thanksgiving eve

Or should I say, "An Ode to Stovetop"? 

I have been thinking about and planning and prepping for Thanksgiving for MONTHS. Yah. Not really sure why I get so excited about it, but I guess it's just one of those things. I've had visions of fresh herbs and yeast bread and elegant desserts dancing in my head since September.

And here I am the night before, resigned to Stovetop. 

But happy. 

The princess, Thanksgiving 2009

See above. That, my friends, is what Thanksgiving is all about. Enjoying my family and just pausing and being thankful. So while a divine, homemade sausage-sage stuffing would definitely be something to be thankful for, a stress-free day with the fam is worth the Stovetop. (And let's be honest - I actually really like Stovetop. Ain't no shame in it.)

Meanwhile, I've got a pumpkin pie cooling on the counter, a fresh cranberry-orange relish in the fridge, and plans to make some easy, AWESOME fresh wheat rolls tomorrow. And I fully intend to watch the parade (or more specifically, the "big balloons") with the kids. 

So, in honor of the big day, here's my stress-free, family friendly menu, complete with recipes. Enjoy!

- Grilled Turkey (brined with fresh rosemary and sage, and smoked with hickory chips, courtesy of my hubby!)
- Cranberry-Orange Relish (recipe below)
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Rosemary and Shallots (recipe below)
- Roast Broccoli  (remember this one?)
- Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls (recipe below)
- Stovetop (what, what!)
- Mulled Cider (for kids and parents alike)
- Pumpkin Pie (I love the Libby's recipe - I made a healthier version of homemade pie crust that I'll report back on, and I always double or triple the amount of spices called for. Yum!)

Cranberry-Orange Relish (from Epicurious.com)
  • 1 navel orange

  • 1 (12-oz) bag fresh cranberries

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

  • Finely grate 2 teaspoons zest from orange. Cut away and discard peel and pith from orange, then cut sections free from membranes.

    Pulse cranberries with zest, orange sections, sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor until finely chopped. Chill, covered, at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop.

    Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Rosemary and Shallots (from the February 2010 issue of Real Simple)
    • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
    • Kosher salt and black pepper
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 4 shallots, sliced into thin rings
    • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary
    Place the sweet potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 14 to 16 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water, drain the sweet potatoes, and return them to the pot. Mash with the reserved cooking water. 

    In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until the shallots are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve the mashed sweet potatoes drizzled with the rosemary-shallot mixture.

    Whole Wheat Yeast Rolls (adapted from Simple Daily Recipes)
    • 1 package quick-acting active dry yeast
    • 1 1/3 cup skim milk (105º to 115ºF degrees)
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon melted butter
    • coarse salt
    Dissolve yeast in warm milk with sugar in electric mixer bowl.  Stir in whole wheat flour, oil, and salt.  Beat until smooth.  Stir in enough all purpose flour, scraping dough from side of bowl, until soft dough forms.  Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 45 minutes.
    Heat oven 400ºF degrees.  Prep a 12 cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.
    Punch down dough in center and fold over a few times.  Pinch off small balls of dough (about 2-inch diameter or so) and quickly roll in palm of hands.  Put 3 balls to one muffin cup; brush with melted butter; sprinkle with coarse salt. You'll probably have some dough left over.
    Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until crust is light golden brown.  Immediately remove from pan.  Store loosely covered.
    SO GOOD!
    A parting shot from Thanksgiving last year. Just cuz it's funny.


    as promised

    Well, look at me go. Another post in less than a week! Maybe it's because I'm so passionate about the subject.

    And the subject is..... FOOD!

    With the 4th of July coming up in just one week, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my current favorite summer cookout recipes. So, without further ado:

    Orange Chipotle Barbecue: from eat make read
    (This is a sauce recipe - you can pour the whole patch over a tenderloin or Boston Butt and throw it in the slow cooker for 12 hours, or you can use it as a glaze on smoked meat and pass the rest at the table. I've tried both and enjoyed both! It's spicy and sweet, and perfect for summer!)

    Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl:
    - 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
    - 1/4 cup honey
    - 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
    - 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
    - 1 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce - rinse and seed the peppers, then puree or mince (leaving the seeds in makes it A LOT spicier - I like spicy foods, but I still remove all the seeds!)
    - 1 Tablespoon vegetable or light olive oil
    - 2 garlic cloves, minced
    - 1 Tablespoon salt
    - 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    - 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    Whisk and enjoy.

    Summer's Best BBQ Beans: adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, June 2007
    (This has been a long-time favorite - delicious baked bean flavor with lots of fresh veggies! Added bonus? It's super healthy!)
    - 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
    - 1 red or green sweet pepper, seeded and finely chopped
    - 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
    - 3 cans beans rinsed and drained (this is where the "adapted" part comes in. The recipe calls for kidney beans, but I think Great Northern beans - the white ones - are so much better. Take your pick, or combine different kinds!)
    - 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
    - 1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, UNdrained
    - 1 TBS molasses
    - 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce

    Coat large saucepan with cooking spray. Heat over medium heat. Add onion and sweet pepper, cook and stir 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomatoes, beans, tomato sauce, undrained pineapple, molasses, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10 minutes more (or longer) until you reach a consistency that looks good to you. Serve hot or cold!

    My Hubby's Amazing Grilled Corn
    Corry loves to grill everything in the summer, and veggies are no exception. Most recipes tell you to wrap corn on the cob in its husk or in foil and grill directly over the flame, but Corry grills "naked" corn on the top rack, and it is UH-ma-zing. (I mean it!)
    Husk your corn, lightly brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill on the top rack for "till it's done" (when pressed further, he suggested about 10 or 15 minutes, or when some of the kernels start to get little black marks on them), turning every few minutes. 

    And last but not least, Blueberry Crisp: adapted from an old-school Ukrop's Bakery recipe
    (This has ALWAYS been my favorite summer dessert. I requested it instead of a birthday cake growing up!)
    - 3-4 cups FRESH blueberries (frozen do not work. I know; I've tried.)
    - 1/2 tsp lemon zest
    - 2 TBS flour
    - 1/3 cup sugar
    For the crisp topping: (The amounts below are half of what the original recipe calls for; I think it's plenty, especially since you HAVE to top with ice cream!)
    - 1/2 cup flour
    - 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
    - 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    - 4 TBS butter

    Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9-inch square glass baking dish. Combine first 4 ingredients and pour into bottom of the baking dish. For the crisp, combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl; use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the berries and then bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. 

    You'll want to enjoy this warm with (duh) vanilla ice cream.

    Now get to grilling!


    sweet, splendid summer

    Ah, summer.

    Hands down, summer is my most favorite season. Let me tell you why:
    • Hot weather (I'm weird; I like being hot)
    • Long days
    • Lightning bugs (Okay, we don't have them in South Florida - does anyone know why? - but I still like the idea of them)
    • My birthday
    • The 4th of July (the best non-religious holiday!)
    • Cookouts! (and cookout FOOD!)
    • Berries!
    • That everyone feels somewhat obligated to go to the pool and/or beach on a regular basis
    • The thought of road trip vacations
    • That it stays hot enough to sit on the porch after dark
    • That Glee reruns will still be coming on every week
    • And lots of other reasons
    In my head, summer looks something like this:

    Porch swing, big pillows, breezy afternoon... ah...

    But really, my summers look a little more like this:

    Slip n' slide, muddy kiddos, long afternoons... AHH...

    Either way, it's good stuff. So, in honor of my favorite season, I've decided I'm going to stage a valiant effort to return to the blogosphere. I think I'll try to share something about each one of my favorite aspects of summer in the coming weeks. Get excited.

    First up? Summer cookout food. Be on the lookout for my current faves in the next couple of days!


    that sappy baby birthday post

    Okay, so little Jaker turned one, and as promised, I'm going to have to write a mushy post about my sweet little Momma's boy.

    We think he liked his cake. Just a guess.

    There's something about the second child - or maybe it's that he's a boy - that's making this birthday MUCH harder than Kate's first. While we haven't ruled out more kids , I'm still starting to feel "babyhood" slipping away. I know I can't nurse him forever (I really do know that, hubby), and I know that him wanting Daddy more often is, in the grand scheme of things, a good thing, but I just can't shake the sad feeling that he's already growing up and "leaving" somehow. Maybe it's because he needed me SO much in the beginning, and I got used to being the sun, moon, and stars for his precious little self (while I don't wish colic on anyone, it certainly is a self-esteem boost to a momma who's had an "independent woman" for her first baby). Give me a moment to wipe this tear.

    On a lighter note, a year with a cute and slightly pitiful baby boy has taught me a lot. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, let me elaborate:
    - Those commercials that show what looks like a fire hose spraying when someone takes the diaper off of a baby boy are exaggerating, but only slightly. I thought that was a myth/once-in-a-while quirky thing, but no - they're not kidding. Put on your goggles (and don't open your mouth) if you ever have to change a baby boy!
    - Even if boy clothes don't look cute when you're pregnant, you'll end up loving them. Tiny plaid "skater" shirts? Yes, please! Miniature jeans? Who knew denim could make you sigh! An itty bitty necktie?! Swoon.
    - Big baby boy eyes and pudgy little hands will make you want to throw all of your good ideas about sleep training out the window. How much can it hurt to cuddle up and let him sleep with you?
    - As much as I hate whining, I can't stick to my guns enough to not pick him up when he does it at my feet. It feels good to be needed.
    - While I'm not an advocate of "cutesy" little boy clothes, it is HILARIOUS to put your tank of a baby boy in a sleep gown covered in yellow duckies. The "duck dress" never ceases to amuse. 
    - First bites, first "words", first steps, and first games are just as good the second time around. And it's amazing how different two kids from the same parents can be - my little Jaker is content to blow kisses and grin at everyone he sees, while Miss Kate was in constant motion and couldn't be bothered by anyone at this age. 
    - All the worrying I did before Jake was born about whether I could love another baby as much as Kate was in vain. It's hard to explain if you haven't experienced it, but your capacity to love just explodes when you add another baby to the brood. Even better than what you feel for each one individually? The way you feel the first time they make each other laugh. (Pausing to wipe another tear.)
    - Even though you may have an idea in your head of how you want your son to be, at some point you'll realize that the only thing you'd ever change about him is his diaper. 

    Happy Birthday, baby Jake. Your mommy loves every wonderful thing about you!


    reasons to smile

    Best wake-up call? A ferocious mommy-vore in monster jammies!

    Kickin' off the holiday weekend with some kite watching at the beach

    And some babe watchin'

    Back to the ranch for turtle time

    Then EGGS!

    This should be black and white

    And a sunrise on the beach to top it all off

    A good Easter weekend was had by all!


    whatever it takes

    Well. Here's to hoping there may be one of these in my future. 

    In case you didn't know, I really would like to have oh, I don't know, like 5 kids. Hubby? Not so much. He's "done." So, imagine my surprise when, just Saturday (after spending the whole day by himself with the kids), he said we could have another baby... IF he can have an F-150.


    I haven't figured out yet if he's banking on my frugality nixing the idea of getting a new vehicle any time soon or if he's actually warming up to the idea of more kids.

    We'll see.

    on babies and birthdays

    In slightly more than one month, my baby will officially not be a baby anymore. I'll save all of my sappy musings on this subject for another time. For now, I'm going to talk presents.

    A good present should fit the child's personality. Or just look like him.

    As a mother of two small children, I have both given and received numerous baby/toddler gifts. In my experience, there are 3 simple rules that govern gift selection for this age group:

    - It must not be large
    - It must not require batteries
    - It must not be loud

    Or, if 3 rules are too many to remember, think this: Would I be happy to have this [and a toddler] in my house? (Uncle Hunter: this means "3000 Stickers" is NOT a good idea.)

    There, now that we've gotten that out of the way... what makes a good baby/toddler gift? As with any other occasion, I'm a firm believer that you should get whatever the recipient has asked for. Of course, most people probably won't give out a list for their child's birthday (although, I have heard of birthday registries - really?!). Personally, I think old-fashioned is the way to go - parents will like it, and so will the kids (once the batteries run out on all the other stuff they got). Here are some of the best ideas I've seen: 

    - a classic book with a coordinating gift (my brother and sister-in-law have perfected this gift - think The Velveteen Rabbit with a sweet Build-a-Bear bunny, Angelina Ballerina with a tutu and butterfly wand, Curious George with a stuffed monkey (see above).)
    - books in general are good. With the younger set, board books are the way to go. It seems like most little kids love Karen Katz and Eric Carle.
    - puzzles are also good. Melissa and Doug has a great selection of puzzles for all skill/age levels - I'm going to have to go against my noise rule to recommend the fire truck and train ones. SO cute how excited they get when they figure it out and it makes noise!
    - outdoor "stuff." We live in South Florida, so pool/beach stuff is always fun. (See beach ball and swim wings below - does it get much better than that?) In other places, a little gardening kit would be fun, or sand toys, or even just a soccer ball or wiffle ball set.

    The life of the party.

    - a tunnel. My friends got this for Kate when she turned 2, and it was SUCH a good idea. It is big, but you can fold it up, and the kids wear themselves out with it! (Make sure you find the kind with velcro, so it's easy to fold up!)
    - cute shoes. A one-year-old is just starting to walk, so parents will love (and use) sweet little early walking shoes. I vote for Pedipeds - classic and nice, hard to go wrong.

    For one-year-olds, sturdy wooden toys are great. Oompa Toys is a great site to find really cute pull toys, cars, and musical instruments (and organic stuff, too).

    A wooden baby banjo. Gotta love hippy toy stores!

    Another scenario: you get invited to about 29 one-year-old birthday parties for all the babies in the mommy group or at the library, and you don't want to spend much on gifts. Hear me out on this: a giant $3 rubber ball from Wal-Mart. Seriously. You don't know pure joy until you see a small child with a ball bigger than he is. People might think, "that's lame," until they see how AWESOME all the kids think it is. So easy. I'm also a big fan of Sea Squirties (little rubber squirty bath toys). Another simple thing that all kids seem to love.

    I expect you all to follow my rules for my children's upcoming birthdays. (Because all 2 of you who read this are invited.) And remember: if you have kids, I can retaliate; if you don't, I can feed mine sugar and send them to your house with your exciting gift :-)

    Happy partying.  


    raisins are an outdoor food

    One of the most surprising and disheartening realities of becoming a parent is that your floor will never (at least not for 20 years or so) be as clean as it once was (or could be). I say disheartening, because your realization of this reality will come slowly, and with much denial.

    The first stage is optimism: "When the baby starts sleeping more, then I'll be able to mop." Then defeat: "I'm the only person I know whose baby sleeps 20 hours a day and I STILL can't get the mopping done!" Next is acceptance: "When they're all grown up, they're going to remember that their mommy played with them a lot, not that the floor was dirty." Add a few more rounds of defeat and frustration, and you'll end up where I am: determination.

    At some point, the babies will sleep long enough and you'll need to take a break from playing with them, and then you begin to think that your inability to keep your floor clean defies all logic. So you decide that this is a battle you CAN win, and so the fighting begins.

    One of two reasons why my floor will NEVER be clean

    For me, it's come down to my "weapons." First, let me begin by saying a high-quality broom and dustpan are necessary, and you'll use them, oh, about 12 times a day. After trying numerous versions of this, I'm sold on plain old corn husk brooms. Good stuff. 

    Then, for the mop. Mops gross me out in general - aren't you just spreading around a bunch of dirty water? Before kids, I stocked up on Swiffer pads and when I mopped, I'd use half a box so I wasn't spreading around the dirt. But when you have kids, you want something they can lick without serious consequences. So, I started using a Method mop and cleaner (from Target). It smelled good and was supposedly harmless (it even said something about licking it on the bottle), but I couldn't help being grossed out by the fact that I was using the same cleaning pad the whole time. So then I went back to Swiffers (whatever doesn't kill them makes them stronger, right?). But with any soap-like product, you're going to get a residue, and that makes your floor feel a tiny bit sticky (even if it does smell clean). 

    And then I discovered the Shark. This whole post is basically a long-winded way for me to sing the praises of this glorious invention. The Shark is a steam mop that "cleans and disinfects all at once!" Sign me up! You just put water in it and a towel-like pad on the bottom and off you go. No soap to make the floor sticky or the kids sick, and the steam actually kills other bacteria that your kids could be licking! The best part is, you can get extra mop pads so you can switch it out like the swiffer. I couldn't be happier. I look forward to mopping, and I guess it shows - every time I pull it out, my little one says, "Mommy, you love your mop? I love it, too." It is expensive - about $100, but it was the best $100 I ever spent.

    Needless to say, I feel like my floors are much cleaner these days, and I wholly attribute that to my Shark. I have also heard about something called the G2 Swivel Sweeper that my mom and Granny swear by - a cordless vacuum-type thing that would take the place of my broom. I'll let you know what I think of that if my husband ever allows me to go to Bed, Bath & Beyond again after spending $100 on a mop. While I'm there, I might pick up a brush and dustpan. I keep thinking that'll make my table cleaner. 

    If all else fails, remember these rules:
    - Raisins are an outdoor food
    - Spaghetti is for grown-ups
    - If it crunches, it's a bad idea

    Happy mopping!


    so it begins

    Remember how I said the whole purpose of this blog was a first step in starting a "crafty" business? And then I didn't say/do anything crafty for oh, I dunno, 6 months or so? Well. Prepare to be impressed. I'm going to do something crafty.

    Actually, last night, I even did more than pull out all of my supplies and come up with reasons why now wouldn't be a good time to start a project.

    Exhibit A: My iron, with a piece of fabric beside it.

    I got out the big stash of fabric that's been staring at me for almost a year now and I ironed it! Not impressed yet? Well, stand by, because this is just an indicator of things to come. 

    My little princess is turning 3 in 2 months. Three is a milestone - it's like, "I have a KID now." (Well, if she somehow miraculously becomes potty trained in the next 2 months, I'll feel like that.) But either way, I want to do something special for her birthday, and I've decided that giving her a spectacular "big girl" room is going to be it. I have visions of making everything from quilts to curtains to beanbag chairs and art, but we'll see how that goes. This morning, I'm celebrating that I ironed some fabric. 

    Exhibit B: The un-potty trained princess

    Aside from actually being crafty (BTW, I'll keep you posted on what happens with my nicely ironed fabric), I'm starting to make some progress on the business side, too. I recently agonized over deciding whether to go back to work part time, and I ended up with a 3-day-a-week gig that I start in April. Not thrilled about that, but in the spirit of making lemonade, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to start building some funds for my business. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, and she took a chunk of time out of her insane schedule (seriously - she works full time, goes to grad school 3 days a week, AND runs her own business!) to write out all of the steps of starting a business for me. So, I'm on the hook now.

    (Shameless friend promotion: My very thoughtful friend runs her own graphic design business, designs | reflect.  She does all sorts of things from logos to corporate materials to wedding stationery, and she also specializes in authentic Indian stationery. Check her out!)


    got it

    We've been having somewhat of a revival in the Johnson household here lately. It all started a little over a year ago, when we started going to a mega Baptist church down in West Palm Beach. It's a no-kiddin' Baptist church, with a big fancy sanctuary, a big fancy congregation, and even bigger and fancier music. It was like going to "Church: the Musical" every week. At first, I was a little taken aback by all of this. I mean, I kind of thought religion was a quiet, personal thing, and that you didn't exactly wave your hands around and shout unless you were just putting on a show. But then I started really listening to the preaching. Because it was some GOOD preaching. Even a judgmental judy like me couldn't deny that Pastor Jimmy could PREACH. And what I heard made me start thinking.

    Let me interject here that I've pretty much considered myself a Christian for as long as I can remember. I memorized the books of the Bible and got my rainbow Bible bookmark at an early age, I knew Christmas was about Jesus, and I even had some super-moving experiences at church retreats and such when I was a teenager. Aside from a major Ayn Rand phase in college, it's been smooth sailing. But, as a Christian, my understanding sort of went like this: God's in charge, Jesus is His son, you have to believe in both of them, and you have to do what the Bible says. Okay. That's all well and good until someone asks you how you know you're going to heaven.

    The great thing about Pastor Jimmy's sermons was they pretty much laid it out there for you: Jesus gives us the awesome opportunity to spend eternity with God. All we have to do is accept that gift, and we're in. And that's it. Simple. So obviously, I'd heard that before. But somehow, I'd never heard it before. I had only ever gotten that it was important to believe that Jesus was God's son. And I always thought being a Christian meant a lot of things like following certain rules in the Bible and trying to act like Jesus did. And if you hadn't actually read the Bible or studied too much about Jesus, that meant trying to act in a way that you didn't think the other people at church would look down on you for (at least to me).

    So, anyhow, I got the message. It really is ALL about what Jesus did for us, and we have to acknowledge that and be grateful for it all the time (and be sorry when we screw up). And actually, if you sit down and read the Bible, that's what it says in there, too. (So, the Bible really is relevant, correct, and applicable to life today - another good lesson from the mega-Baptist church.) It's rather uplifting to figure that out, so I've been floating along pretty happily for the past year or so, and I've even bid adieu to my worrying ways!

    My point? Well, I guess I just really want to share the love. Figuring this out is the best thing that's EVER happened to me, and that's saying something - I've got some good things going :-) There are some people that I care deeply about (you know who you are!) who might want to hear this... or who might finally be at the point in life where they can hear it :-)