Sunday, June 20, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Haircut

Those of you who know us well, have seen us from a distance, or have only seen my blog, know Katie has always had this amazing long, thick hair.  Case in point:

6 weeks old, on her blessing day (Nov 2005)

7 months old, with pigtails--pigtails! (Apr 2006)

2 years old, yes that was her natural curl (Sept 2007)

just before she turned 3 (Sept 2008)

at 4.5 years old (May 2010)

I have never been one of those moms that wouldn't cut my little girl's hair.  She's had many trims and even *gasp* haircuts of two inches or more over the years.  But her hair has always been exceptionally long, thick, and beautiful for her age.  Which requires a lot of upkeep.  The older she gets the thicker it gets, and the thicker it gets the harder it is to keep it unsnarled.  Last week, as she whimpered through me brushing through her hair, she said, "I wish I could cut my hair."  Normally, she is talking about how she wishes her hair was as long as Rapunzel's (or Chandler's, a girl her age in our ward who has even more exceptionally long, thick hair than Katie), but I realized it was taking upwards of 20-30 minutes just to brush her hair, say nothing of styling it.  So, knowing I was probably fighting a losing battle, I reminded her that if we cut it there would be a lot less hairdos we could, well, do.  She was insistent.  I told her we would think about it for a few days. 

She brought it up every day for a week before I got the courage to get out the scissors.  I sat her on the stool and cut about three inches off the bottom layer, then showed her how much shorter it was (kind of in a hope to scare her into agreeing to the length I was comfortable with).  She was not having it.  "I want it to be the same as yours," she said for about the millionth time.  So, off came another three inches.  At this point, I realized the gravity of the situation--I had not taken a "before" picture!!  I let down her top layer, and took a picture (you can see the difference in length of the shorter hair showing through, but it did get shorter as I evened things out):

And then we cut it off!  I after I finished and swept up the hair on the floor, I felt like I was having a panic attack.  Her hair had been so much of her identity, I was worried about her being "special" anymore.  So vain, I know.  But she was so excited, and is still so thrilled to have less hair to comb, less hair to weigh her down, and a brand new "grown up" look: 

We'll post more pics of it "done" soon, I just wanted to put this out there for those of you who have been waiting with bated breath! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cheater Dinners: Italian

So, everyone knows that "spaghetti" is synonymous with "easy dinner."  But there are lots of ways to make an easy pasta dinner seem like more than just spaghetti. 

Since we were newlyweds I always made my own spaghetti sauce.  Not from tomatoes or anything, just added my own seasoning to tomato sauce.  There are times when this is convenient (like when you don't have bottled sauce), but it has gotten to be an onerous task for me.  This was particularly because I never measured anything, so Adam would sometimes complain that he didn't like it one night, or compliment me saying it was particularly good another night.  I never thought I did anything different, but in the last few months it got to where it was easier to just buy the bottled sauce on sale or with coupons (well, actually both), and have a stash in the pantry.  If you're feeling adventurous, here are the seasonings I use (and rather like) when I do make homemade sauce.  They are in descending order of how much of each I use.  As a side note: I am not a lover of sweet spaghetti sauce, so I don't add sugar like a lot of people.  But there is nothing wrong with that if you love it! 

Italian Sauce
tomato sauce
garlic powder (not salt)

Heat to boiling, and simmer while cooking pasta to enhance flavor. 

Okay, here are my tricks for making pasta special, when in reality it is just a quick, easy fix for dinner:

At our house, bread makes or breaks the meal, and particularly so with pasta (hey, no one in our house is counting carbs!).  If there is no bread on the table with a pasta dinner, an unnamed someone will sigh and grab a loaf of bread and butter and plunk it on the table.  Therefore, I have become tricky with the bread that is oh, so essential and often adds too much time and effort to be worth it to me. 
  • French bread.  This is our number one choice for an Italian dinner: French bread, sliced lengthwise in half, slathered with butter and sprinkled with garlic and Italian seasoning.  Bake directly on oven rack, buttered side up, for 5-10 minutes at 350 degrees. 
  • Crescent rolls.  When there is no opportunity to get to the store for fresh French bread, I say a quick prayer and hope there are crescent rolls in the fridge (I try to keep a couple of refrigerated packages of reduced fat crescent rolls on hand for all kinds of tricky things).  Slice some mozzarella to roll up inside, then sprinkle the rolls with grated Parmesan, garlic, and Italian seasoning.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10ish minutes. 
  • White bread.  A plain loaf of white bread will do in a pinch, but I like to butter and season it, then bake it directly on the oven rack for a few minutes. 
  • We like meat in our meals, so if nothing else I will crumble and brown ground beef to add to spaghetti sauce. 
  • You can also change things up, like adding chicken instead of beef to marinara sauce. 
  • Or, if you have alfredo sauce, sometimes fettuccine alfredo makes a nice side dish for pork or steak or whatever cut of meat you already have in the fridge or freezer. 
  • My kids love meatballs, but I really dislike the time it takes to make them.  As a compromise, when Lin's has their big meat sale every 6 months or so, I stock up on ground beef and before freezing it, make a giant batch of meatballs to freeze.  Here's my meatball recipe.  You just lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze for a few hours, then transfer to gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags (I like to double bag them to prevent freezer burn).  I'm pretty stingy with the meatballs so they will last a long time.  Or, you can just buy pre-made frozen meatballs to keep in the freezer! 
If I have no other way to dress it up, shaped pasta will do the trick.  Bowties are our personal favorites, but angel hair, fettuccine, rotini, ziti, shells and elbow macaroni have all made their way into our pasta meals.  My kids get so excited to have bowties with alfredo and chicken!  And don't forget ravioli and other filled pastas.  You can buy these frozen and just keep them on hand (Costco carries some that's really good).  Here I will suggest trying different flavors of pasta sauce, but only if your kids aren't too picky, like mine.  We have two varieties at our house: white and red.  We're fine with that, though.  And for those special occasions, when you actually want to spend time cooking: lasagna.  I won't even elaborate about lasagna, because it makes me tired just thinking about it.  (I will say, though, that there are lots of frozen lasagnas that are really good, like Stouffer's.) 

One thing I struggle with is measuring the right amount of spaghetti.  I'm not usually so off on other types of pasta, but spaghetti can be tricky for me for some reason.  We have a spaghetti measuring tool (it looks a lot like this one) that helps a lot with that. 

And for a quick, easy pasta dish that's really different (and really yummy), here's a fun recipe: Angel Hair Pasta Chicken.  I think I'm actually going to go make that for dinner right now...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cheater Dinners: Chinese

I was surprised when at my 10 year high school reunion several people associated me with cooking because of my past dinner challenges here on the blog.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised since I devoted two whole months to recipes and food reviews, but I don't really think of myself as a cook, certainly not a good one anyway.  Just an experimental cook.  So I thought maybe I'd give you a glimpse of what we eat when I'm not trying new things, the shortcuts I take when I'm not much up to cooking (which, admittedly, has been frequently lately), and tricks that get my kids to try things.  Maybe they're not really cheating, just normal, for most of us at least.  We'll start with my family's favorite: Chinese Food. 

Adam and I took a Chinese cooking course early on in our marriage, and we continue to love to find new recipes for our favorites.  Chinese food is really great because it cooks fast, however if you're cooking from scratch it can be time-consuming to prep.  So, here are some of our favorite recipes, and how I cheat to make them less of a process.  One thing I would recommend if you're going to make a lot of Chinese is a rice cooker, unless you are a Minute Rice type of cook.  For our family I cook 2 1/2 cups of white rice, and all I have to do is measure it into the cooker, add water and flip a switch.  It automatically flips to "warm" once it's done so I don't have to even think about it. 

Basic Stir-Fry
This seriously takes me 30 minutes or less, including time to thaw chicken and cut up.  I'll admit that the original version of this recipe has travelled with me since high school foods class! 

2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bag frozen stir-fry vegetables (I actually use about 2/3-3/4 of a bag)
1/4 cup cold water
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp chicken bullion (or you can substitute chicken broth for the the water and omit the bullion)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp grated/minced ginger or 1/8 tsp dried ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced

Heat 1 tbsp oil in wok or large skillet over high heat, then add chicken pieces.  Cook until golden, then remove from pan and set aside.  Add heat remaining oil in pan, and add vegetables.  Cook until vegetables turn bright in color and are no longer frozen.  Return chicken to pan.  Leaving a well in the center of the mixture, add sauce and bring just to a boil, then stir into mixture.  Sauce should thicken slightly, then remove from heat and serve over rice. 

Honey Chicken Stir-Fry
This is a variation on the basic, with a bit of a different cooking process.  I found this recipe on, and the only thing I change is to use chicken broth instead of water in the sauce. 

Kung Pao Chicken
We have tried so many home-made recipes to find one that has a great flavor, but nothing we've tried meets our standard, so here is my cheater secret: Panda Express Kung Pao Sauce.  We started by buying the orange sauce at the grocery store and when we saw they also made a kung pao sauce, we knew it was gold.  It's not cheap, but neither is pre-prepared pasta sauce, or anything pre-made for that matter.  It's the price you pay for convenience, and it's worth it to me.  Use the amount of chicken breasts you usually would to feed your family, and just add everything else to proportion, according to your tastes. 

chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper
oil for frying
zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
Panda Express Kung Pao Sauce

Heat an inch of oil in wok for frying.  Put flour, salt and pepper into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, add chicken pieces and shake to coat.  Sift chicken from excess flour. (Test oil with a small piece of chicken to make sure it is hot enough.)  Remove oil except about 1 tbsp.  Stir-fry zucchini until skin is bright and flesh begins to turn translucent.  Return chicken to pan, add sauce to desired texture, and sprinkle peanuts to taste.  Stir and heat briefly, then remove from heat and serve over rice. 

Orange Chicken
Okay, I'm adding this in here because it's our favorite, but it is a bit more time-consuming than the others because you have to bread and fry the chicken.  However, the sauce is the bottled sauce, and even though I'm slow and hate deep frying it never takes me more than 45 minutes to make.  You can add vegetables to it if you like, we just usually have it without.  If you use vegetables, just stir-fry them in a tbsp of oil before adding chicken and sauce.  Again, just use the amount of meat your family normally eats, and breading to cover.  It's a bit of trial-and-error the first time, it's not hard after that. 

chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
flour (we usually use a combo of flour and finely crushed saltine crackers to up the texture)
salt and pepper (sometimes I add a dash of ground red pepper)
mixture of half egg and half milk
oil for frying
Panda Express Orange Sauce

Heat an 1-2 inches of oil in wok to about 350 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, just test with a small piece of chicken to make sure it's frying immediately, but not burning). Put flour, salt and pepper into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.  Dip chicken pieces in egg mixture, then add to flour mixture and shake to coat. Sift chicken from excess flour. Fry chicken in a single layer, cooking in batches if needed, until chicken is opaque. Drain on paper towels and set aside. I usually use a separate wok (you can use a skillet) to stir-fry the fried chicken with sauce until heated, then serve over rice. 

Okay, one more trick.  Our kids love Chinese food (as if they had a choice), and I know lots of kids are cool with rice. But if your kids aren't big fans of Asian food, or if you just want to add some novelty to dinner (like us), kids' chopsticks are really fun.  Regular chopsticks can be hard to master, but we bought some attached with springs at the top at the Kitchen Collection outlet that work great.  There are also lots of chopstick holders that hold them together at the top that come in all kinds of shapes that are really cute, too.  And Max likes to use little plastic tongs as his "chopsticks."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Camping at Oak Grove

Monday night we drove up to Oak Grove (above Silver Reef, on Pine Valley Mountain) to camp out. Oak Grove is special to us, because Adam and I camped there the week after we got married. It's so beautiful there, and I can't drive up there without thinking how beautiful it was that first time we went in October with all the fall colors. We haven't been back for years because it's only open for part of the year, and there are often fire restrictions. This time we were free to burn, but the running water wasn't working so we packed in our own. It wasn't much of an inconvenience anyway because we were there just overnight.

When we arrived, we set up camp and played around for a while:

Then we roasted marshmallows and hung out around the campfire:

Then we did a craft:

The kids slept surprisingly well (although the adults less so because the air mattress went flat twice):

In the morning we had a yummy breakfast and a little nature walk (although nature really started *ahem* bugging us, so it was short), and packed up camp to head home.  It was a fun, quick trip, with really beautiful weather in a really beautiful place. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Playground

Well, as most of you already know via facebook, we have a new playground in the backyard. Just so you can see why it ate most of our week last week, and all of our energy, I'm posting the step-by-step building pictures. I'm mostly just copying and pasting pictures and captions from Adam's facebook profile, so forgive me if you've already seen it.

Step 1: Remove the rocks from the side of the yard. 

Step 2: Remove the curbing from the side of the yard. 

Step 3: Remove the grass from the playground area. 

Step 4: Remove and reroute the sprinklers to the new grass edge. 

Step 5: Level and remove everything from the area. 

Step 6: Add weed-blocking material. 

Step 7: Start putting the playground together. 

Step 8: Make sure the kids are okay with the job we are doing. 

Step 9: Put more of the playground together. 

Step 10: Make sure the kids are okay with the job we are doing. 

Step 11: Finish putting the swing set together, make sure it works. 

Step 12: Put borders around the area, fill with wood chips and sand. 

The whole process, including wood chips, took a week.  Excepting wood chips it was about 3-3.5 days give or take.  I have to use this as an example of Adam's work ethic.  He is amazing!  When he starts something, he works straight through until he's finished.  It was hard to get him to take breaks to eat or anything else.  He was spending 14-hour days out in the hot sun, and I don't know how he did it, but it turned out so great!  We are all enjoying it, the kids to play on, and us because it keeps them so busy and active and happy. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Birthday Wishes

At the risk of encouraging my son's greediness, I am following his request and publishing his birthday wish list on my blog.  You see, when he was little and couldn't write, Isaiah drew the most beautiful birthday list, and I thought it was so cute I put it up here.  Yeah, he has a really good memory.  He insisted we needed to do that again.  So, here it is:
1.  Erector Set
2.  a book-making kit (I don't know if these exist, he just wants to make his own books)
3.  a magic set
4.  Bakugan
5.  a new tape player (his bit the dust already, he got it for Christmas!)
6.  baseball glove, bat, and balls
7.  playing cards (he likes to play War)
8.  an iDog
9.  Meet the Sight Words DVDs (they are actually young for him, in my opinion, but Katie is the appropriate age for them)
10.  anything

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Thinkin' Pink!

Yesterday was our anatomy ultrasound, and first I'll get the important news out of the way: baby girl is completely healthy. Everything is measuring perfectly and in the right place.  So, 81% of those of you who voted were right!  We are very excited to be adding another little girl to the family.  Here are some pictures of our Little Miss:

Here front-face shot (check out that pointy chin!)


Here is her hand, literally waving at us

Tiny little baby feet

The money shot