Sunday, August 31, 2014

Working Mom

Well, the time has come. The summer is coming to a close, and in just two days I'll be returning to work. Matt will too. It's been a truly amazing summer for our family and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little heartbroken that I have to leave my babies and go back to work while they are still so little. Especially since I know this is the last time I'll be able to stay home with them (considering I'm not a teacher and don't get summers off, and that we are planning to stay a happily content family of 4).


Among the things I'll miss the most:
- Waking up to my children calling for me (vs. an obnoxious alarm clock).

- Being the one to feed Carson all day and knowing her every little nuance. It's hard when other people have to tell you how much your baby is eating, whether she isn't feeling well and if she's smiling a lot or doing something new.

- Having conversations with Riker. He's really become my little buddy this summer and is SO much fun at this age. We just play and talk and hang out all day long, and he's having a hard time understanding why it won't be like that anymore. I want to cry just thinking about the fact that some days I will only see him for a couple minutes, since I'll be commuting to the city a couple days a week.

- Not having any real agenda every day. I like that the days just take us where they take us, and it's okay if the only thing I accomplish all day is re-loading the dishwasher because my full attention is focused on one or both of the kids. 

- Ummm....SUMMER!
















It's been hard to reconcile leaving my babies in order to go to work to provide for them, but I know at the end of the day it's for the best. And I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful 13 weeks I've had with them, since so many women don't even get that long. So instead of dwelling on all the things I'll miss about summer and being home with my little ones, I'm trying to think positively about all the things we have to look forward to.

Things I'm looking forward to include:

- Getting back into a routine. Although I've enjoyed not having an agenda for the short-term, in the long run I feel a little out of control without a normal daily routine.

- Finishing a cup of coffee while it's still hot.

- Taking a shower before 3:00 - and taking a shower alone (you moms know what I'm talking about). While this will require getting up before the crack of dawn, I know it'll feel nice to be showered, have my hair actually blown dry (rather than being thrown up wet) and be wearing a nice outfit more often than not.

- Getting back on a normal eating routine. I haven't lost all of my baby weight, and I haven't let it bother me yet because I've been enjoying summer and not really worrying about eating breakfast every morning or getting all my veggies in. I've eaten plenty of takeout fried seafood and Mexican food over the last few weeks, not to mention several dinners out with friends.





I've also enjoyed quite a few cocktails and glasses of wine, as well as several trips to local wineries, since I stopped nursing Carson. No shortage of calories there.





It's been fun, but going back to work will mean planned, regular meals, fewer drinks and a healthier me. Always a good thing!

- Having daily adult interaction and using my brain to tackle challenges that don't involve baby or toddler issues. As much as I love being home with my children each day, I don't know that I would be happy being a permanent stay-at-home mom. I love the work I do at my job, and know I would miss working with people, writing and strategizing all day long.

- And...FALL!

Fall is one of my absolute favorite times of the year, so returning to work also comes at a time when we're on the verge of awesome things like pumpkin picking, sweaters and boots, fall scented candles, crock-pot meals and football. The nights are already starting to cool off, so while I love summer and am going to miss it, I'm getting that fall itch and will be ready for it when it arrives.

For all you working moms out there, if you've gone through some of the same mental struggles I have, just know how amazing you are for balancing the work/family life day in and day out. We do the best we can, and I've decided I'd rather focus on all the good times and precious moments my family does have together vs. wishing there were more of them. I'm going to cherish every moment I have with my children, lean on my friends and family, and always remember that Friday nights are never more than a couple days away. ;)

Happy Labor Day Weekend moms and non-moms alike!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Engagement Party Details + The Best Pesto

It's official - wedding festivities for Amanda and Justyn have begun! Justyn proposed to my sister Amanda in Vegas in the spring, and a few weeks ago we finally got both our families together to celebrate. I loved meeting Justyn's family and getting to spend some quality time with my own as well.


Since my house is fairly central to both families (and since we finally finished our massive patio project), my mom decided to hold the party here in our backyard. I was thrilled to have it here. Amanda and Justyn wanted something casual yet elegant, so my mom, grandma, aunt and I had a lot of fun party planning over the last few months to surprise them with something that suited their style. I was so excited to see it all come together!

To get the feel we were looking for, my mom rented tables with white chairs and flowy white tablecloths, and we set up a big white tent with twinkling white lights. It looked pretty during the day and had a beautiful warm glow at night. We set up flowers and silverware in Mason jars (my fave), little white candles in glass votive holders, and hanging white and black paper lanterns. I think the combination of glass jars, simple flowers and the outdoor setting mixed with white lights and linens made the party feel elegant yet rustic.








Amanda's wedding colors are blue and yellow, so we tried to do similar colors for the engagement party. Her shade of blue is a bit harder to come by, so we settled for yellow and white, which looked really nice for a backyard summer party.








How cute are these favors? My mom filled them with maple kettle corn from Vermont - a little taste of home for Amanda!




After a week of gorgeous weather, of course it poured like crazy the morning of the party, forcing us to change the setup we originally planned. Thankfully the rain cleared up around 2:00 just in time for the guests to arrive, grab a glass of wine and start nibbling on some hors d'oeuvres.

As for the food, I was in charge of the appetizers and after-party s'mores setup. I love making cocktail food, and put out a spread that included some fun apps as well as a few easy things I could just pull together last minute, like a big antipasto platter and pre-made bruschetta.








My mom handled the main course, which included catered Italian favorites like shrimp scampi, sausage & peppers and lemon chicken. She also set up an awesome dessert table with a chocolate fountain and my dad's homemade vanilla cake with lemon curd filling. He is one heck of a cake-maker!




Side note: To make the strawberry basket for the chocolate fountain, I just reused a basket Matt's mom received from Edible Arrangements a few weeks ago. I put two pieces of foam inside and covered them up with some kale, and then skewered the strawberries and stuck them into the foam. So easy, and a nice way to display berries rather than on a plate.


One of the snacks people seemed to buzz about the most was the pesto. I used it in two different places - as a dip for the caprese salad skewers, and in the pesto layer dip.




After the party several people asked for the recipe, to which I replied: It's seriously the easiest thing ever. I don't even use a recipe. I think the key to its deliciousness is the quality of ingredients - using sharp, nutty, fresh parmesan cheese, fresh basil from the garden and nice fruity olive oil really makes a difference.

That said, my general recipe includes:

The Best Pesto

Makes approx. 1 cup

- About 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup good parmesan cheese (freshly grated if possible)
- 2 cloves garlic
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste (I use about a pinch each)
- About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely ground. Then, with the machine running, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture comes together and is the consistency you desire. Taste and season with extra S &P if desired. Use right away, or place in a container and drizzle olive oil on top (this preserves the green color), and refrigerate or freeze.

I could honestly eat this stuff on just about anything. Since I have about 100 pounds of fresh basil in my garden, I've been making batches of it and freezing it for future use. It tastes just as good when thawed as it does when fresh.

***

I am so, so happy for Amanda and Justyn and loved being part of their special day. They're going to make a beautiful bride & groom!


Now that we've gotten through the engagement party, it's onto the shower and bachelorette! ;)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Grilled Lemon Dill Potato Salad

Happy two months to this little lady!


It's really hard to believe Carson is two months old already, and in one short month I'll be going back to work. It's been such a joy to be home with my family this summer, watching Carson grow and packing Riker's days full of fun. And packed, they sure have been!




Even though I'm often tired, I get stir crazy staying inside all day, so it seems like almost every day/night we're out doing something, newborn and energetic toddler in tow. We've had the county fair, rides and fireworks at the boardwalk, beach days and pool days, countless walks in the park, a day trip to Philly, a birthday party at a bouncy house, a family day at a local winery, and even a float down the creek.


In between all the fun, we've also done a ton of work on the house, which we're trying to finish up quickly since we're having my sister's engagement party here next weekend. I've also been able to do a lot more cooking now that Carson is sleeping more. I am really loving this summer!

One thing I've loved the most is the number of friend's BBQ's, family parties and impromptu dinners we've gone to. Speaking of BBQs, if you're getting a little sick of the same old side dishes every weekend now that we're at the end of July, I present to you the grilled potato salad.




I've made this twice for family parties this summer and it was a hit each time. It's a refreshing twist on a classic potato salad, which I love because I'm not a big fan of the traditional mayo-laden kind. It has great char flavor from the grill, a little crunch from the onion, a nice zing from lemon, vinegar and capers, and a fresh flavor from the garden herbs.

Love those grill marks!


I'm also a sucker for warm salads. This can be served right off the grill or at room temperature, which makes for an easy dish to make and then take with you to a party.


Off to the beach!

Grilled Lemon Dill Potato Salad

Serves 8

Ingredients
5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thick
1/2 red onion, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, minced
2 Tbsp. parsley, minced
4 Tbsp. capers
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil; parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes, until they are just fork tender but not quite cooked through. Drain and set on a baking sheet. Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and then grill for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until they are completely cooked through and slightly charred.

To make the vinaigrette, add olive oil, vinegar, mustard, lemon zest and juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper to a jar; shake or whisk until combined.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked potatoes, onion, dill, parsley and capers. Pour half of the vinaigrette over the salad while the potatoes are still warm so they absorb some of the dressing. Reserve the other half of the vinaigrette to pour over the salad just before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.