Friday, September 27, 2013

The Best Bits

Yesterday I was thinking about this one time, at band camp...

Grant and I have been together for over 10 years, several of them as a very happily married couple. I told our story to a new friend last weekend and was reminded how unlikely it was that we got together at all. It was a chance encounter that turned into a love affair that turned into a house in urban Pittsburgh with two kids and a shared record collection. How does this happen??

Because moments like these happen. Moments that make you fall in love and decide to stay in love. Even when love is hard and lonely and disappointing. Especially when love is easy and brilliant and intimate. Moments like these are exclusive and make up the strands that bind two people together with cords that cannot be broken by anything.

1. Our fifth anniversary we spent in New Orleans. We had been evacuated from our "home" for three years and this trip was our first back where we weren't packing up a flooded apartment or watching the city get smaller in our rearview mirror. We were celebrating. Drinking and eating and sleeping in and getting tattooed and having sex on the balcony. We felt like five years was a big deal- especially after our particular first five years. We were going do this marriage thing. We decided to eat at one of the oldest restaurants in the French Quarter- expensive, classic, reservations months in advance FANCY. We got all dressed up and spent two brilliant hours pretending to know what Prime Tournedos was and relying on our memory of how Paul Giamatti tested wine in the movie Sideways so we could give our waiter the subtle nod that all was acceptable. Then we left and drank absinthe at a bar on Jackson Square. While we were sitting on the high bar stools enjoying the breeze through the open windows, the skies opened. It poured like it only rains in New Orleans. We were full and happy and a little drunk so we decided to make a run for it. We ran through the Quarter, jumped on the street car and took it back to the Garden District where our Bed and Breakfast was. At that point we were as wet as we could possibly be, but we ran again anyway. Holding hands, laughing and loving each other and this gorgeous city. When I look at the pictures we took of each other, rain dripping from Grant's beard and my eyelashes, I can taste the redfish and absinthe again.

2. Walking in the door to our first house. It was a huge old house in Bellefonte, 10 minutes outside of State College. It was more then livable, but we had big plans to fix it up even more and make it ours. We lived there for 4 years, painting every wall, repairing horse hair plaster, planting gardens, tearing out bathroom floors, scraping wallpaper and replacing kitchen hardware. We did things with a book in one hand and a hammer in the other. And always a houseful of people. Dinner parties and sleepovers and fire pits and grape picking and girl's art nights and Thanks giving and Christmas and New Years. Any excuse to open a bottle of wine and make delicious food. We brought newborn Pursy home to that house, conceived Knox in that house and built a strong marriage while we built a gorgeous home.

3. The day we found we were pregnant. We had been trying for over a year and had just been diagnosed as infertile. We had been planning a trip to New York for the weekend- we needed to get away from temperature taking, cervical fluid checking and "business sex" making. We were tired and grumpy and starting to think about life with just the two of us in our family. That morning Grant suggested I take one more test because we were going to drown our sorrows in late nights, smoky music venues and booze. I was in the bathroom, peed on the stick and started to put on makeup. I remember looking down and seeing a blue line, but no plus sign. I scooped everything up and threw in away, and continued getting ready. But something was off in my head. As I threw the box away, I noticed that the pregnancy test on the front of the box had just a blue line. Why would they put a picture of a negative pregnancy test on the front of the box?? I picked the box and my test out of the garbage and realized that the kind of test I purchased wasn't a positive/negative sign. It was a blue line or nothing. I was pregnant. And maybe the only person in the universe capable of misreading a pregnancy test. Grant was knocking on the door wanting to come into the shower. I had these plans to tell him with a Kelty backpack carrier or a World's Best Dad t-shirt tucked into his school bag. But I was in the bathroom naked with no supplies and no creative ideas. I grabbed a tube of lipstick and wrote on my belly in red wax HI DADDY. Grant got tired of waiting and barged in. He saw me standing there and got a smile on his face- naked wife means morning quickie. His eyes went down to my belly and the red words. I will never forget the look on his face. Love.

4. As two big personalities who care about some things everything, we have had some pretty epic fights. Our early ones were passionate in really bad ways...insults, throwing things, slamming doors... that sort of thing. But one in particular happened in my in-laws basement during the four months we lived with them after Hurricane Katrina. Newlyweds who have been evacuated from their life should not live with their parents. We were desperate and young and they opened their home, so we were grateful. But it was not easy. I don't remember what this particular fight was about (who ever does?) but what made this fight one of my favorite marital moments was what Grant hollered at me across the room as the fight reached it's peak. "You do not know how lucky you are. I have one flaw!".  As soon as the words left his mouth, I think he realized it was not going to go well for him after that. I instantly was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. He lost all steam to continue fighting, gave up and joined me on the floor.

I don't remember if he ever told me what he thought his one flaw was. But he was right about one thing, I am lucky. Grant is the best thing that ever happened to me. And this isn't an exhaustive list of the best bits by any means, but when I think of defining moments or seasons in our life, these are some of my favorites.

And here are some selfies of us after a wedding we were both in this past weekend. Obviously, we think are hilarious.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Man in Our Life

I didn't marry Grant thinking about what kind of a Dad he was going to be. I lucked out in ways most women only dream about. I recognize my bias because he happens to be my best friend, but I cannot imagine a better Father for my children. He has had a rough go the past 4 years- Dads often get the short end of stick when babes are little. Grant watched me carry the babes, deliver the babes, nurse the babes, stay home with the babes- and even as involved as he was and as often as he held his arms out for them, they always wanted me first.
I have bribed them into giving him a hug before he left for work. I have pried little fingers off my arm while he tried to take them from me for some quality time. I have tried to ignore cries for "Mommy!" knowing that he was more then capable of meeting their needs, they just didn't know it yet.
Then this happens. In one day, both Purslane and Knox discovered what a guy their Dad is. And they just want him. My heart is all over these pictures as I tried to capture what his patient and loyal love finally earned him. The affection of his children.
They chose him. And I applaud their choice. Ten years ago, I did too.
I heard her wake up crying and waited for her to come find me in bed. Grant was downstairs working late. I found this on the couch.

Grant just left for work.
Not okay with Dada leaving for work.

Welcome to Our Table

I grew this beauty. So proud of my little urban garden.

Breakfast sandwiches for dinner.

I mean, come oooooonnnnn.

The beginning of a Thai peanut sauce. And jokes about how nothing in my kitchen doesn't come from Trader Joe's.

Thai Peanut Noodles. I use capillini pasta noodles instead of rice noodles because I think they hold up better and absorb more of the sauce flavor. Better for leftovers as well. Recipe for the Thai peanut sauce comes from this place. I don't like tamarind in this recipe so played around and discovered I could substitute the tamarind paste and peanuts with unsalted PB. 1/2 cup maybe? I tend to eyeball... It does make the sauce a bit more thick, but add extra water just until it thins out to coat the noodles and all should be well.

Zucchini and scrambled eggs in the leftover grease from...


Breakfast of Champions. And no, I did not do anything involving bacon with the peaches. I thought about it, but didn't.

After a fantastic evening out with the girls (art fest, concert, drinks on the patio) and coming home to find the babysitter had already bathed the babes and had them in jammies (pure gold, that one) I put them easily to bed and started to poke around the kitchen for dinner. I desperately wanted to eat more of that jar of Tostitos salsa con queso (see previous food post about my love for this junk food) but nothing to put it on except a spoon. I am not a philistine, so resorted to googling "how to make homemade chips". It was amazingly easy. 7-8 minutes later I had these beauties ready to go. You should make these.

Handmade chips, fresh salsa and queso.

And the Champagne of Beers.

Black beans and rice. And more handmade chips since Grant did not get to experience them the first time.

Nothing is more friendly to me then a big pot of things all mashed together.

Purslane has been on a huge pancake binge. These are from another favorite food blog called A Tasty Kitchen, and she just came out with a cookbook all about pancakes- sweet and savory. On my Amazon list, for sure. (hi Grant!) These are called Peaches 'n Cream pancakes and combine some of my favorite ingredients in baked goods- sour cream and fresh fruit. I just feel like you can't go wrong to add yummy fats like buttermilk, sour cream and olive oil right in to the batter.

I had put Knox's plate on the table runner and walked away for a second. He got hungry.

Pork chop with an herb crust. Served over brown rosemary rice, gravy made from the bits on the bottom of the pan and vegetable stock. Burned Brussels sprouts, steamed carrots with cinnamon and butter.

Dinner Party with our dear friends Lydia and Henry. Huge bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Good friends and the simplest foods make for the perfect evening. The meatballs are actually turkey and made in a way I had never heard- soaking torn pieces of bread in milk and adding it to the meat in place of dry bread crumbs. Then tons of herbs, egg and garlic. I was hesitant but hate a dry meatball. The result was fantastic- really flavorful and (I hate this word but there isn't really a substitute)...moist.

Lyd and Henry also travel with this guy. Oh, I just love him.

My absolute favoriteist Australians.

The beginnings of a risotto. Ultimate comfort food.

Peas, mushrooms, parmesan. No recipe just whatever feels right.
This man enjoys food so much. It is totally genetic.

Fall is here!!

This blender... we bought it not long after we got married with the thought that when we had more money and could buy a decent one it would be on its death bed. That was almost 10 years ago. Today the beast is blending mixed berries, yogurt, honey and kale. Pursy thought it was so funny that I sent her out to the garden to pick kale for breakfast.

Felt like a bystander of an infomercial waiting for the reaction to the kale smoothie...

Can I get a thumbs up??

Sometimes all it takes to make me happy is a $3 spatula. I love the Threshhold line at Target. So simple and pretty.


Another pancake morning. Zucchini Bread Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen, add blueberries.

Pretty Pancakes. Happy Monday everyone!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just Leave Me

...and I will remember why I love you so much.

Grant has been gone for three days, coming home tonight. In 2.5 hours, to be exact. When he is gone, I turn into a high functioning woman, capable of amazing things. Breakfast is hot and handmade, trips to the museums and parks are a given, laundry gets done (folded AND put away), play doh and finger paints and macaroni necklaces get made, dinner is on the table at 5p every evening full of vegetables and lean proteins and kids are in bed with baths and multiple books read precisely at 7p.

You get the idea. Cheers to me, I am fantastic.

Then at 715 I run completely out of steam. I allow myself to collapse on the couch with a beer and a book or the remote. Being a temporary single parent makes me incredibly efficient and completely sure that those parents who do this gig solo all the time are my heroes. Cheers to you, you are beyond fantastic.

Being apart from Grant for a few days always reminds me why I love him. I fell in love with him 11 years ago while he was in Haiti for a week. I thought maybe I could date him before he left, then I dropped him off at the airport and I knew I wanted to marry him. Something about him being gone made me realize all the spaces in life he filled. And how I never wanted those spaces to be empty again.

So when he travels for work or goes away with some guys for a weekend at the cabin, I fill those spaces myself with activity, projects, girl dates and the stack of books on my bedside table that never look as attractive as Grant does in those evening hours after the babes go to bed.

Then 715 comes. And the house is quiet. Suddenly there is nothing I want more then to hear Grant's thoughts about the conflict in Syria. Or remember why it is crazy that Miller advertises triple hopped beer as if it is something great, when all beer is technically triple hopped. After a day of autonomous decisions and confident action, I find myself standing in front of the fridge unable to remember the ingredients in a Gin and Tonic. I open my computer and look up things like What is a Whipple Procedure and Who was the Original Drummer for Pearl Jam. I remember that Grant told me not to use Google like Ask Jeeves and just type in search words, but I always put it in the form of a question. I want to snuggle up in that place under his arm and feel completely safe...until he grabs my boob. He always does.


When I write my marital autobiography I will call it Just Leave Me because when life is full of Curious George and sippie cups and dinosaur books, I go too long without being grateful for the spaces that Grant fills so beautifully. Until he leaves. And I count the hours until he walks back in the door, oozing with life and color and all the things I love so much about my best friend. We celebrate 10 years in January. Maybe the next decade of marriage my goal should be remembering why I love him while he is still in the room...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Treatise on Eating (with) Children

 Today was one of those glorious days where we were triumphant in all our endeavors.

 I showered and had some new funky fall colors on my eyelids and lips, my jeans were just the right sort of relaxed but sassy and my toenails were painted a turquoise that makes my eyes hurt a little but Pursy loves. At one point during the night both Pursy and Knox were in bed with me due to some trauma during the day that left me unwilling to listen to them cry (lots of blood yesterday, but all is well) and I was able to return them sleeping to their own beds and go back to sleep myself until 7a. We were all dressed by 8, so decided to get out. I had a Groupon for a place in Regent Square called the Square Café and since all three of us were happy and well rested and feelin' good, we went out to breakfast.

The Square Café is one of those rare unicorns that allow parents to eat fabulous, inventive food in a cool atmosphere without wishing they didn't have children with them. Grant and I have joked on many occasions that Wendys is where foodie parents go to die without an audience. You will eat crappy food but no one stares at you if your child decides dinner is the perfect time to recite the alphabet in their best T-Rex voice. Children do not care if you are eating at Zagot's "New Best Place for Ramen". If they want to lose their tiny minds, they will do it regardless of how long it took you to get a reservation or how often you have dreamed about the first forkful of brisket.

The first time I realized why so many people told us to eat out as often as possible before Pursy was born was on a trip to Boston. I was still on maternity leave, so Pursy was less then 3 months old and Grant was presenting a paper at a conference in the city. I spent the days while he was working walking around with Pursy in the Moby, sipping coffee at cafes, lingering over mushroom risotto while she took her epic 3-4 hour naps. I had eaten meat while I was pregnant because my body craved it, but I was very happily back to my vegetarian ways. The last evening we were there, we were heading towards a restaurant we had gotten several first hand recommendations for and I remember being so excited to try their avant garde approach to food.

Purslane woke up as we entered the restaurant and began screaming. She screamed as I tried to nurse her, screamed as Grant tried to walk around with her, screamed as we looked at each other over the rims of our untouched glasses of wine, at a complete loss of what to do. I felt eyes on me as I covered myself with a blanket and pulled my shirt up to nurse her. Grant grabbed an entire stack of diapers in his hurry to get her to the bathroom to see if an issue in her pants was the cause of her distress. The waiter kept coming over to our table to see what he could do, not sure how to help us as we scrambled to order food that would take the shortest amount of time to prepare and consume in case our daughter could not be consoled. I remember ordering a hamburger well done and snapping at the waiter that I was a vegetarian when he cooly suggested that I would enjoy the meat more if it were medium rare. We ended up taking our meal to go and grabbing a bottle of wine at a convenience store across from our hotel.

As we ate our chilly meal with plastic forks across the pack n' play from each other, we realized that, for a while, dining out was going to be quite different. But we love food and love introducing our children to good food. What is a family who wants to enjoy a meal AND their small babes to do??

We have been parents for 3.5 years now, and have not given up. When we travel, we eat where we want to eat regardless of whether they have high chairs or not (usually the sign that an establishment is "kid friendly" or at least kid tolerant). When new places open in Pittsburgh, we go as a family. Pursy and Knox aren't intimidated by much and don't require ketchup or syrup with every meal. Now, there are rules and we do respect them, understanding that deviating from these rules will cause chaos just about every single time.

1. Taking a family of four out to a restaurant means a reservation no later then 530. We eat early when we eat out. By 6p there is either a wait list or the only open table is in the middle of the room, both scenarios spelling disaster for the one newly potty trained kid and the one who licks surfaces when bored.

2. Distractions. I used to be staunchly against handing a child a cell phone when waiting for their food but my unrealistic expectations of how long a 2 year old can be entertained with a pink packet of Sweet N' Low are out the window. My research has shown that the time between being seated and having food arrive at the table is about the length of one episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. 23 minutes is a long time without distractions. Be a good parent, charge your electronic device.

3. When the meal is over, it is time to go. Dinner with the fam is not the time for a lingering second beer or even dessert. When babes are little there is only so long they can developmentally handle sitting in one place without needing to move their bodies. You will find the stress level rising if you try to prolong the inevitable by staying longer then you should. Date nights are for ordering the chef's tasting menu.

Back to Square Café. I arrived at 830 with two hungry babes, was told to pick "whatever table will be the most comfortable for you!" and a fabulous stoneware mug of coffee was in front of me by the time Knox was strapped in his high chair. The waiter had crayons and coloring pages in hand, along with the children's menu. I ordered for the babes before she left the table and their food was out within minutes. The children's menu only had two items on it, along with a list of sides which you could mix and match however you wanted. Easy like Sunday morning.

I ordered white bean hash which had wild mushrooms, pancetta and chives, covered with two over easy eggs and served alongside a pile of lightly dressed spring greens. Heavenly. The babes meals were served on plastic Disney character plates, which they loved "digging" (eating) their food off of to see who was at the bottom. Brilliant. I even had a second cup of coffee.

Before we left, I braced myself for the inevitable weak link of most restaurants- the bathroom. Trying to keep Knox (my surface licker) occupied while Pursy (my newly potty trained) are in one tiny space is usually disastrous. I keep Purell in my purse. But this bathroom was amazing. Even a wall mounted changing table and a turquoise step stool for the sink. I asked for the manager on my way out the door to tell her how much I appreciated restaurants like the Square Café. Ones that make me simultaneously love food and my children.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Self Love

I hired someone to clean my house.

There, I said it. I am a stay at home Mama who works outside the home 8-12 hours a week and I just paid someone to come in and clean the space where I spend the majority of my time. Those of you amazingly high functioning parents who find time to clean your own home (and my sweet friend Emily who gets a really odd feeling of happiness with a mop in her hand) can now count me among the ranks of the spotless floor and dust-free bookshelf and sparkly toilet.

I just didn't do it myself.

I tried. I made calendars and To Do lists and talked with babysitters about coming while I was home just to keep Pursy and Knox away from me while I cleaned the bathrooms. I tried to clean while the babes were napping and I tried to clean while they were awake. I tried to clean first thing in the morning before I took a shower and I tried to pull myself off the couch in the evening to clean before I went to bed. I really did try.

Those of you with small children anywhere in your life know what happened. You cannot clean with a 3.5 year old and an almost 2 year old in the same room. It is not a fun teaching moment, unless teaching them swears counts as part of the learning. You cannot clean with babes in another room because anything they could find to content themselves without your supervision will probably take you more time to clean up then whatever you were scrubbing in the next room.

Morning time is for cuddles and coffee and Olivia the Pig books. Evening time is for beer and spously conversation and Season One of the Good Wife snuggling on the couch.

So I put aside my guilt and my unrealistic expectations and I asked for recommendations. I found Ms Susan, who is a no-nonsense, brusque woman in her mid 40's who cleans like Jesus is coming tomorrow and will choose my house to visit first. The only time she cracks a smile is when Knox comes around the corner and wants to give her a fist bump. But she swept out a year of lint from behind my dryer. And found 5 sippy cups under Pursy's dresser.

And I will not give myself this luxury EVERY afternoon right after she leaves, but today I made myself an iced coffee and will survey my beautifully clean home while I jot out this blog post and then start perusing my favorite food blogs for meal ideas. The babes are "resting", there is nothing to straighten or clean or pick up, and I am thanking my lucky stars for Ms Susan, my ability to give myself a break, and my peach of a husband who encouraged me to find some help.
This is what I feel like right now.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Welcome to our Table

Heirloom cherry tomatoes, zucchini ribbons, fresh sweet corn and sage
And of course, smother in goat cheese
This was my favorite meal of the week. Linguini pasta covered in farmer' market vegetables, goat cheese and fresh sage. A bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Grilling nights are simple. Basil chicken sausage, steamed broccoli and buttered white rice. I am in love with this serving dish, I use it for everything. It is the perfect size for the entrée for a dinner party, or for the entire meal for our little family.

Handmade chicken nuggets. Panko crumbs with Herbs de Provence, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Little hands that love to help

My impish sous chef

Another simple summer meal. I am a huge fan of buttered white rice, if you haven't pick up on that. I have tried to switch to brown or wild rice, but there is something comforting about a pile of white rice with butter, salt and pepper. I just like what I like.

Summer dinners are best eaten outside with the birds and the ants and the neighbors.

Grape Popsicles.

Don't judge. You know you love it too. Grant introduced me to this glorious food substance when we were dating. We used to have Junk Food Saturdays where we went to Blockbuster and rented 3-4 movies, stopped at the grocery store and bought tortilla chips and salsa con queso, something sweet like those Keebler Elf cookies with the hole in the middle and chocolate drizzled over them, and beer or Southern Comfort. We would then spend the entire day watching movies and eating crap. We felt terrible the next day, but Junk Food Day was glorious. I don't buy it often, but it takes me down memory lane every time I crack the lid. Happy Labor Day!

Rare picture with me in it.

I asked Grant to take a picture of me, and this was the result. Thanks, honey.

Strawberries, peaches and vanilla yogurt. Drizzle of honey. Lily and roses from my sweet friend Bec.

The beginning of something good...

Sneaking a blueberry...

There were still lots for the muffins.

Perks of being a sous chef. Licking the spatula.

Gluten free blueberry sour cream muffins. Recipe modified from Smitten Kitchen cookbook. As you can see, gluten free muffins just don't rise like their "regular" cousins. But in this case, I found that the flatter muffins held all the good flavors without all the bulk. Texture was more like coffee cake. Delicious.

So many things going on in this picture. Knox eats naked for obvious reasons, is learning how to use a spoon and is a hair twirler. For all of these reasons, he is one of my favorite things in the world.