Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Italian Birthday Meal

Mamma Buon Compleanno!

Each year, for my mother's birthday, Greg and I cook a special meal with regional cuisine. Last year, we made a Spanish tapas meal, and two years ago we made a French meal. This year, we researched and planned an Italian meal. My mom, stepdad, and grandmother came to partake of our hard work.

We spent a lot of time trying to find as many authentic recipes and imported products as possible. I bought a lot of Italian wine and some delicious grapes. My mom enjoyed some imported blood orange soda, and everyone tried three kinds of Italian cheeses.

I taught myself how to make Italian bread, and I found out it is incredibly easy. I've made it twice since then, and never have we wasted a slice. It really was as delicious as the bread I had at the bakeries and cafes when I visited Pisa, Sorrento, and Rome.

Henry slept for the first hour or so, thank goodness. This allowed us to eat our appetizers (fried shrimp and calamari) undisturbed. Once Henry was up, he was into everything.

I made a menu instead of a birthday card, and I used an online translator to put the selections into Italian. None of us speak any Italian, so I suppose we wouldn't know if the online translator had errors.

Greg made a delicious pasta dish: rigatoni with sausage, artichokes, asparagus, and fresh grated imported Parmesan cheese. Mmmmmm.

Nick was happy to "help" whenever he could, so I called him the sous chef. I think my favorite part of the meal was the fried calamari. Of course, I forgot to take a picture of that, and we ate every bite, so there weren't leftovers.

I already did a post about my quest to make homemade cannoli. They turned out pretty good, especially after I dipped the ends in bittersweet chocolate. We stuck a candle in the cannoli, and it worked well in lieu of a birthday cake, especially when served with gelato. Nick couldn't wait to dig in. I think my mom enjoyed herself, and I know we all ate way too much. That is the sign of a good meal.

Oh, and I almost forgot. My other dessert challenge was Italian spritz butter cookies with the maraschino cherries in the middle. My picture didn't turn out well, but the cookies were delicious.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Our Cannoli Quest

Last week I was on a quest. You see, every year Greg and I make a birthday dinner for my mom featuring the cuisine of a particular country. We started this tradition back in 2010 with French food, then "traveled" to Spain for a tapas dinner in 2011. This year our destination of choice was Italy, and we started at the Home Depot.

Yup. You heard me right. You see, my mom really likes cannoli, and you need cannoli forms in order to fry them up. However, I could not find cannoli forms anywhere, and there wasn't enough time to order them from amazon. Google helped me find directions for making your own wooden forms, and this nice Home Depot employee sawed a dowel rod into just the right sized cannoli forms.

The Home Depot was quite an adventure for my boys. They loved sitting in the car with steering wheels (one for each of them) and the dowel rod itself was a fun toy once it was sliced.

I have to say that I got some strange looks as I explained what I wanted.

The finished cannoli molds look like the one in Henry's hand. I put them through the dishwasher first, of course.

Once we brought the cannoli forms home, it was time for me to actually attempt cannoli-making. I always try out the fancier recipes a week or so before the actual meal. That way, when I make it for real, it isn't a brand new recipe anymore.

The cannoli dough was fairly easy to work with, though the first time I made them, I couldn't find the rolling pin, and had to use a can of peas. The rolling pin was much easier. I also must have bought cannoli forms that were bigger than I anticipated. I had to use this tupperware lid to make the circles the right size. Here's what they looked like after I wrapped them around the forms.

Cannoli are pretty simple, once you figure out the whole deep-frying thing. Getting the dough thin enough was probably the hardest part.

The recipe I used was pretty tasty. I like that it had mascarpone in it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smoothies and Puzzles at Breakfast

I love summertime mornings. Greg lets me sleep in, and I get to enjoy leisurely morning time with the boys when I do wake up. Since I bought my new Ninja blender, I've been making smoothies probably every third day. My favorite so far is a strawberry pineapple smoothie with plain greek yogurt, ground flax seed, and a bit of milk.

Henry drinks his out of a full-size cup. He will accept nothing less, and drinks the whole thing down with gusto. He even grunts and points and stomps his little feet while I'm blending the smoothies. Look at that grin!

Nick and I have been doing puzzles in the mornings, as well. He is moving towards more and more advanced puzzles, and his patience is increasing somewhat.

I think Nick also likes that puzzles are something that Henry cannot use. Puzzle time is just Nick and me together.

The boys always like to sit right next to the dishwasher, on the floor, while they drink their smoothies. I'm not sure why, but they sit in the same places everytime I take out the blender. I only have a few short weeks of these wonderful mornings with my boys before school starts back up again. I think I'll make smoothies again tomorrow. I need to enjoy these mornings while I can.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grunting and beating their chests. . .

. . . just like little cavemen.

It all started last week at Grandma Toni's house, when Henry sampled a butter cookie that had been dipped in dark chocolate. He made quite a mess of himself, and Greg took his shirt off. Henry loved it! He ran around the house, slapping his belly with joy.

Nick insisted on taking his shirt off, too. Both boys ran around dancing and grunting and screeching happily.

It must be a guy thing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Naughty Henry

Lately Henry has been throwing things into the garbage can as often as he can get away with it. We're missing toys, books, and I believe one of my sandals must have been chucked in there for good measure. It is currently missing in action.

Last week I rescued my sunglasses, Nick's baseball hat, and three legos. We've taken to keeping the garbage can up on the table or counter tops, but every once in awhile we forget. Then we'll notice things mysteriously missing.

Henry is getting to that extremely mischievous stage. It is adorable but sometimes quite frustrating. So, if you've been visiting at my house and notice you are missing something important, please check the garbage can!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Swashbuckling Nicholas the Pirate

Last week, the boys and I joined a friend of mine and her son up in Elk Grove at Pirate's Cove Children's Theme Park.

In honor of the occasion, I dressed the boys in their matching pirate ship tank tops. The dragon you see behind you is a slide. Nick was far too scared to go down the slide, though he insisted on climbing up and blocking the line. Ever since he broke his arm when he was 20 months old, Nick has been afraid of heights. This usually only applies to slides and changing tables.

Nick didn't get scared at all while rock climbing on this big wall. I told him he was probably too little to climb the wall, but he wanted to ask anyway. I wasn't standing right near him, but I heard the attendant ask dubiously, "Do you weigh 45 pounds?" "Yes! I weigh 45 pounds!" replied Nick. (He doesn't.)

Nick didn't get up too far, but I can say with considerable confidence that he climbed further than I would have been able to under any circumstances.

Nick wasn't scared at all climbing on the "deck rigging" ropes, either. He scared all the other kids because he climbed way up and then was shaking the ropes, just for fun.

Henry's favorite room was the play room inside the pirate ship. That's because it's the only room where we could set him free from the stroller. There were pirate coins and big cardboard blocks and crafts.

The trains were a favorite with Nick, because he could use his hands to make them move. There were also teenage guys with big sticks to help push the trains when they got stuck.

The carousel was also a big hit. Nick asked me the next morning if he could go on the carousel again. "Sure," I replied. "Next time we go there." "No!" Nick insisted. "I want to go on the carousel RIGHT NOW!" He didn't seem to understand that there is no carousel in our backyard.

I thought the boats were the coolest part, though they didn't have any boats big enough for me.

Henry had to stay on the dock, too.

This place was just perfect for Nick and his friend. Henry was still too little to enjoy most of the features, but next time he'll enjoy himself more.

Wikipedia defines a swashbuckler as a "rough, noisy, and boastful swordsman." Yup. That's my Nick. My friend bought him a foam sword, and he's been swashbuckling ever since.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spending a Hot Day at the Cafe N Play

Last week my friend Jackie and I wanted to get together to discuss lesson plans and other teacher-related stuff. This, we knew, would be a challenge because I have the boys all day when Greg works. We decided to meet up at the Cafe N Play in Naperville last Saturday, on a day that was 102 degrees. It was very cool inside, though.

Fun was had by all. I couldn't get any good pictures of Nick because he wouldn't stand still long enough!  At one point, there was a whole group of little kids having a party, and Nick was upset because he wasn't part of the party. Other than that, though, both boys exhausted themselves running around and playing with all the cool toys.

The thing I like about the Cafe N Play is all of the toys I don't have to pick up. They are not the same toys that we have at home, which means that Nick and Henry do not get bored easily. If it weren't for the hefty entrance fee, we'd probably be over there once a week at least.

I actually find it quite invigorating to discuss creative lesson plans and share them back and forth. I know Jackie from when we were in graduate school, and we've kept in touch ever since. She had a lot of patience with my kids, thank goodness.
After Jackie and I finished our lesson plan discussions, we headed over to Flat Top Grill for lunch. I've been there a few times this summer, ever since we figured out that kids under 4 eat free.

Nick had a great time with my friend Jackie. It is so much nicer eating out with another adult present. I've taken the kids to Flat Top Grill by myself, and while it is do-able, I much prefer the ease of being able to take one child at a time to the bathroom. Plus, it requires more hands than I have to make two bowls for stir-frying at a time.

I like this picture because it shows. . . truth. Henry is reaching for my bowl, Nick is making a face, and the table is a mess. No one sits still for long. It might not be as pretty as a posed shot, but it is emblematic of my life.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nick Survives The Dentist

It was time. We've been saying that Nick should have his first dental visit since he turned three back in November, but we kept putting it off. I'm not fond of going to the dentist. Greg wanted to take him to his dentist, but I decided that he would go with me  to my dentist instead. Does Nick look like he wants to run away?

No, actually Nick was enthused about his trip to get his teeth counted. He even wore his alligator shirt (because the alligator is opening his mouth to show his teeth) and his alligator shoes (same toothy reason). I scheduled my appointment for the same day. I was planning on having my visit first so Nick could watch me and wouldn't be nervous. He wasn't nervous, though. He was excited, and he begged to go first.

I know, he's sitting like he is ready for another kind of exam. Aren't those shoes adorable, though? Anyhow, Nick adored the chair that went up and down. He asked if we could have one of those at home.

Nick was very appreciative of the blue bib he had to wear. He said it was just like Baby Henry's bib. The dental hygienist thought that was pretty funny. He was also fascinated by the lights and all of the tools. The hygienist actually let Nick try all of those tools. Sometimes I wish I was three. I would totally liked to have messed around with those neat-looking tools.

The good news? Nick has no cavities and 20 perfect baby teeth. The bad news? I have a small cavity in a spot that told that dentist it was from brushing too hard. I had no idea that brushing too hard can give you cavities. Ah, well. They encouraged me to buy a very expensive toothbrush from them to prevent me from brushing too hard. I told the dentist I'd think about it.

Nick got a special certificate for a mini-pizza for being such a good patient. The hygienist let him pick out a little plastic ring, too. While I was having my dental cleaning, this little boy swiped several latex gloves and fliers for expensive toothbrushes. He also figured out how to operate the sink with the foot pedal.

I think one of the reasons Nick loved going to the dentist so much is because Henry didn't get to go with. He told the dentist, "Baby Henry can't go to the dentist because he only has three teeth!" Yup. Getting to do something special with mommy that his brother can't do is the highlight of Nick's day.