Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cookie Party!

Visiting family in Maine this week for Christmas, and was too busy to post yesterday because we were having a COOKIE PARTY, which may just be the best idea ever for a holiday open house. My Mom made five different kinds of cookies, and supplemented with a few from Trader Joe's. (Yes, five different kinds of cookies, the week before Christmas. See where I get it from?)

My mother and sister, with a display of about half the cookies actually baked!

Mom flipped through recipes that are family favorites, and chose a few new ones from (of course) the Martha Stewart Cookie cookbook, and provided an amazingly tasty variety with coffee and tea and spiced cranberry apple cider.

We had almond cookies, a butter cream cheese walnut cookie, chocolate cookies, pinwheels, gingersnaps, and peppermint cookies from Trader Joe's.

Among the winners was our traditional favorite, Mamie Ruth's chocolate cookies, a recipe that's been in the family for generations. It's one I make every year, and was actually features on our Christmas Card this year.

Here's the recipe:

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
confectionary sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler and allow to cool. Cream the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, vanilla and chocolate together in a mixer. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for an hour and a half or overnight. Drop by rounded tablespoon into confectionary sugar, flatten slightly, and bake 10-12 minutes on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cookies should still look slightly moist as you pull them out of the oven - do NOT overbake! I often will make a batch, cool them slightly, and then try one to ensure I haven't overbaked them.

Makes approximately four dozen cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Christmas Dinner

Greg and I recently watched a documentary from the History Channel about the History of Christmas, and it got me all fired up to host my own Christmas dinner complete with an eclectic mix of my favorite Christmas traditions. One of the interesting things in the documentary was just how much Christmas "traditions" have evolved and changed over the centuries, and the origins of the varied ways we celebrate the season. (Christmas trees? German. You can thank Queen Victoria's husband Albert for introducing the custom to the English speaking world.) One take-away from the film was that it really is in the Christmas spirit to borrow and mix your favorite holiday ideas to develop your own family "traditions" for how you celebrate and make it a special time of year.

So this year, I decided I'd like to celebrate by having a small gathering of friends over for a Christmas dinner early in the season complete with warm, spiced wine and figgy pudding for dessert. (I've never even had figgy pudding. But hey, it's tradition.) Part of the fun of hosting your own holiday dinner is choosing to make your own favorite holiday foods; I served just the foods I loved and had a blast making them.

Here was our menu:

Goat cheese and fig jam on toasted baguette slices
Warm spiced wine

Main Course:
Roasted Orange Chicken
Caramelized Onion Glazed Ham
Baked Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms
Paula Dean's "Ol' No. 7 Yams"
Spiced Buttered Carrots
Wild Rice with Cranberries and Walnuts
Cranberry Sauce (sort of - I left it in the fridge :/)

Warm figgy pudding with caramel cream sauce and a dollop of vanilla iced cream
Chocolate Almond Butter Balls

We served dinner at 5:30 so Will could join us. I prepped everything in the morning and had it ready to go in the oven or on the stove-top before guests arrived.

I had a wonderful time. It was so much fun to plan a menu of my favorite foods to share with friends and have a chance to cook it while my amazing husband alternated between chasing after our toddler and cleaning up my dishes. It also gave us incentive to finish decorating the house for Christmas, and have the decorations enjoyed by more than just the two of us.

I am so, so, so lucky

It's now, while Will is young and our second isn't even born, that we'll start figuring out what celebrating Christmas means for our family, and develop the traditions our children will look forward to each year that will make the season special. I'm looking forward to everything from Christmas stockings and cookies for Santa to that mulled wine and figgy pudding with friends!

He might grow up thinking everyone has figgy pudding at Christmas :)

Merry Christmas :)


Warm Spiced Wine: Burgundy is traditional, but a pinot noir or grenache mix would also work well. This is not something we'd do to an expensive bottle of wine, but something mid-range is going to taste better than the least expensive bottle you can find. (Spend more than you would if you're making sangria, less than if you're serving it alone or with a nice meal to company.) Heat over very low heat just until warm with a stick of cinnamon and some cloves secured in a cheese cloth or tea ball. Can remain on low heat, just don't let it come to a boil!

Roasted Orange Chicken: Rub the outside of a chicken with orange slices, then place the orange in the body cavity and truss the chicken. Brush the chicken with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper to taste, and roast at 425 degrees until the exterior skin is krispy and the chicken has reached a safe internal temperature according to your meat thermometer and juices run clear. (About one hour for a five pound roasting chicken.) Let sit for twenty minutes tented with foil prior to carving.

Caramelized Onion Glazed Ham: This recipe was inspired by "Jimbo's Hambo", a Guy Fieri recipe from the Food Network. The original is excellent - I just didn't have all the ingredients on hand.

Olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion finely chopped
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup of coarse mustard
1 six ounce can of pineapple juice
1/2 cup of honey
1/4 cup of Jack Daniels
2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Lightly coat a large saute pan with olive oil and turn heat to medium. Sautee the onions until translucent (they'll caramelize as the glaze reduces and in the oven). Add the garlic and stir for another thirty seconds. Remove from heat to add the Jack Daniels and deglaze the pan. Add all other ingredients, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until greatly reduced to a glazing consistency - I let it simmer on very low heat for about an hour and a half while I prepared the other dishes.

When the glaze is ready, take an uncut, precooked ham and place it in a roasting pan with a little water to prevent burned drippings. Cut it about half an inch deep in long diagonal cuts, then criss cross the other side. Dot the ham with cloves to hold the cuts open so the glaze can seep into the ham. Pour the glaze over the ham and cook it until heated through - this will vary based on ham weight, see directions on the ham you've bought. I glazed my ham in advance and left it in the refrigerator for the afternoon.

Baked Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms: I used Mark Bittman's recipe in "How to Cook Everything" for stuffed button mushrooms, but substituted Portabello mushrooms for a heartier version to serve with the meal.

Paula Dean's Old No' 7 Yams: This is a runny, delicious sweet potato casserole that makes amazing leftovers. I double the amount of sweet potato and reduce the water called for by a cup because the sauce is always so runny. Recipe is available online at the food network website.

Spiced Buttered Carrots: I used a recipe from the Bon Appetit "Fast Easy Fresh" cookbook.

Wild Rice with Cranberries and Walnuts: This is inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe from one of her Thanksgiving magazines. It calls for candied pecans, which I had trouble finding at Whole Foods, so I substituted plain chopped walnuts this time. I sauteed onions in olive oil until transluscent, then added wild rice and toasted it for a few minutes until fragrant. I added water according to package directions, simmered an hour, and then drained away excess liquid. I then tossed the wild rice and onions with about half a cup of orange juice until reduced to a glazed consistency, and mixed in dried cranberries, dried parsley, and topped with chopped walnuts just before serving.

Figgy Pudding: I found a modernized version of figgy pudding online on the food network website. The recipe makes way more than it claims in terms of batter and sauce. I used muffin tins instead of individual ramekins, and made 18 individual figgy puddings. (The recipe's instructions say to fill four one cup ramekins 1/2 to 3/4 full. If you do the math on the recipe's ingredients, that would require absurdly less batter than you make.) I used half figs and half dates for the dried fruit, and I used half brandy and half water when I brought the fruit to a boil and pureed it. I also reduced the sauce recipe by about 1/3 and still had plenty of sauce. I made the batter and placed it in muffin tins in the fridge for the afternoon and then put them in the oven shortly after we began eating in order to have warm pudding ready after the meal. Reheated the sauce and served! Despite it's being a little non-traditional (baked, not cooked by immersing a container in hot water, not nearly enough booze, etc) it was an easy recipe, had a very nice fig flavor, and certainly felt like Christmas to me!

Mimi's Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls: I used almond butter for this gathering, trying to be all gourmet. Big mistake. They weren't bad, but they weren't my great grandmother Mimi's peanut butter balls. I will stick to her original recipe in the future!

Makes approximately four dozen peanut butter balls.

2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (About 12 graham cracker squares, use food processor)
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
One jar creamy peanut butter

2 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cake of paraffin cooking wax

Combine the graham crackers, peanut butter and confectioners sugar and mix well. Chill. Drop by rounded teaspoon full onto wax paper and chill several hours. Melt paraffin wax over double boiler. Add and melt chocolate chips. Dip balls into the chocolate (I use two spoons) and then place back onto wax paper and into the fridge to cool and harden. May be served at room temperature but store best when chilled.

Happy Cooking!

Don't wear yourself out :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Host's Gifts

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're lucky enough to be in Maine with our families, enjoying two Thanksgiving meals that we aren't cooking ourselves. We're also staying a few days with each side of the family, getting to watch Will play with his grandparents and greatly benefitting from their hospitality and home cooked meals.

To show them how much we appreciate being home for the holidays, we put together gift baskets for each family with some specially picked treats. Will and I took a walk to our local cheese and specialty goods store where we picked out things like squash ravioli, candied cashews, and specialty teas and crackers for the gift baskets. Greg picked out some special jams to add, and of course we had to put in some coffee since this time of year relatives manage to clean out our dads' supplies pretty quickly.

We finished the packages off with some homemade truffles, using recipes we found at Surprisingly easy, unsurprisingly tasty.

In previous years I've had trouble deciding what to put little gift assortments in - I don't have gift baskets lying around, and the recipients don't need a little wicker basket on top of their consumable goodies.

This year I came up with a solution I'm mostly happy with. We took a double layer of cardboard taped with packing tape and wrapped it with a solid gift wrap to make a durable and colorful base for the items. Then we arranged everything, cut pieces of cellophane wrap (available at craft stores and some grocery stores) and tied the tops with wraphia and a small handwritten note.

I wish they didn't use plastic, but they look great and were very easy to assemble. No box hiding half the items either :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Elephant / Lion stocking stuffer is done!

Can't wait for Will to find this in his stocking, I bet he'll find the way it reverses even funnier as he gets older!

The elephant...

Turns into...

The lion!

This pattern is from Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys which I got at my local yarn store and which you can also find on Amazon . I've knit quite a few things from this book and loved them! The patterns are well written and the toys are so, so cute.

Happy Knitting! Onto the next project - maybe something for baby number two?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What I've Been Up To

...which clearly has not been updating my blog. Our family has been pretty busy, what with 1 year molars coming in, the last half marathon of the season to run, and pumpkin pies that don't bake themselves. (Luckily they don't eat themselves either. Because that would be weird.)

Knitting: Currently working on a reversible lion/elephant toy to put in Will's Christmas stocking. Almost done! It's a Susan B. Anderson pattern from Itty Bitty Toys, my favorite book of toy patterns.

UPDATE: Lion is done, putting finishing touches on the elephant!

How cute is that?!?!

Sewing: Just adventured into the world of sewing clothes and turned one of Greg's old flannel shirts into a pair of pajama pants for Will. It was pretty easy following the instructions on another blogsite for making my own pattern: here and then for sewing the pants: here. It was pretty easy, and I liked turning something old into something new with the help of a little thread and elastic. Environmental, economic, and creative.

Cooking: I made some fun mini pumpkin pies for a Halloween gathering with Will's playgroup friends. I used mini muffin tins, a circular pastry cutter just slightly larger than the top of the muffin tin, and my normal pie crust and pumpkin pie recipe. Cook for less than half the time (crusts brown, center no longer jiggly) and pop them out of the tins for toddler and party friendly munching.

Reading: I'm currently reading Living Simply With Children by Marie Sherlock, and I love it. It's been good inspiration for rethinking what's important in our lives and how we can raise healthier children in this media driven world with too much screen time and consumerism, too little exercise and creative play. It might take a while to convince Greg to move the television into the basement, but I'm incredibly lucky he's the supportive spouse he is who would also rather play a game of pool or sit and talk after dinner than watch tv anyway.

Watching: About that tv we're supposedly not watching - we just saw a documentary called "Consuming Kids" that a friend recommended about the lack of regulation for children's commercials and how that's affected everything from kid's television programming to what they eat in schools. It's a little depressing if you're a parent, but worth watching so you can think about what you're bringing into your home and how to talk to your children about media influences.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween Fun

With Halloween approaching, we've started to get out some decorations and have fun with some Halloween crafts! Here are some of the ways we're celebrating the season.

A Seasonal Photo

One of my favorite seasonal decorations is a 20"x30" photo of Will sitting in a pumpkin patch that we had printed to put in the frame over our family room fireplace. We used, and it was $25.00 for the extra large print, which isn't bad for a decoration that will be fun to use in future seasons. We left the previous print right in the frame behind the seasonal one, where it can be switched back later. We loved this photo so much that we also used it to print some Halloween cards from Shutterfly to send to our family.

Goodnight Goon

As Halloween approaches we've also really enjoyed switching up Will's bedtime story. Our favorite: Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex. My mom gave it to him for his birthday, and I'm not sure who loves it more, Will, or us. Greg does the best reading, with a spooky voice and plenty of suspense leading up to "the hairy old werewolf who was hollering... boo!" which gets an inevitable laugh out of Will. It's available on Amazon or maybe even at your local bookstore so you too can say goodnight to pots full of goo and screechy bats for a fun little change to the bedtime routine!

The Witch Hug Scarf by Morehouse Farms

I knit this as a gift for my mom, who loves witches, Wicked, and all things Elphaba. She's made Will's Halloween Costume two years running, and I wanted to thank her with a little hand knit fun to wear this October.

I used knitpicks Swish DK yarn, a superwash merino, in peapod and eggplant. While I love the Morehouse Farms wool, I wanted brighter colors and something that could be washed now that Mom is starting to have grandchildren. The pattern was fun to knit, super easy, and pretty quick since it's garter stitch.

Jack O' Lantern Squishies

For a fun little project I knit up some Squishies from Itty Bitty Toys by Susan B. Anthony in a bright orange, then duplicate stitched them with jack o' lantern faces. Will loves picking them up, looking at the faces, and throwing them. Who knows, maybe I'll knit more next year and we can place them around the house as a fun Halloween tradition! Right now their place seems to be on the floor, where they can be thrown, chased, and thrown again.

I knit them in knitpicks machine washable swish worsted in orange, and then duplicate stitched them with the same yarn in black. I stuffed them with poly fil which is also machine washable, so the whole squishie toy can go right in a garment bag and through the washer and dryer if it gets chewed on or dirty.

I didn't use a pattern for the faces, just made up the duplicate stitching as I went along! That's why some of the mouths are a little crooked. I wanted them to look like I had carved them, and if anyone has seen the way I carve pumpkins, they'll understand.

Will throws and chases the squishies so quickly that it was impossible to get a decent picture of him holding one!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I love going apple picking in the fall, it's one of my favorite fall traditions. This year, I took Will for the first time with my Mom and Will's playgroup. It was so much fun, and we picked a ton of apples.

I made the requisite apple pie and homemade applesauce, but then decided I would try something new and made a butternut squash and apple soup. I ate two bowls with baguette as a meal, but it would also make a great first course for any autumn dinner.

I came up with the recipe myself, but it's based on soup and puree techniques I learned in a cooking class I took last year, and my refresher from Chef Marc!

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

2 T butter or olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and cut into a large dice
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup apple cider, white wine or water
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
6 apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Heat the butter or olive oil in a pan over medium low heat. Pour yourself a glass of wine to drink. Add the diced onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent, about ten minutes. Add the chunks of butternut squash and sauté about five more minutes. Deglaze the pan with the cider, white wine or water. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the apples and spices and simmer until you've given your son a bath and put him to bed. (Or until apples and squash are thoroughly cooked and softened and flavors have developed, about half an hour.) Soup can simmer on very low heat for longer if needed. Puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a regular blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Freezes well.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A First Birthday Party

Will's first birthday was last week, and we spent the weekend in Maine so he could celebrate with family! With so many relatives nearby, we ended up having two gatherings so each side of the family had an opportunity to spend time with him.

Here's how we celebrated!

Will's first birthday cakes

Mom's side: homemade chocolate cupcakes decorated with monkey faces.

Dad's side: rubber ducky pound cake with a chocolate cake base made by his great-grandmother Nana! She made Greg's first birthday cake, and it was so nice that she agreed to make one for his son, too. We thanked her with a photo book of our favorite pictures of Will with her and her side of the family. On the front was printed "A photo book for Will's Great-Nana, who made his first birthday cake".


8x10 framed photos of Will, in an apple orchard for Mom's side and with his favorite rubber ducky in the bathtub for Dad's side. The photos were given to each set of grandparents to thank them for hosting. On Mom's side, we also displayed a sock monkey that Greg and I learned to make at a workshop, but that's another story!

Party favors

Since all the invitees were close family, we thought they would really enjoy having mini photo books with pictures of Will chosen to show how he's grown over the past year. My brother's wife is always five steps ahead of me with photo projects, and she pointed us in the direction of My Publisher, which lets you make twenty page 2"x3" softcover mini photo-books for $2.49 each. We then added some organic dark chocolate bars, customized with homemade wrappers (Thank you Greg!!), and put them in clear plastic treat bags.


Greg took all the videos we've taken of Will during his first year, and edited down almost two hours of footage into a twenty minute DVD with our absolute favorites. We made copies for each set of grandparents, and showed the DVD at each party. I can't wait to play it in ten, twenty, and thirty years to see some of his first laughs all over again.

Photo Albums and Baby Book

We used Will's birthday parties as a deadline and incentive for finally selecting digital photos to print and putting them all in albums for his first year. I learned a few things - one, we take way too many photos. Two, it's best to choose just the best from each event to print, and it's great to do it on a monthly rather than an annual basis! We ordered a case of black photo albums so that they'll all be the same, and I used our label maker to both number and date the albums for easy browsing. We brought them to each party along with Will's baby book and kept them out for relatives to flip through.

Will had a wonderful time at each party, although I think he's wondering why cupcakes and cake aren't a daily occurrence anymore. He had so much fun interacting with grandparents and great-grandparents! He also received some wonderful gifts to keep him busy and entertained when they're not here. We ordered customized thank you notes from shutterfly that I'm sure he'll hand write and mail shortly.

Happy Birthday, Will!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Personal Chef, Anyone?

No, seriously.

My birthday was last week, and for anyone who knows my husband, well, sometimes he goes a little over the top for things. He's amazing, and we all love him, and his family and friends are lucky to have someone like him who enjoys finding the perfect gift and then making it better.

This year, Greg got me a set of all-clad pots and pans, something I have wanted ever since the warnings about non-stick chemicals came out, but that I could never commit to actually investing in. They are amazing, and I have already started to enjoy cooking with them!

For anyone who loves to cook, you can understand how all-clad cooking ware is probably the best birthday gift ever. But somehow Greg got it in his head (who am I to complain, but seriously?!) that perhaps cookware wasn't a very romantic gift, especially since he'll benefit from the meals. It's a birthday. Not Valentine's Day. Maybe I should be more careful about giving him running gear for holidays. Hmm.

Anyway, Greg decided that it would be fun to have a personal chef come in and demonstrate how to use the new cookware with a mini cooking lesson in the form of making a three course meal alongside me to share with my family who was going to be in town for the weekend. Greg helped coordinate the menu, and then on Saturday, Personal Chef Marc Levine from Olives and Herbs showed up with all of the necessary groceries and some of the minor prep work already completed. While my family enjoyed a wine tasting hosted by Greg, I got a personal lesson from a professional chef, who worked alongside me to make celeriac soup with crispy prosciutto and watercress garnished with basil oil and baguette, pecan encrusted mahi mahi with sauteed greens and cauliflower and white been puree, and individual chocolate molten lava cakes for dessert (which my sister in law actually made with Chef Marc since it was a) her birthday and b) Will needed a bath).

When the mahi mahi was in the oven, Chef Marc ushered us into the dining room, where he served each of the three courses with a brief explanation of the dish, and did all the dishes while we ate dinner.

It was an AMAZING night! Once I got over the initial oddity, it was a thrill to have a professional chef enter my dining room to announce and serve the next gourmet course while I chit-chatted with family, not to mention having the dishes whisked away afterwards! All while Will slept peacefully upstairs, and family savored nice bottles of wine without paying the restaurant up-charge.

No, Chef Marc isn't going to be cooking me dinner every night. But if we had driven my family into Boston, paid for parking, eaten at a four or five star restaurant where we ordered several bottles of wine, well, it would have worked out to about the same price. And we wouldn't have been able to relax for hours in our home with no need for a baby sitter or designated driver, in complete privacy, with the added fun of seeing a Chef walk into our dining room to serve us something he taught me to make.

So next time you're looking for a fun idea that's a little outside the box for a bachelorette party (he'll work with groups!), special anniversary dinner, or birthday party, maybe it's worth hiring a personal chef for the night!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Train or Train Wreck? Choosing Children's Toys

Has anyone else been into Toys R Us lately?! With Will's birthday approaching, Greg and I decided it was probably a good idea to go into a larger toy store than just the small local shops we usually frequent, just to see what's out there and think about what we'd like to buy him for his first birthday.

Yikes. That store is overflowing with battery powered, collectible, character based toys! There were entire aisles that I told Greg not to bother walking down because I could already tell they didn't have anything I'd want to bring into our home.

So what's the big deal? Shouldn't kids have some fun, flashy toys that light up and make sounds? They love them! And what's so wrong about Toy Story or Cars, or collectible Thomas trains where you can watch the cartoon and learn the names of all the train pieces?

Well, after some reading and thinking, these toys aren't as innocuous as they seem. And the problem isn't just that they annoy parents.

Toys that light up and make sounds can overstimulate kids, and get them more interested in pressing the button to get the immediate gratification of noise or flashing lights than in finding new and creative ways to play with the toy. Which also means that every toy that does light up or make noise has a pretty limited function and essentially the same usefulness as all other flashy toys - find what makes it light up, press it, repeat until bored, and the toy has outlived its usefulness.

Character toys are designed to create consumers out of our kids. If our children have a beloved toy that is a Sesame Street or Disney character, and they then see that character on a lunch box, back pack, article of clothing, or on a children's snack at the grocery store, and they'll want that new item. In the grocery store in particular this can cause some major problems with whining and bad nutrition choices if you give in - this isn't how we want our kids choosing their foods!

Toys based on movies, books or cartoons also can lead to "scripted play", where children will use them only to re-enact what they saw in the movie rather than making up their own story lines or uses for the toys. It is easier for children to play creatively with dolls or stuffed animals that haven't already been given roles by the media. When children role play using their own ideas, they're more likely to play school or house than when using toys that are already outfitted for violence (action figures) or shopping and dating (Barbies, Bratz dolls, etc.).

We want our kids to be creative, but if we give them toys that do all the work for them, by lighting up and making noises and already having a complete story line behind them, we take away incentive and opportunity for them to be creative.

Plus, some of the collectible toys worry me, because often as soon as a child has one, they want the next one, and it leads them into a negative cycle of consumerism where they're happier shopping than owning. That's not something we want our children to turn into, because this type of consumerism and materialism doesn't make people happier. Some toys even have associated websites where children get "points" for collecting, can join networks with their friends, and then rank one another based on their possessions. Wow.

There are fantastic toys out there, and a lot of them we recognize from when we were kids. Blocks that can be made into castles, stacked in different shapes and designs, be pretend grocery items placed in a bucket for a shopping cart. Traditional dolls that allow children to play family, act out their day, or have a backyard space adventure. There are a lot of great toys that let kids be kids and decide how they want to play with them.

After seeing cautions about popular toys pop up in so many of the books I've read and parenting lectures I've attended, I have started to really think about how the toys Will plays with may impact his development. I'm not getting rid of every toy in my house that lights up, but I may take the batteries out of some of them, and I quite shamelessly sent all of Will's grandparents a link to the toy guide published by Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment, or "TRUCE". You can find it here: After all, they also want what's best for Will, and the time to talk to them about better toy choices is before they buy them, not after Will has unwrapped them.

If you're interested in learning more, the TRUCE website is a great resource.

So as Will gets older, I'll try to give him a blank piece of paper instead of a coloring book, and toys that he can choose what to do with. I'm sure there will be compromise, and some less than ideal toys will make it into his toy bin, and that's ok. My goal isn't to be perfect, it's to make better choices whenever we can. And we'll tackle peer pressure and tv advertising when we get there!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cherry Tomatoes!

We've got cherry tomatoes! This is the first year we've grown tomatoes, and I love going out each morning to pick the ripened fruit. Greg and one of his coworkers made "earthtainers" this year, and the plants responded by growing like CRAZY! (For more on earthtainers, check out the website, where you can find free blue prints to make your own.)

Greg, Will, and one of Greg's amazing earthtainers growing cherry tomatoes. That's one tomato plant, which was only four inches tall when we brought it home from Volante Farms!

At first I was worried that we'd have too many tomatoes, but now I'm starting to wonder if there is such a thing. I love cooking with these! We've had mozzarella, basil and tomato salad, pasta with fresh tomato and white wine sauce, Tofu Bhuna Masala, and my grandmother's amazing vegetable soup, all made with fresh tomatoes from the garden. I haven't even had to make sauce and freeze it yet, and we've eaten over 150 cherry tomatoes from this plant! (Not exaggerating or joking. Look at that thing, it's a monster!) Of course it helps that I have six basil plants in my herb garden that I started from seed in April. Now if only there was such a thing as a mozzarella plant...

Our most recent culinary use for cherry tomatoes was a Martha Stewart recipe for Cherry Tomato Mozzarella Zucchini pie. I followed the recipe to a T, homemade parmesan pie crust and all (Will was with Greg!) and it was pretty good. My slice would have been better if someone *cough*Will*cough* didn't steal most of my tomatoes, but it was still worth making :)

Her recipe is online here:

Mine doesn't look as nice as hers, but whose does?! It still tasted great :)