Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas gets most of the attention around this time of the year, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I can’t imagine anything better than kicking off the season with a cozy celebration of family, food, traditions (both old and new) and giving thanks for all of our blessings. Having lived away from both our families these past 9 years, I cherish every holiday we get to travel home, Nick’s work schedule permitting, to be with our loved ones. This year, we get to spend Thanksgiving (or Thanksmas) in Omaha with Nick’s family and Christmas with mine in Southern California. Like last year, we also hope to be able to have a mini-Thanksgiving at some point with just the two of us, so I have an excuse to cook the traditional dinner!

So let’s get to the good stuff: the food! I love seeing people share their recipes and traditions during Thanksgiving. After all, food is love. What are your favorites? For some, Thanksgiving means turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing. In the Wegner household, the traditional lime-green pear jello dessert from his mother’s side of the family makes an appearance at the table every Thanksgiving. During Nick’s first Thanksgiving with my family, I tried making it so he could feel like he had a little piece of home with him. Every person in my family was initially horrified at the sight of it- neon, creamy green in the clear glass bowl (there really isn’t much you can do to make this jello look pretty) but soon everyone, to their surprise, fell in love with its sweet refreshing taste after the first cautious bite. I even caught my late Grandma Sue covertly licking the last remnants off the serving spoon when we were clearing up at the end of the meal. To this day, if we are celebrating Thanksgiving in California, my relatives still request I make it and it’s now an official entry in our family cookbook as the “Greteman Lime Pear Jello.”

Nick’s favorite Thanksgiving food is his mother’s stuffing, which I try to replicate every year but can’t get quite right yet. My personal favorite dish at Thanksgiving is the oft-maligned green bean casserole. The Campbells Soup and French Onion kind, I totally admit without shame. Yes it’s not fancy and the cream of mushroom soup is kind of scary to pry out of the can but I know countless others (though they may not want to admit it), who like me, LOVE and look forward to its comforting deliciousness every year. Sometimes I’ll make a green bean casserole with fresh green beans and eat it for the week, that’s how much I love it.

If you’re looking for a homemade version, Deb Perelman of the wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog, wrote a post for green bean casserole this week that was adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. Ms. Perelman (and Alton Brown) rarely make a misstep, so I can’t wait to try it. And it can all be done in one skillet! Score.

I should also mention that Nick loooves canned cranberry sauce (it doesn’t take much to please these Wegners it seems!) I’ve included Alton Brown’s homemade cranberry sauce below. Maybe this is the year we finally fancify our favorite dishes!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels this week, everyone!

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Photo by the Smitten Kitchen

Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions
Adapted a little from Alton Brown and a little from trial-and-error

Serves 6, or more if you: a) have a lot of sides on the table, which I bet you will, or b) use the higher amount (1.5 pounds) of green beans

Crispy Onions
2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola, safflower, peanut or other high-heat oil, for deep-frying

Mushroom Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
12 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped
Few gratings fresh nutmeg (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Assembly
1 to 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved (see note about volume)

Make the crispy onions: Toss onion with flour, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Heat a 1/2-inch or so of oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet until a drop of water flicked into it will hiss and sputter. Add onions, just a handful at a time in something close to a single layer, and fry until a light golden brown (they’ll get more color in the oven; I overcooked mine a bit, forgetting this). Remove with a spider or large slotted spoon, let oil drip off a little, back into the skillet, then spread onions out on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining onions. Set aside until needed; this makes a lot.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare the beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil greens for 5 minutes (for standard green beans) or 2 to 3 minutes (for haricot vert, or skinny ones). Drain beans, then plunge them into ice water to full stop them from cooking. Drain again, and set aside. (If you are adamant about only using one pot, you can boil them in your 12-inch cast iron skillet that you use for the other steps. But a saucepan can be easier.)

Make the mushroom sauce: Over medium-high heat, melt butter in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute them until they start releasing their liquid, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how they were chopped. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the flour and stir it until it fully coats the mushrooms. Add the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring the whole time. Simmer mixture for 1 minute, then add cream and bring back to a simmer, cooking until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

Assemble and bake: Add cooked greens beans to sauce and stir until they are coated. Sprinkle crispy onions over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and onions are a shade darker. Eat at once.

Do ahead, a few ways: Onions can be made long in advance (up to a day) and keep at room temperature, loosely wrapped (they’d get soggy in an airtight container). Green beans can be cooked and kept in fridge until needed, at least one day. Green beans can also be combined with mushroom sauce and kept refrigerated for up to a day. Add onions and bake shortly before serving. Finally, it’s less ideal, but the entire dish can be cooked, loosely wrapped (so the crispy top doesn’t get soggy) and then rewarmed in a low oven before serving. Just keep an eye on the topping so it doesn’t get too brown while reheating.

Cranberry Sauce
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007
Prep Time:
10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
6 hr 0 min
Cook Time:
20 minLevel:
EasyServes:
6 to 8 servingsIngredients1 pound fresh cranberries, approximately 4 cups
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup 100 percent cranberry juice, not cocktail
1 cup honeyDirectionsWash the cranberries and discard any that are soft or wrinkled.Combine the orange juice, cranberry juice and honey in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens. Do not cook for more than 15 minutes as the pectin will start to break down and the sauce will not set as well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.Carefully spoon the cranberry sauce into a 3 cup mold. Place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.To unmold and serve, immerse bottom of mold in hot water for 10 to 15 seconds and turn upside down on plate or serving dish. If necessary, carefully run a warm knife around the edge of the mold.

Books are for Reading?

Meanwhile as my poor Kindle gathers dust...

Meanwhile as my poor Kindle gathers dust…

We are almost through November! When did THAT happen?? Fall passed too quickly. All of those beautiful fall leaves were swept away in a recent wind storm and winter has taken hold of Seattle in its meanfisted grip for the next six months. The weather these last two days has been near freezing and I have long broken out the down jacket on my early morning walks with Miles. I am now midway through my 23rd week of pregnancy and Baby Girl is kicking like crazy, which feels both bizarre and amazing.

Nick started his night float rotation last week and so he works evenings Sun- Wed and is off Thurs through Sat. This will be his schedule until the end of the year. While we miss him in the evenings, I’ve been using the time to snuggle with Miles, to cook whatever I want (mostly concoctions only I would love such as hardboiled eggs with rice and soy sauce SO GOOD), research baby stuff for the registry, sit in bemused silence while feeling the little alien inside me kick, and catch up on reading actual books, and not just online articles. In the last few weeks, I’ve barreled through the The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple and have enjoyed escaping into their stories for a little while.

Here are my thoughts:

The Angel’s Game- nonfiction, historical suspense set in Barcelona. If you loved Shadow of the Wind (one of my absolute favorites), this prequel isn’t as good, but the story is still compelling and it is always a thrill to visit the Forgotten Cemetery of Books again.

The Language of Flowers- Missy mentioned this one in a previous post! I loved this elegant story about a woman who struggled through the foster care system growing up and has a unique skill for communicating through flowers. Did you know that dahlias convey dignity, and daffodils signal new beginnings?

The Beautiful Ruins- a story that is both a travelogue (set in the Amalfi Coast of Italy), and a fictionalized account of Old Hollywood? I’m in.

Where’d You Go Bernadette?- Once I got used to the haphazard narrative and characters and settled into the book, it was a fun read. Plus, it was set in Seattle so a lot of details made me laugh out loud. Like the character complaining about the overabundance of five-way intersections around here. Girl, don’t even get me started on the city’s ridiculous road system.

Why was finishing these books such a big deal? I have a confession. I collect books. I love seeing them filling up my shelves and house but am a little ashamed to say how proud I am when I can actually SIT for a few hours these days and finish one. I used to read voraciously: on car trips, in class, at the library, under the bed covers until 3am some days to the point where my eyesight suffered growing up, but my attention span has really diminished lately. This may be in part a side effect to all the multitasking we are required to do nowadays and yes, also because of the introduction of smartphones and tablets into our lives.  Why do just one thing, reading a book for example, when you can get THREE things done at the same time like catching up on the news and online shopping and banking?

That sounds terrible so I am making a conscious effort to enjoy these precious last few months of freedom before I’m completely and wholly occupied with taking care of a little human being for the next 18 years. Plus, I think people are just so much more interesting when they’re well-read.

What books are on your reading list these days? Throw them at me. I think the next ones on my list will be Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes based upon other people’s recommendations. I hope to continue this reading streak through the holidays and into the new year. Fingers crossed!

51sKE4tAH3L 41xyZawpuqL

Fun and Uplifting Links

For all the sad and horrific things that happen in this world, I am always excited to come across fun and uplifting ideas and stories.  If any of you had a busy and stressful week check these links out!  And if you had an awesome week, it will just add to those good vibes you are already having :)

This first link is about parents who devote an entire month convincing their children that their plastic dinosaur’s come to life.  If you know my husband, this will probably happen in our household and I am very much ok with that.

This second link you may have already heard about since it’s been on the news for quite some time in our area and national news today, but I just have to share it.  It’s about how San Francisco transforms into Gotham City for a young boy who has leukemia and makes his dream of becoming a super hero come true.  For one, it makes me proud of San Francisco.  But more importantly I love how people can come together for the good.

I hope you have a great weekend!

Some Perspective

I came across this op-ed piece in the New York Times this morning and thought it was a lovely read.

Hopefully it will give us soon-to-be parents perspective in the years to come.

The full text is below. Have a great weekend everyone!

The Passion of Parenting

By

I’ve been a single dad for 13 years. As with most single parents — and indeed with most parents — it hasn’t always been easy.

People sometimes say that parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. But I believe that parenting is sometimes so tough — and exhausting — that you don’t always remember to slow down enough to love it. Sometimes the love is registered in retrospect.

We jockey to give our children the best without giving them so much that they can’t appreciate what they have. We try to encourage them without coddling them. We lavish gifts upon them while simultaneously trying to nurture grit within them.

Parents walk a thin line between oppositional forces, never knowing if we are truly getting it right, judging ourselves and being judged by others.

And we are inundated by studies and books and advice: do this or that if you want your child to succeed and not spend his or her 20s on your sofa.

I try to tune most of it out. When I feel overwhelmed, I call my mother. She always seems to know what to say. I guess that’s why they call it “mother’s wit.”

When my three children were younger, and the strain of taking care of them seemed as though it would overwhelm me, my mother would tell me what an elderly babysitter once told her when she too felt overwhelmed: “Baby, one day they’ll be able to get themselves a cup of water.”

It was a simple way of saying that children grow up and become more self-reliant and eventually they set out on their own to chart their own course. You won’t always have to wait on them hand and foot.

She told me to remember that the more people a child has who truly loves him or her, the happier that child will be. So I work hard to maintain and expand their circles of love.

She taught me that parenting was a lot like giving a hug: It’s all about love and pressure and there is no one way to do it.

She taught me that sometimes you have to make time for yourself so that you will have energy to give to your children. Allow them to have a pizza night every now and then. An occasional treat won’t hurt them, but working yourself to a frazzle will surely hurt you. Rest.

She taught me that you must allow yourself time to find stillness and so you can be moved by it. Sometimes we are so busy that we forget why we’re busy. We have so many things on our list of priorities that we lose sight of what’s really important.

And she taught me that my children are not truly mine. They don’t belong to me; they’ve simply been entrusted to me. They are a gift life gave to me, but one that I must one day give back to life. They must grow up and go away and that is as it should be.

But as the time with my children in my home draws to a close — my oldest is away at college and my twins are 16-year-old high school juniors — I’m beginning to feel the pains in my chest that all parents feel when their children move away.

I thought that this would be a celebratory time, a time when I would relish the idea of getting back to me, of working late without worry and taking last-minute weekend jaunts.

But I don’t. Letting go is hard for me to do. I must let go, but my heart feels hollow. I can’t imagine me without them.

Lately there are times that I find myself just staring at my children, that kind of look that says, “I see you, really see you, and I love you with an all-consuming love, the kind of love that envelops you and sustains me.” It’s the kind of look that invariably draws from my children a “What? What are you looking at?” They speak the words through the slightest smile, a barely registered one, the kind of smile a teenager manages when they know that they are loved, but feel that they are too old for hugs or tears.

Life gave them to me. I’m preparing myself, as best I can, to give them back to life.

 

Gifts for First-Time Parents

If you hadn’t notice lately, babies are on our mind at Defining Lovely and we couldn’t be more excited about this news!  To say I have baby fever would be an understatement.  I thought I’d share a list of items that have been a hit in our household that would make great gifts or candid thoughts on standard baby gifts and how to make them that much more special.

firsttimemomgifts

1. Blankets.  I got a lot of blankets and initially wondered if I would need all of them.  I soon found out that along with clothes and diapers, you go through a lot of blankets as well.  From swaddling, having the baby lie on them on the floor to covering them in the stroller they are used all the time.  So if you get a lot it will come in handy and will save you from having to do laundry more than you already have to.  To make this gift that much more special see what color the nursery is or the mom-to-be’s favorite color.  If you like making gifts (I always do) Here is a fun DIY on how to do an ombre muslim blanket.  And this is my go-to knitted blanket which I love because it is so easy and it’s a pretty timeless pattern.

2.  Space-Saver High Chair.  This item literally changed our life for the better.  I can’t tell you enough how great this is.  When we go to a friend’s house to eat or out to a restaurant we always take this along.  At a restaurant the high-chairs either where so much lower than the table making it hard for Nola to eat or they were just disgusting.  Using this high-chair she is strapped in and she eats her food.  I actually got this from a dear friend a couple months ago and it really was the sweetest gift.

3.  Custom Bracelet.  Sometimes it’s nice to get the mom a gift.  Getting something for the mom is an unexpected surprise and I promise it will make them feel special.  A tired mom who hasn’t had a chance to shower in three days needs to feel special.  I got my close friends a custom bracelet with their kid’s initials and birthday’s engraved and they all expressed how much they loved the gift.

4.  Sophie the Giraffe.  For some reason babies really do love chewing on this toy so why not be the person to give one of the chewing staples for a baby.

5.  Clothes.  I know that giving clothes is a given for most people because it’s so much fun to shop for, I know I love doing it!  And first-time parents REALLY do need them.  I didn’t realize how much you go through and starting a brand new wardrobe for a little person requires a lot.  But I do have advice on when giving this gift.  Think about the mom’s style and get clothes that match her style.  Trust me on this, if you do this the gift will not only be appreciated, but go to the level of love and she’ll probably dress the baby in that outfit a whole lot more.

6.  Books.  It is recommended to read to your child from the very beginning.  They won’t understand your words, but hearing your voice stimulates an interest in sounds and helps develop listening skills.  And though Nola wasn’t attentive right away, now at 15 months she loves books!  Getting a variety of books is also appreciated by the parents so they don’t get bored with the same ones over and over again.  Book baby showers are such a great idea and there are so many great books out there.  Here’s a list of really great books to reference.  You can’t go wrong with books in my opinion.

7.  Meal.  Trying to figure life out with a newborn turns your world upside down in a good way.  So getting a meal from someone is so great!  Lately my go-to meal to bring people has been as simple as chicken noodle soup and they’ve expressed how nice it is to focus on the baby versus worrying about making food.

8.  Target Gift Cards.  This is probably just me, but I never liked giving gift cards for gifts because I always thought they will probably just use them for toilet paper and I really wanted them to get a real gift with this.  I know this is stupid, and regardless it is helping out in some way, but with a baby every time I go to Target I need to get Nola something.  EVERY TIME people.  I remember consolidating the cards I had received and putting it towards the remaining big items we needed and it was awesome.  So load them up with these :)

Lastly if a group of friends or family go in and get a big item off their registry like a stroller, car seat or crib (that’s also a wonderful gift)!  For us I was budgeting and trying to get big items each month so at the end we weren’t stuck with a huge credit card bill.  So when you are gifted one of those items it is very appreciated.

As most of you know, CJ and I moved to the Bay area when I was 7 months pregnant so it was less than ideal being so far away from family and friends with Nola came.  But I want to especially thank our family and friends who took the time to send us gifts or when visiting home had given us something then.  Sometimes living far away the ‘out of sight out of mind’ happens and I know for myself getting a gift and then mailing it out takes effort.  In fact I think I still have a few people I need to send things to.  However, no matter how late, we appreciated it so much!!  So if you have family and friends who live far away and having a baby, try to send them something, it will probably make their day, it did many days for me.