Saturday, July 19, 2014

Little Artists...

 Simon has been asking for days to do some activities from a few of his books. We finally got the table cleared off today so that we actually could do some.
 That boy loves to create.  This is his crazy dinosaur...

And this is his Batman drawing from last night.  He's decided that he'll be "gray and blue Batman" for Halloween this year.

 Rose just likes to do anything her big brother is doing.
 She loved sitting at the table and scribbling in a book.
 For a few minutes, at least.
 Then she did this:
 This is one reason why we don't have expensive furniture.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Homemade Chicken Strips

I love chicken strips.  I especially love them dipped in a delicious buffalo sauce that's all spicy and vinegary and amazing... But my love of all things buffalo chicken is a whole post in an of itself.  Years ago I used to buy the frozen bags of chicken nuggets or strips on a fairly regular basis.  It made for an easy lunch or dinner when we were feeling lazy.  In more recent, budget conscious years I can't bring myself to buy them because plain chicken is often cheaper.  Nevermind the fact that they're really not that healthy. 
I've gotten more adept in the kitchen over the last five years so I finally decided to give homemade chicken strips a try.  It took a few batches of tweaking the spices to nail down the flavors I like but these are so easy to make that I doubt I'll ever buy the frozen version again.  I've always frozen these for later use too so I still have the convenience factor after putting in a little work on the front end.  Trust me.  It's worth it.

You'll need:
2 cups bread crumbs, panko gives them the best texture
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tbs Italian seasoning
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, whatever cut you want but I prefer thigh meat for this recipe
2 eggs
a splash of milk

In a non-stick pan combine your bread crumbs, olive oil, and spices.  
Brown over medium heat.  You'll want to keep the crumbs moving and keep a close eye on them.  It doesn't take much from them to go from the golden brown below to a singed mess.
I skipped this step once.  Don't skip this step.  It really does give them a crunchier breading.  It's worth it.  

Set your browned bread crumbs aside to cool for 30 to 60 minutes.  I usually end up cleaning my kitchen or doing other food prep while they cool.  It's a great time to prep your chicken, for example.  You'll want to trim any excess fat and cut them to whatever size you want. It's best to try to keep your pieces similar in size but I have yet to accomplish that.

After your bread crumbs have cooled you'll set up a standard breading station:  Meat, beaten eggs with a splash of milk, and bread crumbs. (The only reason my meat is in a pan is because it was clean and available.  The meat cooks in the oven.)   Breading tip: Try to keep one hand "wet" and one hand "dry" or you'll end up with bread crumbs all over both your hands and floating around in your egg mixture.   

Put two or three pieces of meat in your egg mix.  Be sure that you get egg on both sides.

Once they're coated in egg move the chicken strips to bread crumbs. I use my "dry hand" to put bread crumbs on top initially and kind of press them into the crumbs so they adhere well to the chicken. 

Move your breaded chicken to a baking sheet.
Continue this process until all your chicken is breaded.
Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.

Allow them to cool until they can easily be handled then transfer to a freezer back or whatever you like to store frozen food in. 
To reheat, bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes or until they're heated through.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Splashin' Good Time

 Gresham has a new splash pad. It opened very recently and we are thrilled to have a new, free, fun, free, wet, free, and cool place to play that's really close to our house.  And did I mention it was free?  On Friday afternoon we trekked on down after naptime to give it a try...
The kids had a blast and it's set up in such a great way that it's easy for me to stand back a bit but still be able to keep an eye on both kids.  Who am I kidding?  It was hot on Friday!  I got a little wet too... Refreshing.

 Since Friday was 7/11 we also had to celebrate on of the best random holidays:  Slurpee Day! We each got a free Slurpee.  Okay...So we got Slurpees before the splash pad too... That's one of the joys of Slurpee day!  Go to multiple 7 Eleven's and get multiple Slurpees.  I must say, I found the best combination this year in about a 50/50 split of mango and lemonade with a small hint of pina colada. Yum.
 I even let Rosie-Girl have a little of the lemonade.
 Of course, Simon got his own.
And we brought one home for Tony.

We'll definitely be hitting the splash pad again this summer.  We'll likely have a few more Slurpees as well. 

And there's always the backyard "splash pad" -- comprised of a tarp with a sprinkler on top -- for those hot days when I don't even have the energy to leave the house.  Add in a few cups and you've got a water fight waiting to happen.  Works like a charm. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: What Alice Forgot

Imagine waking up and having no memory of the last ten years.  No memory of your children... Or best friend... Every happy memory...Every tragedy... Wiped away.  This is the concept Liane Moriarty takes in What Alice Forgot.  Alice passes out at the gym and suffers a head injury.  When she awakens she believes it is 1998 and that she's happily married and expecting her first child.  However, it's actually 2008, she's the mother of three children and in the midst of a bitter divorce.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the story as it unravelled.  There were bits and pieces of mystery throughout the story as something would be vaguely familiar to Alice or as she'd do something -- like referee her child's sporting event like it was natural -- with no recollection of ever doing it before.  I was rooting for Alice and Nick, her estranged husband, to somehow work things out from the very beginning and wondering why they were separated to begin with.  Most of all, I wanted to know what happened to Alice's best friend Gina -- a woman she didn't remember at all but who died very suddenly.

What Alice Forgot is written with three different methods of story-telling.  We have the limited 3rd person narrative that tells Alice's story, Alice's older sister Elisabeth who is writing journal entries for therapy, and Frannie -- an older, close family friend -- writing letters to a former love.  Honestly, I felt like the three different plots, so to speak, were fairly unrelated.  Elisabeth is going through infertility and her journal entries focus a lot more on that rather than Alice.  Having been through infertility myself she's the character I identified the most with but the connection between her story and the main plot with Alice never seemed to connect.  The letters Frannie is writing didn't really seem to fit at all.  They felt like page filler to me and I think could almost be taken out of the story completely with little to no repercussions.

 Would I recommend this book?  Sure.  The overall plot was good and it was decently written.  Though I will say that if it hadn't been for the epilogue I would have hated the book.  Throw-the-book-across-the-room HATED it.  The body of it ended very suddenly but the epilogue did a good job of tying up all the loose ends.  Be sure to read the epilogue if you pick it up.  Also, it would have been nice to know before I started reading that it's an Aussie novel.  It doesn't make a huge difference to the plot but it would have helped to know that in advance.

6 out of 10 stars.

Personal take away:
What I liked best about this book is that it made me think.  How would I feel if I woke up and suddenly had no memory of the last ten years of my life?  Ten years ago right now I'd just gotten engaged, was working for Parks and Rec Acquatics, and was gearing up for my senior year of college.  How would I feel to have no memory of my wedding, my children and everything we went through to have them, my best friend, the changes and additions my family has gone through?  How would it feel to forget all the ups and downs of the last ten years of my life?  And ultimately, would I be happy with who I am now or would I be wondering -- much like Alice did -- who this person is? 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Book Lover in Me

A few weeks ago I somewhat randomly counted the number of books on my nightstand.  Amid Simon's inhaler, a miniature tutu for Rose's stuffed kitty, and a bag of yarn there are forty book.  Forty books!  And then there's my tablet with three different e-reader programs on it. You know, essentially the tardis of books.

Yeah.  I might have a slight problem.  A slightly glorious problem!

I have always loved to read but in the year or so after both of my children were born I found it more difficult to actually do.  One book would take forever to get through because a) I had less time and b) I couldn't keep my sleep deprived mind engaged or eyes open enough to read and comprehend the words....sentences...**snore**  Which is a little strange because I spent probably 75% of the time obtaining my English degree in a similar sleep deprived state.  Working two jobs and going to school full time will do that to you.  I must be getting old...

But I digress.

And now there's my obsession with GoodReads... 

And the online book club I joined a few months back....

And, of course, there's my dear friend Melissa who is essentially my pusher.  She's always up for a trip to Powell's even if it's just to smell the books. (Yes... Smell.  Books smell good.)  She has an even larger collection of books than I do and practically inhales them.  She's the reason I did a book challenge a few years back and she is my cohort in geekery when it comes to discussing pretty much all things book-related.  I am so looking forward to "Nerdy Book Club" with her later this year. 

She's also one of the reasons that I'm starting something new.  Recently she sent me a link to a handful of resources to get books for free.  Yes....Free!  Some are paperback and some are ebooks but who cares!  They're free!  After much debate -- okay, about 10 minutes -- I signed up to "blog for books."  Essentially, you select a book from their list and they give you a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

The book lover in me is excited.  The writer in me is equally excited.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chicken, Black Bean, and Corn Tostadas

I'm thoroughly enjoying cooking with my son.  And he seems to be enjoying learning and spending time in the kitchen with me as well.  He frequently asks me what's for dinner and if he can help me cook it.  It's incredibly sweet and all around awesome to see this interest develop. 

 Tonight we made chicken, black bean, and corn tostadas.

You'll need:
Fajita sized tortillas
Cooked/shredded chicken (I used 1 large chicken breast)
1 can tomato with green chili
1 can black beans, drained
3/4 cup frozen corn
2 tbs taco seasoning*
Shredded cheese
Lettuce/chopped tomato/avocado/salsa/sour cream

Preheat oven to 350.  Spread your tortillas out on as many pans as you need.  (I made 7 tostadas but could probably have made 10 or 12 with the amount of topping chicken mixture I had.)  Put them in the oven to brown.  Be sure to check them after a few minutes and if bubbles have formed, poke them to let the air out.  I baked mine for appx 5 minutes.

While the tortillas are baking, dump your shredded chicken, tomatoes with green chilies, black beans, corn, and taco seasoning in a bowl.  Simon got to help me open the cans -- I held the opener and he turned to the crank -- and he learned the term colander while we rinsed the beans.

 Mix everything up well.  We got these great utensils in the kitchen section at Ikea that are smaller than the average spatula or spoon.  They're the perfect size for small hands and really inexpensive.

Your tortillas should be slightly browned by now and ready for toppings.  Put 1-2 scoops of your chicken mixture on each tortilla.

Top with shredded cheese.

Bake until cheese is melted.  It took approximately eight minutes in my oven.  (I swapped the what rack each pan was on midway through.)
Simon didn't want any extra toppings on his...
I added lettuce, tomato, salsa and sour cream to mine and Tony's.  And a little cubed avocado to mine too.

I had a little of the chicken mixture leftover and just added a chopped avocado to it.  It makes an excellent "salad" or is great in a wrap or just with chips.

*I make my own taco seasoning and usually make it in large batches.  If you buy your ingredients in the same size jar it's simple...

1 jar Cumin
1 jar Onion Powder
1 jar Garlic Powder
3 jars Chili Powder

Thoroughly mix all three and store in an airtight container. Viola!  Taco seasoning!  2-3 tablespoons is typically enough for 1 lb of meat.

Occasionally I've added a tablespoon of oregano to the large mixture since many recipes call for "a dash" of it.  I don't find that it really makes a difference.  It you want a little more heat add some cayenne but I'd advise that you do so sparingly. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cooking With Batman: Breakfast Pizza

I recently posted on Facebook that I wanted some "safety" or "children's" knives for Simon.  He's been asking to cut for ages but there was no way I wanted to put a sharp, metal, pointy object in my barely 5 year old's hand.  It's not that I didn't think he could handle it... It's that I didn't think I could handle.  My brother-in-law found these nylon kid's knives on Amazon.  
A few hours later I had a message in my inbox saying they were on their way to my house courtesy of "Uncle Rick who loves to cook."  So this one is for you, Uncle Rick!

Before we started the prep for our Breakfast Pizza Simon and I had a very serious conversation about knives.  They are sharp.  They are usually pointy.  They can hurt you or someone else.  No goofing around when using knives.  Pay close attention.  If you drop one?  Step back and let it fall.  You have respect for the knife.  Knives are serious business and you only use them if Mama, Daddy or another adult is helping you.  I think I might have scared him just a little but they are all important things to know.

As you can clearly see he was still excited to try out his new knives.

I let him cut up the sausage for our pizza.  I used turkey Brown and Serve sausage, by the say.

I also let him grate the cheese.  Notice the appearance of the batman mask?  The mask is not allowed when we're working with knives.

Here's what you need for breakfast pizza:
1 pizza crust -- I used the canned, refrigerator crust
1-2 cups frozen hashbrowns (we use shredded)
Crumbled Bacon or breakfast sausage or both, fully cooked
4-6 eggs 
1 cup (or so) of shredded cheese
Salt/Pepper to taste

Preheat oven according to pizza crust directions.  Roll out your crust into the appropriate type of pan.  I used my 9x13 glass casserole dish.

Pour your hashbrowns on top of the crust and spread them out evening.

Sprinkled your bacon/sausage on top of the hashbrowns. 

Either beat your eggs in a bowl and pour them on or crack them directly on top of your pizza.  I like put them directly onto the pizza and them bust the yolks open.  Simon cracked one of the eggs and then I ended up picking egg shells off the pizza.  He didn't like the slimy feel of the egg on his fingers either and didn't want to crack any more.
Sprinkle your shredded cheese on top and then bake for 15-20 minutes or until egg and crust are done. 

This is what it should look like....

My husband like to put a little Tabasco sauce on top.  Simon, Rose and I just eat it as is.

Batman approved meal.