Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Everyday indulgences - The Egg Crate

A little free-form ramble from my mind to yours:

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, may remember that, among many other things,  my Christmas wish list featured a fervently-hoped-for egg crate. Of all things.This all makes much more sense when I tell you said that egg crate is from Anthropologie. Well, I didn't get it for Christmas, but I did buy it for myself shortly thereafter, and now it sits it my fridge looking gorgeous and generally raising the tone of this here establishment. In short, I love it. I may or may not have started buying higher quality (and priced) eggs that look prettier in my egg crate, although in my defense that has a lot do with taste, quality and ethics too. But, oh, the brown of the eggs and the blue of the stoneware just warms the very cockles of my heart. 

And yet! How frivolous is this? What an absolutely pointless thing to spend money on! Do I really have so much time and resources on my hand that I have taken to styling the contents of my fridge? If this isn't the opiate of the middle classes*, I don't know what is. My 16 year-old self would be outraged and disgusted (and probably secretly taking notes for future reference).

Having said all that, I do admit that I get a lot of enjoyment out of making my surroundings a little prettier.  I want to make my home a nice, comfortable place for my family and friends to enjoy spending time, and if I can get a little thrill out of a $14 piece of kitchen ware, then more power to me, right?

Some of these thoughts are coming from recent blog posts by Stephmodo and Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day who have been writing about the appeal of pretty cleaning supplies. Personally, I think the joy of actually using fancy-dancy brooms and bottles for household chores would wear off pretty quickly. But I know I'd get the same little thrill from seeing a cleaning stash full of pretties that I do from my blessed egg crate. And really, shouldn't we be taking our innocent little pleasures where we can get them?

*Side note: Did you know that more than half of all Americans (or even 9 out of 10) consider themselves to be middle class? That's a big middle. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pesto pasta with feta

Whole wheat pasta, basil, feta cheese and cherry tomatoes. 
As promised, here is the recipe for our pesto pasta with feta. While it doesn't photograph well (not by me, anyway), it is delicious enough that we make it every couple of weeks. And if you don't trust me, trust SeƱor Picky Eater who shoveled it down with both hands. His dad and I were so amazed we had to take a  picture! I would have thought that Feta cheese would be too strong for a toddler palate, but I guess not, because he loved it!

Evidence of a boy enjoying his dinner. 
As well as being meatless and delicious, it's also a really quick dinner, as in about 10 minutes start to finish, which is hard to beat on a weeknight when everyone seems to be starving to death all at once. So here we go: 

Pesto pasta with feta
Serves 2

You will need
  • About 7 oz./200 g. (or half a packet) whole grain rotini pasta (I like this one from Barilla, and good heavens, I wish they would sponsor me for how much I keep plugging their products). 
  • 6 oz./170 g. Feta cheese 
  • 2 table spoons of pesto (we make our own from this recipe, minus the parsley)
  • handful of halved cherry tomatoes (or olives or green beans or whatever vegetable sounds good to you. )
  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. 
  2. Halve the tomatoes. 
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and stir in the pesto, followed by the feta cheese. 
  4. Add tomatoes and serve. 
Enjoy! And if you do make it, please let me know what you think :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Small steps: a meatless meal

A completely unrelated photo of Espen's cars taking their nap in our placemats.

Let's just jump right into this week's challenge, shall we?

This should be simple enough: this week we will be eating one meatless dinner. This is something we often and easily do in our family, but would still like to make it a more regular thing, so a conscious reminder is good for us too.

So, what's so bad about meat? In my opinion, not much (and yes, I will be avoiding the whole ethical debate here. If you want to know how I feel about eating meat and how animals are raised for meat consumption, just ask, and I'll be happy to tell you. It's just not an issue we'll be discussing here). It's a great source of protein, iron and a variety of other nutrients, it's filling and delicious and can be great to build a meal around. However, too much meat consumption (especially red meat) is also high in saturated fat and has been pretty conclusively linked to heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer (especially colon cancer). You can read more about that fun stuff here, here, here and here.

I think the key here (as I'm discovering more and more as I get older) are the words "too much." As I was reading up on this, just about every article and every "expert" stated that meat is just fine in moderation. And so I'm going to be trying to cut back my meat consumption a little. Ironically, while simultaneously trying to get Espen to eat more meat, but that's another story about a toddler who only wants to eat fruit and cheese for every meal.

So, here are the rules!

  • This week, incorporate one meatless dinner into your menu. That simple! 
  • Not wanting to disregard the vegetarians among you, let's flip this upside down, and have you make a protein and iron-rich meal this week. Then tell me what you made! 
  • Need some dinner ideas? We love these Zucchini cakes and these vegetable enchiladas look fantastic. 
  • Check back tomorrow, when I will be posting a recipe to one of our own favorite meatless dinners: Pasta with feta and pesto. 
Oh, and did you clean out your closet last week? I did, and it felt great! I now have one huge pile of clothes to donate, and one pile of clothes to pack away and try again if and when I ever lose that weight. I loved 1) seeing that I'm only one or two sizes away from being able to wear them again and 2) rediscovering several pieces in my closet that I haven't worn for ages because I just kind of forgot about them, or didn't think they fit anymore. It was also interesting to see that the clothes I kept are mostly fairly classic, good-quality pieces that I can probably wear for a long time. That might be good to remember when I go shopping! 

See you tomorrow! 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Small steps: closet clean-out

Some sunshiny flowers from our weekend in St. George.
We are literally just back from a weekend away and have collapsed onto the couch in front of Graham Norton (bless his little Irish socks) after tucking a very tired Espen into bed. I'll be headed in that direction myself pretty soon, but I just wanted to hop on here and give you the short version of this week's Small Steps challenge:

This week's challenge is going to be cleaning out our closets.  And before you get your knickers in the proverbial twist over this not being health-related, just hear me out for a minute. Aaaand cue a teensy bit of psychobabble: I really believe that one of the first steps towards having a healthy body is having a healthy mind. As a culture, we have the weirdest hangups about what we "should" look like, and spend a lot of time being down on ourselves if we don't fit that ideal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that one of the things that often makes us feel bad about ourselves are clothes that don't fit the way we want them to. So this week I'll be paring down my closet to just the clothes that I'm happy with right now. I'm going to keep the clothes that I like and hope will fit better down the road, but I'll be boxing them up and putting them away so they're not a) taking up space in my closet and b) won't keep me frequently feeling bad about them. And anything that just isn't doing it for me at all is being donated.

What do you think?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hear ye, hear ye!

A few quick public service announcements:

  • I just posted some photos and whatnot from Espen's actual birthday yesterday over on Me Here Her There, AKA my other blog. I probably won't be posting them here, so if you want to see a sticky toddler covered in ice cream, now's your chance. I will, however, give you the lowdown on his birthday party next week. 
  • I've had a lot of hits for people searching for fastelavn, which is a Scandinavian holiday that kicks off the season of lent. The date for fastelavn this year is Sunday, February 19th, so this weekend! For simplicity, I am linking to my post about fastelavn here. And now I'm trying to decide if I should enforce this holiday at my inlaws on Sunday, which is where we will be spending the long weekend. Whipped cream, anyone?
  • Similarly, with Easter on the horizon (that actually blows my mind a little, seeing as Valentine's Day is just over), some people are arriving here via searches for hand painted Easter eggs. My tutorial for those can be found here. But seriously, friends, we've got about six weeks. 

They're pretty, right? 

I'll be back with next week's health challenge on Sunday night. Until then, have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A letter to Espen on his 2nd birthday.

Dear Espen,

You are two years old today, happy birthday! I am writing this while you take a much needed (and resisted) nap before we resume the celebrations. We started the day with presents in our pajamas, and you impressed me with your present unwrapping skills. You know exactly what to do with those! As you opened each gift, you asked "What's this, mama? What's inside?" over and over as you ripped off the paper. You loved all of your gifts from your Lightening McQueen shirt (which you're currently wearing) to your new Thomas books. If I had to guess, though, I'd say that your favorites are your new tent and the Elias boat from Granny and Grandad. Granny and Grandad were able to see you open Elias over Skype, and I think they were as delighted with your reaction as you were with your gift. You were so excited to see Elias that you spent most of the morning asking to take a bath just so you could try him out in water.

After a play date and a very indulgent lunch of a Happy Meal from McDonalds ("Fries! Yummy yummy!") eaten in front of the movie Cars, you finally did get your bath, much to your delight.

That little smirk says it all, really. 

Now, a story time and much playing and shrieking in bed later, you are fast asleep. It really is true what they say about parents loving their children even more when they're sleeping. It means I get to think about you and miss your sweet face and all the funny little things you say. As nice as it is to get a little break from full-time toddler wrangling, I am looking forward to scooping you up for a little post-nap snuggle. Your little body always seems a little softer and warmer when you have just woken up, and you're not yet too busy to lean into me and cuddle close for a few moments.

The first time I met you. 

If you are anything like me, it will take you years to realize what a gift you are to me. When I held you in my arms two years ago, I was completely overwhelmed by how much and how instantly I loved you. And I was almost ashamed to really understand for the first time just how much my own parents love me. Mostly I'm just grateful to be reminded that I have always had the kind of love from my parents that you have from yours.

Being your mother has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. In the midst of all the feeding, diaper changing, laundry washing, book reading, duck feeding, "no"-saying and mess cleaning, I have really and genuinely discovered who I am. And, Espen, I have discovered who you have made me. You have given me patience, tenderness and a never-ending capacity for love that I didn't really realize was there. You have taught me to prioritize, try harder and to never, ever give up. Thank you.

Espen David North, you are a joy and a delight! 95% of the time, you are the happiest little boy in the world, and the other 5% you are really not. You are a chatterbox, and always have something to say. We know you're awake in the mornings because we can hear you talking and laughing by yourself, and we know you're asleep at night because that's when the talking stops. I realized a few weeks ago that we are having conversations now. You ask me questions and tell me what you want or need (usually milk, bunnies or Lightning McQueen) or just tell me about your day. I can explain what we're doing and why to you, or ask you for your input on a particular topic ("Bed? No. Brush teeth? No.") You've always had an impressive vocabulary for your age, and now you are blowing us away with your ability to put it all together.

You are sweet and kind and loving. Sometimes you'll catch my, or your dad's, eye from across the room and just grin a big grin at us. If one of us is in a different room, you'll sometimes yell "I love you!" just to hear our voices. You are learning to share your toys with friends, and show genuine concern if someone else is upset. You love all of your grandparents, and manage to stay close to all of them, no matter how far away they live. If we Skyped with Granny as often as you asked to, she'd never get any sleep!

Always busy.

In spite (or maybe because) of our best attempts to not push typical "boy" interests on you, you have the manliest little obsessions! You love cars, trains, planes, trucks and basically anything with wheels. I am astounded at the sheer number of toy cars that have magically found their way into our house, and have accepted that I will probably be finding trains in my bed for years to come. You are happiest when busy, and love painting, going for walks, making "stuff", cooking, helping out around the house and being involved in whatever is going on.

Happy birthday, my little boy! You have brought so much joy to our little family, and we feel so lucky that we get to be your daddy and mama. These two years have gone so fast, and I know the years to come will just fly by, but I am so excited to follow you in your journey through life. You will do wonderful things, simply because you are you.

I love you, Espen.

--- Your mama.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

My flowers from Nick.

This is a busy week for us: Espen's birthday party and our "engageaversary" on Saturday, my dad's birthday and Norwegian Mother's Day on Sunday, Valentine's Day on Tuesday, Espen's actual birthday on Thursday followed by leaving town for the three day weekend. Phew! In the midst of all this craziness, Nick and I do still like to take the time to celebrate with a little romance. He surprised me with flowers last night (so I could enjoy them all day on Valentine's Day! :) ), and I found a sweet card on my pillow this morning that I'm sure I read with a big, goofy grin on my face. That man can still make me giddy!

We started a fantastic tradition a few years ago of getting take-out from the Bombay House on Valentine's Day. No more scrambling for babysitters or waiting in line four ages to get a table at crowded restaurants. Just the two of us, a couple of mango lassis and lots and lots of tasty curry. My kind of night! I'm sure we'll curl up with a movie too, preferably of the romantic variety. What are your favorites? I'd love some suggestions. 

Just two crazy kids against the world.
The photo above is one of our engagement photos, and to this day it still makes my heart skip around in unpredictable ways. We're older now, with a child, a house, two cars, an accountant for heaven's sakes!, but I still love my Nick with all the fire and excitement I felt in my heart on that rainy February day when he asked me to be his wife. When I said yes - twice.

Valentine's Day is a wonderful day to celebrate the fun side of love and romance. But in my heart, I will keep saying yes to you, Nicholas North, every single day for the rest of my life. Twice. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Get some sleep!

How was your weekend? Ours was busy with Espen's birthday party and all that entailed (before, during and after), but Nick and I also managed to sneak in a quick date to the symphony, complete with babysitter and some very tasty dessert for after (Gourmandise, you had me at "Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake"). We got engaged February 12 2005, so we always celebrate big on our "engageaversary" and then spend a quiet Valentine's Day at home, just the two of us. 

After a weekend like that, it was hard to drag my little self to the gym this morning, but I went, and I am so glad that I did. I've been managing to make it twice a week, and am starting to enjoy it. Especially because I've gone all Malibu and signed up with a personal trainer! Our gym offers them, and so I'll be meeting with Tanya once a week. I've been a little hesitant to mention this on my blog (or anywhere, really!) because this is very much out of my own little comfort zone, but I felt like I needed some help to make sure I was using my time at the gym wisely, and like I could use some help learning to use the equipment that is available to me. So, the bottom line is that taking small steps towards a healthier me here on the blog has lead me to taking a few bigger steps as well! 

Lest you think I've gotten too cool for my own blog project, let me assure you that I'm going to keep going with my Small Steps. And this week I'm going to be focusing on getting enough sleep.

My sleepy guys, two years ago this week. 

I am convinced that I can't be the only one with this problem: I just cannot seem to get myself to bed on time. I get up early with Espen and stay up late to spend time with Nick, and between the two I just keep cutting myself short in the sleep department. The silly thing is that I love sleeping once I'm in bed. Getting there is the tricky part. 

And sleep is so important! Besides making sure we can function on a basic level (anyone who's ever cared for a newborn can tell you what it's like to not get enough sleep!), getting enough sleep helps regulate your metabolism, improves memory, strengthens your immune system, boosts your mood and can even help you lose weight, to name just a few benefits. You can read more about it here, here, here and here

OK, so here's the challenge for the week: 
  • Every day this week (excluding the weekend) I will put down whatever it is I'm doing and head upstairs to bed at 11 PM. This will allow me to be asleep by 11:30 PM, which will give me 8 hours of sleep before 7:30 AM, which is when Espen typically wakes up. Should be simple enough, right? 
Of course this isn't a one-size-fits-all challenge, if you are joining in. Everyone's schedules are different, and everyone's sleep needs are different too. But I think we all know what we need to feel good, and it just so happens that I need about eight hours. Just decide on when you need to be asleep by, and then skooch yourself off to bed before that. 

Good night and good luck! 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Train birthday invitation

While we are partying hearty toddler-style, I thought I'd invite you in on the fun by showing you Espen's birthday invitation. I smudged up the address and the phone number for you creepers out there, but you get the idea. Kristen from Sage Digital Designs  made it for us, and we are so delighted with how it turned out. She was really great to work with, and so patient with both me and Nick and all of our "input" (nitpicking). I kind of feel like it sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the party, so we'll have to see if we can live up to it!

Espen is intensely into trains right now (not helped by the fact that we can see a train track from our window), and so it became obvious that a train party was the way to go. I always feel like having the right invitation helps set the tone for the rest of the party, and can be a great jumping off point style-wise. So we've taken a few cues from Kristen's invite, that we'll be showing you after the party.

Enjoy your Saturday!

And if you're into train parties, you might also like:

Friday, February 10, 2012

A little fruit salad

We are now 24 hours away from Espen's 2nd birthday party, and it is pretty safe to say that is the main focus of life around here right now. Everything revolves around trains or parties or both. Before I completely succumb to birthday party mom mode, I thought I'd share some photos from a little cooking session earlier in the week. Especially seeing as a few of you have told you miss the Espen picture overload you've grown accustomed to on the blog.

We had a lot of fruit hanging around, so I decided to make a fruit salad with Espen. It turned out to be a more or less perfect toddler activity, as long as I kept the knife at a safe distance. He loved watching me chop and dice, and was delighted to help with putting everything in the bowl and mixing it all up. And of course I was only too happy to allow a little (a lot) of taste testing.

 This banana tastes weird, Mama.

OK, the apple is better, but I don't think we're winning any award for food hygiene.  

 The fruit goes in the bowl, just like you said!

 Oh, like this! 

 I'm on it. 

 Thirsty work. 

More sampling.  

Et voila! (Note the lack of blackberries and see photo above.)

I'll be back on Monday with next week's challenge, and hopefully a round up of Espen's birthday party for you. Until then, have a good weekend! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What's for dinner? I'll tell you what's for dinner!

We did all of our grocery shopping on Saturday like good little kittens, and are now set for the week. Want to see what we're having?

Our list goes from Saturday to Friday, so I'll include the days we've already passed:

Saturday: We spent the evening with friends (celebrity blogger friends!) and enjoyed their delicious cooking. Salad, pumpkin soup (with homegrown pumpkin, no less!) and grilled cheese. Yum!

Sunday: Thai food! Specifically Chicken with Fresh Basil, from this recipe book, which I strongly recommend if you want to try making your own Thai food.

Monday: Art City Salad. Basically a green salad with chicken, cranberries, almonds, cranberries and gorgonzola cheese. It's one of our own concoctions, and you can find the recipe here, if you feel like a dip in the Project Project archives.

Tuesday: Chicken Quesadillas. No recipe, as we will be making them up as we go along. I'll let you know if we come up with something amazing.

Wednesday: Soup and sandwiches. A creamy fish soup with a side of crunchy baguettes.

Thursday: Chicken Alfredo. Nothing especially fancy or healthy, although we will be adding mushrooms and using whole grain pasta. We really like this line from Barilla, and I wish they would sponsor me for telling you that.

Friday:  A no-cooking day! We'll spend the night prepping for Espen's birthday party the following morning, so truth be told, we'll probably be grabbing take-out. Cafe Rio salad, anyone?

How about you? What are you having for dinner this week? I was so impressed by how many of you already plan your weekly menus, so now I am dying to know who's eating what so I can steal all of your best ideas!

Oh, and speaking of Espen's birthday party! We're planning something fairly elaborate again (for a toddler, anyway), so look forward to some photos and non-health related posts coming up soon!

Image borrowed here

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Step 6: Plan a menu

I am posting next week's challenge early, because this one will require a little planning and forethought on everyone's part. I'll still post on Sunday/Monday as usual, but hopefully by then you'll be well on your way with the challenge!

I'd recommend a longer list than this. 

Our next challenge will be to plan (and ideally shop for) next week's menu. To keep things simple, we will limit this to dinners and snacks.What does this have to do with being more healthy? Well, it is my opinion that it is much easier to make good choices when you have already prepared to do so. The times when we grab fast food for dinner are the times when it's late, we're hungry and we're not prepared with a better option. The times when we start digging out the cookies from the back of the pantry is when we're not prepared with a more healthy option. And the times when we eat healthy, balanced meals with fresh fruit and vegetables are the times when we've planned ahead so we're prepared to eat well.

I actually really like doing this, and it gives me an insane amount of satisfaction and calm to know that I won't be stressing about what we're having for dinner for a whole week. Lowered blood pressure and stress levels are good for your health too, right?

You are of course welcome to do this however you like, but I thought I'd share what I like to do:

  • On Saturday morning I start by poking around the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what we have on hand, and come up with a few meal ideas from that. Then I ask Nick what he would like to have for dinner this week. Usually he has about two or three ideas, which almost brings me half way. If I catch him when he's hungry, he can come up with quite a few :) If he's not hungry, I make him pick from my recipe board on Pinterest
  • Once we have a list of dinners planned, I work out what ingredients we need, write them all on a list with whatever else we need, and head out to the grocery store. I try to get all of my grocery shopping done on Saturday, unless of course we run out of, or forget something.
  • One thing that I've found to work well, is that I make the dinners in order of freshness, if that makes sense. If we're having a salad, for example, we'll have it during the first day or two and save the less perishable foods for later in the week. 
  • I also like to double up on ingredients as much as possible. Back to the salad example: if we're having salad one day, I might use some of the lettuce to go in tacos the next day, and some of the cheese to go in wraps the day after that. Doing this will save you time shopping, a little bit of money and a lot of waste. 
  • One other thing I like to do is write out a weekly menu and stick it on the fridge. This helps me remember what I'm doing, and Nick likes to know what we're having ahead of time so he can look forward to it, and not end up eating the same thing for lunch. 
  • And finally, I leave a day or two off the list. Sometimes you just need to go out to dinner, order a pizza or let someone else do the planning. And that's healthy too. 
I'm not going to tell you what to eat. People get very passionate about what is and is not the "right" way to eat. We're all grown ups, and we all know what healthy eating looks like for each of us. I will say that for me, healthy eating involves plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, fish, whole grains and moderate amounts of meat and dairy. 

I'll be back on Monday with my menu for the week! What are you having?

Image borrowed here