Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing Catch Up

I have my computer back finally! Still don't have my old photos recovered, but I did get to finally upload and look at the pics I've been taking for the past week. Naturally, I have lots of photos of fun times with the girls.

These two are really starting to play together so well. I love to watch them. Miss gets such a kick out of making Lass smile or laugh or clap.

Lass idolizes Miss. Tonight when I was cooking dinner, Miss kept Lass entertained the whole time by dancing around and tickling her while Lass was in her jumper. It's a good thing too, because Lass doesn't really love being in the jumper so much anymore. Now that she can roam all over the place, she's not so into being in any contraption that restricts her movement. But, she's into everything, so I have to keep her in the jumper or her highchair any time I'm cooking. She climbs on top of everything she can and seems to be trying to climb on top of all sorts of things she can't (like the window sill in my bedroom, the table under our TV, etc).

The other day she climbed up on the fireplace hearth like it was nothing. And I have made more than one diving catch to keep her from falling back on her head when she turned herself to sit after climbing up on our suitcase (the suitcase that sat on the floor of our bedroom waiting to be unpacked for way too long).

Miss is so fun to watch as she develops more and more skill in so many areas. Gluing, sticker-ing, and coloring among them.

Cow paper bag puppet! She's crafty.

She is starting to really try to color inside the lines (without even being prompted to do so by me). She got this Hello Kitty coloring book and went through all the pages trying to precisly color Kitty's nose again and again.

Tonight the Daddy made a fort with the couch cushions.

Miss had to take all her friends in with her.

She thought the fort was the coolest thing ever. No wonder Daddy is her favorite these days. . .

Today is the last day of the month. On the first of the month I wrote this post about exercising and stated my goal to exercise at least 15 out of 30 days this month. I am proud to say that, even with a week of vacation thrown in the mix, I did meet my goal, hitting 15 days yesterday. I thought I would go one better and get in a workout tonight, but I couldn't drag myself away from my much missed computer. However, I do intend to do even better this next month. In July, I'm going for at least 20 days.

Another goal for July is to get Miss's new swing set put together. After weeks of looking for one that will be fun for her for many years to come, will be safe and sturdy, but won't break the bank, I finally found one and ordered it earlier this week. I'm hoping it will be here tomorrow so it can be a project for the holiday weekend. Wish us luck with that!

In addition to putting together a swing set, we'll be spending time at the pool, eating ice cream, baking banana chocolate chip muffins (Miss picked the recipe), and celebrating the 4th at home.

Can't beat that.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

Ingredients for this week's "Chopped" Challenge: Shrimp and Cheddar Cheese

My mind automatically went to Shrimp and Grits as the dish to make. I don't really know why. I've only eaten one bite of shrimp and grits ever. It was at a restaurant in Charleston. My husband ordered it. I would never order such a thing. Surprisingly it was delicious. My version? Read on and see.

So okay, to be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure if traditional Shrimp and Grits has cheese in it, or if I'm confusing "Cheese Grits" and "Shrimp and Grits." Either way, I made Shrimp and Grits and it had cheese in it. Here's the recipe:

Shrimp and Grits
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
14 oz Andouille sausage sliced about 1/2 inch thick (you can use a bit less or more, this is just what size package I found at our clearly un-Southern grocery store)
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
3/4 cup quick grits
1/2 tsp salt
1 12-oz can 2% evaporated milk
2 cups water
1-2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I didn't measure but I think I used closer to 2 cups)
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup more water
2 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large non stick pan with a lid over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add sausage and brown on both sides. While sausage is cooking pat shrimp dry and season with S&P. When the sausage is browned, remove it from the pan and place on paper-towel-lined plate. Drain all but about 1 Tbsp of sausage drippings from pan. Add shrimp to pan in batches and brown on both sides. Only cook a minute or two on each side and just until the shrimp is opaque to avoid over cooking. Remove shrimp as it is cooked to another paper-towel-lined plate. If all the fat is taken out of the pan, add a bit more oil and let it get hot. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add grits and stir to coat with oil and brown a bit. After a few minutes, add 1 cup of the condensed milk (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup in can) and two cups of water to grits, stir, scraping browned bits from sausage and shrimp from the bottom of the pan, bring to a boil and cover, cooking for about 5 minutes. While grits are cooking, add 1/2 cup water to the remaining 1/2 cup evaporated milk and whisk in the cornstarch. When grits are done, add cheese in handfuls, stirring to melt and alternating with adding the water/evaporated milk/cornstarch mixture. When the cornstarch liquid and cheese are added to your liking (you'll probably need to add a bit of water to keep it from getting too thick, see note below), add in the paprika, cayenne pepper, shrimp, and sausage. Add S&P to taste. Cover and cook for a few minutes to let the shrimp and the sausage get warm again. Serve.

So, I stirred the shrimp and sausage into the grits to get them warmed up again, and the result was an extremely ugly dish of food. I probably should have tented the sausage and shrimp with foil, or perhaps placed them in a 200 degree oven to keep them warm, so I could just put them on top of the grits instead of needing to stir them in to warm them up again. Appearances aside, the dish had good flavor but it was too thick for my taste. I would either lessen the amount of cornstarch in the slurry or add more water or milk to adjust the consistency after all the slurry and cheese were added. I did manage to get the grits cooked better this time, as they were not "gritty." In all honesty, this was not my favorite of the "Chopped" dishes I've done so far. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone with the first dish that came to mind. I could have been a bit more creative. Maybe I could have done a chowder or some sort of play on a tuna melt or a Po'Boy. Whatev. The dish was good, but not delicious. I'll do better next time!

We were supposed to have storms today. They missed us.

We were glad.
It was a good day.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Lovin'

I love the smell of my babies in the summer. Sunscreen mixed with chlorine, a little bit of dirt and little girl sweat. . . Heaven. We have been busy here living summer. That's what people do here in the North Country. After such a long winter this year we are trying to wring every last drop of summer-ness out of the few days of beautiful weather we have had so far. This weekend has been packed with the farmer's market, two trips to the pool, and making the most of life outside - grilling and eating and lots of playing.

Tonight we had a jam session on the front stoop.

Miss had been collecting rocks from our front landscaping and asking my husband and I which ones were our "faybwits" (favorites). We were sorting and admiring rocks so much my hubby decided to grab his guitar and make up a song about Miss and her favorite rock. Notice in the photo above, his favorite rock sitting on his knee. She requested the song over and over, even after he had moved on to more well-known tunes.
These days are magical. Funny sayings from Miss. First assisted steps from Lass using the lion walker (featured here). Getting soaked at the water table. Miss dancing the most adorable wiggle to her daddy's guitar music. Exchanging glances and laughs with my husband as we watch our amazing girls. When I stop and soak it in it makes my nose tickle and my eyes tingle and my heart squeeze with happiness. I love summer and the opportunities it brings for moments like these with my girls and their Daddy.

Note - My computer is "in the shop" again, because I am having trouble accessing all the photos I restored after my hard drive was replaced. Hence, my lack of blogging. Hopefully I will be back in full swing again very soon.

And I'd like to note that the recent lack of posts about our "Chopped" adventures has been due to my husband's work in creating a list of ingredients to draw from, as I will now be doing two surprise ingredients each week. The list is now completed enough to pick from it (though it is a work in progress), the ingredients have been drawn, and my next challenge is to use shrimp and cheddar cheese. Immediately what came to my mind was Shrimp and Grits, so I'm going with that. I'll post the recipe and let you know how it goes later this week. What would you make??

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grab Bag

Tonight for dinner, I tried deep frying for the first time. It was totally easy and delish. Picture it: warm tortillas smeared with chipotle mayo and topped with shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and deep-fried beer-battered fish. Fish tacos baby. Yum.

I have always shied away from deep frying. For some reason I thought it was difficult. Today my Southern roots came through, and I deep fried that beer-battered fish like I'd been doing it my whole life. I love it when I make a yummy dinner that my hubby loves. Usually I try to make a bit more healthful food, but everyone needs a little bit of deep fat frying from time to time, right?

This time of year is when I feel the need to pull out the macro lens for my camera. I am a sucker for a good, close up flower photo.

I have a lot to learn about photography and editing, but I love these photos.

So simple.

I also love listening to Miss speak. From her adorable two-year-old pronunciations (like "Faiwy Godmuddah") to her funny little play conversations, I could listen to her all day. Her imagination is really taking off, and one thing she is really into these days is acting out conversations between "characters." Sometimes she uses her special "fwiends," which are the toys she sleeps with, Elmo, Bear, Teddy Bear, Big Baby, Big Momma Bear, Owl Pillow, Bear Pillow, and Ariel. Sometimes she takes totally random objects, like a bunch of gourds (or "vegetables" as she calls them) in a bowl at The Farm or a few empty shaving cream cans in my shower, and turns them into a complete family, acting out all sorts of different family dramas between them.

She will have entire conversations between these characters, changing her voice inflection just slightly to indicate that she is doing the voice of a different one. It is so fun while getting ready for the day to listen to her and quietly giggle and smile to myself at the funny things she says.

Randomness for a Tuesday. Hope you're having a great week.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fun at the Farm, a Few Firsts, and Father's Day

Last week was full of the fresh air and beauty of the place we call The Farm.

I love how this place seems to seep into our souls and revive us. Miss is in her element here. She would spend all day every day outside if she could, and comes close when at The Farm. Upon waking, while still drowsy with sleep, she will look up through her crazy bed-head hair at her Daddy and say, "Go outside?"

She had so much opportunity in the past week to play with her "kids", which is what she calls her cousins. And they seem to adore her and Lass. They dote on my girls, especially the older cousins. It warms my heart to see how much Miss loves being with her kids and how wonderful they are to her and her sister.

The Farm is all about the simple things. Watching my girls thrive here is so satisfying. No fancy toys needed. Just the imagination and innocence of a two year old. One of her favorite things last week was going out with her Daddy to throw rocks into the pond over and over.

She and Lass had a blast on the swing set, as usual.

Lass went down the slide, with assistance of course, for the first time and loved it. She has turned out to be quite a little climber, trying repeatedly to climb up the slide, climbing up the stairs for the first time, on top of suit cases, etc. Oh boy.

My girls just love playing with their Daddy.

Miss refused to take off this life jacket, except when she went on the swing.

A day outside would not be complete without some sidewalk chalk. Miss has started showing her artistic talents.

Lass got to try out the chalk for the first time.

Miss had her first popsicle.

Miss asked me to draw our family. Yes, I drew this. No, I am not embarrassed. Much.

As much as we love The Farm, we are happy to be home today. Here's a real family photo after we went out for brunch to celebrate the most important man in our world.

Husband, Daddy. He is amazing and does so much for us. I am thankful every day to have such a wonderful husband and Daddy for our girls.
Happy Father's Day.