Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slider Bar and Nesting

Yet another busy, busy weekend! My goodness! I'm actually starting to look forward to the baby coming for the relaxation I'll be able to get in after he's here!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this weekend we threw a surprise birthday party for my brother-in-law and I was in charge of the food committee. When my sister and I first started planning for this party months ago I pitched the idea of classed-up "man food". Well, we stuck with that plan and decided the easiest way to do that would be a gourmet slider bar. Now personally I'm quite boring when it comes to hamburger toppings: ketchup, mustard, cheese, tomatoes and occassionally lettuce and pickles. When I make my own, that's all that goes on there. But so often I've seen fun magazine articles about dressing up hamburgers and I've wanted to try that - if not for myself, at least for guests that I have over. Well, we definitely accomplished that this weekend. Our topping options ranged from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and hot peppers to goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, grilled pineapple, mango and blue cheese dressing. I even made up a fig BBQ sauce for it which smelled amazing but my prego tummy wasn't willing to try it. I kept some at home to try on chicken some night soon.
The sides for the meal were inspired by pub food: Bruschetta, Black Bean Salsa, Guacamole, etc and as a fun little kicker we bought a few orders of Onion Rings from Peter's Drive-In on 16th Ave in Calgary. We also did Chili Lime Shrimp and Sausage Skewers on the BBQ too. Lastly, instead of a cake which calls for more plates and cutlery, I made up a golf course scene by decorating cupcakes! I made up 2 dozen chocolate cupcakes and 2 dozen white cupcakes as the base for my course - which was really just one hole. For 7 of the chocolate cupcakes I made up a green-tinted cream cheese icing. Those were for the green. The rest of the chocolate cupcakes made up the fairway by being dipped in a thin icing and then into green-tinted coconut. Half of the white cupcakes were topped with blue-tinted cream cheese icing and were the water hazards and the rest were dipped in icing and then graham wafer crumbs for the sand trap! We set up a tee-box, a pin and hole and a ball on the course too and laid out the cupcakes across two cookie sheets in the format of a course. It went over great! The coconut cupcakes went a lot quicker than I thought they would and of course everyone wanted to try the cream cheese icing. FYI, I hate decorating cakes and the sort :) I'm a baker, not a decorator, so there was a lot of muttering under my breath while I got the cupcakes iced, but this was a fairly simple project and eventually I got the right technique for making sure the tops of the super-mosit chocolate cupcakes (I threw some instant pudding mix into the batter) stopped crumbing into my cream cheese icing. All in all, not the worst job I've ever done.
I actually did alot of cooking/baking over the past few days now that I think about it. On Friday I believe I mentioned my intent to make Strawberry Granita - which I did - but I didn't stop there. I also made up Strawberry Watermelon Pops, Chocolate Chip Cookies, the first 24 cupcakes for the surprise party, and most importantly, an apple pie. Matt loves pie. Like, he really, really loves it. And I rarely make it. Part of the reason is that I've never found a fantastic pie crust recipe. My Mom uses my Grandma's recipe, which is great, but I wanted to break away from family tradition and find one of my own. So I decided to try Julia Child's recipe for french pastry dough. She uses butter and a bit of shortening cut in with the flour and then she dissolves the sugar and salt right in with the water she adds. She emphasizes quite a bit how important it is to not over handle your dough and highly recommends blind-baking all crusts, at least a bit, even if you're filling them right away. Unfortunately I was being a bit brain dead while I made said pie. My crust was gorgeous. Yummy, sweet, not the least soggy... but I didn't realize I made a half recipe so I didn't have enough to do a double crust, just a bottom. Whoops! I figured it'd be fine and that I'd just mix and match with a crumble top - whatever. So I went to cut up the apples and I threw in a couple of pears I had sitting in the fridge and on the last apple I realized that I was chopping instead of slicing the fruit. What the heck?? I mean, I know I don't make pie often, but I should know better than that! I blamed that one on the pregnancy. Then I went to season the filling: I was low on brown sugar so it only got a bit of that but mostly it got some cinnamon-sugar I had sitting on the counter waiting to be used up. I added a touch of butter out of habit (my mom always does) and then went on the throw together a crumble of oats, brown sugar, flour and butter and then put the pie together and threw it in the oven. Do you see what I've missed? Well, I didn't so if you don't, don't feel too badly about it. Miraculously, the fruit cooked through (I reduced the heat and increased the cooking time) and everything was looking beautiful. After letting it cool a bit I cut into the pie and was amazed at how well the crust held together and how beautifully it came out of the pan. ...And then I was amazed at how much liquid quickly filled the gap in the pie plate. Then I remembered that I forgot to add flour to the filling. There was nothing to soak up all the juices from the fruit! How silly of me!! I did get away with spooning out some excess juices, but it really was the most successful brain-dead piece of baking I've ever done.
For the rest of my weekend I was focused on the party - Saturday I baked the rest of my cupcakes and did up some food prep for the next day. Sunday we were bad and skipped church so we could drive to Calgary and set up the party while my sister and brother-in-law were at church themselves. The party broke up at around 3 when the guys decided to go to the driving range and since Matt didn't bring his clubs we decided to pack up and go home... after a quick trip to IKEA. We've been needing more bedding for Gabe and the baby since they'll both be on crib mattresses and Matt really wanted to get Gabe a toddler bedding set with a comforter and all. So we spent about $45 on crib and toddler bedding and got way more than we would have spending $70 on a stupid "Cars" toddler bedding set from Walmart. Eventually we left IKEA and drove home, at which point we started talking about what to do with the rest of our day since it was still quite early. Matt was all for lounging and turning on a movie or something, but I got a sudden burst of energy (can anyone say "nesting"?) and talked him into working on the nursery with me. That had been a source of stress for me lately. We got Gabe's new room done and moved him out of the nursery, but the nursery itself wasn't ready to receive a new baby. But we busted our butts that night and got all of the old stuff out, the new dresser finally moved in (yay! It's not in my living room anymore!) and all of the clothes organized. I also deep cleaned the room while Matt did some minor furniture repairs so the walls, baseboards, doorjams and fixtures are all spotless. By 11:30 the nursery was as ready as we could get it, considering we still don't have a crib mattress :) Monday was, again, a productive day. We woke up a bit late but then got right to work in our bedroom, which had become a bit of a dump-zone for homeless items the moved out of the office and the nursery over the past month. I did a ton of laundry, cleared off every surface that had started collecting junk, cleaned out every corner of the room and vaccumed every inch of carpet. It's been a long, long time since my room looked that clean! The bedroom was done by about noon and then we moved on to the basement, where Matt moved some boxes into the crawl space and I started folding all the laundry I had washed that day. Matt got called away for a meeting at about 2:30 and his mom had taken Gabe for the afternoon so I started moving all of Gabe's toys from the main floor downstairs and organized them into bins and started setting up his play area. As soon as I can get Matt to help me with some heavy lifting things, the basement will be completely done too!
And that brings us to today. I slept in until 9:45 without even realizing it, I've hardly been productive all day and haven't done a single thing that can pass off as housework. I just hope for Matt's sake that I don't get another spurt of "nesting energy" when he comes home from work for the evening, because while it's nice to get stuff done, I think I'm wearing him out!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Productive... to be, or not to be.

I've had a pretty productive week considering I'm still battling my illness from the weekend, although yesterday was nearly a complete write-off. Tuesday I had a Pampered Chef show for my mom which went well but it was very draining. Wednesday morning I got up early and made pancakes for breakfast for Matt and then walked Gabe and Cash over to the vet to get Cash's shots up to date. Then I went to a prenatal appointment where my doctor gave me some very pitying looks after hearing about my health issues and inspecting my ever-changing ribs. My mom had Gabe while I was at my appointment so I grabbed some sushi before I went to pick him up. That evening I was craving some Cranberry Cinnamon Goat Cheese from Sobeys so I went to the one by our house... never again. There are 3 Sobeys in town - two are quite nice, but the one by us is a pared down, hardly carry a thing sort of store. Their meat section is the size of a bookcase. It's wretched. Anyway, they didn't have my Cranberry Cinnamon Goat Cheese, just Plain or Herb. Since I was there however, I just grab a pack of the plain with the intent of making it better. So I barbqued some steaks and some potato slices, made up some garlic toast with 1/3 of a loaf of french bread I had bought and sliced the rest up to serve with the goat cheese I bought which I added strawberries and lemon zest to. It was actually quite nice. That night I finalized the menu for my brother-in-law's surprise birthday party this weekend where we're having classed-up man food featuring a slider bar with tonnes of unique toppings.
The next day however I was having a less productive day... Gabe was a bit of a handful all morning and so I was really pleased when Matt called to ask if he could come home to have lunch with me. I threw on some soup and coffee and heated up the last bit of that French loaf and we had a nice little lunch. The only issue with that nice break in the day was that I've always known that if Gabe has lunch before nap time, he doesn't nap. Normally he goes down between 11:30 and 12:30 for a nap and by 3:00 I was so frustrated with the fact that he was still awake that I tried to pull him into my bed and cuddle him to sleep. By about 4:20 he finally fell asleep. My entire afternoon was a write-off. That, and my fever came back a bit, probably just from over-exhertion, but still. So Gabe woke up at 5 and I had just enough time while he was asleep to write an email to a committee I'm on explaining that I was too sick to go to a meeting that night and filling them in on everything I was supposed to have prepared for the meeting. I called Matt and asked if we could order in and I was so, so, so glad that he said yes. The rest of the evening I tried to make up for the fact that I got very nearly nothing done all day so I cleaned my kitchen and hashed out some Pampered Chef stuff and more details for the surprise party this weekend.
Today, however, has been much nicer. We got an equity cheque in the mail from Co-op, some books Matt's been really eager to get finally came today too, my living room is tidied (no small feat when you have to lean over a basketball-sized lump to pick up toys), I did some gardening and I did some cooking too!
I had a case of strawberries in my fridge that were getting old so I decided to make up a strawberry granita for Matt and I for tonight and since I had so many strawberries and nearly a whole watermelon too, I made up some strawberry-melon pops for Gabe for the next week or so.
I bought my rose bush on Monday and planted it out front and today when I went to check on it the growth has been substantial already. It's hard to recall the height well enough to say if it's much taller, but it's certainly much fuller! It looks like it's doing really well. I also planted some herbs two weeks ago which are finally coming up. My fennel poked through yesterday, my chives are coming through today and hopefully my mint and basil won't be far behind. I also noticed that my strawberries from last year are coming back well! Yay for the garden!
Tomorrow I'm mostly prepping for the surprise party, which includes making 4 dozen cupcakes into a golf-course scene and then Sunday we're driving to Calgary for the party and hopefully a short IKEA trip. Monday is devoted to getting the nursery ready and putting our house back together from all the reorganizing we've been doing lately. Hopefully, at the very least, we can get all of our furniture in the right rooms!
Wish us luck!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stuffed Salmon and Foot Soaks

Well, this weekend didn't go quite the way I had planned but I managed to salvage parts of it! Friday I was out grocery shopping and saw that they had whole frozen salmon on sale for $6. I haven't been able to eat salmon for about 2 years now but lately I'd been craving my Grandma's Rice Stuffed BBQ Salmon. I bought the salmon and planned to invite my parents over for dinner on the weekend. Well, Friday night was wretched. I was just going to bake some cupcakes for my sister-in-law's baby shower the next day when I got a shooting pain in my abdomen. I wasn't really worried about it but thought I'd better play it smart and kick back for the rest of the evening. By 8 I felt feverish and my throat was hurting too. Throughout the night my fever spiked and at 5 I got up to throw up. I didn't get back to sleep until 7. So I decided that it'd be best if I stayed in bed all Saturday. I had to cancel on the shower and never got around to making the cupcakes or the fruit skewers with the yogurt-honey dip. I did send along the shower games I had planned and the prizes I had made (potted herbs, homemade soaps and teacup candles) but then I went back to bed for the remainder of the day.
Sunday I ended up feeling a bit better (or at least I hadn't thrown up in a while). I still wasn't up for church so Gabey and I hung out at home and I started doing some little jobs around the house. I changed the sheets on the bed and I started organizing some boxes and baby things. Matt came home from church and had passed a garage sale that had some baby things at it. We went by it later and got a double stroller for $25! Woot! I was feeling well enough that I invited my parents over for that salmon which I had left to defrost in my fridge. In the meantime I did a ton of laundry and cleaned my living room too! Supper was great and handling fish is oddly satisfying - something I had forgotten. It's been a while since I've cleaned a fish or anything apparently! That night we also bought a kid carrier backpack for $50 off of Kijiji which was much cheaper than any others we'd seen. Monday morning I was up early and decided that today was going to be productive. As soon as Gabe was fed and dressed we went out to run some errands starting with some banking. Eventually I got over to Co-op Home and Garden Centre to look for some wooden scrub brushes for cleaning. There's been a few things lately that I've had to clean that would have been much easier to clean if I had a scrub brush like that. I found a couple at Co-op and I also found a hybrid tea rose that was gorgeous so I bought that too! We ran a couple more errands and then I got Gabe home and down for a nap and I started some outdoor work. I cleaned our new stroller, I hosed down our sidewalks, I planted my rose and some herbs and did some general outdoor tidying. Matt's mom came by in the afternoon and picked up Gabe so I took the chance to run out and get some nursing clothes and groceries, came home and made up some supper for Matt before he went out for the evening. Since I was spending the evening by myself I decided to try out some homemade foot soaks I'm going to make up for my sister-in-law. Her poor feet are so swollen she needs some help! So I popped myself some air pop popcorn, grabbed a glass of juice, put on some Friends episodes and soaked away! This first one I've tried is skim milk powder, Epsom salts and lime-mint tea bags. My feet feel so nice! Other ones involve honey, olive oil and/or milk.
I'm a little achy tonight but I'm so glad I got so much done! Well back to watching Friends!
Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Baby Prep

Time is ticking away to the arrival of our next baby and as my due date comes closer and closer, my house is getting messier and messier... It's okay though - it's the productive kind of messy. So while my living room and kitchen had been spotless for nearly a month, they are now filled with furniture waiting to go into Gabe's new "Big Boy Room", items waiting to be donated that we finally decided to get out of the house, and evidence of my cooking 'fits' where I throw together 6 meals at one time.
My to do list is getting smaller too. "Clean the house" is really my last item on my to do list and I have help pledged for that one as well. But before I get to that stage we need to finish Gabe's new room, get the nursery back to factory specs, finish with the freezer meals and pull out and organize all of our old baby items. Gabe's room is nearly done - this weekend Matt and I moved out all the boxes that have been stored in there since we bought the house and then Matt put in the new flooring and got the baseboards on. Today I hung pictures and moved in some furniture and all that's really left to do is touch up paint on the baseboards and get the rest of Gabe's stuff in. Once he's moved then we can get the nursery going. We're getting a glider to replace the old rocker in the nursery and we're setting up a little table in there for me with a lamp, a place for some snacks and books and stuff like that. I have a couple chicken and rice dinners, a couple hashbrown casseroles and 3 enchilada meals in the freezer as well as a couple containers of sauce and some pre-cooked ground beef. Oh, and cookies and granola bars. My Mom is making up some Casserole Steak, barbque Pork Chops and Hamburger soup for our freezer too and I might conscript my MIL to make up some chili for us. After a trip to Costco the freezer should be set. Costco is vital though because while I made not have a million fully-made meals in there, I'm going to pick up a box of pre-cooked chicken cubes. It's cheaper than buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts and most of the work is already done for you. So if I'm having an alright day where I feel like I can put in a bit more effort towards dinner than turning on the oven and pulling something out of the freezer, it will take me roughly 10 minutes to get a chicken potpie oven ready, or chicken fried rice could be whipped up really quick too. Oh, and since I have to still worry about feeding Gabe three meals a day, plus snacks, we're stocking up on things like applesauce, fruit cups, animal crackers and the like.
I've already laundered and folded all of our old newborn clothes and all of our cloth diapers that we used for Gabe. Yah, cloth can be a pain but it really does save you money, so I'm going to try to do that again as much as possible. We're installing our infant carseat this week and borrowing a bassinet from some friends. Gabe's going to have three distinct play areas set up in the house, one of which can be completely unsupervised play and the other two will be hugely helpful when the baby is needing lots of attention and Gabe gets to play with his special toys.
I'm still hoping this baby doesn't come early even though my body hasn't been feeling great. My ribs have stopped moving in and out for now but it's getting harder and harder to move and my morning sickness has come back a bit. I am looking forward to the day when I can again breathe, move, not have heart burn and eat whatever I want, but since that means the baby has to come out I'm willing to put up with a bit of a wait for all those luxuries.
Well, I'd best get back to getting things checked off my to do list!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)