Thursday, June 27, 2013

the big three-zero


I turned thirty earlier this month, and overall I must say that it was not as painful as I thought it might be.  I went for a haircut the day after my birthday, in fact, and the stylist remarked that I didn't have "a single gray hair" yet!  So there's that going for me, at least.

My husband managed to conspire with friends and plan a surprise party for me.  The morning of my birthday I took Nell to a doctor's appointment, and as I was walking out of the office to my car, who should roll down her window there in the parking lot but my friend Cara, there to surprise me and take me out to a birthday lunch followed by a bit of shopping. Little did I know that this was giving Nathan the perfect opportunity to tidy up the house and bake me a cake - from scratch!

I came back home in the afternoon, and Nathan assured me that we were doing something for my birthday, although he wouldn't tell me what.  I figured maybe he would be taking me out to dinner.  But then evening rolled around, and my brother-in-law Andrew and his fiancée Hannah walked in the door.  Nathan said they were there to celebrate my birthday, and we'd be grilling for dinner.  Cool!  I was pretty happy about this turn of events, and didn't know this was just the beginning.  But then more people arrived, and more... and they kept coming!

In the end, about a dozen of our friends were there.  Nathan had asked people to bring specific food to share, to go with the grilled corn and veggie kebabs he and Andrew made, altogether making for a pretty perfect party.  Among other things, Kevin brought his award-winning guacamole, and Melissa brought her delicious radish dip specialty.  Yum!  And Katie mixed up margaritas all around, making for happy guests.


Not only did Nathan bake me a cake from scratch (this is a guy who virtually never sets foot in the kitchen!), but he even thought to open windows and air out the house so when I got home I wouldn't have an inkling as to his activities.  Very clever!  

And the cake was delicious, by the way.


Nathan gave me a kitchen scale I had been wanting (to weigh ingredients for my bread-baking endeavors), and a special Kitchen Aid paddle with a scraper he had been wanting me to have.  He likes gadgets, and this one is pretty useful.  Beater plus scraper all wrapped up into one!

Thanks, babe, for doing something special for my thirtieth.  Not only did you plan a party for me, you planned a party with all vegetarian food!  I felt loved.



So far, being thirty isn't so bad.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

our summer CSA share: the first week

For the third summer now, I'm getting a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from a nearby organic farm.  This is my first summer using this particular farm - I've tried out a different farm each summer I've done this so far!  Anyway, I thought I'd do a weekly post recapping some of the meals I make with our organic veggies.  Here are just a few of the things we ate last week:

one

Emeril's Tuscan white bean soup with broccoli rabe.



I actually ended up combining a few recipe ideas and adding vegetarian "sausage" from Trader Joe's to this soup, in the hopes of making it more appealing to my veggie-hating husband.  If I make it again I won't bother; after all, I'm usually the one eating the leftovers when it comes to a meal like this, and I'd enjoy it more without the sausage {or "soysage as I like to call it}.

But this is a tasty, flavorful soup recipe, pretty quick to assemble, and a great way to enjoy broccoli rabe!

two

Roasted beets, sauteed beet greens with garlic, quinoa, and oven-baked fries.



{Okay, Nathan's plate had baked chicken on it, too, and significantly less of the other stuff.  But he did taste a beet!}

I love roasted beets, and these beauties were delicious with nothing more than a little olive oil and salt on them.  And Nell loves quinoa, so this meal was a big win in her book, as well.

three

Veggie sandwiches for lunch... almost every day for the past week!



Lettuce and spinach from our CSA plus hummus, avocado, tomato, pickle, cheese, and some lettuce from my own garden... the perfect sandwich!  Nell enjoys a 'deconstructed' sandwich, if you will -- particularly the cheese, avocado, and tomato, although she's been known to eat a spoon of plain hummus from time to time, too.

Farm-fresh spinach and lettuces... that stuff from the grocery store doesn't even compare, am I right?

Monday, June 24, 2013

those dreaded late afternoon hours

I think all the mamas out there know what I mean in my title, right?  It's not just us over here in our household, is it?


You wouldn't know it from this picture {too cute not to post, right?}, but the hours between the end of the afternoon nap and the beginning of the bedtime routine just seem really long, am I right?

These days, Nell usually wakes up between 6:00 and 7:00.  We hang out in bed for as long as she'll allow it {read: Mama stalls for more rest while nursing or plying Nell with toys with one eye open}, and then we get up and have breakfast.  Then Nell is usually happy to play for a little bit, and before you know it, nap time!

Just about two hours after waking, she's usually ready for her morning nap.  Lately she's been taking longer naps than her former 45 minute catnaps, so sometimes the morning nap can go until 11:00!  It's amazing!  Then we might go outside for a bit, or read some books, or fold some laundry, and boom, it's lunch time already.  Clean up from lunch, get some work done around the house, and around 2:30, she's usually ready for her afternoon nap.

Now, quite often, I'm teaching during her afternoon nap and the hours that follow.  But often I'm not - especially during the summer months, when I fit all my students into just three days a week.  Nell wakes around 3:15 or 4:00, and then begins the marathon of 3-5 hours until bedtime.  More often than not, everyone's unhappy during these hours.  Maybe her nap was too short, maybe she's teething, maybe the snacks offered are not sufficiently to her liking, maybe the weather is too warm, maybe she's grown bored of her toys... whatever the cause, my poor girl makes her displeasure known.  She can be happy, but usually only if she is in my arms.  And I am standing, walking, doing something.

You know what makes those oft-difficult hours of the day bearable?  Being in the process of making a home-cooked dinner.  Yes, really!  It probably sounds like it would make it worse, just adding one more responsibility with a fussy babe clinging to your feet and trying to clamber up your legs.  But sometimes you just need something to fill the hours, and making dinner is just the thing.  On evenings with simple dinners planned, or the occasional frozen pizza night, the hours... just... draaaaaaag.  But cooking a more involved meal passes the time so nicely.  And if you, like me, have a baby who likes - no, demands - to be held, put that baby on your back in a carrier or wrap, and watch her stop her cries and start watching what you're doing!

And if all else fails, it's such a nice excuse to call in the Backup Crew: Dad.  "Hey honey, I know you just got home from work, but I'm trying to make dinner and it would really help if you'd take this adorable baby off my hands..."

So that is my advice, friends, if you are also finding the late afternoon hours to be particularly long, especially on these long summer days.

There you have it: a boring post about Nell's nap schedule.  But a cute picture, yes?

Coming soon: meals I've been making with our summer CSA share!  A weekly summer series of vegetable adventures here on the blog!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dad

I was looking through some old photos today and, in a rather appropriate coincidence, came across some pictures of my Dad from a visit he and my Mom made a year ago in March.  They came for my master's violin recital, and, in typical Palmer style, helped me out with all sorts of projects while they were here.  I love that about them - they way they help with everything from cooking meals to assembling furniture to gardening.   And not because they have to, but because we like working alongside one another and spending time together.

Generally, you can be fairly certain that a photo of me wearing an old college sweatshirt at almost 8 months pregnant wouldn't be a favorite, but these photos kind of are, because my Dad looks so happy, and I love him so much.




Oh wait... did I say he looked happy?  Not in that one.  That was our 'American Gothic' impression.  Substituting a shovel for a pitchfork, but otherwise identical, right?

Okay, maybe not.

But here are the happy ones:



We had spent the afternoon planting pansies, and I'll always remember that day, because so much about it gets to the heart of the kind of Dad I have.  You see, I wanted to put flowers into my window boxes, and my parents were glad to help out with the project.  It necessitated a visit to our first house, our rental property, to pick up some of my gardening tools from the garage there.  When we got there, I was a little upset to see the state of the yard the way our tenants at the time were keeping it.  Garden beds I had created, perennials I had planted, tiny plants I had carefully nurtured... everything was overgrown with weeds, and some areas even had trash thrown on top of the plants, smothering them.

I quickly loaded my gardening tools into the trunk of my car, and was quiet on the drive back home.  And then I went into my bedroom and cried for a minute.  {Very pregnant, remember?  Does that give me an excuse to have been crying over crushed plants?}

In any case, my parents knew I was upset, and my Dad slipped out a little later that day to "run some errands."  He came back with five hanging baskets and dozens of pansies - a gift to help make our house more beautiful, to make me feel like I could garden in this home, too.  Just to cheer me up.


So we planted pansies together that afternoon, not just in the window boxes as I had planned but also in five new hanging baskets, which Dad helped me hang from the front porch and from the side porch.  And now I'll always think of Dad when I take them down each winter and then hang them again each spring.


Dad, thanks for being the kind of Dad who always lends a hand and enjoys a good project.  You've taught me how to use hand tools and power tools, how to put up a garden fence, how to solve problems, how to finish wood furniture.  You showed me all those things with great enthusiasm through your great sense of adventure, despite the health problems you've had for most of your life.  You're nearly always doing something, reading something, learning something.  {And then sleeping hard in your armchair when all the action wears you out.}  

But more importantly than all those things, you've modeled compassion, understanding, and a sort of strong gentleness.  A care for "the least of these," whether it was your kids, or a baby chick with an injury, or an ant wandering through our home you'd carefully take outside.  Or your grown up daughter crying because her perennials were carelessly crushed in her old back yard.

I'm so lucky to have you for a Dad.  Happy Father's Day.


A Day in Newburyport


I just got around to uploading pictures from my camera from the past few weeks, and was happily surprised to come across pictures from a day trip we took with our friends Cara and Gregg back on Memorial Day: Newburyport!









It was a beautiful day, and the city was crowded with people out enjoying the sunshine, the live music, and the junk food.


Of course, we were no exceptions.  A slice of brick oven pizza found it's way into my hands.


And since pizza is Italian, it seemed only natural to follow it up with some gelato.  A scoop of nutella flavor and a scoop of orange chocolate chip, to be precise.



Nell alternated between hanging out in the stroller and preferring to be worn on my back.  Both ways, she was an eager observer of the day's activities.  She even endured a diaper change on a brick-paved alleyway when desperate times called for just such desperate measures, so I'd say she was a champ.



Is there anything more handsome than a dad pushing a stroller?  {Besides maybe a dad wearing a baby in a baby carrier, of course.}


We wandered the aisles of Oldies marketplace, a fun indoor/outdoor shop filled with used items, antiques, collectibles, and sundry items.  Old vinyls!  Books!  Sewing machines!  Glass bottles!  Typewriters!  Hats!  I could spend an entire day there, I think.



And ending a day with pesto is always a good idea.


We resolved to have many more such adventures over the summer months.  This area is so rich with history and beauty and wonderful places to see and explore... we really ought to take advantage of it more often!




Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nell's First Birthday: A Sprinkles Themed Party

The weekend after Nell turned one, we had a birthday party for her.

Inspired by a beautiful photo of a pink-frosted cake with confetti sprinkles I had seen on Pinterest (where else?), I decided on a theme of sprinkles for Nell's party.  Confetti sprinkles, as much as possible, but any sprinkles would do.  Having a theme helped me start coming up with ideas for the kind of party I wanted to have for Nell.  So, having a chosen a theme and a date, I put invitations in the mail.


I started spending my spare moments thinking of foods and decorations that could involve sprinkles.   And I decided to also draw on turquoise and coral colors, because I like them.  And because it could motivate me to finally paint the wooden high chair I had bought back in December the pretty turquoise color I had settled on.


I love how the chair turned out, don't you?

I got peach and turquoise balloons, along with clear balloons I filled with confetti.

And I made a few paper circle garlands in confetti sprinkles colors.

In a rare moment of weakness I had spent $20 on a polka dot dress I found on eBay that was just too, too perfect.  Because every girl having a confetti sprinkles party needs a polka dot dress.  {It was totally worth it.}

In the end, Nell's party wasn't perfect (for example, my house wasn't altogether clean, ahem), but it did all come together - despite sore throats and ear infections invading our home in the weeks prior to the party.


There was iced tea and pink lemonade, with mason jars for guests to drink from, complete with confetti polka dot paper straws I got from this Etsy shop.  Only a few dollars, and totally worth it for the cuteness factor they added!


Of course, classic circus cookies with sprinkles were a must, as were chocolate-dipped pretzel rods with sprinkles.  And giant smarties, which look like confetti sprinkles.


I also served Deb's Black Bean Confetti Salad (from Smitten Kitchen), because, hey, not only is it a favorite of mine, but it has the word "confetti" in the name.

For a relatively balanced menu, I included foods that didn't involve sprinkles, too.  Like cheeses and crackers, homemade hummus with pita wedges, and a mixed berry salad.

And I made this arugula, carrot, and chickpea salad, subbing farro for the wheat berries.  {I took one bite and it swiftly jumped into the ranks of my top five favorite salads of all time, by the way.}


I made a four-layer chocolate cake, using another wonderful Smitten Kitchen recipe, then made Deb's Swiss Buttercream Frosting and used Wilton's 'creamy peach' gel coloring to get a coral shade.


Since Nell wouldn't be able to blow out a candle anyway, I decided on a paper cake-topper of her {nick}name that I cut out using an x-acto knife.

 

I also made Nell a little 'smash cake' using this relatively healthy recipe for Maple Apple Spice cake (and subbing more maple syrup for the brown rice syrup it calls for).  I was running short on time and frosted it very imperfectly {shall we call it 'rustic chic'?} with a cream cheese frosting.

Family and friends at the party gathered around Nell's high chair to sing 'Happy Birthday,' and she absolutely loved it.


I presented her with the smash cake, and was a little disappointed - though not surprised - that she didn't exactly dig into it.  


She patted it gingerly...


Smiled for the camera...


And finally tasted some only when I offered it on my fingertip.

No thanks, Mom.


Not surprising, coming from a baby who wasn't too keen on any solid foods until recently, I suppose.

So, no photos of cake smeared all over this little girl.  On the bright side, she kept her dress clean!

The weather was getting chilly, so we moved the party into our living room, where the grown-ups ate cake and ice cream.





Nell was still happy and didn't seem the least bit tired... she was ready to open presents!






We all got a good laugh when she opened a pretty pair of Robeez from Melissa and joyously exclaimed, "DAAAAAAA!!!"


Ahh, a girl's love of shoes can begin so early in life.  

 

Mama and Daddy gave Nell the book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.  A book I encountered through my friend Story, and a must-have for every baby's library!


And I had spent a couple of late nights making Nell a Waldorf blanket doll of soft purple flannel.  Her first doll!


Of course, I enjoyed Nell's party.  I was grateful to have family and friends there to celebrate with us.  I loved how cute Nell was in her dress, thought the shade of coral in the cake frosting turned out just right, and enjoyed the way the little details came together into a cute, sprinkle-themed party that seemed whimsical and fitting for my one-year-old girl.  But what I loved the best about Nell's party was how much she enjoyed herself.  She is such a personable little girl.  She just loved having all the people there.  She relished the attention, and seemed to be having the time of her life.  I loved seeing her enjoying her day with such beautiful smiles, such shrieks of delight.


MWAH!  Baby girl, we love you so.  Happy first birthday.