Monday, July 30, 2012

Menu Monday #11

After another weekend on the road, it is nice to be settled back in at home again this morning. We are grateful for the shorter road trips to see family in Ohio again, but there's still nothing like being at your own home. I tend to steer towards the authoritarian (military) parenting style when it comes to some things, like naps and mealtime. Unfortunately, these are things that are harder to control away from home. Perhaps due to the very structured life/schedule we lead at home, it has made the boys not as easily adaptable to other situations, which often leads to tired, cranky kids when we are away from home. Ugh. It also leads to children still sleeping as I type this at 9 am this morning!

We enjoyed our Saturday evening at a family reunion with hubby's mom's relatives. A big picnic-style dinner of ribs, pulled pork and assorted sides and desserts filled us up as we caught up with everyone. It was my (and the boys) first time meeting some of the attendees since it was my first time attending a reunion with this side of the family. It was an evening of good food, good conversation and good times for the kids.

I am happy to report that last week's Lasagna Cups were a success! Super fun and tasty too. This one will definitely be added to the rotation. :)

Sunday: Out to eat
We got a late start back home, so we had to grab something quick to eat on the road. Did you know Burger King has sweet potato fries right now? I don't know if it was because they had been sitting too long or because they are deep fried, but they weren't that great. :( Their grilled chicken sandwich was pretty good though. I guess I had never had it since we are normally Wendy's people if we have to eat fast food.

Monday: Blackened salmon over brown rice, oven roasted parmesan broccoli
Yep, salmon again! You can bet I will have this one on the menu every week now until I a) get sick of it, or b) it gets too cold to grill. Neither of those are likely to happen anytime soon. :) The boys will have tilapia again.

Tuesday: Slow-cooker salsa chicken in whole wheat tortillas with Cajun-steamed corn
I need a quick meal since I am headed to Ethan's preschool orientation tomorrow night!! :o I know, I still can't believe that one yet either. Yes, I am sure there will be tears when preschool starts on the 7th. Hopefully just from me, and not Ethan! ;) This is a great meal to get on the table quickly. The chicken cooks most of the day, then I can just heat the tortillas and corn and we are ready to eat in 5 minutes!

Wednesday: Caprese burgers, baked sweet potato fries
I saw this idea for a burger awhile back and have been wanting to give it a try. I'll make traditional burger patties, using lean ground beef. We'll grill those, then top them with a slice of fresh mozzarella, a slice of tomato, a few basil leaves and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. All of that on a toasted whole wheat English muffin. Sounds delicious, so I am hoping this one turns out great!

Thursday: Grilled BBQ pork chops, mac 'n cheese, pan fried parmesan green beans
We'll grill some pork chops, topped with our favorite, Montgomery Inn BBQ sauce. On the side, I'll make Kraft mac 'n cheese. It's the only kind Ethan will eat (we've tried lots of different homemade varieties at home and at restaurants) and I haven't made it in months, so we'll indulge a bit. :) They make lots of different kinds now and I buy their whole grain variety. I actually prefer it to the original and feel a little better about serving it. ;) I also make their reduced-fat/calorie version (listed on the box), by decreasing the amount of butter and using skim milk. I actually think this tastes better too. I must admit that mac 'n cheese is one of the only things I prefer from the (blue) box to homemade. I guess because I grew up eating so much of it? I don't know. It's also one of the only things I prefer as leftovers, and I normally hate leftovers. I think it's because it's even more dry the next day when you nuke it and that is how I prefer my mac 'n cheese...not creamy and saucy. Weird, I know, but I guess Ethan gets that from me. Haha!

Friday: Out to eat
Downtown Johnson City (the Hands On! Museum) will be hosting a "Touch a Truck" event where you can come and see (and touch!) all kinds of different trucks. When I saw this, I knew it would be super exciting for Ethan, so we're hoping to make it there for this. :) While we are downtown, we'd like to check out one of the local restaurants there.

Saturday: Margherita pizza
I ended up changing last week's menu a bit since we would be eating pizza Friday night at Josh's parents' house. So instead of making Margherita pizza last Thursday, I made a Margherita pasta instead. I prepared whole wheat rotini, then mixed in some fresh garlic, crushed tomatoes, chunks of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. It was pretty good and Noah gobbled it up, so I think it's a keeper!

Happy meal planning to you all this week! And yes, little Noah is still sleeping at 9:45...he was one tired little boy!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kid-Friendly Fare: Lasagna Cups & Meatballs on a Stick

Let's face the facts. When you're preparing dinner for little ones, sometimes it can feel like an episode of Chopped. Yep, that's one of my favorite shows on the Food Network. :) Some nights I feel like I am struggling to pull something together that the boys will decide looks good enough to eat, before they even give it a try. Kids can be some of the toughest critics! Preparing meals that taste good is important, but presentation is definitely a key component too. When I saw this idea on Pinterest from the catching fireflies blog over the weekend for mini lasagnas, I knew I had to try it. How much fun is lasagna in a little single-serve cup form?!? I thought it looked fun enough for the boys and tasty enough for hubby and me. I was not disappointed. These were super easy to make and took much less time to cook than a traditional pan of lasagna. Score! I have realized recently that with two hungry little guys waiting for dinner, at my feet nonetheless, to be ready every night, quick meals are a must. I had originally planned to add meat to my lasagna cups (to make sure they would be hearty enough for hubby and the boys), but Ethan had told me earlier in the day that he wanted meatballs instead, so I thought meatballs on a stick would be a fun alternative to putting the meat in the lasagna cups. :)

Lasagna Cups
Makes 12 cups

  • 24 won ton wraps (I used 6 egg roll wraps cut into fourths)
  • Spaghetti sauce (small jar will be enough)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Italian seasoning
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray a muffin tin (I used a standard size tin for 12 muffins) with Pam. Place one won ton wrap in each cup. Next, put a spoonful of sauce in each cup. Add a spoonful of ricotta cheese on top of this.

Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese on top. Add about 1/8 cup (large pinch) of the shredded mozzarella on top of this.

Repeat with another layer of won ton wrap, sauce and cheeses. Sprinkle some Italian seasoning on top.

Bake for 18 minutes, or until edges of the wraps become lightly browned and crispy. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then slide them right out onto plates. Plan for 1-2 cups for kids and 2-4 for adults.

Meatballs on a Stick
Makes 12 to 16 meatballs

  • 3/4 to 1 pound ground beef (I use lean)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 slice of bread, torn into crumbs (I use whole wheat sandwich bread)
  • Desired seasonings - I use thyme, oregano, Italian seasoning, minced onion, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and ground red pepper (about ~ 1/2 to 1 1/2 tsp each)
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Spaghetti sauce, if desired
Preheat an indoor grill pan to medium heat and drizzle with a little EVOO. Using your hands, mix the beef, egg, bread and seasonings until well blended.

Form into 12 to 16 equally sized meatballs. Place 4 meatballs on to each wooden skewer. Sprinkle the meatballs with a small amount of panko bread crumbs.

Place the skewers in the grill pan, rotating them as they brown. Cook until meat is no longer pink in the middle.

Serve with a dish of spaghetti sauce for dipping, if desired. Plan for 1-2 meatballs for kids and 3-4 for adults.

We all enjoyed this fun meal and it will be one we keep in the rotation. I love when I have two happy campers after dinner! What fun spins do you put on traditional dishes to appeal to your kids?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friday Night, Pizza Night!

Friday night has become "Pizza Night" at our house over the past year or two. Whether I make something homemade, we order in, or go to a local pizza joint, you can almost always find us partaking in a big pizza pie on Friday night. When we lived in Georgia, I purchased Publix's super tasty pizza dough and got into the habit of making my own pizza most weeks. Then we moved to Tennessee and I had to say goodbye to that beloved grocery store. After a few months of relying on Mellow Mushroom to fulfill our pizza cravings, my mom sent me a recipe for whole wheat pizza dough. I finally got around to giving it a try a couple months ago and once I did, I couldn't believe I hadn't done it sooner! It was so simple and easy to do and tasted delicious! So without further adieu, here is the recipe I use...

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

  • 1 cup water (80 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
Add the water and oil to your bread machine. Add the flour, sugar and salt. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the yeast. Set the bread machine to the "dough" setting and let it go to work! My machine takes 1 hr 50 min to complete the dough cycle.

Once the dough is done, remove it all from the insert and place it onto your pizza stone (I love my Pampered Chef stone) or a baking sheet. I sprinkle a little cornmeal onto the stone to keep the dough from sticking and it allows you to spread it out easier. To start a pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and roll out the dough into a 12-14 inch round on the stone. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out to put on the toppings.

This makes one thick crust or two thin crusts. I prefer my crust thick, so that is what I always make and the baking directions are for this version. I'm not sure if baking times need to be adjusted or not if you choose to make thin crusts.

I'd also like to share some of our favorite pizza recipes. This first one I have only made once, but I will definitely be making it again. It is a bit more involved for a pizza, but definitely worth it. I think it might just be my favorite pizza ever and I hope you love it too if you give it a try! It's yummy for kids and adults and fancy enough to serve to company too! I found it on Annie's Eats blog, my favorite food blog, and I made just a couple tweaks to it.

Strawberry Balsamic Chicken Bacon Pizza

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good quality strawberry jam or preserves (I like Smuckers Orchard's Finest - Pacific Mountain Strawberry Preserves)
  • 1 tsp sriracha chili sauce
  • Pizza dough (see above recipe)
  • 1 cup diced, cooked chicken (I diced up boneless chicken breast)
  • 4 slices applewood smoked bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
  • 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • Scant 1/2 cup hulled strawberries, diced
Add the balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook 4-5 minutes or until reduced by about half with a thick, syrupy texture. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic reduction with the strawberry jam and sriracha chili sauce. Set aside.

To start the pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and roll out your pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round on a pizza stone. I sprinkle a little cornmeal onto the stone to keep the dough from sticking and it allows you to spread it out easier. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out to put on the toppings. While the crust is baking, I cook the chicken in a large frying pan until it's about halfway done, add the bacon to the chicken and continue cooking until it's crisp, then add the onion to cook for a minute. Drain any extra grease from the pan. Next, spread the balsamic-strawberry mixture in a thin layer over the crust. Layer with the chicken, bacon, onion, cheeses, cilantro, and strawberries.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

My next favorite pizza would have to be a pizza referred to as the "Cowboy Extreme" at Fat Katz in Georgetown, KY, as we quickly became hooked on this one. I tried making my own version when we moved to Georgia, and it was a success!

Chicken Bacon BBQ Pizza

  • Pizza dough (see above recipe)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup BBQ sauce, depending on how saucy you like it (I use my favorite, Montgomery Inn)
  • 1 cup diced, cooked chicken (I use boneless chicken breast)
  • 4 slices applewood smoked bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced or diced onion (yellow, sweet, or white)
  • 2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • Banana peppers (optional)

To start the pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and roll out your pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round on a pizza stone. I sprinkle a little cornmeal onto the stone to keep the dough from sticking and it allows you to spread it out easier. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out to put on the toppings. While the crust is baking, I cook the chicken in a large frying pan until it's about halfway done, add the bacon to the chicken and continue cooking until it's crisp, then add the onion to cook for a minute. Drain any extra grease from the pan. Next, spread the BBQ sauce in a thin layer over the crust. Layer with the chicken, bacon, onion, and cheeses. Add the banana peppers if you desire.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

This past week I made a Taco Pizza. I have made it in the past, but this was the first time with my own homemade dough and taco seasoning. I love that this was a completely "unprocessed" version and it was just as tasty as ever!

Taco Pizza

  • Pizza dough (see above recipe)
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound ground beef (I use lean)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup salsa (I like Fresh Market's medium salsa)
  • Homemade taco seasoning
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced or diced onion (yellow, sweet, or white)
  • 2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

To start the pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and roll out your pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round on a pizza stone. I sprinkle a little cornmeal onto the stone to keep the dough from sticking and it allows you to spread it out easier. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out to put on the toppings. While the crust is baking, I brown the ground beef in a large frying pan until it's nearly done, then add the homemade taco seasoning and onion to cook for a few minutes. Drain any extra grease from the pan. Add the salsa and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Next, spread the pizza sauce in a thin layer over the crust. Layer with the beef/onion/salsa mixture and cheeses.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving. You could also top this with additional salsa, sour cream, or black olives.

My final favorite is the simple, yet classic, Margherita Pizza. I have posted about this one in the past, but didn't really include any actual ingredients or directions, so I'll do that now. :)

Margherita Pizza

  • Pizza dough (see above recipe)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 8-10 leaves of fresh basil
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into 8 1-ounce portions

To start the pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and roll out your pizza dough into a 12-14 inch round on a pizza stone. I sprinkle a little cornmeal onto the stone to keep the dough from sticking and it allows you to spread it out easier. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then pull it out to put on the toppings. Spread the crushed tomatoes in a thin layer over the crust. Sprinkle the garlic evenly over the tomatoes. Layer with the basil leaves, then arrange the slices of mozzarella evenly on top.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. You may need to broil the pizza for a minute or two to get this cheese lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

The next specialty pizza I would like to attempt will be something similar to Mellow Mushroom's gourmet white pizza. I love the idea of a pizza without the regular sauce (kind of obvious given the above recipes!), and theirs is super tasty.

What are your favorite pizza recipes/toppings? Do you have a "Pizza Night" at your house?

Menu Monday #10

Finally, things are settling down around here again and we are getting back into a routine. It is nice after nearly a month of chaos! There is still a lot of unpacking to do (things we don't use on a regular basis), but it will come with time. We have begun a few minor cosmetic upgrades already, which I'll post about later. :)

We did well with the menu last week, straying just once on Wednesday. Kingsport's annual FunFest was going on, and one of Josh's co-workers invited us to join his family there to grab a bite to eat. That was the day the "Taste of Tri-Cities" began, as a part of the FunFest. While it was definitely no Taste of Cincinnati, it had 15 vendors on site with a decent array of dinner and dessert items. We narrowed down our short list of items we wanted to sample and ended up hitting up the Savory & Sweet Truck for a Coffee Braised Chipotle Pork Taco (topped with lime cilantro slaw and chipotle creme on a handmade corn tortilla) and Cuban Beef Taco (added bonus, they use local meat and produce!), Sagebrush for a Blackened Prime Rib Sandwich, and back to the Savory & Sweet Truck for dessert, for a fried cheesecake with fresh strawberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream. After seeing all that yumminess come out of the truck when I was ordering the tacos, they had me hooked, and I had to go back! Haha! It was a pretty tasty dinner and counted as our "eat out" day for the week.

Sunday: Grilled chicken, oven roasted red potatoes, grilled white corn
We were excited about the chance to use the grill last week, and we wanted to continue to give it some love this week too. ;) I marinate my chicken breast all day in Kraft's Roasted Red Pepper Italian dressing. It gives it a nice flavor and keeps it nice and juicy too. I dice up red potatoes into 3/4" cubes, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash's garlic & herb seasoning, rosemary and parmesan cheese. Yum. They are absolutely heavenly in this new convection oven! Soft and creamy inside, almost like mashed potatoes, and toasted nicely on the outside for a little crunch with each bite. Love it! Corn was on sale at the Fresh Market, so I picked up some cobs in their husks. I had recently seen a tip that they could be grilled right in the husk and that the husks and silks would just peel right off when they were cooked. Normally I remove all of that, then butter and wrap in foil to grill them, but I wanted to give this a try since it would be much easier! It worked great. The corn was super delicious and left all of us wishing I had bought a few more cobs! ;)

Monday: Grilled New York strip steaks topped with poblano pesto, baked sweet potato fries with spicy ketchup
I'm excited about throwing those thick, juicy slabs of meat on the grill! Topped with my homemade poblano pesto, it just melts in your mouth. On the side, I'll bake some sweet potato fries (I coat in a little cornstarch, drizzle with EVOO, season with salt & cinnamon and bake for 25-30 minutes at 400-425 degrees). I serve these with a spicy ketchup (1 Tbsp ketchup: 1 tsp hot sriracha sauce) for a nice kick. I love that sweet-spicy combo. A tasty meal!

Tuesday: Blackened wild Alaskan sockeye salmon over brown rice, oven roasted parmesan broccoli
The salmon was everything I hoped it would be last week, so I am looking forward to it again this week! :) This week I went for the sockeye instead of the Atlantic variety. Josh prefers it and it does appear to have a lower fat content. It's super yummy seasoned with some blackened seasoning and seared on the grill. I love it over brown rice (I always season mine with a hint of garlic salt). We all gobble up the broccoli. This convection oven does an excellent job cooking the broccoli too, leaving it nice and crisp on the outside with the shredded parm on top.

Wednesday: Mini lasagnas, stir fried parmesan green beans
I found this idea for mini lasagnas on Pinterest this weekend and thought it looked like a fun one to try!  We all like lasagna, but like the author of catching fireflies said, it can be time consuming from start to finish. This is a quick, easy, kid-friendly version that the whole family can enjoy. I am excited to see how it turns out! The Fresh Market was out of wonton wrappers yesterday, so I picked up spring roll wrappers instead. They are about 3/4 bigger, so I'll just have to cut them into quarters to fit into the muffin tin. I am going to use a little lean ground beef in mine too. On the side, I'll stir fry some frozen green beans in a little canola oil with parmesan seasoning.

Thursday: Margherita pizza
We'll move pizza night to Thursday this week since we'll be headed out of town again on Friday. I am sticking with the classic Margherita pizza. Simple and delicious. I'll start with my homemade whole wheat crust, top it with a little crushed tomato, fresh garlic, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella. Yum! I know I keep saying it, but the convection oven really is a blessing. It does an excellent job with pizza crusts! No burning on the top or bottom, but it still gets a subtle crunch, yet nice and soft inside. The perfect thick crust! :)

Friday: Road trip to Ohio!
We're off to Josh's side this week. It's not a bad trip at all now, just 4 short hours! We shouldn't have to eat on the road as we should make it there in time for dinner.

Saturday: Family reunion in Ohio
The reason for our trip, a family reunion with Josh's mom's side. I've heard that his uncle's ribs are heavenly, so I'm excited about that! The boys should enjoy some more fun with their cousin Braelynn.

Happy meal planning to you all this week!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Birthday Cake Pancakes

I first tried this yummy-sounding pancake recipe a couple weeks ago, for my birthday. It was such a hit with everyone that I decided to make more for Noah's birthday this past weekend. As you can see, they were a success with cousins Jacob and Rachel too!

I found the original recipe on the how Sweet it is blog. I made a few tweaks to it, so here's my recipe.

Birthday Cake Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white cake mix (it's my favorite flavor)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup milk (add more if it appears to be too thick; I used 1% milk)
  • Sprinkles

Combine the flour, cake mix, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix until well blended. Add the milk, egg and vanilla extract and stir until smooth. You want the batter to look like regular pancake batter, so add more milk if it appears too thick. Fold in the amount of sprinkles you desire. The color will bleed into the batter, but it creates a fun tie-dyed effect. Alternately, you could wait and add the sprinkles to each pancake while cooking.

Preheat a skillet to medium to medium-low heat or an electric griddle to 300-350 degrees. Grease with a pat of butter or a quick spritz of butter spray. Pour batter in 1/4 cup measurements onto the skillet and let them cook until bubbles form on top, about 2-3 minutes. Flip them over and cook for 1 minute more. Serve with vanilla glaze. This recipe will make 10-12 pancakes.

Vanilla Glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
Mix the sugar, milk, vanilla extract and salt until glaze forms. You may need to add more milk to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle on pancakes and serve while warm.

As I write this, I realize I didn't get any pics of the pancakes with the sprinkles. :( Oops! I guess I will have to update the pics later when I do. ;)

Our Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns One!

For Noah's first birthday party, I decided to go with the Very Hungry Caterpillar theme. I didn't really do a theme for Ethan's 1st birthday party, since he wasn't really into anything at that point, but wanted to do something more exciting this time. After a little Pinterest hunting, I found some Hungry Caterpillar parties and thought it would be perfect! Noah is our little guy who is always hungry and can't get enough of anything and everything he can get his tiny hands on! Perfect theme for him!

I started the theme with the invites, which I posted about a month ago. As I said then, I made a main invite and then an alternative too, since assembling caterpillars was taking forever!! :(

Shortly after mailing out the invites, things got crazy around here when we closed on our house, the movers packed us up and we moved in, all in a week's time! The whole unpacking thing definitely cramped my plans for working on the party the week before the big day, but fortunately I managed to pull it off in time (with help from my wonderful family)! After a lot of decorating, shopping and food prep, the party came together that day, a little behind schedule, but not bad. Fortunately, our party guests were all family, so no big deal. :)

Here are some pics of the party decorations and food. I made a banner for the birthday boy, to hang above the "Saturday" table (all the foods the Hungry Caterpillar ate on Saturday). The cake consisted of a 6-inch head (to become the birthday boy's smash cake) and a cupcake body. My sister taught me how to pipe icing and I decorated the head. She helped me out by completing the body (she's much quicker than me!). Behind the cake sat the fruit bowls, one for each of the fruits that the caterpillar ate Monday through Friday (apples, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges). Thanks to my dad for cutting up a TON of fruit! I also made a homemade fruit dip (one large jar of marshmallow fluff, one 8-ounce block of cream cheese and 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon) to accompany the fruit. The Saturday table had all of the foods from the book. Chocolate cake (I used whoopie pies), ice cream cones (I stuffed these with cupcakes), cupcakes, lollipops, cherry pie, watermelon, pickles, sausage, salami and swiss cheese. For Sunday, the caterpillar ate a green leaf, so I made some Caprese skewers (half a cherry tomato topped with a basil leaf and a ball of fresh mozzarella, drizzled with some balsamic vinegar). Those were super tasty! For the mantle, I (with my mom's help) made a balloon caterpillar. I made another banner to hang here that included a picture of the birthday boy at each month, from one month to one year. On top of the mantle sat the favor buckets for all of the kids. I wrote their names on the bucket with a permanent marker and stuffed them with a hungry caterpillar coloring sheet, a journal, a pack of crayons and a thank you from the birthday boy for attending the party. I also designed labels to put on the water bottles (thanks again, Mom!) to personalize them for the party. These were placed in an open cooler with colored balloons full of water that had been frozen. These acted as ice to keep the drinks cool. Thanks, Pinterest! It was a lot of work, but I thought everything was super cute and it was lots of fun to design and plan the party.

Here are some more pics from the party of the birthday boy opening presents, eating cake and just being the cutie that he is. ;)

Whew. Now I get a break until next March! :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Noah is One Year Old!!

I know it's very cliche, but I really can't believe an entire year has passed and my tiny man is now one year old!! One year meant another trip to the pediatrician for a check-up and shots. First up, his stats. He weighed in this month at exactly 20 lbs even (still in the 10th to 25th percentile), up 10 ounces from last month. He measured up at 30.5 inches (up to the 75th percentile now!), up another inch from last month. This puts him in the 3rd to 10th percentile for height-to-weight ratio, following in his big brother's footsteps as tall and super skinny! His head was measured at 47 cm (somehow smaller than I had measured him last month), but still large for his age (50th to 75th percentile). Long live the large Frank head. With the one year check comes three vaccination shots, which includes the chickenpox vaccine. How awesome that kids today don't have to endure the chickenpox like we did as children! Poor guy also had a finger stick to check for lead levels and to repeat his hematocrit, as it had been on the low end of the normal range (which could indicate that he isn't getting enough iron, or he could have just been going through a growth spurt, causing the levels to be lower) when the doctor checked it in May. He took them like a champ and Daddy had him laughing again before we left the office. Everything else checked out fine and the doctor was happy with his weight, as he believes he has found his place on the curve now, just lower than he had started out from birth through six months.

Below is the pic of Noah at twelve months, wearing the 12-month onesie. Sweet baby boy is looking so serious again. If you can see those wispy pieces of hair, you'll see we haven't cut them yet. We really should think about doing that soon. At least his hairs don't stick straight up all over his head like Ethan's did at this age. Haha! They can get a bit crazy when they blow in the wind though. ;)

It's amazing how much they change that first year. Here is a look back at Noah each month.

Noah is still doing great sleeping through the night and the past couple of weeks, he has actually been sleeping more than usual. I think maybe he was going through a growth spurt?? He was sleeping for 12 hours at night and taking two naps (sometimes for a total of 4+ hours!). For a few days he had been really sleeping in, until 9 am or later, so I think he may be ready to switch to one nap a day? We have done it a few times now, but we'll see if it sticks. I fear Ethan's preschool schedule (starting in 3 weeks! Yikes!) may mess him up and he'll need to continue two naps since he'll have to get up earlier. We'll see how it goes!

New foods tried this month:
  • Strawberries
  • Whole milk
He has been eating mostly the same things this month, but we have let him try strawberries now. He's a big fan. :) Over the past week we have been letting him try whole milk to see what he thinks. He went from just a few sips at first to drinking a pretty good portion of a cup by the end of the week. A much easier transition than Ethan made! He continues to nurse 4 to 5 times a day too, and isn't showing any signs of wanting to quit. Ethan self-weaned shortly after his first birthday, but we'll see what Noah decides to do. I hate to force him to wean, but the thought of a little independence after a year of being attached (literally) to him is enticing...

New accomplishments this month:
  • Blowing kisses
  • Signing "cup" when he wants a drink
  • Climbing!
He's so sweet as he blows kisses to you if you blow them to him. Adorable. We also taught him how to sign "cup" for when he wants a drink. We're working on "more" too, but they are pretty close, so it's kind of hard to distinguish them right now. Just a couple days ago he started trying to say "banana" too at breakfast when I get it out. It sounds more like "nananana" but he has only said it when he sees a banana, so I think he's trying to say it! :)

The boy is trying to climb on everything! He climbs up on the couch now and has even tried scaling the back of it! Crazy little man. Now that we are in our house we have stairs again and he loves climbing up those when I let him. Baby gates are a definite must with this one! We went ahead and lowered his crib to the lowest position in hopes that he won't be able to escape from it, but I'm not holding my breath. This little guy is much more of a risktaker than his big brother was at this age.

Here is the pic of both Ethan and Noah at 12 months. I can't believe how much more hair Ethan had, even though I thought Ethan had very little! Haha! I think you can definitely tell they are siblings, but still unique in their own ways. :)

We had pictures taken for Noah's 1st birthday and here is a montage I put together of those. :) Thanks to the talented Kristy Vest of Kristy Vest Photography for capturing these beautiful pics of our tiny man!! I want to turn this into an 11x14 canvas, but I'm still working on figuring out how I want to do that thanks to some pins I found on Pinterest. :) Has anyone tried something like that? I was afraid of printing on tissue paper (as one pinner had suggested), so I used tracing paper, which worked (as far as feeding through the printer ok), but it laid down way too much ink and bled too much for people pics. Printing on draft quality worked better, but left lines which I didn't like. Would love to hear about someone's success with this!

Up next, Noah's Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party! :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Menu Monday #9

Whew! Another crazy week and I am behind once again. The good news...everything we use on a daily basis is unpacked and Noah's birthday party was a success! The bad news...I am struggling to catch up with everything else that still needs done.

Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the grocery store until this morning, which always makes for a fun trip when I have both kids in tow. Fortunately, free goodies from The Fresh Market bakery help keep them occupied! :) I wanted a fairly easy menu this week to ease me back into cooking on a regular basis again. I am wiped after the past couple of weeks! I am happy to say that with all of the madness and way too many meals out these past couple of weeks, my weight loss has continued! I would venture to guess that all of the unpacking helped burn a few calories! ;) I am actually weighing in at a number less than I have seen in at least 10 years and I am super excited! After 2 kids, time and energy are definitely decreased and losing weight is not as easy as when I was 20, with a much higher metabolism! I am hoping to continue working at the diet and getting back to running (a nasty bout with turf toe had me sidelined for several weeks, but I think it is healed and ready to go now), so that I can continue to shed the pounds. Almost 14 pounds down, but I am hoping for at least another 20-30 by the end of the year. I think it's doable, but I will have to work even harder to make it happen.

Sunday: Smokey Bones
Hubby's family was still in town Sunday evening, and his brother wanted some good BBQ, so we took them to our favorite chain. I wanted something on the lighter side, so I decided to try their Nutty Chicken Salad with grilled chicken. It was super delicious!

Monday: Olive Garden
Another meal out since I hadn't yet made it to the store, but I didn't feel too bad since it was hubby and I's 7th wedding anniversary. It was nice not having to worry about cooking or clean-up. I was actually craving their Chicken Alfredo dish, but the Mixed Grill caught my eye and I gave it a try. It was pretty good and a nice change from my norm. The 600+ fewer calories probably didn't hurt either! ;)

Tuesday: Blackened salmon over brown rice with oven roasted parmesan broccoli
Have I said how happy I am yet that we have our grill back?? The answer to that is very happy, if you haven't already guessed! We are used to grilling outdoors at least 3-4 times a week when the weather is nice and we have definitely been missing it this year! So, as much as I loved the foil-baked salmon we have been eating lately, I have really, really missed blackened salmon on the grill. I am super excited for this meal tonight! I got some tilapia for the boys, which we'll either grill or bread and pan-fry in a little canola oil. I'm hoping this incessant rain stops, or we may have to switch some meals around instead! :(

Wednesday: Garlic Chicken Spinach Pasta
This is a meal I created a few months ago, but we haven't had it lately. It sounded good while I was menu planning this morning. :) I may try to sub lowfat milk and Greek yogurt for the heavy cream that I originally used, as I wasn't as concerned with counting calories when I came up with this one. Added bonus, Fresh Market's boneless chicken breast was on sale for $2.99/pound today! I love their Tuesday deals!!

Thursday: Grilled pork chops, baked sweet potato fries, pan-fried parmesan green beans
Yep, more grilling! I'm not sure what I'll season the pork with yet, but I am thinking some sort of rosemary-honey concoction sounds good.

Friday: Taco Pizza
I haven't made this pizza in a long time, but it is another favorite. I will top my homemade whole wheat crust with a mixture of pizza sauce and salsa. Then I'll brown some ground beef and season it with homemade taco seasoning. Chopped onion and a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses completes this pizza. Yum!

Saturday: Out to eat?
After eating out so much lately, we may pass on this and cook instead. We'll see how the week goes. :)

Happy meal planning to you this week! More details from Noah's birthday party coming soon, along with his one-year update!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Menu Monday #8

I can't believe Monday has come and gone already and I am just now posting. Perhaps it is because I have spent the past 72 hours or so unpacking. I am an unpacking machine. After dropping off our storage items on Tuesday, the movers spent Thursday and Friday packing our belongings at our apartment, and part of Thursday, Friday and Saturday unloading them at the house. They moved over all of the beds on Thursday so that we could spend the night in our new home. Awesome! Definitely one advantage to a 15-minute move vs a 5+ hour one! I spent the days unpacking boxes, in hopes of unpacking them as quickly as they could bring them in the house. While I couldn't keep up quite that quickly, I was doing a decent job. At the end of today, I have unpacked everything except for my office! That doesn't count all of the boxes still sitting in the basement that need sorted through, but those are things we have lived without for the past 6 months, and I am thinking a lot of it we could live without period. I am seeing a big garage sale or some Craig's list ads in my future...

Due to my kitchen being in disarray for the past week, we have been doing a lot of eating out. :( Fortunately, all of this unpacking is helping to burn those extra calories, but I will be glad to get back into the kitchen again now. On Saturday night, hubby and I decided to go out to celebrate my birthday and our upcoming anniversary. With family so far away, nights out by ourselves are rare. So, we took advantage of the fact that my mom is here helping with the move, and escaped sans kiddos for a few hours! We decided to dine at Cafe Pacific since we had heard good things about it and knew it wasn't really a kid-friendly joint. It was amazing. We ate until we were nearly sick, but it was worth every calorie. We started with a piece of toast topped with a mango salsa and served with a shot of watermelon water, compliments of the chef. Then we moved on to some fresh bread (3 different types), accompanied by a creamy basil-EVOO mixture. Next up was a Caprese salad (which included tomatoes that they grew themselves in their garden) and a jumbo lump crab cake. Probably the best I had ever had, and I have had some good crab cakes! For our entrees, I chose the Steak Oscar, a filet topped with lump crab meat, and served with roasted potatoes and asparagus on a cauliflower mash. Incredible. Josh has the duck two ways, served with red cabbage and a potato side dish. It was also very tasty. For dessert, we went all out and splurged on the chocolate souffle cake. A warm chocolate cake with a creamy center, served over a creme anglaise and finished with homemade macadamia nut brittle. I had died and gone to heaven. Definitely not the meal we normally get when we go out anymore, so it was a nice change of pace.

On Sunday morning, I decided to try a new recipe for Cake Batter Pancakes with vanilla glaze for my birthday! :) I did modify a few of the ingredient measurements, so I'll try to post that one soon. They were a hit with everyone, especially little Noah, so I think I know what we'll be having this Saturday for his birthday breakfast too! ;) For dinner on Sunday, we all went out to Carrabba's. I was craving pasta and their Tag Pic Pac always hits the spot! :)

So, due to another crazy week/weekend of packing and unpacking, I haven't come up with a menu for the week past Tuesday...

Monday: Slow cooker salsa chicken with Cajun-buttered white corn
This is a such an easy meal that I can just throw in the Crockpot and forget about it until we're ready to eat! Last time I made it, we tried a twist on it that we found to be quite tasty. We rolled up the salsa chicken inside the tortilla, then sprinkled it with some shredded mozzarella cheese and melted it, making it an "enchilada" of sorts. Not quite as healthy, but oh so tasty!

Tuesday: Manicotti with homemade bread
Manicotti was almost always my requested birthday meal as a child, so with my mom here in town, she said she would make it for me this week! Yum! :) We fill our manicotti shells with a mixture of mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg and parsley. Then those are topped with a meat sauce, more cheese, and baked. Love it. We'll make some fresh bread in the bread machine to accompany it.

Wednesday: TBD

Thursday: TBD

Friday: TBD

Saturday: Noah's birthday party!
I haven't finalized the menu yet, but it will be full of yumminess!

If you have any easy meal ideas for me for the rest of this week, I'd love to hear them! My mind is shot from the move and meal-planning for the week just isn't working well for me. I can't wait until we get our grill fired up (finally!!), as I have tons of new grill recipes to try!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Menu Monday #7

I am running a bit behind today...but for good reason, as we closed on our house this afternoon! Woo hoo!! So, between getting things taken care of for that and returning home late yesterday from a crazy weekend in Ohio, I have had several things on my plate today. Thanks to a 6:30 am wake-up call from tiny man, I got a nice early start on my day. :/

On Friday, we had headed out to Ohio with no idea what we had in store for us. The trip was going pretty well and fortunately we had stopped for an early dinner in Beckley, WV. Not long after passing through Charleston, WV, the 104-degree outside temperature started to drop and the sky was growing dark. It continued to quickly drop, over 30 degrees in the next 10 minutes! The wind started picking up and we grew concerned that we were in for some nasty stuff. We decided to pull off the highway to ride it out (and allow Ethan the potty break he was requesting) and we were surprised at how much the van was rocking as we came to a stop at the end of the ramp. Not cool. We pulled into a gas station so that Ethan could use the facilities there. Shortly after Josh got him inside the skies really broke loose and rain was coming down sideways. Then I heard hail pelting the side of the van and windows. As I sat in the backseat with Daisy, holding Noah's little hands, I'll admit that I really started to get scared. I may have even flashed back to the time we (my sister and parents and me) rode out a tornado in a tent in Toledo. Also not cool. I wasn't crazy about the idea that Josh wasn't there with us and that Noah, Daisy and I were alone in the van during this all out assault by Mother Nature. So not cool at all. Fortunately, it blew through very quickly, leaving a path of destruction behind it. We got back onto the road and the skies soon brightened back up again. It wasn't long after crossing into Ohio that we started to see a lot of damage. We were lucky to be headed northbound, as the southbound lanes were backed up for miles in a couple different spots due to large trees blocking the road. After passing some downed power lines, we arrived at my parents' house, where they had been without power for several hours. The boys had fun playing with lanterns for a bit, then we headed to bed. Unfortunately, there still wasn't any power in the morning, so we had to head to the family reunion without showers. Definite disadvantage to having a well during power outages - no water either! We had a nice time catching up with family we hadn't seen since 2005. When we arrived back to my parents' house, we were planning to pack up and head to my sister's house for the night since she had power, but just as we were ready to load the bags, the power came back on! Woo hoo!! So, we ended up staying there for the night before hitting the road in the morning. The trip was fairly uneventful this time, except for trying to find places to eat and fuel up in southwestern Ohio. Due to the widespread power failure, most places were not open for business. We finally found food and gas in WV and we made our way back home. Whew, what a crazy weekend!! We hope that everyone's power is quickly restored, though the current estimates don't look good. :(

As for meals this week, I don't even have a menu made out yet. It is going to be a crazy week with the move, and I don't know what nights we'll have time to cook. We may try to grill out on the 4th and enjoy the local festivities. I am hoping to get away with hubby on Saturday night for a date night to celebrate my birthday (on Sunday)! Other than that, we're just going to play it by ear and buy stuff to cook as we need it. Hopefully I can get back on track next week, as I am a bit scared to face the scales this week! :(

I hope you have a great week and enjoy Independence Day with family and friends!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Time to Move

A time to move. In my little world, that should have been part of the lyrics to "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)." Given that the lyrics came straight from the Bible though, I guess changing them would be a bit sacrilegious. Moving is something I have become quite accustomed to, though, over the years. This will be move number 8 for the last 10 years anyway. Woo hoo!!! While I normally do not get excited about moving and all the "fun" that entails, I am happy this time because it means that we are finally moving back into a house! After nine looooong months of house hunting here in Tennessee, we have found a house that both hubby and I like and we were able to come to an agreed price with the sellers. Awesome. Don't get me wrong, apartment living hasn't been that bad (a pool we don't have to clean and no grass to mow are major bonuses!), but with two kids and a dog, it isn't as easy as when it was just me or just the two of us. So, I think we will all be relieved to get back into a place we can call our own and we won't feel like we're tripping over each other every time we turn around. I swear, I literally have a child or dog under my feet at all times right now. Though there have been a few hiccups along the way, the last of the paperwork was signed on Friday and we are set to close tomorrow afternoon. Whew. I am so ready to be done with the whole process at this point. Both Josh and I agree that building houses in Kentucky and Georgia was easier than this has been, but we are happy to be done nonetheless.

As of July 2nd, this will be ours!

It's located in a nice, established subdivision (we've seen quite a few houses in the subdivision and have liked it since we first saw it last fall) in a small town (with a nice country feel like we had in Georgia) between where we are now and where Josh works. So, that equals perfect location. His commute will be shortened, but yet we'll still have easy access to everything we have come to love where we are now (i.e. shopping, doctors, restaurants, Fresh Market!). ;) Assuming we're still here in a couple of years (it'd be a first, haha!), Ethan will attend the new elementary school that was built a couple miles away. Convenient!

Now should come the easy part...the moving. Fortunately, we'll have movers again to get us all packed up, loaded up and transported into the house. Then we'll just do the unpacking part ourselves. After moving as many times as we have since getting married, this is my best piece of advice for saving your marriage staying sane during a move: use movers! It's not worth the headache of doing it yourself. In case you are wondering, my only other piece of marriage-saving advice includes using a GPS navigation system while on vacation in a new place. ;) So...the movers are scheduled to unload our storage items (half of what we own!) at the house on Tuesday. Then they will be coming to the apartment on Thursday (since Wednesday is a holiday) to get us packed up here. So, that will give us some time one day (minus time to go see some fireworks!) to get the storage items unpacked before more boxes arrive. Sweet.

We definitely ended up compromising what we really wanted (a house similar to what we had in Georgia on about an acre of land) for this house, but the higher cost of living here played a hand in that. Our Georgia house/land was perfect, but at closer to a ~$400,000 price tag here, we weren't willing to splurge that much on a house at this time! So, we'll have an older house on a little over 1/2 acre (mostly level too!). There are definitely updates that we want to make to the house, as it was built in 1994 and has had several owners since that time. Surprising to myself, I am actually a little bit excited about the possibility! Building our previous two houses, they didn't really need updates/improvements inside (except paint), as they were already in perfect condition. I have seen so many wonderful ideas on Pinterest over the last year, though, that I kind of want to be able to implement some of them! Not exactly something you do to a brand new house, so this will be my excuse to get to do just that. :) With hubby's ability to build/fix anything and everything and my love of and eye for design, we make the perfect team! Our only problems arise from the fact that we are both very stubborn (compromise...what's that?) and perfectionists (the simplest things can become quite tedious). Our poor children are doomed.

The only thing we want to accomplish before actually moving in is to paint Noah's bedroom. It's currently a purplish shade of blue, which clashes horribly with the more greenish shade of blue in his bedding. So, I want to get it done before we get his room put together. Ethan's room will probably now be green (we got lucky and the current shade matched the green that was in his bedding), unless we decide to repaint it to the blue that he had in his old room. We'll see. Lucky for us, the rest of the house was recently painted a nice neutral shade of tan, so we won't have to touch any of the other rooms until we decide we want more color! We also lucked out with the flooring. The entire first floor of the home has nearly brand new hardwood floors (except for the tiled bathroom and laundry room), which are in excellent condition. The entire upstairs is carpeted (except for the bathrooms) in a great neutral tan color too (very close to the color we chose to put in our previous homes)! The carpet is also pretty much brand new, so it'll just need swept before we move in. Sweet!!! All of the updates we want to make will be easy to do once we are already moved in.

Unfortunately, I don't have pics of the upstairs rooms to share yet because my camera's batteries died during the home inspection and of course my back-up batteries were also dead. Sigh. I did manage to get some of the first floor. They aren't super exciting pics, but I'll share a few.

Upon walking in the front door, the room to the left is the formal dining room and the room to the right will be my office. Then the stairs lead you up to the bedrooms, or there is a walkway back to the living room. Here's an old picture I pulled from online to best show the entrance. I love the doors that will close off the office. The only thing I am torn with right now is all of the oak. I hate oak. I know my sister is cringing as she reads this. Sorry Katie...and everyone else who loves oak. The trim in most of the rooms is white, but there is still some oak, like you see here. I really, really want to paint it all white so it all matches. Who wants to help me convince hubby on that one? ;) With rooms for both an office and dining room, I may actually get a new dining table and hutch now! Any volunteers yet to help me with hubby?? :)

Once you are in the dining room, an opening leads you back to the kitchen. On the way, you pass the laundry area on your left (which leads to the garage) and a half bath to the right. The laundry area isn't ideal (I loved the big room I had in Georgia, on the same floor as the bedrooms) and has some pretty hideous wallpaper. But, there isn't a ton of it, so hopefully it won't take long to remove and paint. More oak though...

On to the kitchen! The oven and microwave are new and stainless steel. Yay! We'll also be bringing our stainless fridge with us too. The fridge that is there is nearly brand new, but black, so we'll use it either in the garage or downstairs as an extra for when we need more room or for snacks/water and such. The dishwasher is black too, but appears to be in good condition, so it may stay awhile. The cabinets and countertop were professionally painted just a year ago, so they will probably stay for now. Eventually we want to replace it with a granite countertop and maybe replace the cabinets too, also adding more cabinets/bar off where they currently end.

In the middle of the back of the house is the breakfast area, where we will put our current table. Patio doors lead to the back yard, and there is a door to the basement and pantry in here. On the other side is the living room. It has some great built-ins around the fireplace. I definitely want to update the fireplace, which includes painting more oak! haha. I think it would look better if it matched the built-ins. Adding some stone around the fireplace would look nice and more modern. We're hoping to be able to run the cable around and mount our flatscreen TV above the fireplace. We recently purchased a new, dark brown leather couch and loveseat set that will go in this room. With a big, comfy rug, this will be the perfect room to hang out in.

The master bedroom and bathroom are located upstairs, along with three additional bedrooms and a bathroom for them to share. The bedrooms all need updated lighting, probably ceiling fans. The boys' bathroom will also need updated - floor, cabinet and countertop. In our bath, we want to update the cabinets and countertop.

The basement is partially finished right now with 2 additional rooms, which were being used as a playroom and office. We are still trying to decide how we want to finish this space out. We may try to knock out the finished wall between these two rooms and make this our media room, with play area behind the seating area. Another option would be to finish the other side of the basement (it is currently unfinished) into a media room/play room. If we do that, the room that is already finished will become a guest bedroom. There is also a drive-under garage in the unfinished part of the basement that Josh will be able to use for storing the lawnmower, four-wheeler, etc. Once we finish it all out, the house will be bigger than what we had in Georgia.

The backyard currently has a small rose garden, a deck and a play set for the boys. We are debating replacing the flowers with a fruit and vegetable garden. We would like to cover the deck, add a ceiling fan, and possibly screen it in as well. We want to add a concrete pad off of the deck to use for grilling and such. We are considering adding a pool next year and fencing the yard as well. In the front, we want to add a parking pad/turn-around off of the driveway and the landscape needs some work too. So, as you can see, we have our work cut out for us outdoors! Obviously we won't be able to update everything at once, but hopefully it won't take too long to do most of the minor stuff. The important thing is that we will be all moved in before Noah's 1st birthday party in a couple of weeks!! :)

So, happy moving week to us! I'm sure our movers will appreciate that we picked one of the hottest weeks of the year to move! ;)