Friday, July 29, 2011

A Fiesta In Your Mouth

I feel that I should give you two warnings before you read this post.

First, the pictures aren't that great. Not that normally I'm channeling Annie Liebovitz or anything, but it's kind of amazing what a DSLR camera will do for your photography skills. I don't even know how to work the darn thing, and I still find myself thinking that my next gig should be as a wedding photographer or something when I look through some of the pictures that somehow show up on my screen. Anyways, Anna has done something with the battery for that amazing camera (and by done something, I mean she was playing with it and I was distracted and now it is nowhere to be found) and it is sitting all sad on the shelf in the office. I'm back to using my regular old point and shoot - still a good camera, but just not quite the same.

Second, this corn is AMAZING. You will become obsessed. Like, so good you will want to reach through the computer and give me a big kiss. Except the recipe really comes from my sister and brother-in-law, so even though I'm the one writing about it, they are the ones worthy of your affection. Save your kisses for them.

It all started last week when we were all sitting around planning some upcoming meals. We were going to have a night out on the town to see a friend's '80s band perform, but instead of going out to dinner, we wanted to cook something at home. Kristin and Drew remembered this amazing corn they ate at a restaurant in Miami and wanted to recreate it. A few clicks of the keyboard later and they found exactly what they were looking for.

Summer corn is just about in season here, and super cheap, and I have a feeling that we are going to be eating this pretty regularly. We found the crema and the Cotija cheese at a little Mexican grocery store down the road. Some recipes say you can use regular sour cream or mayo for the crema, and feta cheese instead of the cotija, but this tastes so good as it is I'm not sure I'd be willing to substitute anything...

Mexican Street Corn

4 ears of corn, husks removed
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of crema - basically this is Mexican sour cream
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
black pepper
1/2 cup of cotija cheese, finely grated
A few lime wedges

What you do:

Cut the ears of corn in half, and rub each half with some of the oil. Grill them in a skillet or grill pan on medium-high heat, turning a few times until they are starting to get a little charred and black. This will probably take about ten minutes or so.

While the corn is cooking, combine the crema, the chili powder, and the garlic powder, and season with a little black pepper. It will taste a little bit like spicy ranch dressing.

Put the cheese on a small plate.

When the corn is done, you can put each piece on a bamboo skewer if you want. Totally optional, but more fun and a little easier for the next couple of steps.

Using a spoon, coat the corn in the crema mixture, and then roll in the cheese.

Finish off with a little sprinkling of chili powder and a squeeze of lime juice.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Special thanks to Kristin and Drew for finding the recipe, taking pictures, and being hand models. Well done, guys!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Full Heart

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. At least that's what they say, right? And even though most people wouldn't think of the lockout of a certain sports league as a good thing, for me it's been nothing but fun. Having my sister and brother-in-law staying with us the last few weeks has been a blast. Aside from all the cleaning and organizing Kristin has done, there's also been a ton of laughing, eating of delicious food (more on that to come later), and snuggling with a certain little girl who might be slightly heartbroken when "Ti Ti" and "Dew" aren't around.

Alas, said lockout has been resolved, and Kristin and Drew will be movin' on up out of our basement - but hopefully not too far away. Without getting too sappy or emotional, let me just say that having my sister around has been a pleasant reminder of how much I love her and how much I value her friendship. (Not to mention all the free babysitting. Date Night two weeks in a row? Please and Thank You!)

Here's a little sampling of some of what we've been up to...

Anna playing in the sand; Anna & Cedella; Sidewalk Chalk (Anna's favorite snack)
Mini Bowling; A rare night out on the town; Friendship Bracelets!
Running Inspiration; Anna & Uncle Drew; Relaxing

Yesterday was also extra special because I was graced with a visit by one of my dearest friends. Julie and I go back to our carefree days in college at Michigan, and even though we don't see each other nearly enough (in fact, this was the first time in almost three years), when we do get together I am immediately reminded why she is my friend and why I love her so much. As I get older, I've realized that good friends aren't that easy to come by, and it makes me happy to know that I'm lucky to have people like Julie in my life. We may not get to take dance aerobics together from strange European men or roll tires down Church Street in the middle of the night anymore, but just spending the day with her and introducing her to my daughter was pretty awesome too. She's off to Germany in a few weeks, and I'm already planning and scheming to get myself (and Mike) there to visit.

Happy Tuesday, indeed!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Organized Living

I know that everyone is probably getting really sick of hearing me talk about organizing my house and life. To be honest, I'm getting pretty sick of it, too. But I have to say, even though it seems like I'm having a semi-serious love affair with my label maker, that I'm feeling much less like pulling my hair out and much more like relaxing with a glass of wine in my mess-free home.

So, I thought I'd compile a list of the things that I'm doing, or at least trying to do, to keep me in that happy place.

1. Go to bed every night with a clean kitchen. This one can be a challenge. So many nights after cooking dinner and giving Anna a bath and putting her to bed, the last thing I want to do is head back into the kitchen to wash a bunch of dishes and wipe down counter tops. As tempting as it is to leave all that stuff for the morning, waking up to a messy kitchen seems to set the tone for my day. And since Anna's favorite game is "climb into the dishwasher and try to pull out knives", getting it all done when she's asleep just makes a lot more sense.

2. Don't let clean dishes sit out, waiting to be put away. I was a big-time abuser of my dish-drying rack. Like, if there was a game show to see who could stack the most dishes on one of those things without letting them all come crashing down, I would have won. I hate putting stuff away, so I didn't - I just kept adding to the pile. Finding the things I needed became like playing Jenga - can I pull this spatula out from underneath this frying pan and mixing bowl without collapsing everything? So my sister made me do a crazy thing. I threw away my dish-drying rack.  Instead, I have this new little absorbent mat. I can fit a couple of things on it, but it pretty much ensures that I'll put things in their proper places within a reasonable amount of time. Again, not having a huge mountain of clean dishes to look at sets the tone for the rest of the kitchen.

3. A place for everything, everything in its place. I didn't come up with this one - in fact, I think it's a pretty common expression, especially in the organizing world. My sister shared it with me, and she got it from her organizer friend Carol. (Side note - this woman is amazing. And if I had a lot more money, I would definitely hire her to come to my house instead of forcing my sister to do it all for free! In fact, I still might, since Kristin told me yesterday that some of my closets were a little "daunting" for her. Hmmphf.) I'm working really hard on putting things away, in the same spot, so I know where I can find them. Remember the pictures I posted of my bathroom closet? I can't tell you how amazing it is to think "Oh, I need a nail file" and instead of rummaging through eight different drawers and looking under the couch and rifling through my purse, I just walk over to the drawer that's labeled "Nails" and pull out what I need, and put it back when I'm finished. Genius!

4. Baby proof the crap out of your house. Obviously, if you don't have small, devilish children running around, you can skip this step. Up until a few weeks ago, I had done minimal baby proofing. I'm not saying my house was a death trap - I had locks on all the cabinets that contained chemicals to keep Anna from chugging bleach and gates up to prevent her from tumbling down the stairs.  But I had never bothered to install latches on all the drawers in my bathroom. So while hair clips and extra toothbrushes and tubes of lipstick don't pose an immediate threat to Anna's safety, they were definitely imposing on the neatness of my house. Because as quick as I could gather those things up and put them away, she was right back in there flinging them around. Same thing goes for my kitchen. Tupperware containers aren't necessarily dangerous, but having twelve of them strewn about the floor makes it a little difficult to keep up an organized appearance.  My awesome husband got out the power drill a few weeks ago and installed latches on our bathroom drawers and I locked up all the kitchen cupboards that Anna can reach. Even though I feel kind of bad for her when she's yanking in frustration on the drawers and cabinets that now won't open, it's pretty great that this won't be happening again...

Is there something on my face?

5. Make the bed every morning. Again, this one is all about setting the tone. A made bed just looks nicer, and it's much harder for me to justify flinging dirty clothes on the floor when our sheets and comforter aren't in a tangled mess and all the throw pillows are arranged neatly.

6. Put laundry away IMMEDIATELY! I think this one might be the toughest for me. I've written about it before. Like I said earlier, I hate putting things away. So often, I fold laundry and then just leave it sitting in the basket, thinking to myself that I'll put it all away before bed. And then bedtime comes and I'm exhausted so I put if off again and before I know it the clean laundry is mixed in the with the dirty and I have to start all over again. I've been trying really, really hard to stay on top of this one, even if it means putting Mike's laundry away for him too. Even though I don't like it, I know it's a necessary evil and in the long run will be totally worth it.

So there you have it. I still have a long way to go, but I think these things are definitely helping me conquer my inner messy demons.

Any tricks or tips you would recommend? 'Cause you know I still need all the help I can get...

Friday, July 15, 2011

First, You Take the Mallow

I'm not going to proclaim that I have totally morphed myself into a Type A Neat Freak. Nor am I going to pretend that my entire house is organized and spotless (Cough. Cough. Office. Cough. Mud Room. Cough.). However, I will say that I think there has been the slightest, teeniest shift in my housekeeping skills.

I know this, because a few days ago something happened that was totally foreign and new to me. My sister called me up with an idea: "What if we grilled out tonight? And had a bonfire? And invited people over?" I think I've mentioned before my absolute terror of people just stopping by - my house was always such a mess that I needed hours of prep time to get it into a somewhat presentable state, and even then I was shoving dirty laundry in closets and jamming cupboards with random crap. So when she brought the idea up, my immediate thought was along the lines of "I am so not up for spending the afternoon cleaning and getting ready for company".

I then took a second to look around. Again, I'm not going to lie and say my house was pristine. I do have a toddler, remember? But I quickly realized that, for the most part, I was in pretty good shape. I put away a few toys, spent a few minutes in the kitchen wiping down counters and putting some dishes away, ran the vacuum cleaner, and even had time to whip up an appetizer. Without stressing.

I know that I'm a long ways from totally kicking all my old habits to the curb. I know that my sister has been here, gently reminding me that I should unload the dishwasher or put my laundry away immediately. I may never get to a place where it's second nature for me to not abuse all the surfaces in my house and I might always fight the urge to cram stuff I don't want to deal with under my bed. But I have to say, I really, really liked the feeling I had when people were coming over and I wasn't trying to come up with a million excuses for why it looked like a war zone.

We had a ton of fun that night, and for one of the first times I wasn't totally worried about people thinking my house was a total hot mess. And I think all the s'mores I ate that night were just a little bit sweeter because of that.

FYI - We got the extra large marshmallows. In my opinion they are too big. The outside got melty and gooey, but the inside was still uncooked...

On a side note - Ilana over at Mommy Shorts is running a little competition and one of my comments was selected to be a part of it! Cool! Her blog is hilarious and awesome and way cooler than mine, so head over there and check it out! And if you feel like voting, awesome!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hey, Hey, Good Lookin'

When Mike and I made the decision to move back to Michigan, one of the hardest parts was leaving behind the awesome people that we met - particularly our friends Jeb and Ashley. They were the first friends that we made as a couple, and quickly became our family in South Carolina. I can't tell you how many weekends in the past year that Mike and I have been sitting around and wishing they lived a lot closer.

One of my all-time favorite things to do is cook, but I love it even more when there's another person around to chop, stir, and taste with. Lucky for me, Ashley is an amazing cook, and I really miss all the time we got to spend in the kitchen together trying new recipes while our husbands were off drinking beer and playing ping-pong doing important things. The last few weeks, my sister and brother-in-law have been staying with us off and on, and it's been really fun having people around again while I'm making messes in the kitchen - and made me miss our Greenville friends even more.

Last week, Kristin and I copied an idea I got from my father-in-law that turned out delicious, so I thought I'd pass it along to you. The idea of grilled lettuce might seem kind of crazy, and it is - crazy good.

Grilled Romaine Salads


Romaine Hearts
Tomatoes - chopped
Bacon - crumbled/chopped
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan Cheese

Heat your grill to medium-high. Slice the romaine hearts in half, lengthwise. Drizzle both sides with olive oil.

We decided to get a little fancy and make a balsamic reduction, but you could just as easily use it as is. For the reduction, I put the vinegar in a small saucepan, and boiled it down until it was about half the amount I started with. Did I say fancy? I meant super easy.

Grill the lettuce for about two or three minutes a side. You want it to get a little charred, but not totally burnt.

Put the grilled lettuce on a platter, season with the salt and pepper, and scatter the tomatoes and crumbled bacon evenly across all the pieces. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over everything, and top it off with a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Ashley - I think you would approve of this recipe, although I wish you guys were here to enjoy it with us! I promise that we are coming to visit you soon!!

On a side note, here are a couple of pics of Anna having some 4th of July fun with her Auntie Kristin.

Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wooden Shoes & Raisin Buns

Since Tuesday was our anniversary, my sweet sister offered to babysit Anna while Mike and I went off on a little adventure to celebrate. Our initial plan was to go canoeing, an activity we loved in our child-free days. Since I'm not Pocahontas, paddling down a river with a baby strapped to my back just hasn't been an option the last 18 months.

With no real destination in mind, we settled on Holland. It's only about an hour from our house, is right on Lake Michigan, and is the town where Mike was born. Plus, with the exception of a wedding I attended with Kristin a few nights before, I had never been. And did I mention that there are lots of Dutch people there?

Maybe it's because my heritage is a mish-mash of a whole bunch of different things, but I think it's really cool that Mike is 100% Dutch - he's the first American born in his family. I love that he calls his grandma "Oma" (and that Anna has an Oma and Opa, too!) and that he loves the color orange and I even love the fact that he devours these disgusting Dutch candies called Double Salts (extra salty black licorice - gross!).

So a whole town of people just like Mike? Awesome. We sat out on a patio and drank beer. We watched fireworks. We scarfed treats from the Dutch bakery. We walked along Lake Michigan. We found the house Mike's Oma and Opa used to live in. We even went to a wooden shoe factory.

We had such a good time just wandering around and laughing and reminiscing about our wedding, know what we forgot to do? Go canoeing. Maybe my inner Pocahontas will be making an appearance this summer after all...

Mike was really happy to be, as he put it, "amongst his people".

This is what I like to call "Mama Juice". As in, "No, Anna, you can't drink that. It's Mama Juice."

Dutch Treats! Aforementioned Gross Candies, Raisin Buns, Windmill Cookies, Wilhelmina Peppermints

I love it here!

How awesome are these slippers we got for Anna??

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is Real?

Three years ago today, I married my best friend.

I know that a lot of people say that the birth of their son or daughter marks the best day of their lives. While the day we brought Anna into the world is definitely high on my list, it doesn't earn the top spot. Blame it on those pesky contractions. And the fact that our wedding day was, without a doubt, absolutely perfect. I cannot remember any other time in my life when I was surrounded by so much love, laughter, and happiness.

The only bad part was that the day had to end.

During the ceremony, the officiant read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorite books of all time:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you and our little family. You make me real.