Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Butterfly exhibit

We went to the butterfly exhibit at Olbrich Gardens this week when Ben was home in the morning.  Ben and I had a good time looking at all the different butterflies.



Megan had a good time looking at the koi in the stream.


And Amelia was a little freaked out by the fact that all these (relatively) huge butterflies were flying freely.  She helped identify a few of them that were sitting still, but did not want to have anything to do with them once they started flying around.  I wonder if she was still traumatized by her bee sting two weeks ago?  But really, how can you be afraid of butterflies?

Oh, and we thought the name of this tree was particularly funny:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Amelia the Photographer

While I was trying to take a video of Megan walking, Amelia grabbed my big camera and started taking photos.  Isn't she doing a good job holding up that camera?


She took a lot of photos of the walls and the floor and the closet doors.  Here are her best shots: (by the way, I am wearing a skort)

Action Shot

Portrait

Still Life

Think she has a future as a photographer?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Megan is walking!

video
Megan took her first steps last Saturday, but this is the first time I've been able to catch her on video.  She falls down a lot, but when she manages a few steps, she is so proud of herself!

(The flashes you see in the background are Amelia taking pictures with my good camera.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fun Times at Grandma and Grandpa's

The girls and I had a fantastic time at Grandma and Grandpa's house last week.  We did so many fun things!

We made seven flavors of homemade ice cream.  Amelia got to help clean off the ice cream paddle, and she snuck in a few licks of the plate when she thought no one was watching.  Amelia's favorite flavor is vanilla.  Megan got to try homemade ice cream for the first time, and she was a fan!  If she caught me trying to eat a spoonful, she would shriek until I would pick her up and giver her a spoonful, too.  Megan did not like the peppermint flavor.  Wonder if she's going to take after Aunt Anna and be "allergic" to mint?

We picked raspberries and blueberries.  This year, some of the fruit ended up in Amelia's bowl (although most of it still ended up in her mouth).

Megan did not think that raspberries should be put on her finger - she thought they should be in her mouth.

Amelia giggled and giggled when Grandpa tried to put a raspberry on her nose.


We went to the toddler pool.  This was Megan's first time at the pool, and she LOVED it.  Amelia tried out the slide, and realized that it was actually really fun.

We played with the train.

We splashed in puddles.
We can't wait to go back again!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weekly Food Challenge - Vanilla (not dessert) Take 2

I know I already posted a recipe using vanilla in an entree for the challenge this week, but I was disappointed in the vanilla impact in that dish, and so I thought I'd try another one.  This time I chose to make this Cocoa Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Vanilla Rum Butter Sauce because doesn't that sound DEEE-licious?  Unfortunately, it didn't exactly live up to expectations, but I think the faults were mostly mine (and a little bit the recipe's) so I'm posting it anyway in case David wants to improve upon it.

The combination of ingredients used in the rub sounded a little strange, and when the pork was eaten plain, frankly it tasted a little strange, but I think that's because I over-seared the meat and maybe got a little burned flavor mixed in.  When eaten with the "sauce", it ended up tasting good.

When you look at the photo, you may wonder why there is no sauce when the sauce is clearly the best sounding part of the recipe.  The answer is that the sauce turned out to be, ummm, extremely non-photogenic.  The instructions said to cook the sauce for 30 minutes, giving no indication of what it should look like.  So I followed the recipe to the letter (and read Amelia about 216 pages of Madeline) and came back to a pot full of penuche.  So we ate the pork tenderloin with a vanilla rum butter frosting/streusel and it was TASTY.  Ugly, but tasty.  So if you feel like eating dessert as a main course, make this recipe!

Cocoa Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Vanilla Rum Butter Sauce
serves 3 or 4

Pork:
1 ½ tsp cumin
1 ½ tsp coriander
1 tsp ground black peppercorns
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
dash of nutmeg
1 ½ tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp salt

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat
1 tbsp olive oil


Vanilla Sauce:
½ C. brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp molasses
4 tbsp rum
1 tsp vanilla
½ vanilla bean, halved with the beans scraped out
½ tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400F.  Mix the first 8 ingredients together in a small bowl.  Rub onto pork tenderloin until covered.  Heat oil in skillet until hot, then sear meat being careful not to burn the crust (a minute or two on each side is enough).  Place pork in a baking dish; cook at 400F for about 20 minutes, or until temp reads 145F.

Meanwhile, make the vanilla sauce.  Combine first 7 ingredients in a small pot.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture resembles a syrup (maybe 5-10 minutes).  Do not cook too long!  Add remaining 3 tbsp butter, ½ tbsp at a time, stirring until combined.  Serve sauce over pork.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekly Food Challenge - Vanilla (not dessert)

David picked a common food this week, vanilla, but he specified that it couldn't be used in a dessert or pastry.  I don't know about you, but I've never even thought of using vanilla in an entree before!  Surprisingly, I found a lot of ideas that sounded tasty, and narrowed it down to one from Chef Michael Smith, with a few modifications.

We all really liked this recipe, the girls included, but we didn't think it tasted much like vanilla.  As it was cooking, it smelled deliciously vanilla-y, but the vanilla flavor in the final dish was subtle.  Actually, it's hard to describe exactly what the flavor of the end product was - not rosemary, not vanilla, not chardonnay, just yummy.

Vanilla Rosemary Chicken
serves 4


5 boneless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 large handfuls baby carrots, finely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
cup chardonnay
1/2 vanilla bean (seeds scraped out, then finely dice the shell)
2 sprigs of rosemary, needles peeled off

Pour the oil in a large skillet, turn heat to high.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken.  Cook until chicken is golden brown on all sides, turning frequently.  Once chicken is browned, remove from skillet.

Add onion and carrots to the juice in the skillet.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened. 

Add chicken broth, wine, rosemary, vanilla bean seeds and diced vanilla bean shell to the skillet, stirring until combined.  Place chicken on top of the mixture.  Cover skillet tightly, turn heat to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes until chicken is tender.  Remove cover, and let juices thicken until a sauce forms.

Serve over rice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ice Melting & Smashing

While Megan was napping today, Amelia and I played outside with ice in an attempt to stay cool.  Last weekend, she helped me freeze the ice in a plastic storage bin.  Amelia loved dropping small toys in, stirring them up with the ice cubes, and then trying to catch them again with the spoon.  We added the colored ice cubes right before the big tub went in the deep freeze, to try to keep the colors from melting too much, but we ended up with a mostly greenish blob of ice, so that part didn't work as planned.  We also mixed up some colored water in margarine and yogurt tubs, and froze those separately.  Ideas from The Picky Apple and Counting Coconuts.

Today we got the ice out of the freezer and played around with it on the driveway.  First we built towers with different colored blocks of ice.  Just wetting the small blocks and holding them on the large blocks made them stick together.  Amelia didn't like that as much as I did - I think her hands got too cold.  Then we tried to figure out how to get all the toys out of the big block of ice.  First we tried pouring some warm water on it, then we put some salt on a part of it (the poor frozen boy), then we kicked it down the driveway into direct sun, but all of those things worked too slowly for us.  Next we got out some of Daddy's hammers, and we attacked that block of ice.  Fun!  And finally, we got out the hose, and sprayed that block of ice until there was nothing left.


I think the ice looked pretty interesting as it was melting (Amelia thought I was crazy)


Megan did not take an afternoon nap again today, so she was a cranky pants at dinner.  Isn't she too young to be giving up her morning nap?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mirepoix Painting

As I was cooking dinner last night (the weekly food challenge recipe - stay tuned!) Amelia wanted to see what I was doing.  When she asked, I was dicing an onion very inexpertly, and she started playing with the top of the onion that I had cut off.  We started talking about onions and how onions smell funny and how they have layers (you know what else has layers?  Parfait!  Everybody loves parfait!).  And then I had the genius idea to give her the top of the onion to paint with while I finished getting dinner ready.  So we got out the paint (purple, of course, and some blue) and she stamped the onion all over several sheets of paper. 

By then I'd moved onto chopping carrots, so I gave her a few carrots to stamp with also.  She wasn't as much a fan of that, probably because I made her use orange paint.  And if David is reading this and thinking to himself, "but that's not a true mirepoix because it doesn't have any celery" then he is of course correct, but I think celery is the food of the devil.  Although it would probably be pretty fun to paint with...

Turns out onion painting looks pretty cool!


Megan didn't do any painting today, but she did get to practice some walking!  Every day she's getting steadier on her feet.  And check out those chubby thighs!  What a cutie...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weekly Food Challenge - Quinoa

David started a weekly food challenge last week - each week we have to cook a certain type of dish using a specific ingredient.  I thought it sounded like fun because I'm always trying to find new yummy recipes, and I could usually use some motivation in planning my menu for the week.  Our first challenge was quinoa.  It's actually pronounced keen-wah for those who've never heard of it (but I can't help pronouncing it qui-no-ah in my head when I type it).  It seems like a grain, but it's not; it's actually related to beets, spinach and tumbleweeds.  Who knew?

I modified a recipe from allrecipes, and I think mine sounds a lot better.  :)  Ben and I both liked this salad.  I made his with mozzarella cheese and without tomatoes, but I think the feta cheese is what really makes this dish so tasty.  The girls didn't get to try any quinoa, because we were running so late that day that they were in bed before this was ready.  I'm curious what they would think of it.  Next time, I may add more quinoa, or plan on serving some bread with it.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Serves 2 as a main course salad



1 cup water
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 large cooked chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1 roasted red pepper (I used one from a jar)
2 oz feta cheese crumbles
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the water, bouillon cube and garlic in a small pot and heat to boiling.  Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed.
 
Meanwhile, combine lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

In a salad bowl, combine quinoa, chicken, red pepper, feta, tomatoes and herbs.  Drizzle with the balsamic dressing and toss to combine.  Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Foam Window Mural

It's supposed to be hot here for the next week, so we'll be spending a lot of time splashing in the pool and running through the new kid washer.  I also have a few outdoor water activities in mind for Amelia while Megan is taking her morning nap.  The first is an idea that I had seen at Filth Wizardry and The Imagination Tree for using craft foam shapes to make a mural on a window.  I had found a really cheap jumbo jar of foam shapes at the thrift store (hearts, circles, squares, triangles), and I bought a packet of multicolored foam sheets at the Dollar Store to cut out my own shapes (sun, house, flowers, bird).  I need to come up with some more creative easy shapes to cut out.  Any ideas?

At first, Amelia sprayed the sliding glass patio door with the sprinkler wand on the hose.  She loves to use the hose, and getting to spray the house was a big treat.  Megan was sitting inside the door, and she liked to watch the water, too.  The dry foam shapes stuck very well to the glass when it was all wet.  



But once we started putting shapes on, the sprinkler was too forceful and washed all the shapes off the glass.  So then we tried sprinkling the deck to make puddles, dipping the shapes in the puddles, and then putting them on the window.  This resulted in Amelia turning on the hose every other minute so that she could keep playing with the water.  So then I got out a plastic tub, and we dunked the shapes in the water.  We could use paintbrushes or sponge brushes to apply the water, but I think next time we'll get out her spray bottle, because I know she'll like that.  Most of the shapes stuck on through lunchtime; Amelia kept commenting on her pretty pictures during lunch.  But with the heat of the day today, they are starting to fall off now.


Megan wanted to play with the shapes, too, and didn't like it that she was stuck inside.  Once she is a little better about not putting everything in her mouth, then I think she'll enjoy this activity, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Many Faces of Megan

Ben took Amelia to Costco for her hot dog lunch, so Megan and I had lunch together at home.  After she was done eating, I tried to get her to make funny faces with me; she played along for a few minutes, but then got bored.  I think she's teething, she's been a little fussy lately.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Playing with Rocks & Dirt

Today was one of those days where I didn't have enough patience to go around.  So we spent a lot of time playing outside and getting messy.  Although in hindsight, perhaps we should have saved the getting messy bit for a day when I have infinite patience.

During Megan's morning nap, Amelia and I grabbed a bucket and collected rocks from the landscaping around our house.  She thought it was great fun to climb around and hunt for rocks, and she kept telling me that she was "connecting" them.  I told her to look for smooth pretty rocks, and I enjoyed seeing what she thought constituted pretty.  We found a lot of different kind of rocks: pink and black spotted, reddish, purple, black and white striped, agatey, and even a smiley face.


Then we got out a bucket, some dish soap and a scrub brush and "gave the rocks a bath so they could get all nice and clean," according to Amelia.  Once they were all soapy, then she got to rinse them with the hose (using the hose is a highlight of her day).  She enjoyed the washing and rinsing so much that I'm thinking I should find more things for her to wash.  Maybe the dishes?  We let the rocks dry in the sun, and then colored them with chalk.


Then Megan decided she needed to play in the dirt.  Sometime I will post a picture of Megan without a messy face, I promise.

 
Today was a good reminder to me that kids don't need all kinds of fancy toys to have a good time: give them some rocks, some dirt and some water, and they'll have a blast.  So maybe that's what I'll give Natalie and Noah for their next birthday (just kidding, Becky!)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Megan's Birthday Party

We celebrated Megan's first birthday on Saturday with a Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party. 


We didn't serve everything the caterpillar eats throughout the book, but we came close!  Megan loves fruit, so we had plenty of that.  And since her favorite food right now is pickles, I bought a jar especially for her (and Grandma!).  The "nice green leaf" was a Tuscan Roasted Potato salad, which everyone but Ben enjoyed. 

And in keeping with the theme, I made Megan a caterpillar cake. 


At first she looked at us as if to say "I am not eating this green goop" and then she tentatively stuck her finger in the frosting and brought it to her mouth. 
She wasn't sure about getting messy, but then decided that the frosting was GOOD!


I don't think the shirt is ever going to come clean, but the mess was completely worth it to see the enjoyment on her face.  Poor Aunt Becky had to use a washcloth to get frosting out of her nose.

I made Very Hungry Caterpillar hair clips for Natalie, Amelia and Megan as party favors. 


Amelia thought Noah shouldn't get hair clips, he should get an envelope with a picture of him inside it as a party favor instead.  I would love to know how her mind works.  But, because I didn't have any photos of Noah printed out, we made him an I-Spy bottle instead.  And lastly, we created a signature mat photo frame with a thumbprint caterpillar for all the party guests to sign.  We are going to hang it on the wall, and hopefully remember to continue this tradition in future years.  Thanks, everyone, for coming all the way to Madison for her party!