our willa bean is 4

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It’s late (almost 10pm!) and it’s been a long but wonderful day of celebrating our dear Willa. We planned to keep it low-key this year but somehow it felt anything but that, but in all the right celebratory ways. Willa was thrilled.

We had a birthday party in the park yesterday with cupcakes and donuts and a bubble maker and a Minnie Mouse piñata. And for the first time ever, her scrooge mother didn’t write “no gifts please” on the invitation so she got a boatload of amazing gifts, several of them of the Frozen variety. Princess Elsa 4eva.

And her Nana’s in town.

Her Uncle got her a stuffed skunk with pink sparkly eyes. She loves skunks. Almost as much as Elsa. Sometimes more. Depends on the day.

And today we took a trip to her favorite park and she didn’t even care that the train and petting zoo were closed or that a thunderstorm rolled in after 20 minutes of playing in the stream.

After that we went to see chickens and get fresh eggs at Auntie Al’s work.

Once home, she and her brother ate a whole pint of raspberries in the backyard and then she watched The Cat and the Hat on the couch in minimal clothing.

We made pizza for dinner and she squealed when daddy threw the dough high up in the air. She got more presents.

I made her a “pink lady” cake with strawberries and as soon as she saw the strawberries smashed to the sides she ran over with arms spread wide and gave me a huge hug and told me it was the best cake ever.

Mid-cake eating we realized there was a rainbow in front of the house. Not a mini one, but a real-deal all the way across the sky one. She jumped up and down and said she “just knew” there’d be one on her birthday. Later she said it was the best gift she received for her birthday.

She used her newfound four-year-old strength to drag her mini trampoline upstairs and bounced on it for a good hour to burn off pizza and cake and present-induced excitement.

She got to stay up until 9pm. Wearing a glow bracelet from Nana and Bobo.

She makes us laugh and smile and sigh and scream and I can’t imagine what our life would be like without the joy she brings to it each and every day. Happy birthday, Willa!

a happy birthday brunch for our three year old!

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Willa turned three last week!

So far, I’m not sure what to make of this age. It’s so hot and cold. Up and down. She’s the cutest little girl EVER and then moments later she is so naughty. But I know it’s all part of her development, and I’m doing my best to take deep breaths and be patient and supportive as she’s learning.

She’s working on being a big sister. She loves her little brother and enjoys having him around. She will say, “Hi little buddy!” when he wakes up from a nap, and if he’s fussing, she’ll say, “It’s ok Cameron!” and then tell him something about what’s going on. She has trouble sharing her toys with him. She often grabs things away from him. But she’ll occasionally bring him a toy to play with, and she loves to share her food with him while they’re at the table eating.

My favorite thing about Willa at this stage are our conversations. She loves to ask me questions. Lately we’ve been talking a lot about “workers” and what they build. She started with, “Mama, did workers build our house?” And now she asks if workers have built other things. The other day we were driving somewhere and she asked me to explain how the workers built our car. You can feel her mind working.

She remembers details and events of things we did so long ago. I am always surprised when she reminds me of them weeks or months later. She can carry on a conversation so well. It blows me away. She is getting so tall and so smart. I feel proud of the beautiful and inquisitive little girl she is growing into. She challenges and delights me each day.

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Her birthday was a wonderful day! We were lucky to have family in town to celebrate and we threw a little brunch shindig with friends, donuts, cake, and an inflatable pink picture frame (Is that what we call it? No idea. But it was fun!).

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DSC07659^^”Mango cake!” For weeks before her birthday, Willa was telling everyone that she was going to have a mango cake. We weren’t sure exactly what a mango cake was, but opted for vanilla cake with mango custard in the middle and buttercream frosting. It was delicious. Willa might have ruined her appetite with donuts, but I certainly enjoyed it. Huge thanks to the pastry chef! ;)^^

DSC07662-001^^Cam slept for the first half of the party, but woke up and put on his party pants. He tried some snacks and was super excited to meet his Uncle Mike!^^

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DSC07549-001^^An inflatable pink frame = possibly the best $1.99 I’ve ever spent at Goodwill.^^

recently loved recipes

My mom is a recipe organization genius. When I was growing up, she always had tidy binders of recipes she’d clipped from magazines or got from friends. More recently, she reorganized all of these, along with newer finds from the internet, into larger binders. One for each type of dish.

Then there’s me. I mostly use Pinterest. And don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest as much as the next gal on the internet. I find it a great way to keep heaps of content organized. But, sometimes, I get concerned about those heaps. What if Pinterest crashes? Where will all my recipes go? How will I ever cook again? I suppose I do also have a box of recipe clippings that I never remember to look in. I am actually not even sure where it is.

So. In an effort to bypass Pinterest (but not exerting anywhere near the impressive effort my mom does), here are a few of the recipes we’ve been enjoying in the past few months:

IMAGE_3108^^Crispy Cauliflower Tacos with Mango Salsa^^

IMAGE_3155^^Slow Cooker Coconut Green Curry & Pork^^

IMAGE_3254^^Homemade Pizza with “Lazy Pizza Dough”^^

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PICTURE-LESS DELIGHTS:

1 Can of Chiles in Adobo, 5 Dinners
Both the Kale and Pasta and the White Bean Chili recipes are surprisingly delicious given the minimal effort they require!

Summer Grilled Mexican Sweet Corn Quinoa Salad
Bookmark for next summer! Lots of work, but so good.

Caponata Panzanella

Shaved Brussles Sprouts and Sweet Potato Salad

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SWEETER TREATS:

Cranberry and Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Bread
(So good, but definitely a dessert! I’m adding cream cheese frosting when I thaw another loaf from our freezer.)

Flourless Apple Pie Pancakes

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 What about you? What dishes have you been enjoying? And how do you keep your favorite recipes organized?

a weird but wonderful weekend

This weekend was odd. Lots of fun moments, but some awful ones as well.

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Friday night we met up with friends at our local nanobrewery. It was great fun, but in bed a few hours later, I did not feel good. I thought to myself, could it really be two beers making me feel like this?

The next morning, we got up early and battled the traffic on 70 (ugh) to snowshoe at Lily Pad Lake trail (thanks for the great recommendation, Megan!). It was an absolutely perfect day to be outside. Blue sky; not too cold. But midway through our hike, I wasn’t feeling so hot. The altitude? Once we were done, I felt worse, but thought maybe I just needed some lunch. Nope, that wasn’t it, either. I spent the rest of Saturday in bed. Not fun.

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On Sunday, things looked up a bit, and we took advantage of another beautiful Denver day by taking a family bike ride. We are so excited to have a new bike seat for Willa! And we finally found a helmet for her as well, so we were good to go. [Side rant: finding a helmet for a toddler is not easy. Apparently the more simple you want the helmet to be, the more you have to pay. The cheap ones at Target have Minnie Mouse, Dora, or some other sparkly princess on them. Or cars or superman. Ugh. And the nice, not ridiculous, gender neutral ones are $60. We probably would have splurged on that one, but we didn’t want to wait for shipping, so we settled on this one from REI. It still has monkeys on it (not to mention skulls and crossbones!?), but at least it’s gender neutral? And, also, why must a bike helmet be so gendered? Triple ugh.]

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We ended the weekend with Char Kuih Kak for dinner, and of course, Downton! And thankfully, I’m feeling all better today. Here’s to a good week!

P.S. As you’ll note in one picture above, a 19-month old is not always super keen on something like snowshoeing. She was flailing and annoyed until she finally took a little snooze. Then, later, she had another moment of ruining the peace and quiet…I think she must have gotten cold. Just wanted to make this known, lest you think my toddler was somehow a non-crier, which is what I always tend to think when I see pictures of peoples’ happy kids on their blogs.

friends + french 75s

Aren’t visits from friends the best?

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve had to spend long periods of time separated from family and close friends. It’s sad and it sucks but it’s the nature of our current society and our geographically large country. And even though the methods of communication have increased since the solitary option of writing letters, nothing compares to just spending time together. Hugging, laughing, confiding…so important. So wonderful.

Turns out, having good friends in town to visit is even more glorious when you have a 16-month-old. Willa was DELIGHTED to have friends here. She showed off her favorite toys, grinned from ear to ear the whole weekend, and barely let out a single whine. Which made her mama and dada pretty darn delighted too. Not to mention, having friends who love her and want to spend time with her makes us so happy too.

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Our visit with Alli and Pat of course included plenty of good eating and drinking (and a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise to balance things out). After they arrived on Thursday night, we caught up over sweet potato and black bean enchiladas and Unita brews. There was a lunch at Über Sausage (after my Lohi walking tour), a dinner at Old Major, a failed attempt to check out Williams & Graham, and drinks at Linger. (I also tried using Uber for the first time, which seems to me like a giant rip-off compared to a regular cab, but maybe I’m just not hip enough?) We met my parents in Longmont for beer tasting at Left Hand Brewery. I made a variation of these pumpkin waffles. We had lunch at Illegal Pete’s.

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There also was, of course, a stop at Mondo Vino. We were feeling a bit beer-ed out, as Colorado has a tendency to make one (in nothing but the best way), so we made some purchases to take the evening in a different direction. A gin direction. And gin and champagne direction. Could there really be any better direction?

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We cheers our friendship and a fantastic visit with French 75s. It’s been a favorite drink of Alli’s for a bit, and one we enjoyed together on her birthday recently, so we decided to attempt to make it at home. It’s not hard: just gin, champagne, simple syrup, and lemon juice. It’s pretty much perfect for anytime you want to celebrate with friends. Or you’re beer-ed out.

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French 75
Makes two drinks
2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
4 ounces champagne
lemon peel

1. If necessary, make simple syrup: combine 1 part water and 2 parts sugar in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until incorporated.
2. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add gin, lemon juice, and syrup. Shake vigorously.
3. Pour half the mixture into each glass (champagne flutes or cocktail glasses).
4. Top with champagne and a lemon peel.

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carrot and pineapple muffins

When it rains it pours.
Things get worse before they get better.
Misery loves company.
Bad things come in threes.

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Turns out I shouldn’t have been complaining about my bad week on Friday night. My week actually got bad 24 hours later when I woke up sick in the middle of the night. All our Sunday Halloween plans had to be cancelled. A dinner date with friends we’d planned for weeks was postponed. All things besides getting through each moment seemed unimportant.

It was a nasty GI bug. I really hope you don’t get it. It was a doozy. I felt the absolute worst for at least 24 hours. And not so great for another 36 hours after that. We’re finally all better (knock on wood) but appetites have been slow to return.

Whenever recovering from an illness, I always feel inclined to make breakfast for dinner. This time was no different. Monday night brought us Joy the Baker’s Lemon Ricotta Waffles. (Stop reading and go make them now! So good. No wait, read on about my muffins, then go make one of the two!) Yesterday, I took a break from baking but bought a bunch of baking supplies so today I could make carrot muffins. I needed to use up more carrots from our farm trip earlier this month. I also needed to use up some canned pineapple tidbits I bought on a whim thinking Willa would like them (she doesn’t). I would usually throw raisins and nuts into a carrot muffin, but I had those pineapples, and nuts are kind of a chocking hazard for lil W. Soooo, below is what I made. And I surprisingly really dig the pineapple. You should definitely give it a go.

Happy Halloween!

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Carrot and Pineapple Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
½ cup maple syrup (or any combination of honey, maple syrup, or sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup shredded carrot
½ cup pineapple pieces (from a can)

1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, spices, and salt.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or a bowl with a hand mixer or using your brute arm strength) cream the butter, sweetener, egg, and vanilla. Once combined, stir in the applesauce.
3. Using a spatula, fold in the shredded carrots and pineapple.
4. Grease a regular-sized muffin tin (or use paper liners) and scoop approximately 1/4 cup of the batter into each muffin.
5. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until golden brown on the edges and a toothpick comes out clean.

a day at miller farms

My garage is full of potatoes. And onions. And two kohlrabi. And a few other things that wouldn’t fit in the fridge. Let’s not even discuss the fridge. It’s quite full. The carrots are crowding the oversized turnips and the peppers have overtaken the fruit crisper.

You see, yesterday we went to Miller Farms in Platteville, Colorado. It seemed like we needed a fall family adventure, and I’d heard Miller Farms was a good place to have just that. Plus, it is halfway between Denver and Fort Collins, so Nana met us there for a day of farming fun!

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But I have to say, when we first pulled into the parking lot and saw a giant wooden Sponge Bob Square Pants next to a bouncy house, I wanted to leave. I was looking for the pumpkins and produce, not gimmicks. Why on earth does Sponge Bob need to be at a farm? Can’t kids just enjoy farm stuff at a farm? Anyway. We didn’t leave. We paid our $15 per adult admission and made our way in.

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Willa fed the goats and we tooled around in some miniature tractor bicycles before loading ourselves onto the tractor-pulled hayride for the real deal. Our ride took us to several stops around the farm where we were able to get off and pick our own produce. Our first stop was onions. Getting down from the wagon, I had no idea what we were picking. It just looked like semi-dry dirt fields. But as I got closer, I saw onions, nestled in the ground. Of course onions grow in the ground. I knew that. I’d just never seen it. And boy was I excited.

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That was just the beginning of the produce excitement. Subsequent stops included carrots, leeks, celery, kohlrabi  cabbage, potatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, and pumpkins. Have you ever picked a kohlrabi? Or a leek? You have to PULL on those guys.

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It sounds a bit absurd to say it was a hard day’s work, but all the fun and learning really was kind of exhausting. After picking all our produce we had to haul it back to the cars (warning: there’s a mad dash for wagons when the hayride ends!), and then once home it required a lot of cleaning and sorting (and many curses at Denver Public Works for not yet having city-wide compost collection).

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In the end, here’s what we came home with for our $30 admission:

  • 6 small pumpkins
  • 10 ears of corn
  • 3 ears of popcorn
  • ~30 small peppers
  • 7 baby Asian eggplants
  • 3 cabbages
  • 2 kohlrabi
  • 5 turnips
  • a bag of kale leaves
  • 6 leeks
  • tons of carrots
  • a bin of yellow, red, and white onions
  • a bin of red and white potatoes

It’s going to take some serious strategy to use this all before it goes bad. I started by making a dish similar to this for dinner (peppers in place of tomatoes), freezing the corn kernels, and making carrot cake pancakes for Sunday morning breakfast. I’m excited for the challenge! Although I might be sick of potatoes in a couple of weeks…

labor day lamb ragù

My definition of what makes a good dinner has changed dramatically in the past year. The other night we had avocado toast and I felt accomplished for putting dinner on the table. Last night I was pleased to make spinach and gruyère quesadillas without burning myself as Willa clung to my legs.

Despite resigning myself to slightly simpler (yet hopefully still delicious) meals, I make sure to get a bit more extravagant from time to time. And if having friends in town for Labor Day weekend isn’t a reason to make a fancy meal, I’m not sure what is! So, Sunday night, after the littles were asleep, we sat outside and enjoyed Strozzapreti with Lamb Ragù.

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This was my first ragù. Dan regularly makes a spectacular red sauce, but I have not dabbled much in the meat sauces myself. I tend to be pretty scared of meat in the kitchen, but I can manage ground meat. And this recipe was not really that hard, but it did have me try some new techniques. For example, a spice packet. I’d never made a spice packet! (Obviously, since it required an extra trip to the store when I realized I didn’t have any cheesecloth.) And it held together through the entire simmering, which was the key to the flavorful sauce.

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It was a great dish to make with friends over, because after the inital prep, the sauce has to simmer for 2 hours, giving you plenty of time to drink, socialize, and set the table. Above all else, it was just nice to try a new recipe and enjoy it with good friends, wine, and adult conversation. (I did of course make sure Willa got to enjoy some leftovers for lunch the next day!)

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I was tempted to make this pasta dish too. Next time! What are your favorite “take more effort” meals?

happy birthday, mom!

Today is my Mom’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom! Yay!

So, obviously, this post is in honor of her. There are so many things I love about my Mom, but one of them is her skill in the kitchen. I’m sure I’m not alone; so many of us grow up learning to cook from and with our parents. I, too, hope W will someday have lovely memories of her time with me in the kitchen.

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{Sesame-Spiced Lamb Meatballs and Smashed Chickpea Salad, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook}

Growing up, we always had a homecooked meal on the table at dinnertime. Family dinner happened almost every night, and my sister and I were responsible for setting and clearing the table. Some people remember specific dishes their parents made when they were kids, and return home as adults to again enjoy those meals. This isn’t really the case for me. I cherish moments with my Mom in the kitchen; just being in the kitchen with her. Helping her prep. Talking. Getting out ingredients or dishes. Setting the table. And, of course, trying different creations.

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{Harissa Ravioli, adapted from Heidi Swason‘s Super Natural Every Day}

My mom’s cooking has evolved a lot over the years. She’s much more adventurous than she once was. (She used to claim she hated curry. We’ve brought her around!) She now makes so many different dishes. She follows recipes. She improvises meals from the fridge.  She now orders specialty ingredients off the internet, and knows the pros and cons of every single one of our small town grocery stores. She does it all, really.

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{Sesame Seared Tuna with a Soy Dipping Sauce}

W and I made a trip east at the end of May, and spent a week at my parents’ house. Every night but one, we were in the kitchen, drinking a delicious libation; making a new dish. Mom is great about picking out and putting aside recipes she wants to try with me. She picks things she’ll know I’ll like, and dishes she wants me to help her make. She saves special bottles of wine for us, or makes special cocktails. My dad puts aside good beers for us to share. We always eat and drink well, and this trip was no exception.

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{dessert wine from eleven winery on Bainbridge Island // Lug-Tread from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company}

So much deliciousness. So much wonderful time spent with family. It was a great week. Thanks, Mom (and Dad)! I love you.

recipe list for molly wizenberg’s “a homemade life”

Have you read “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg (aka Orangette)? It’s a lovely book about Molly’s life experiences and how they relate to food and eating. I bought it a few years back at her book signing at the University of Washington. I’ve slowly read through it, chapter by chapter, each one ending with a recipe. I’ve added a few post-its on things I want to make, but for the most part I forget what recipes are in the book. She includes an index in the back of the book, but I find it hard to navigate. So I finally took the time to compile a recipe index. It’s been useful for me, so I thought I’d share, in case someone else might be having the same frustration with her book.

All of the recipes I’ve made so far from the book are fantastic. I wholeheartedly recommend you try the Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon (page 49). I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “prunes? ewwwww.” But honestly. They’re just dried plums. And once softened, they’re so good atop yogurt. Try them.

Recipes from “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg

Breakfast
Burg’s French Toast 39
Buckwheat Pancakes 68
Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar 131
Italian Grotto Eggs 140
Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon 49

Salads
Burg’s Potato Salad 14
Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula, and Goat Cheese 115
Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan 238
Spring Salad with Avocado and Feta 246
Frisee with Ham, Eggs, and Mustard Vinaigrette 264
Arugula Salad with Pistachios and Chocolate 296

Soups
Ed Fretwell Soup 156
Tomato Soup with Two Fennels 256
Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla 226

Mains
Bouchons au Thon 101
Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille 124
Doron’s Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro, and Golden Raisins 168
Cider-Glazed Salmon 181
Chana Masala 233
Little Corn Cakes with Bacon, Tomato, and Avocado 304

Vegetables
Cream-Braised Green Cabbage 186
Red Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper 222
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Coriander 192
Slow-Roasted Tomato Pesto 193
Cranberry Chutney with Ginger and Dried Cherries 210
Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde 271
Zucchini Noodles with Pesto 273
Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme 290
Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper 291

Sweets
Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake 20
Banana Bread with Chocolate + Crystallized Ginger 26
Coeur a la Creme with Raspberry Puree 33
Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Glaze 44
Hoosier Pie 55
Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears 75
Fruit-Nut Balls 80
Espresso-Walnut Toffee 83
Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges 88
Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache 94
Tarte Tatin 108
Jimmy’s Pink Cookies 132
Dried Fruit Pie 147
Rum Cream Pie with Graham Cracker Crust 150
Scottish Scones with Lemon and Ginger 174
French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon 204
Custard-Filled Cornbread 251
Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots 278
Vanilla-Black Pepper Ice Cream 285
“Our Wedding Cake” 312