    Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying 'mommy' repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each 'mommy'; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required).  Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years.  You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

    Lesson 11

    Start talking to an adult of your choice.  Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the 'mommy' tape made from Lesson 10 above.  You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

    This is all very tongue in cheek; anyone who is parent will say 'it's all worth it!'  Share it with your friends, both those who do and don't have kids.  I guarantee they'll get a chuckle out of it.  Remember, a sense of humor is one of the most important things you'll need when you become a parent!

    It's a shame I don't know who the author is.  I'd like to personally thank them for a good laugh today after changing my fifth poopy diaper, picking out my kids' boogers with my pinky nail, having rice flung at me, singing "Veggie Tales" theme song for the umpteenth time, wrestling my son to bed, and doing my third load of laundry.

    All in one exciting day of parenthood.


    Spinach Salad with Cranberry Citrus Dressing

    { spinach with fruit, nuts, and cheese with a citrus twist }

    I don't want to have the reputation of being the culprit for expanding people's waistlines.  So here's a recipe that doesn't involve butter or cream cheese.  :)

    A few summers ago, our friends invited us to their lovely new home located in the New York burbs.  A simple but delicious lunch was prepared for us courtesy of our friend, K.  She makes the most amazing desserts (her pastry school background comes in handy).

    But it wasn't her dessert that stood out that afternoon.  It was the incredible fresh spinach salad she prepared with a citrus twist.  She pulled out plump, juicy cranberries from the fridge which she had soaked in orange juice overnight.  They were so deliciously sweet, and I loved the citrus flavor.  I watched her put the whole thing together, and it is now my go-to salad recipe.  The added bonus is it's so simple and easy to make!

    It's absolutely perfect in the summer, but I can eat this all-year round.  Kids love it, too.

    This is the very basic recipe.  But to give it some real punch and extra flavor, add halved grapes, chopped walnuts/pecans, and grated cheese (I used medium sharp provolone in the one pictured above).  And then top with chicken salad.  Yum!

    Now I'm craving salad, and I hope you are, too.

    Spinach Salad with Cranberry Citrus Dressing

    The basic ingredients are as follows:
    2/3 cup dried cranberrries
    1 cup orange juice
    2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    Black pepper
    1 red apple, diced (fuji is my personal favorite)
    1 pound spinach (chopped if you prefer)

    1. Pour dried cranberries and orange juice into a bowl.  Cover and place in refrigerator to sit overnight so cranberries get plump and juicy (2-4 hours will suffice).
    2. Remove bowl from the fridge.  Dice apple into small cubes and mix with the cranberries and orange juice.
    3. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Stir. 
    4. Pour the mix of cranberries, apples, and dressing over spinach.  Mix and serve.

    January 4, 2011

    Free Printable Activities for the Kids

    There are three things I absolutely love about the internet:
    (1) the wealth of knowledge available on the web,
    (2) the countless resources within reach at the touch of your fingertips, and
    (3) being able to stay connected with folks all over the world at the push of a button.

    I don't know how my parents or previous generations ever managed without it.

    I could go on and write so much more about the wonders of the internet.  But today's post is about this discovery I made last night:

    { fun monster alphabet cards made for my boys - printout available at Activity Village }
    Super adorable, aren't they?

    I was so excited to find the Activity Village site filled with free printable activities for the kids.  I downloaded a few pdf files last night, and in 10 minutes, had several adorable and fun learning tools ready for my son.  All you need is a color printer, some cardboard paper to glue the print on (any heavyweight paper will do), gluestick, and scissors.

    I also printed out these fun transport matching cards (my boys love anything and everything that moves!).  CJ had fun matching these up during lunch time (yes, my children require activity during mealtimes - otherwise they won't sit still.  They do grow out of this phase eventually, right?).

    { a fun game of match }
    There's a ton of other fun stuff for the kids, so check it out.

    To print the monster alphabet card, click here for pdf.
    To print the transport matching card, click here for pdf (you'll need to print two copies).

    January 3, 2011

    Almond Drop Cookies with Almond Glaze

    { almond drops glazed in almond sweetness }
    The family went over to a friend's for dinner for some amazing Chinese hot pot (fondue-style Asian stew)!   It was delicious and totally hit the spot.  I'll have to endeavor to make some and host a hot pot party at our home this winter. 

    We were in charge of dessert.  I wasn't sure what to make to complement hot pot, but I was in the mood for something with almonds.  Inspired by the vanilla cookie sandwiches, I played around with the recipe and made almond drop cookies drizzled with almond glaze.  They were a hit.

    What I love about this cookie is that it's soft, chewy, and has just a touch of sweetness, which is perfect for the kids.  And if you want something a little extra sweet, just drizzle it with some almond glaze goodness. 

    I think these could easily become a household favorite.

    Almond Drop Cookies with Almond Glaze
    { Prep time: 30 min Bake: 15 min per batch Makes: about 36 cookies }


    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 4-ounce package cream cheese, softened
    1 cup sugar (or reduce to 3/4 cup)
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon almond extract
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    2/3 cup coursely chopped almonds
    1 recipe Almond Glaze (see below)

    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, the baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and almond extract until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Mix in chopped almonds.
    2. Drop dough by placing rounded balls (about the size of a ping pong ball) 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake about 13 minutes or until bottoms are light brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.
    3. Once the cookies are cool, drizzle icing on top.
    Almond Glaze
    In a small bowl stir together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and enough milk (3 to 4 teaspoons) to make an icing of drizzling consistency. [Tip:  Prepare the almond glaze while the cookies are baking.]

    January 1, 2011

    Cranberry Almond Biscotti

    { cranberry almond biscotti with citrus zest.
    perfect in the morning with fresh, hot coffee. }
    Cheers and happy 2011, everyone!

    Hubby and I actually made it to the strike of midnight (and then passed out shortly thereafter).  We rang in the new year by enjoying a glass of white wine and a plate of homemade biscotti right out of the oven.   I know what you're thinking.  We are such exciting people, and you can hardly contain your excitement at the mere thought of ours!   :)

    Okay, so what you're probably really thinking is biscotti?  Why biscotti?  Because I was in the mood.  A friend shared homemade pistachio and almond biscotti with me over the holidays and it was fabulous!  I never thought to make my own, but I figured I'd give it a try.  I was amazed it turned out quite nicely.  The proof is in the empty bowl by noon today. 

    I got the recipe for almond biscotti from Better Homes and Gardens but modified it a bit by adding cranberries, almond extract, and using less sugar.

    Hubby is already requesting another batch.  Something tells me I'll be making a lot of biscotti in 2011.

    Cranberry Almond Biscotti
    {Prep: 25 min  Bake: 25 min/20 min  Stand: 15 min.  Oven: 325 degree  Makes: About 24 large cookies}

    • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
    • 1 teaspoon almond extract
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
    • 1 cup coursely chopped almonds
    • 3/4 cup dried cranberries

    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Place eggs and egg yolks in the well and stir into the flour mixture.  Add butter, almond extract, and orange peel. Stir until dough starts to form a ball.  Stir in almonds and dried cranberries.
    2. Divide dough into two equal portions.  On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion of dough into a 12-inch-long loaf.  Place the loaves about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Flatten the loaves until about 1 1/2 inches wide (from top to bottom).  Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until firm and light brown.  Let stand on cookie sheets on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
    3. Transfer logs to a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut loaves diagonally into 1/2 inch slices.  Place slices, cut sides down, on cookie sheets.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Turn cookies over; bake for 10 to 15 minutes more or until crisp and golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. 

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