Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Days Are Easy

Some days are easier than others. Some days aren't so easy, but we power through them anyway. I'm torn this week.

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful night out with Amy, host steak night at our house, and enjoy our final Gymboree class with Cullen. Amy and I managed to spend a little time at the Galleria and a lot of time at Block 7. It is a trendy wine bar that serves great food. Perfect for visiting and relaxing. Steak night started out as a recipe experiment and ended with dinner for 7. We certainly can't eat like that every single day, but it was a decadent evening. I even made a bread pudding. Yum.

Gymboree is so entertaining these days. Cullen has finally gotten to an independent enough state that he loves to run around the room and play while I observe more. For now, we have run out of classes. When we initially signed up, I could pay for three months at a time and use them whenever I pleased. It worked out really great for our little family, because I never felt like Cullen had to go to class at a certain time. If we didn't use it this week, we would use it next week. No big deal. Now, Gymboree requires you to pay each month, and you have the opportunity to make up your missed classes at a later time. Unfortunately, they won't let me pay for just a couple of classes each month, so we just can't go to Gymboree right now. I'm hoping that situation will be changing soon. I already miss that special time!

On Monday, I got a holiday for President's Day. Cullen and I managed to squeeze in some errands, a visit to the zoo, and a lunch with James. It was busy and exhausting for both of us, and it really made me miss my days at home with Cullen. When we are debt free, I'll be back at home with Cullen. I know we're making steady progress, but it sure does seem slow. I hate living for some random day.
As if it wasn't hard enough to return to work on Tuesday, Cullen cried and cried and cried on the way to school. On our way out through the garage, he decided it was an opportune moment to take his little car for a spin. When I tried to put him in his car seat, he lunged himself out and held onto my neck for dear life. Of course, he cried when we dropped him off, so I cried when we dropped him off. This morning was no better. It breaks my heart. I know that the decision to work or stay home needs to happen individually for each family, but I just don't get how anyone could leave their child at school all day and not be bothered. I'm not saying one side or the other is right or wrong. I just don't get it. I don't care to.

I only have a few flex days left to enjoy my long weekends with Cullen, and I intend to make the most of them. I also intend to make the most of every day I have with him. Yesterday, I read (and posted) a story about another little family in a town very close to us. Last Thursday, their little girl stopped breathing. They have no idea what happened or why, but she just stopped breathing. For their sake, I'm hoping they can get some answers. I cried as I read their story. What an awful reminder to cherish every moment.

Last night, I didn't make as much of a "meal" as I normally do. I didn't even make a vegetable. Cullen ate mandarin oranges. That's nutritious. Not the same as the broccoli I had planned, but I wasn't concerned. Instead of spending time keeping Cullen off the stove knobs, I spent time taking him for a walk when we got home. He loves being outside, and I love seeing his smile. I'm going to start trying to prep dinner before work each day. My hope is to just be able to pull pots out of the fridge each evening and let dinner cook while we walk and play. Cullen deserves the best of everything, and my everything includes my time and attention.

I hope you're giving your loved ones the best of your everything.

xoxo ashley

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prayer Request

Please read the blog below and pray for this little family. I can't imagine what they're going through. We might be eating leftovers tonight, because I need more time to play with Cullen. 

xoxo Ashley

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Experimenting In The Kitchen

I follow a few different blogs that chronicle cooking adventures. In the same spirit, I often find myself cooking and working with recipes that I think others might enjoy. I cook every night, I usually bake once a week, but it's pretty rare that I take photos while cooking. It's also rare for me to measure spices and ingredients.

The pictures I took are somewhat hodge-podge, so I'm only posting final products. Cooking/baking with a 15 month old in tow often means that there isn't a spare hand available to take pictures, your "spare" hand is covered in something that you won't touch the iPhone with, or your iPhone is across the house in your toddler's mouth. I'll have to work on the pictures. I'd also love to hear feedback if you try something I post!

Sunday night was our "big" Valentine's dinner. James and I rarely eat out, and we're so much happier avoiding the crowds. It's even easier to convince James to eat at home when I entice him with something good. On Sunday I made chicken fried steak, risotto, sauteed spinach with mushrooms, and homemade oreos. Completed product photos below. So what if I ate some of the chicken fried steak before remembering to take a picture...
I have no idea why this photo is so blurry or upside down. I'm still learning here...

Chicken Fried Steak
I adapted this recipe from one my sister-in-law gave me. I only say adapted because I never actually took the time to read the real recipe. I just watched what she did and adjusted as I worked with the food. I have also tried this recipe with chicken, and it came out beautifully.

What you need: Cube Steak, Olive Oil, Flour, Seasoning, Eggs, Bread Crumbs
*Tenderize the cube steak with a meat tenderizer. When you think you've overdone it, turn the piece of meat over and repeat. You have nothing to lose with this step. The more you tenderize, the more tender the meat. My goal is to someday make chicken fired steak that doesn't require a knife.
*At this point, each piece of meat is absolutely huge, so I generally cut each steak into two or three pieces.
*I use three separate paper plates for breading for easy clean up. The first plate should contain flour mixed with your choice of seasoning. This week, I used Julio's. I wasn't too impressed. My favorite so far is DL Jardine's 5-Star. The second plate should hold 2 beaten eggs. With a little care, you can actually do this in the plate. The third plate should hold bread crumbs. My favorite are the Italian Style Progresso ones.
*Dredge each piece of meat through the flour. Thoroughly coat the surface, but knock off the excess. Then, dredge each piece through the egg without allowing any egg to stay "attached." You want the meat coated, with egg, not dripping with egg. Then dredge each piece through the bread crumbs making sure not to miss any spots.
*In a skillet or flat-bottomed pan, heat a light coating of olive oil prior to cooking. When the oil is hot, drop each piece of meat in the pan. How long the meat cooks really depends on the thickness of the steaks. I try to keep the heat around medium to not burn the yummy crust.
*Once the meat is cooked through, I place it on a plate in layers of paper towels to soak up the excess grease.
*Most people love chicken fried steak with white gravy. As I'm still perfecting my white gravy, I serve mine with hot sauce. :)

Sauteed Spinach & Mushrooms
What You Need: Spinach, Mushrooms, Garlic, Olive Oil
*Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wok on medium-high heat.
*Add garlic and mushrooms. Stir continuously until garlic begins to brown.
*Add spinach to wok and stir.
*Keep the veggies moving to keep things from sticking.
*The spinach will cook down in a major way. One large bag of spinach will only feed 3 people.
*In less than five minutes, your veggies are ready for dinner!

Basic Risotto
What You Need:
48 Ounces Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion (Not Sweet)
2 Cups Arborio Rice (If You Can't Find Arborio, You Want Short-Grained Rice)
1 Mini Bottle Dry White Wine (Come In 4 Packs)
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese (The Fresh Stuff Is The Only Way To Go)
*Pour broth into medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer.
*Over medium-high heat, saute onion in olive oil in large Dutch oven for 3 minutes. Add rice and continue sauteing for another minute.
*Add wine and cook until reduced by half.
*Add hot broth to rice 1/2 cup at a time; stirring and allowing rice to absorb broth before each addition.
*Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the rice is creamy with its grains cooked al dente and broth is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese. Serve.

Homemade Oreos
My version is a little less Oreo than usual, because I don't like using Crisco for the traditional filling. I designed my own creme, and I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. These are best served chilled.

What You Need For The Cookies:
1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
1 1/4 Sticks Room Temperature, Unsalted Butter
1 Large Egg

What You Need For The Filling:
8 Ounces Softened Cream Cheese

1 stick Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature
16 Ounces Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon

*Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.

*In a bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
*Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
*Cream Cheese Filling: Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.
*Using a pastry bag (or a ziploc with the corner cut off), pipe filling onto the flat side of half the cookies and top with another piece.

I hope you enjoy the above recipes. So happy to share!

xoxo Ashley

Valentine's Day

Six years ago, James proposed. I'm not going to pretend that every single day has been perfect, but we have been very blessed. Yesterday was no time for James to disappoint. A co-worker of his delivered flowers and an Edible Arrangement to my office, while James made a delivery to his co-worker's girlfriend's office. In perfect spirit, the snacks were from James and the flowers were "from" Cullen. I'm a lucky lady!

xoxo Ashley

Why I Hate Cups... And Other Good News

What a week it has been. Wow. I'm posting a day early this week, because tomorrow's lunch break will be filled with a visit with a good friend of mine. I'm really looking forward to it, and I didn't want to miss out on the blog updates!

On Friday morning, we started bottle boot camp. Believe it or not, it has been just as hard on me as it has been on Cullen. He might disagree, but I would call him a liar. Before Cullen got up Friday morning, I prepped his breakfast and morning bottle. I took a sharp knife and sliced right through the nipple of the bottle. I cringed. I knew it was going to be a tough day with lots of tough love.

Cullen got up and got all settled in for breakfast. He reached for his bottle, popped it into his mouth, took a gulp, and ripped the bottle of his mouth. He opened his mouth to scream, but all that came out was milk. And then came the rage. He threw the bottle. After breakfast was over, he walked over to the bottle (still on the floor) and kicked it. Scout loved it, because she got a few ounces of milk before I tossed the bottle in the sink.

The initial mission of making him not like the bottle had been accomplished. Great, right? Meh. I give him the option of the sippy cup, and he laughed at me. Laughed like some sort of mental patient. Laughed like he knew I wouldn't be strong enough to stick to this new resolution. For the record, I won.

At nap time, Cullen still hadn't had anything to drink. Dehydrated Cullen could also be referred to as Cranky Cullen. A multitude of other monikers would fit for this one, but they're probably not blog appropriate. Cullen got violent. In the middle of his pre-nap tantrum (seriously), I squeezed the top of the sippy cup and poured milk down his throat mid-scream. It was like a switch flipped on. Cullen suddenly realized that the cup was not just a container of milk. There WAS a way to retrieve the milk.

The rest of Friday was a breeze. He drank from the cup, he held his own cup, he acted like it was completely natural, normal, and routine.

Saturday was different. Sunday was worse.

The bottles were all packed up, and I was way too stubborn to bring anything back out. With the bottle drying rack gone, there is officially space on the counter for my Keurig. I hardly slept on Sunday night. I feared the idea of sending him to school with a cup on Monday morning. I dreamt of a vengeful child beating up another kid over a bottle.

As it turned out, Monday went great at school. Cullen was the only kid in his class still on the bottle. He did great. No big deal. He just went on a hunger strike and tried to destroy my sanity. The good news is that the bottle is gone. I win.
xoxo Ashley

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cold Weather, Warm Family

Texas has some crazy weather. Seriously wild. I wore short sleeves this weekend, and we're expecting ice tonight. Last week, Cullen's school closed early on Thursday and remained closed all day Friday. James and I were able to leave work early on Thursday, and our offices closed for Friday. It was so nice to have a long weekend with my little family. We never got any snow, but we enjoyed the time together. We stayed inside, cooked, and played. Perfect!

As we expect icy conditions today, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they close our offices a little earlier today. I'm not holding out hope that we'll be closed tomorrow, but I wouldn't be too upset about it. Especially with Friday being one of my flex days. Yay long weekends!

Cullen had his 15 month check with his pediatrician yesterday. He dealt with his one shot like a champ, and we were so happy to talk progress with his doctor. We discussed his development, where he should be, and where he is. At this point, he should know 3 words other than Mama and Dada. On his current list, Cullen knows: up, dog, off, ball, dunk, ow, and a few others I'm totally blanking on. The point is that he knows more than 3 additional words. Woohoo! Baby genius!

He is still growing in such a big way. Since his last checkup, he has grown more than an inch and gained 1.5 pounds. He is in the 30th percentile for weight and 65th percentile for height. He's staying right on track, and we think he's just perfect!

The only crummy part of his appointment (other than the shot) was discussing sippy cups and bottles. As surprising as it may be, Cullen is stubborn. So very stubborn. Cullen has been completely unwilling to use a cup at this point. He has "accidentally" used one a couple of times, but he gets so mad when he figures out that I've slipped him the cup.

Dr. Dondlinger's recommendation was to cut the bottle nipples. It's messy and less comforting than the bottle. I cringed, because I don't want to have to essentially destroy a part of our bottle set. I'm planning on re-using them later with our other kids. They're inexpensive, but I'm cheap. James cringed, because this is going to be a massively huge mess. Friday is my flex day, and I'll be home with Cullen all weekend. Kick the bottle boot camp commences Friday morning. Wish us luck!

xoxo Ashley

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Always Growing

Life is about growth. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but we're always growing. Today has been incredibly frustrating, so I'm trying to remind myself to grow. To find the positives in the situation.

I went running this morning when the Weather Channel told me it felt like it was 6 degrees outside. I still can't quite feel my nose. I don't think that's a good sign. Maybe some indoor exercise will have to do tomorrow. I'm learning that I shouldn't run when the wind chill is in the single digits. Learning is growth.

Our office decided today that we would work longer hours and no longer have every other Friday off. Seriously? What's that about?

I recently interviewed for a job with a pretty neat agency. It wasn't my dream job, but it was a great opportunity to work with some great people. I learned today that the job was offered to someone else. I've never (literally never) interviewed for a job without being offered the position. Being humbled is growth.

Of course, my little boy is exhibiting a million different kinds of growth. He laughs, he runs, he talks, he gets taller and gains weight. All of these types of growth are steps on his path to becoming a boy and man. Today has reminded me that he is the most important focus for me. With that reminder, I will smile when I look at his Valentine's picture, and I will laugh when I watch the video of him playing with his "new" (thanks Ben!) remote control car.

I'm also going to push myself to remember to focus on the positives in life. I'm exercising. That's a positive. My new work schedule is forcing me to consider the idea of no longer carpooling with James. Even though we wouldn't have that time together in the car, I would be able to get home earlier in the evenings and have more time with Cullen. That's a positive. I've already got a job. Not everyone can say that. That's another positive.

Now I just need to remember those positives. Or look at pictures and videos of Cullen. Whatever...

xoxo Ashley