Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thoughts on Turning 40...

This weekend it happened.  I turned the dreaded corner into middle age.  Honestly, 40 still sounds so old and foreign to me, even though that is now my age.  I suppose it is one of those ages that will take a while to settle into.  It seems like only a few years ago that Jimmy and I were 22 and searching for our first apartment in Boston.  Where does the time go?  It's so cliche to say, but I feel like my 30s blew right past me.  I hope the same will not be true for my 40s.  I'd prefer if they mosey on by at a snails pace.  They will be the last years that we have both children at home.  Well, actually, that's not even true, by the time I turn 50 I'll have one child working on his driver's license and the other (hopefully) entering his senior year in college.   Even though I'm not a fan of the number 40, I am a big fan of this stage in life.

The big difference between 30 and 40 is a feeling of contentment and being settled.  I'm no longer planning when/if we should have another child, we are no longer searching for our forever house and neighborhood, I'm no longer stressing over whether or not I should give up my career.  We have settled into our lives, to our marriage, to parenting, and it feels good.  (Not that we don't still have plenty of dreams for our future,  just that their urgency is different.)  I'm in better shape than I was at 30 and feel more comfortable in my own skin, nevermind the extra smile lines around the eyes (sunglasses even when overcast!) or that weird, occasional chin hair that makes me feel 80 instead of 40 (tweezers, for more than just brows!).  I know myself better and I am more aware of and able to focus on what really matters in life to me.  I feel so much of my 30s were the planning years (especially my early 30s), the adjusting to being a parent years, the figuring out your identity years.        

Last weekend Jimmy and I took Charlie to the preschool fall festival in our neighborhood and we both sort of looked around at the many, many very young children and then glanced at each other knowing we both felt a bit grateful that the baby years were behind us.   Grateful too that we had had our chance to enjoy them, but thankful that we were on the other side of nighttime feedings and diapers and pacis and cribs, etc...    At the risk of sounding completely selfish, let me assure you, that I adored the newborn/baby years with my boys, truly I did.  Plenty of times I'd just look at them and cry from overwhelming happiness or marvel at their milestones like they were the first humans in history to be so completely amazing,  Sometimes I still feel that way.  I just like where we are as a family now too.   I like that we are moving beyond the little years.  Occasionally (ok, often) I can be a bit wistful for those times and their chubby cheeks and baby smells, but knowing our family is complete is a good feeling and makes turning 40 easier.

Now, I'm pretty sure with my entrance into middle age that I'm expected to ditch bikinis and mini skirts and possibly colored tights but I have every intention of hanging on to those things as long as I can.  If you start to see things heading south, kindly let me know, until then, I will continue to dress like my 30 year old self!   If Gwyneth Paltrow can do it, by golly, so can I!   So for those of you still in your 20s or 30s, don't fear 40, look forward to it!  You'll still feel pretty much the same.  You'll likely have a few more of life's battle scars under your belt (and many more to come, ugh) but it's just like what everyone preaches, it's only a number and there is plenty of good that comes from reaching it too.  Cheers!

PS. A great big thank you to my incredible family and friends who made me feel so special and loved today!  Your sweet words, thoughtful gifts, all the ways you went out of your way to make me happy - all so appreciated!!  And the cake my mum made me, well it deserves a post of its own, possibly the best dessert I've ever eaten!  I'll share her ambitious recipe soon!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

October Weekends | Easy Dinner Party Menu | Chicken Curry + Apple Crisp

October weekends have to be the very best weekends of the whole year, don't you think?  Our past one included the annual neighborhood fall festival for the preschool age set, an over due night out with Jimmy, and an evening with good friends and their children at our home.

I snapped a few photos and will share my tried and true recipes at the end of this post.  They are long standing favorites of mine and have made their appearance at more causal get togethers and dinner parties than I can count.  There are rarely any leftovers to speak of and almost all children (even picky eaters) seem to gobble them up.  The best part is they only get few dishes dirty and can be made entirely in advance.  I'd say "fool-proof" but Ina kind of has that word cornered with her last cookbook.

Everything was super casual and relaxed which made for a really fun evening.  The kids played so well together (aside from the 20 minutes when they were too quiet and we found they'd unwound an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet that all ready has old house plumbing issues...) that Meghan and I were able to sit, drink wine, and talk for several hours after dinner, while our guys watched the baseball game in the family room.  

^^as you saw in my previous post, he's a baller ^^

^^even with a very casual dinner, it's nice to have something special on the table.  I used oasis to hold the candle and filled the rest of the pumpkin with water ^^
^^I served the Apple Crisp slightly warm with a really good Tahitian Vanilla gelato^^
^^kids and adults sat together.  Sippy cups and wine glasses intermingled.^^

^^The chicken curry was self serve.  I served it with rice and lots of fun toppings: chopped cashews, pineapple chunks, mandarin orange slices, green onions, toasted coconut, and chutney. ^^

Chicken Curry
(recipe source: Rachel Ray)
4 chicken breasts halves (I used 6 on Saturday, we had 4 adults and 4 children, most had seconds)
1 medium onion (I used 1 large)
2 inches fresh ginger ( I used about 3)
1 gala apple, half peeled, half with peel
3 cloves of garlic ( I used 5)
15 oz chicken broth (I added about an extra 8 oz)
1-3 TBS mild curry paste (I only used 1 TBS with children)
1/4 cup golden raisins (I used 1/2 cup)
2-3 TBS mango chutney
Sesame or peanut oil

Peanuts or cashews, green onions, mandarin orange segments, toasted coconut, pineapple chunks

Cut chicken in chunky pieces, dredge lightly in flour.  Cut onion in half and then into 1/4 inch strips.
Brown chicken in about 2 TBS of oil over medium heat.  (I use my large Le Creuset dutch oven and think this makes for an even tastier sauce because the chicken leaves lot of little brown bits.) I also cooked the chicken in two batches so i didn't over crowd the pan.  Remove chicken from pan, add onion, ginger, garlic and apple.  Saute for 3-5 minutes.  Add broth, scrape up brown bits.  Add curry paste and raisins, return chicken, heat to a boil, reduce to medium low and stir in chutney to thicken and sweeten.  Season with salt + pepper.  Simmer for 10-25 minutes.  Serve over rice with desired toppings!

My Mum's Apple Crisp
7 large granny smith apples
1/2 cup + 6 TBS sugar
6 TBS butter, diced in small pieces
10 TBS flour + 1 TBS
1 tsp apple pie spice or cinnamon
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425.  Butter 9x9 baking dish.
Peel and slice apples.  Toss them in lemon juice.  Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, apple pie spice and 1 TBS flour.  Toss mixture with apples.  Put apples into baking dish.

Mix together 10 TBS flour, 6 TBS sugar and butter with a pastry blender until it looks like coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle over apples and bake for 45-50 minutes till top looks golden brown.  Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Charlie + Football

I can't tell you how much I enjoy these pictures.  For so many reasons.  This is Charlie's first year playing flag football.  He's a year younger (and about a head shorter) that every other player on the team.  I was hesitant at first with the hour and half long practices and hour and half long games each week, but he wanted to play so we hung in there.  The child in these photos is barely recognizable to the child that showed up that first day of practice back in early September.  I love to watch him play, to see how much he's learned, to see such effort, joy, and pride, it all does this Mama's heart good!  And while the thought of tackle football scares me to death, I thoroughly enough the less physical version of flag football and what it's teaching him about being part of a team.  These photos were taken Sunday night.  He made 2 touchdowns.  His, "I did it!!" is still ringing in my ears.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pumpkins, Haunted Hayrides + A Little Film

Today I joined Charlie on his first field trip.  We went to another farm.  I know, again,  tis the season for farm visits, seems like that's all I post about lately! :)  It was a gray, blustery, October morning, full of mud and muck.  We saw some animals, took a spooky hayride and brought home a couple more pumpkins to add to our growing collection.  I asked Charlie if he wanted to switch seats on the hayride to sit by his little friends and he looked at me an said, "no Mama, I just want to sit by you and hold your hand."  Sugar, that one, pure sugar. (99% of the time)  I know how much those kiddos appreciate when their Mamas come along.  I took a little bit of video here and there on my phone.  Just enough to capture the memory in a film.  Enjoy.

Shaw Farm Field Trip (Enhanced) from tessa on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Recipe | My Very Favorite Homemade Apple Pie

Do you all remember the movie, Waitress, with Keri Russell?  If you haven't seen it, please do, and then you'll feel an overwhelming need to bake a pie and when you do, go ahead and make this one.  Ok?  Honestly though, that movie is one of my very favorites and so is this recipe.  I made this pie the  first Thanksgiving when we lived in our first house and felt such a sense of accomplishment when I did.  Not because making a pie in necessarily difficult, but because it seemed so symbolic and grown up at the time.  New home, newly married, bringing a pie to Thanksgiving dinner, I might have even worn an apron for the fist time too, anyway, you get the idea.  Baking a pie from scratch is a bit like making bread from scratch, it is just so gratifying, creating something incredibly good and comforting from just a few ingredients, using the same techniques shared by generation after generation of home cooks.

There are a few things about this recipe that make it extra good.  First, you roast the apples in melted butter and sugar before they go in the pie.  I think this releases extra juices and adds another layer of flavor to the pie.  The crust is made with a mixture of cake flour and regular flour, giving it a lightness that isn't always found in a pie.  The recipe for the crust does call for shortening and I cringe just a bit, but I have yet to find an all butter crust that is as light and flaky (without being dry).  I think the combination of fats (butter and shortening) in a crust just make it better.  (If you just can't do the shortening, here is an all butter crust that I found to be a very good too.)

Golden Raisin + Apple Lattice Pie
(recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2000)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons (or more) ice water

3 1/4 pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, quartered, cored, each quarter cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup golden raisins (about 5 ounces)
2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon whipping cream (for glaze)

For crust:
Blend flour, cake flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening and cut in using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 6 tablespoons ice water and process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (I've never needed to add more water) Gather dough into ball; divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece in between two sheets of plastic wrap, into a 12 inch circle and the refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Flatten the smaller piece into rectangle; wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

For Filling:
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Spread apple slices on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons sugar over apples, then drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter and lemon juice; toss to coat. Bake just until apples begin to soften, stirring once, about 15 minutes. Cool apples completely on baking sheet. Maintain oven temperature.
Transfer cooled apples and any accumulated juices to large bowl. Mix in raisins and brown sugar.
Butter 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Remove 12 inch dough circle from fridge, remove plastic and pres dough into prepared pie dish.  Spoon apple filling into crust. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter over.  Roll out dough rectangle on floured surface to 11x7-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into twelve 1/2-inch-wide strips. Place 5-6 strips 1 inch apart atop apple filling. Place remaining 5-6 strips diagonally atop first 6 strips, forming diamond lattice pattern. Trim strips even with bottom crust. Fold dough overhang in, pressing onto edge of pie dish. Press dough edge decoratively with fork to seal.  Brush dough strips with egg glaze.  Try to get into all the crevices. Sprinkle strips with 2 teaspoons sugar. Bake 15 minutes, keep pie on rack that is placed in lower third of oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Continue to bake pie until crust is golden and apples are tender, covering crust edges with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 15 minutes longer.  (Mine takes 1 hour and 10 minutes) Cool pie at least 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely, then cover and store at room temperature.)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cowboy Birthday Party | Charlie Turns F-I-V-E

This weekend we celebrated Charlie's 5th birthday (his real birthday isn't till October 16th) with a cowboy party/field trip to The Old West Festival!  Since the first weekend in October is the last weekend for the festival we had to celebrate with friends a bit early this year.  Thankfully, the rain stayed clear until after the party was over.  All 7 little boys got in the cowboy spirit and had a really fun time together.  They did a little archery, sifted for gold, rode a stagecoach and a horse and took in a gun show.  The festival is a bit out of the way, but they were great in the car and on excellent behavior there too.  We packed very simple picnic lunches for them but saved dessert until we returned home.  Charlie proclaimed it was the "best party of his entire life".  That's the only compliment I need!

I can't thank my dad enough for all the wonderful photos of my gorgeous little boy.
^^ when charlie delivered his invitations he also delivered a bag with a hat, bandanna, gun, badge and mustache for each child to wear/bring the day of the party^^

^^gold sifting ^^

^^ Daddy and big brother played the part too ^^
^^brown bag lunches were a rotisserie chicken sandwich, pretzel sticks and an apple^^

^^this one cracks me up.  on the stagecoach.^^

^^carter wore his mustache the ENTIRE time, even when eating lunch.  loved it!^^

^^my western looking parents^^

^^the decor at home was kept very simple since we were only there for a few minutes really.   I used the Meri-Meri cowboy themed garland (you can kind of see it hanging at the end of the room), their cupcake toppers and napkins too.  I used the paper napkins as a "place mat" and had dish towels tied with twine and a place card as napkins.  I used very thick kraft paper as the runner (made clean up a snap!!) and a pop of mums as the center piece.  There were a couple horse decorations too but that was it. ^^ 
^^cupcakes after we got back^^
^^starting to feel like there's a lot of candles on those cupcakes^^
^^it was a great day!!  ^^