Friday, March 27, 2015

Four Indispensable Cookbooks In Our House

I love to cook and in recent years I have become a cookbook fanatic. Anyone who has seen my Amazon wish list knows what I'm talking about. Before I had kids I rarely used cookbooks, preferring to find my recipes on the internet but since it's almost impossible to use my computer with my kids around I started switching to real life paper cookbooks. I have to say I'm glad I made the switch because the experience of sitting down and flipping through a real cookbook is much more satisfying than looking something up online (I still do online recipes on occasion but nothing beats thumbing through a dogeared copy of one of my favorite cooking manuals). In my scarce free time I love to pour over these books and mark recipes I want to try. I also aim to read through them every Sunday evening and plan the week's recipes so I can shop and cook more effectively. I also find that it's really fun cooking with kids out of a cookbook. Whenever I get the urge to bake I flip through my bread cookbooks with Echo and let her help select the recipe and then we cook together. It's a wonderful bonding experience for us and so much fun!

I'm building a great collection of fabulous books but I wanted to share with you some of my tried and true favorite, these are the books I go back to again and again and have consistently loved the recipes from. There are many more cookbooks I adore but these four are definitely my tops.

1. The Family Cooks: This is my newest of cookbook collection and I absolutely love it! Sometimes it can be a little overly healthy and preachy about that fact but if you can get past that it's really a great book full of amazing recipes and suggestions. The suggestions are really what I love most about it actually. As someone who loves to cook and experiment I love that this book gives you jumping off points and then encourages you to run with it. For example, my family's new favorite meal comes from this book and it is totally customizable. They call it nice nice brown rice but we usually just call them rice bowls. You cook up a big batch of brown rice and serve with little bowls of whatever fresh veggies you have on hand. We usually put out corn, edamame, cabbage, red bell peppers, blanched broccoli, chopped peanuts and shredded carrots. Everyone fills their bowl with rice and then adds whatever toppings they want. We also put out a variety of sauces like soy sauce, peanut satay sauce, sriracha and pad thai sauce and that way everyone can sauce it up to their individual tastes. It's amazing for families, especially if you have picky eaters, and is so easy to throw together. I also love that almost every recipe in this book has suggestions for what you kids can do to help you in the kitchen or ways to make the meal more kid friendly.

2. Keepers: This is another great cookbook geared towards families with small kids and offers great tips for shopping and cooking with children. The thing that amazes me about this book is that every time I make a recipe out of it I think "this dish is so good I would serve it at a dinner party". Not that I ever have dinner parties but it's nice to have an array of dishes that are good enough for company. The ingredient lists are short which is always nice for weeknight meals and the results are amazing, I would definitely say that each recipe is more than the sum of it's parts. It's also been the book I own that has taught me the most in terms of cooking technique (outside of my baking books) and that's something I'm pretty lacking in since I tend to be an intuitive cook and just make things up. I've found their tips on how to cook fish really helpful for example.

3. Moosewood Cookbook: I actually own three Moosewood cookbooks and I could decide which one I love most so I just put the original down here. In addition to this book I also have the Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Moosewood Low Fat Favorites. All three of these are wonderful options for vegetarian cooking and full of great ideas. For the past few years I have been moving my family towards a more plant based diet. We still do eat some meat but it's gotten to the point where I rarely cook it at home (except fish). For me it's an ethical issue and I try to limit my meat intake where I can. Luckily my family loves veggies, cheese, beans and grains so it's no problem for them. We made a lot of veggie curries and stir fries, soups and lately tons of salad. The Moosewood cookbook is full of great recipes and ideas for everything from brunch to dinner to snacks to sauces. I love that their recipes are never bland and are always full of flavor. This should be a staple for anyone who wants to cook vegetarian meals.

4. Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day: I have so many great bread baking books that it was hard to pick a favorite but this is the one that changed the way I cook the most and the one I use most often so that makes it the winner. It's important to note that when it says "five minutes a day" it means five minutes of active time. Any yeast leavened dough needs plenty of time to rise and rest so take that in to account. That being said, this books makes having delicious home made bread incredibly easy. My in-laws even told me it tasted like bread from a fancy bakery and that I could sell it! My secret dream is to run a bakery, maybe in my next life). This is a great book if you are new to making bread since it explains a lot of the reasons behind why you do certain things in bread making. The techniques they teach you are a little different than traditional methods but they are incredibly easy and a great starting point. I have a huge love of baking (bread, not so much desserts) and this makes it possible to have fresh bread often even with two little kids around. It's also a great activity to include young kids in as it is almost impossible to screw up. Echo regularly asks me if we can make bread dough today and loves helping me roll out pita bread or pizza dough (both of which you will find great recipes for in this book).

So these are my go to cookbooks and if you are looking for something to liven up your cooking I highly recommend that you check them out. What cookbooks do you use at home? Are there any that you can't live without? I'm always looking for good suggestions now that I am a cookbook addict!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our Most Disorganized Garden Year Yet!

I'm not the most organized gardener to begin with but let me tell you, gardening with an enthusiastic toddler is something else altogether! This year I gave Echo her very own raised bed and took her to Pikes to pick out seeds for it. In her garden she is growing catnip, nasturtiums, carrots and zinnias, I think she only picked the cat nip because it had a picture of a cat on the seed packet! In my garden I decided to focus on easy to grow herbs this year since I'm not sure how well I'll be feeling after my surgery and I don't know if I'll be up for much gardening work. I'm growing several types of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, dill and lemon grass. I'm also trying tomatillos again since those did so well last year and some lima beans that came free with my seed  order.

I have pretty massive seed starting operation going and as usual I jumped the gun putting everything out side and now it's supposed to freeze again this weekend (oops). I have absolutely no idea what anything in any of these pots is. Planting seeds with Echo is chaos and everything got completely mixed around. I'm feeling very relaxed about the garden though, it's much more important to me that Echo participate in the gardening and have than that everything is neat and tidy. Besides, since I am mostly growing herbs this year it should be easy to tell what they are as soon as they get a little bigger. I hope that Echo with have fond memories of gardening with her mommy that will last her the rest of her life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How to Save your Sanity in the Face of Kid Clutter

We recently moved our couch around again (are we the only ones that are constantly rearranging our furniture?) and it caused us to a bit of reorganization. A big part of the motivation for moving the couch in the first place was to get better access to the shelves that Eric put in under our stairs.

You see, having kids seems to automatically cause an influx of crazy amounts of kid stuff. Between presents from from grandparents and friends plus all the little things that we as the girls parents just can't resist picking up for them we seem to have a ton of stuff! Let's face it, shopping for kids is fun! There are a ton of beautifully designed kids products and it is so hard not to go overboard at every opportunity. We have quite a collection of toys, games, puzzles and art supplies and since we ant the main living space to feel like it belongs to everyone, not just the grown ups, we store a lot of the better kid items in the living room.

It used to cause quite a bit of clutter but we found the magic solution to keeping the clutter under control and making the room a snap to clean, storage buckets! I know this isn't a revolutionary new idea or anything but they aren't something that I ever used in my decorating before I had kids and they have made a huge difference in the look and feel of our living room.

Things like art supplies are pretty well organized but for the most part the storage buckets have no rhyme or reason to them. They just house all the random toys that end up floating around the living room. When I need to clean up it takes me literally 2 minutes to scoop everything up and toss it in a bucket. Our kids are young enough that they rarely look for a specific toy so the fact that they are totally unorganized doesn't really matter. Plus Echo enjoys digging through the buckets just to see what's in them, it's like a treasure hunt to her!

We have the same system going in Echo's room and it makes it so easy to clean! Seeing how well it worked in her space really made me want to try it in the other rooms in the house. We have the most buckets going in the living room since that's where we mostly hang out but having a single bucket in the dining room, kitchen and kids bathroom has proved really useful too. Some of our buckets are prettier than others but they all help bring a sense of calm and order to our house that just wouldn't be possible otherwise. I feel like the living room is cleaner than it's been in years and it makes me wonder why we didn't do this from the get go. Hopefully it will keep things feeling neat and tidy as our kid stuff continues to grow!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Staying Positive

I've had a lot of people ask me how I've stayed so positive while dealing with my cancer diagnosis. The fact is that it's complicated. Some of it is that people don't see me at my worst, my breakdowns happen at night, after the kids have gone to bed and no one is around. That being said, the times I have broken down are pretty few and far between and I do feel like I have stayed overwhelmingly positive for the most part. Another part of it is that I am just temperamentally a happy person. I've always been a glass is half full kind of gal, I just don't know how else to be. So while I have times when I feel angry, or bitter or wonder at the unfairness of it, mostly having cancer has made me realize how grateful I am for all the positives. Having cancer gives you a whole new perspective on life and makes you look at things in new ways. Yes, it's a terrible experience to go through but there are lots of good things to take away from it too. Here is a list of positive things things that I have taken away from this experience. I'm sure there will be more learning and growing before it's all said and done too. I have a long way to go but there is so much to be thankful for already!

- Cancer made me give myself permission to take a break.
After Christmas this year I was feeling really burnt out. I had worked hard to host a holiday at my house for the first time. I was busy with two small children. I felt like all I did was clean all day long. I was exhausted, stressed and feeling overwhelmed. When I found out I had cancer things came to a screeching halt. I had no choice but to take a little bit of time for myself, I remember thinking how relaxing my MRI was because I got to lay still for 20 minutes without anyone demanding my attention. I still need to work on letting myself have breaks without feeling guilty but I have come a long way since Christmas! It has given me the excuse I needed to take better care of myself.

- Cancer has introduced me to new and wonderful people.
One of the things that has amazed me about this whole experience is how kind, brave and exceptional people can be. I have had so many strangers reach out to me, whether it be to lend a listening ear or just to give a small show of support by way of a hand squeeze or a hug. My doctors, nurses and fellow cancer patients (and survivors) all understand what I'm going through in a way that others can't. I have been in touch via email with some friends of friends who are cancer survivors and having them to listen to my problems has meant the world. I'm overwhelmingly grateful to the new people I've met who have helped me through this process and I'm utterly astounded by their generosity and kindness.

- Cancer made me realize what is really important to me.
Everyone needs the occasional wakeup call about their priorities, cancer will do that for you in a big way! I've been doing more soul searching and deep thinking since my diagnosis than every before. I've thought about big things like travel and career goals and thought about small things like how I want our family to function on a day to day level. I used to feel guilty about not wanting to go back to work after having my kids but the fact is that my family is my number one priority and they make me incredibly happy. My family is my job and I don't need to apologize for that. I'm also setting goals to do more traveling when the girls get older and maybe pick up my watercolors again in the near future. it's time for me to focus on what makes me happy and not worry about what others think.

-Cancer is humbling.
Nothing will help you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things than going through cancer treatment. You feel out of control and powerless not to mention completely unattractive. Losing all your hair and having your breasts removed feels like the universe is taking everything that is at all feminine and attractive away from you and it is a truly humbling experience.  The bright side is that you realize just how little superficial things like looks matter though. I worried so much about how my two year old would react to my hair loss but you know what? She couldn't care less! I'm her mommy and she loves me and that's all that matters to her. I didn't like letting me husband see me without my hair either but he loves me unconditionally and thinks I'm beautiful inside and out, no matter what. It's nice to realize that there are things more important than looks and your loved ones care about you no matter what you look like. It's probably good to really understand that before I get old and wrinkly ;-)

- Cancer has made me appreciate the blessings in my life
As I said in the intro to this post, there is so much to be grateful for! I have so many things going for me in this situation and things are so much better than they could have been. I'm so grateful that I had two wonderful kids before this whole thing started since I won't be able to have any more kids after my treatment. I'm grateful for all my loving friends and family who have supported me through this ordeal. Especially I'm grateful to my parents for the many meals they've cooked for me and the many hours they've spent watching the kids while I am at appointments or not feeling well. I'm lucky that Eric has a great job that is letting him be flexible and take as much time off as he needs to help out with things. I'm also grateful to his job for providing us great insurance so we don't have money trouble on top of everything else. I'm glad that I am young and healthy aside from the cancer so that my body is well equipped to fight this off and handle my treatments. I have a lot going for me and I am really taking time to appreciate everything I have.

- Cancer has shown me who I can really count on in a crisis.
This whole thing has really shown me how truly awesome my friends are. I've gotten care packages, cards, emails, hot meals, and emails just to check on me. They have helped me track down donated breast milk when I had to stop breastfeeding and called just see how I'm doing. I'm blown away by their generosity and thoughtfulness. I have received so much love and true friendship from the people close to me and it's nice to know I have surrounded myself with such a great network of people. I only hope I can have to chance to be there for them in the way they have been there for me.

-Cancer has strengthened my relationships.
Adversity seems to bring you closer to your loved ones and this is no exception. I am gaining deeper and more meaningful relationships with the most important people in my life. I feel like it has brought me closer to my parents, my brother and my husband. We will get through this together and come out of it stronger than ever!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February Photos

I did a bit better at taking photos this month but we weren't up to much with the weather being pretty cold and nasty most of the time. We did get a little snow which was a treat for Echo! The kids are both growing so much, Clover started sitting up and got 4 teeth this month! I'm hoping for warmer weather and more outings in March :-)

Soft Rye Pretzels

I'm not sure if it's the chemo or having two little kids (probably a combination) but I have had zero time and energy for my blog lately. I do have a few posts planned but until I can get myself organized here are some lovely soft pretzels I made a while back. I'm not going to type out the recipe because it's a little long and involved but I thought they came out so pretty I wanted to show them off anyway. The recipe is from a great cookbook called Good to the Grain and if you are at all interested in whole grain baking I encourage you to check it out. It really focuses on celebrating the flavor of a multitude of whole grain flours and every recipe I've made from it so far has turned out amazing.

I've wanted to make pretzel from scratch for a really long time and I finally got around to it in February. I will say that making these while simultaneously watching a toddler and and baby is maybe not the best idea. It's a lot of hands on work and involves a huge pot of boiling water. However the results were well worth the work. These pretzels were seriously out of this world and we ate them up in no time flat. They were especially good served with some fancy flavored mustards, yum!