This Is Your Work

I am again grateful for friends - and especially those who are willing to guest post for me!  This comes courtesy of my friend Amber, a sweet woman and mother of two little boys, whose positivity and kindness are a great encouragement to me.  And, I can't even begin to talk about her quiet level of energy - she gets up at 6 AM, gardens, helps run a preschool co-op, makes all her own bread ... oh, and did I mention she has TWO little boys?  

I once heard a religious educator share the following experience.  He was loaded down by stacks of paper work on his desk when a young woman came in, obviously in need of a listening ear and counsel.  Stressed about all the work he needed to get done, he felt an impression come to his mind as he remembered what was most important, "THIS is your work."

One day, I was on my hands and knees, talking to and smiling at my little baby Tyndale who was laying down on a blanket and cooing and smiling back. My two-year-old Ked had climbed up on top of me, ready to ride me like a horse. I kept thinking about how I needed to get back to work, when the phrase, "This is your work," came to my mind.

A little while later, I took Ked to the back window, hoping to find something to distract him after he'd been grumpy and crying ever since he awoke from his nap. Thankfully, a couple of squirrels were putting on a great show collecting walnuts. I pointed them out to Ked and explained what they were doing, and we watched for several minutes. Again, I kept thinking about my list of things to do and that I needed to get back to work. And again the phrase, "THIS is your work," came to my mind.

A while ago, I heard Julie B. Beck explain the differences between necessary and essential when it comes to raising families.  There are a lot of things I need to do that are necessary. But there are things that are too often given up that are essential!  "Maintenance parenting" lets go of that essential part.  I'm grateful to understand that the spiritual and emotional nurturing of these little boys is essential, as well as the physical and mental. Now I just need to remember that, and make it a part of my natural disposition!

My boys are clamoring for my attention as I write this. Gotta go!
Can you see the squirrel holding a nut in the tree? I took this a day or so after I wrote this post, when I noticed a rainbow out the same window where I took Ked to look outside.


The (Im)Patience Series: Blacksburg Enchiladas

Here's another recipe from the houseofthepassingduedate - Blacksburg Enchiladas.

I can't think of what else I'd call them - Creamy Green Enchiladas?  Creamy Chicken Taco Enchiladas?  The Green Enchiladas That Taste Awesome Even Though They Might Sound Questionable?

Feel free to offer your own suggestions.

We're enjoying all kinds of food here, while we I somewhat impatiently wait for Baby #2 to get here.


The (Im)Patience Series: Parmesan Chicken

I'm waiting - not very patiently.

C'mon, baby.

Here's another recipe that my dear sweet mom and I have recently tried - Dr. Jill Biden's Parmesan Chicken Recipe.  Even though we halved the recipe, we still ended up with a 9"x13" pan full of chicken, and ate on it for two nights and a lunch.  I'm usually too much of a frugalist to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, but they were on sale for $1.79/lb, and I felt entitled.  Nine months of pregnancy and a passing due date will do that to a girl.


The (Im)Patience Series: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

What's a girl to do when all of the following are true:
(a) the pre-baby to-do list is complete (or shoved aside in favor of naps)
(b) the baby didn't arrive as anticipated ... what's the point of a due date anyway?
(c) the baby's grandma (aka "Diddie") is in town to shower us with all the awesomeness she possesses
(e) I have the appetite of a woman growing an extra person inside?

Answer: cook.  and eat.

So, here it is ... a short series of recipes we've been cooking and preparing.  Diddie understands the importance of feeding crowds, and has done a fantastic job of making food for us.  (In this context, "crowds" refers to Diddie herself, with an admirably modest appetite; the Mr., with his manly but conservative appetite; Little Girl, who eats well enough but let's be honest ... she's almost two, and has a two-year-old's appetite; and me ... the one who eats 2/3 of the presented dish, and leaves others to scrape the dish.  I'm eating for two/three/four these days).

Today's recipe: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls from Smitten Kitchen

(Did I mention that, along with the appetite of a circus elephant, I have the energy of a sloth?  So instead of writing the recipe here, I'll let you go find it at Smitten Kitchen.  There are great pictures over there, and a fantasticly engaging blog post.  I'll never compete.  So go over there, and then make yourself some cinnamon rolls.  Don't forget the icing.)


Holiday Sweets 3: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

These bars allow you to enjoy a great combination of flavors and silky-smooth cheesecake texture with no fuss. Enjoy plain or top with a dollop of whipped cream. “A maple pumpkin cheesecake filling sits atop a gingersnap crust for a fantastic fall dessert.” Amen. ~Mary

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

For the Crust:42 gingersnap cookies (about 9 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
2 eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper so that it extends over each long side of the pan.
2. Make the Crust: In a food processor, pulse together the gingersnaps and sugar until they become fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a few more times to incorporate. Press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. Making the Filling: While crust is baking, prepare the pumpkin filling. Beat together the cream cheese and the brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and mix on low speed until completely incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the evaporated milk, maple syrup and vanilla, and beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves and mix on low to incorporate.
4. Pour the filling over the prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake until the filling is set in the center, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool. Once the bars have cooled to room temperature, you can cut and serve them, or you can refrigerate them and serve them chilled.
5. Using the parchment paper overhangs, lift the bars from the pan and onto a cutting surface. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream and candy corn, if desired. Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Happy Due Date To Me!

Yes, I deserve to wear my bedroom slippers all day, thankyouverymuch.

This morning, before he left for work, the Mr. asked if I needed anything from him today (isn't he sweet).  Without hesitation, I requested a backrub.  Looking forward to THAT when he gets home, thankyouverymuch.

We went to Whole Foods for breakfast this morning.  My plate weighed in at 1.26 lb.  Every single ounce was delicous, thankyouverymuch.

I was down for my nap by 12:50 (thanks to my Mom for feeding the Little Girl her lunch and getting her in bed for her nap).  Awake at 2:30 ... thankyouverymuch.

Yeah, I think we're ready for this one to get here.


Holiday Sweets 2: Skillet Apple Crisp

Need an easy dessert for upcoming family time?  Check out another fabulous guest post from Mary!  

A delicious and faster alternative to apple pie. The crumble topping and rich apple filling are fantastic. Enjoy!  ~Mary

Skillet Apple Crisp
Recipe & photo from Cook's Illustrated, September 1, 2010
Serves 6 to 8.

Golden Delicious apples are Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite for this recipe, but any sweet, crisp apple such as Honeycrisp or Braeburn can be substituted; they do not recommend Granny Smith apples for this recipe. If your skillet is not ovensafe, prepare the recipe through step 3 and then transfer the filling to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Top the filling as directed and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serve the apple crisp warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

¾ cup (3 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup pecans, chopped fine
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats 
½ cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (see note above)
¼ cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. FOR THE TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour, pecans, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in butter until mixture is thoroughly moistened and crumbly. Set aside while preparing fruit filling.
2. FOR THE FILLING: Toss apples, granulated sugar, and cinnamon (if using) together in large bowl; set aside. Bring cider to simmer in 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium heat; cook until reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Transfer reduced cider to bowl or liquid measuring cup; stir in lemon juice and set aside.
3. Heat butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add apple mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until apples begin to soften and become translucent, 12 to 14 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Remove pan from heat and gently stir in cider mixture until apples are coated.
4. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit, breaking up any large chunks. Place skillet on baking sheet and bake until fruit is tender and topping is deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm, at least 15 minutes, and serve.


A Meal Planning Tidbit

I've been wondering recently about how to stretch out produce when I'm shopping only two or three times a month.  With all the intentionality of planning meals, sometimes I don't stop to think about what the lettuce is really going to look like on Day 9, and if we will actually want to eat it or not.  Yikes.  I'm trying to get better about it.

Lucky for me, I found some great suggestions here on the Passionate Homemaking blog.  It makes so much sense - eat the more perishable stuff first ... the hardier stuff later.

I'll blame it on my momnesia/baby brain that I wasn't able to come up with that on my own.


Holiday Sweets 1: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

Special treat: guest posts!  I've asked some friends to help me in the coming weeks by sharing favorite recipes, projects, and/or personal insights.  Mary has been kind enough to share FIVE (yes, FIVE!) delicious holiday treats - all in the "Holiday Sweets" category.  (To be completely honest, we are all hoping that one day Mary will open up her own bakery and dessert catering business.  She knows her stuff, and does such a beautiful job not only of preparing food but also presenting it.  Until that time, we are more than happy to be her guinea pigs and give her feedback on any and all recipes she needs an audience for.)  

"I love the food of the holidays. I love the traditional fare of turkey and stuffing, pumpkin and apple pies. But I also love exploring less common expressions of common flavors. I'm excited to share a few of my favorites with you over the next few weeks while Katherine is enjoying her first busy and blessed holiday season as mama of two."  ~Mary

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe & photo from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 17 to 18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

1 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/8-1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.
2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.
3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Make the frosting:
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Frost cupcakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set up frosting.


Slowing Down

October was a busy month ... the "get as much done as possible before the baby comes" month, if you will.  November has started out ... well ... slow.  I remember getting to this point when I was pregnant with Little Girl - the point when folks stop expecting me to make firm plans, and when I have a valid excuse for just about anything.  What?  You're showing up to a potluck with hotdogs and a can of sliced pears?  Sorry.  I just needed a 2 1/2 hour nap this afternoon.  It's nice, and refreshing, and liberating ... and slow.

Just what I need.

I think I'm going to suspend some of the things on my to-do list.  Most of the important stuff is done, anyway.  I still would like to start a quilt, and have all the Christmas and birthday presents taken care of and wrapped, but I'm going to let it go.  I NEED to let it go.  I have this cuteness to soak in, after all ...

I was trying to get a good picture of the giant curl just over her right ear.
It was a perfect curl.  And it just happened!
She's amazing.
We did get one special thing taken care of this weekend: family date on Saturday!  The Mr., Little Girl, and I ate Saturday morning breakfast at a diner just down the street (an 80-year-old-establishment with exactly 6 tiny booths, 15 counter stools, a short order cook, and a handful of big-haired waitresses that would make any southern roadside food establishment proud).

With the exception of the one that fell on the floor,
This is my child.  I'm so proud.
I fully embraced the "eating for two" mentality with the 2-2-2 breakfast - 2 eggs, 2 sausage links, 2 giant pancakes (the size of the plate above, to be more precise), and a generous serving of home fries.  I won't let on how much little was left over.  Let's be reasonable ... this 38-week baby inside has the appetite of a bear coming out of winter hibernation.  I am starving all the time.

After our breakfast we went to a town park that is a farm - Little Girl is really into animals (and animal sounds) these days.  We all had a blast, and it must've really done her in because she took a 3 1/2 hour nap once we got home, after almost falling asleep over her lunch (which she's never done before).

This week is very low-key.  My mom comes on Sunday.  Friends are on backup duty for Little Girl and Dog if the baby decides to come early.  Grocery shopping has been done.  Auctions are listed on ebay. This week, I'm spending time with those I love, doing what I need to do, and preparing - anticipating, really! - labor and delivery, because it means we get to meet our second child!

 Until then, this is my to-do list ...