Case of the Mondays

The week before Thanksgiving I stumbled upon some holiday themed adult coloring pages on Pinterest. I had my husband print them out so the grown ups could have a little relaxing fun while we hung out & waited for dinner to finish.

Thanksgiving morning came, I got distracted by the hundred tiny details that go in to preparing the children & their accessories for a day out of the house and preparing a side dish for the meal, and we were 30 minutes away from home when I realized we didn’t grab the coloring pages. :-/

  
Since I have plenty of coloring sheets to spare Gavin & I spent a little time coloring during our lunch:

   
Gavin is pretty enamored with the Nativity set and Santa’s cottage set, he spent the majority of today in this position:

 

While that happened, Fiona discovered her brother’s half eaten cereal bar on the coffee table & helped herself:
   
 

And in discovering the cute baby trapped in Mommy’s magical box, developed a new found love of selfies.
  

Merry and Bright

Last night once the kids were asleep we decorated. The first floor looks so cozy & warm, I just love it! I’m. It putting out ALL of my decorations but quite a few more than last year.    
The kids both were curious & excited by the decorating surprise. Gavin said “there’s a tree in the house!” and Fiona has been curious of the sparkly lights. 

As you can see in the photo below, Gavin is quite absorbed with the Santa & Mrs. Claus cottage my mom gave them last year. He played with it all through breakfast & didn’t notice me taking his photo through the window. 

    
Fiona is most intrigued by the tree. She’s been respectful of it so far, though we have a baby gate in the garage we can circle around it should the need arise. 

    
   

Ho Ho Ho

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas… #tink #tinkerbell #disney #disneychristmas

A photo posted by Meg (@cphaurora) on

The kids are in bed, and Patrick and I are scurrying around setting up the tree and dressing the house for the holidays. Now that Gavin’s getting older holidays are a lot more fun, I love watching his face as he experiences a new special magic for the first time.

(My iPhone is upstairs charging, all I have down here is my old phone which is linked to the public Instagram account that I use for contest entries.)

Comfort Food

Yesterday we all stuffed our faces with a variety of delicious dishes, so I thought today I’d share one of my absolute favorites: the very best baked macaroni & cheese recipe ever.

Last April when I was planning Fiona’s baptism luncheon I got a bee in my bonnet about certain foods I really wanted to make. Banana Pudding was high on the list (that recipe is THE BEST) as was a creamy baked macaroni & cheese. I’ve tried a bunch of different recipes but the sauce always got a bit greasy and would separate after the cheese was added to the roux, it was never the creamy sauce you get from a restaurant. Then I stumbled upon this recipe, and gave it a shot. I’m so thankful that I did, because it’s THE BEST! (Only very special recipes receive the ALL CAPS treatment, and both of the ones linked above fit the bill.)

In the past 6 or so months I have made this at least a dozen times, for parties, holidays, and it’s my go-to food to bring to my friends when they’ve just had a new baby and I want to bring a meal. (Well, this plus a batch of brownies & sometimes a protein like pork tenderloin.) I’ve found that if you have every ingredient prepared ahead of time it all comes together nicely, since I’ve made a few edits to the original recipe I’ll share the way I make it below.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb pasta (I like pipe rigate but capitavi works well too)
  • 1/2 c (one stick) butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 4 cups milk (I use Oberweiss whole milk)
  • 2 8oz bricks of cheese (I usually do one or both cheddar, you can mix it up to your preference)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T creole seasoning (like Tony Cachere’s)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 c panko breadcrumbs

To make:

  1. Prepare/measure all ingredients first! It helps so much to have everything laid out. I find using pre-shredded cheese does not work nearly as well as grating it yourself. The original recipe called for 6 cups, I have used 3 bricks of cheese (the weight equivalent of 6 c pre-shredded) and it was way too much, but 2 8oz bricks is perfect.  The pre-shredded stuff has cellulose coating it to keep it from caking, but this also makes it not melt very nicely. It take a little extra time but I suggest you shred your own cheese. You won’t regret it
  2. Once everything is ready, cook your pasta of choice according to the pasta’s directions. While this cooks (about 12 minutes, depending on pasta type) you can start on the roux.
  3. Melt 1/2 c butter (one stick) in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted sprinkle flour over top and whisk, once incorporated keep whisking for 2-3 min to fully cook the flour. Add the salt and seasoning and stir. (The original recipe called for equal parts salt & pepper, but I’m not a huge pepper fan. Funny enough, the creole seasoning has just enough kick to add awesome flavor without being “spicy,” something this girl’s midwestern mouth is not usually able to handle. You can reduce or leave the salt out completely if you choose.) Slowly add the milk to the butter & flour mixture, about one cup at a time. Keep whisking until fully incorporated, then bring to a low boil. Do not stop stirring or heating until it has thickened!
  4. Drain pasta and put it in a large bowl or pot. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top, then slowly pour the cream sauce over the cheese. Now wait. This is the secret to perfectly blended sauce that isn’t greasy: not over cooking or mixing the cheese to the point that the oil separates. Let the heat of the pasta and the sauce work on melting the cheese for a couple minutes, then stir all together with a spatula or large wooden spoon. (The original recipe said to layer everything in the baking dish, but that made a huge mess when I attempted to mix and lots of pasta ended up on the floor or counter. I prefer using a large stockpot to mix, but feel free to do your layering and mixing directly in to the baking dish.)
  5. Butter a 9×13 baking dish and pour the pasta in to the dish, and set aside. (If you want to make this dish ahead of time stop here. You can put a lid on the casserole dish and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake, though it cooks best if you let the pasta come back up to room temperature before baking.)
  6. In a small sauce pan melt 2 T butter, and add the panko breadcrumbs. Stirring constantly over medium heat, toast the breadcrumbs. Once they are a nice dark golden color, sprinkle over the top of the pasta, and bake in a 325*F oven for 25 minutes, or a little longer if you’re like me and prefer crispy edges.

 

Freshly strained and still steaming Pipe Rigate
Pasta layered with freshly shredded cheese
Cream sauce poured over the top of the cheese and pasta
Now just let it sit for a few minutes!
Ok, time to stir
Fully mixed and ready to either chill in the fridge or top with panko and be baked
Dig in!

Pre-game

Yesterday when I filled up for $1.86/gal I took a picture, because I haven’t gotten gas that cheap in years.   
Today I paid $1.80.

It’s been an eventful day, but right now I need to finish prepping food, start laundry, take care of Tutter, and a whole list of tasks before I can get some sleep, so a recap shall have to wait. 

Mini Me

Watching our children’s personalities emerge and blossom is one of my favorite parts of parenthood. While each of the kids have traits/habits they have definitely inherited from one or both of us, there are many others that are uniquely theirs. 

Tomorrow marks 10 months since Fiona joined our family, and she is striking out from her role as “baby” and striving to be a “big girl.” She is fearless & eager for adventure, it is a true joy to experience her spirit.   
Gavin is cautious and slow to warm, but once he does he is a force to be reckoned with. He has opinions on everything from food to clothes and makes his displeasure known. He is a goofball, loving, and an excellent cuddler. 

 

Not Yet

Our Sunday was just lovely. The kids let us sleep in late (WHAT?!) so we started the day well rested, then headed out for brunch. After that we had a few errands to run, then stopped back at home briefly to grab jammies for the kids before heading over to Patrick’s parent’s house for dinner. We were still pretty full from brunch so there was no rush to get dinner on the table, Patrick had requested shrimp and grits for his birthday meal so once most things were finished or simmering we were able to sit and chat for a bit.

In contrast, today was much more stressful. My kitty Tutter has been in declining health since Labor Day and Sunday night it seemed the end is/was near. I was quite upset about his potential fate and could not fall asleep, eventually I headed downstairs to sleep on the couch so he could curl up between my knees and we could get some cuddles in. I didn’t sleep well, woke early to call the vet and secure an appointment, and spent the rest of the day with dread in the pit of my stomach.

My dad came over to watch the kids and Patrick came home from work early to accompany me to the vet. We decided to try one last course of medicines to see if he improves at all, he is obviously quite sick but his attitude/demeanor is unchanged so we are going to wait a little longer. He is still sweet and tolerant and we will take it one day at a time. If/when things change, I will feel comfortable we’ve given him every opportunity for improvement. Needless to say, it’s been a very emotional day for me.

They Say It’s Your Birthday

One thing I like about NaBloPoMo being in November is that it means I have a chance to publicly recognize the birthday of my darling husband, handsome father of my children, and my soul mate. I love you, here’s to many happy birthday celebrations to come.   
    
    
 

Do You Want To Build A Snowman?

Last night as we crawled in to bed around midnight, Patrick turned to me and said, “how are you still standing?” I had no answer, I was running on fumes but somehow was mostly handling it. Even after a solid night’s sleep I had an awful time getting up this morning. I made a big breakfast, we all hung out, but when I brought Fiona upstairs for her nap at 11 I laid down in our bed after she was asleep in her crib, and I didn’t wake until Patrick came in at 1:30 to let me know he was going to run errands. A solid two hour nap helped quite a bit but I still was dragging the rest of the day. I managed to get a few items on my to-do list checked off, but I wasn’t nearly as productive as I had hoped.

Last night we got our first real snow of the season, Gavin spent a lot of the day saying “It’s snowin'” or “There’s snow on the Jeep!” or “It’s cold outside.” (All of which were correct.) I put on Frozen for us to watch, he’s not seen it in a loooooong time, and he was really too young to understand or pay attention before. He already knows Olaf the snowman, but now can name all of the other characters. He especially liked the songs, which isn’t a surprise at all, the kid absolutely loves music. We never made it outside to play in the snow (or build our snowman) but it’s on the agenda for tomorrow.

For dinner I made a pork tenderloin and absolutely killer loaded mashed potatoes (skin-on red potatoes, mashed with sour cream, bacon, and cheddar cheese), Fiona stuffed her face with both, and applied the potatoes to her face and hair in appreciation of my hard work. That sealed the deal on our “do they need baths tonight?” question, so while I cleaned up the kitchen Patrick gave Fiona a bath, then I brought Gavin upstairs for his bath and took Fiona to get her in jammies and nurse her to sleep. Once she was out I decided I needed to salvage a bit of the day and headed to Target to shop solo.

It’s so strange to shop without the kids in tow, even going down to just one like I did last week with Gavin was a big change, but going completely by myself is incredibly rare. I am in and out when I’ve got the kids, I know their patience is limited so I try to be as efficient as possible, today I was able to browse, double back to revisit areas I neglected or needed to revisit, and get quite a bit accomplished. I’m about 85% done with Christmas shopping, which is awesome. Last year was definitely a “wait until the last minute” situation, and I’m on track to be finished before the month is out.