Sunday, November 25, 2012

End of Maternity Leave

It's been a bit since my last post; the family and I went to visit my family and celebrate thanksgiving. My ten weeks of maternity leave is over on Monday, so I've been trying to enjoy my last week where my sole focus is family.  As nearly every working mother will tell you, the end of maternity leave is an emotional milestone.  When I was on my maternity leave with Kat, the weeks before I went back to work were filled with worries about starting daycare, finding a routine, pumping at work, and how in the world was I going to be able to leave her?!  Since Buddy is my second child, I'm not (nearly) as worried about daycare or pumping.  I know that I did it before and am confident that I'll manage again this time.  But establishing a routine and finding time is an even bigger worry this time around.

Being on maternity leave has given me plenty of time to not only focus on Buddy, but to also spend extra time with Kat and to start a few projects (like this blog!).  I know that as Buddy gets older, the evening rush between the time I walk in the door until I fall into bed will become less stressful.  But I remember how frantic that time of the day was when I first went back after Kat was born.  Taking care of just Kat and preparing for the next day was sometimes all that I could do.  So how do I take care of Buddy, prepare for the next day, AND spend some quality time with Kat?  And I might be totally insane, but I would so love to be able to find time to continue some of my fun projects. Oh, and let's not totally forget NerdDad!

Plus how in the world am I going to leave this grin?

So before I get entirely overwhelmed, I want to write a few reminders for myself:
  • Take life one step at a time.  Try not to become overwhelmed thinking about things that need to be done tomorrow, next week, etc.
  • Enjoy the few free moments throughout the day.  Use those few seconds to take a deep breath and relax.
  • Be willing to let some things go. 
  • Ask for help when needed.  (And if I don't, I shouldn't get mad at NerdDad for not being able to read my mind!)
  • Be open to change.  With a new person in the family, we may need to change responsibilities or routines.  For example, moving dinner time a half hour later might make the whole evening less stressful.
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Recipe: Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies

This past Sunday, our furnace decided that it needed a day off. Fortunately, the weather was near perfect, so the furnace wasn't really needed. Unfortunately, the HVAC tech couldn't come out until Monday afternoon.  The high temperature on Monday occurred early morning, and the temperatures were supposed to fall the rest of the day.  So Monday morning was the perfect time to turn on the oven, bake some treats, and hopefully heat up the kitchen a bit.

I still have half of a refrigerator crisper drawer full of apples from our apple picking trip earlier this fall. So of course, I've been on the lookout for recipes using apples. Last week, I saw a few links to Caramel Apple cookies, which sounded delicious!  And even better, I was able to find caramel bits in my grocery store's new expanded bulk section - score!  Caramel bits are like chocolate chips, except they're made of caramel.  And they are much easier to use than chopping up a bunch of caramel candies.

After comparing a few recipes, I decided to use Cooking Light's recipe for Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies as my inspiration and make a few adaptations.  These cookies full of chewy oatmeal, softened apple, melted caramel.  Even NerdDad with his "cookies need chocolate" stance agreed they were pretty good.

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup finely chopped, peeled apple pieces (use a baking apple like Granny Smith or Winesap so the pieces don't get too mushy!)
3/4 cup caramel bits or 16 small soft caramel candies, chopped
Pour the oats into a food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times, or until only half the oats are still whole.  While this step is optional, doing softens the texture of the cookie and allows the apples to stand out more.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine processed oats, flour, powder, soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and egg and beat until mixture is smooth.  Gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.  Gently stir in the apple pieces and caramel bits.

Drop dough by 2 teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350° for 10 minutes.  Cool on pans 5 minutes.  Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Makes 3-4 dozen. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Knitting: Winter Hat for Kat, Part 2

I have been racing against falling temperatures, trying to finish a warm winter hat for Kat.  Kat's head measured a whopping 19", so originally, I thought I would need to follow instructions for the child sized hat.  However, when I first started the hat, I had a little bit of trouble matching gauge, mostly because I wanted to use a heavier yarn than the pattern recommended.   So after going back and making several gauge swatches, I decided that following the instructions for the 12 month to 2 year size would allow me to accommodate a worsted weight yarn. 

The pattern calls for the hat to be worked in the round until it measures 6" from the cast on edge, but the last hat that I made for Kat (just 1 month ago) only measured about 4.5" for the same part.  So I started the decreases for this hat at 4.5" too.  This turned out to be a bit of a problem...

As you can probably tell, the hat fit around, but just barely reached the tops of her ears!  Uh-oh! 

So now I'm working on how to make her hat longer.  Guess I should have followed the pattern.  (I'm really not good at following directions!)  Since this hat was knit bottom up, I could either (a) rip out all my decreases, add more rounds, and redo the decreases (giant UGH! to ripping out my working and then having to redo it) or (b) figure out a way to add length to the cast on edge.  I think I pick B.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Housekeeping Realization

A normal workday for me goes a little something like this:  I wake up at 6:45 to breastfeed Buddy, dress both kids, shower and dress myself, and pray that I'll be out the door by 8:00.  I  need to be at work by 8:30, my mandatory hour lunch is spent either breastfeeding or pumping and maybe squeezing in an errand before I eat lunch at my desk.  I leave the office at 5:30, arrive home 5:45-6:00 to immediately start working on dinner (or supervising the making of dinner while I breastfeed).  By the time dinner is finished, it's close to 7:00.  I get to spend about an hour with Kat before bedtime at 8:00.  That leaves a mere two hours before I go to bed at 10:00. 

When I went back to work after the birth of Kat and settled into this routine, it was a shock at how little time was left at the end of the day.  And I realized that I could either spend that time relaxing, focused on activities that I wanted to do, and connecting with NerdDad  OR  I could spend time cleaning, doing dishes and laundry, and working on other chores.

This decision seriously stressed me out for a while.  Obviously, spending those two hours in a way I enjoyed was my preference, but I just couldn't let those chores go undone.  NerdDad is awesome, and we have chores pretty evenly divided, usually based on what we feel most passionate about.  Keeping the house clean and organized fell on my plate.  It takes NerdDad a few too many days before realizing that something is dirty.  And I'm always concerned about what visitors might think if they arrive when I have dusty floors, fingerprinted windows, and cobwebs in the corners.  However, spending my evenings straightening and cleaning just left me feeling drained, worn out, and on edge.  Something had to give (or else I was going to fold).

Now, of course, there are some chores that just have to be done (dishes and clothes need to be washed and kitchen counters should be wiped down).  But for a while, I let everything else go.  And I felt horribly guilty!

Over time, though, I've realized something.  The reason I felt bad about not cleaning as often as I "should" wasn't because I was bothered by the extra dust; it was because I was worried about others being bothered by my extra dust.  And I realized that this was silly!  My house is mine (and my family's)!  I should be able to keep it however I want.  My home should be a sanctuary, not a place where I'm worried about what others think.  So I instituted a new rule: the only people who would be invited into my home would be ones that I was confident would not judging my housekeeping. 

Perhaps my new rule seems silly, and that I just need to toughen up and not worry about what others think.  But relieving myself of the need to impress visitors with my housekeeping skills has freed me to be able to spend more time on the things I love.  And that's better for everybody.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cooking Techniques: Pumpkin Purée

Thanks to Pinterest, I have been seeing a lot of pumpkin recipes lately. Previously, any pumpkin that I cooked with came from a can. But this year, I decided to try making my own pumpkin purée.

According to Mavis at One Hundred Dollars a Month, cooking pumpkin isn't any harder than cooking any other type of squash.  After reading her post and seeing the piles of pumpkins at the grocery store, I was inspired to try making my own pumpkin puree.  Plus, every time we pass the pumpkins at the grocery store, Kat exclaims, "Punkin!"  And how can I ignore that?

I decided this would be a fun exploration project with Kat, so before I sliced the pumpkin in half, I asked her what she thought was inside.  "Apple."  As good of a guess as any!  While we didn't find any apples inside, she still ooo'd until she touched the "guts" and declared them sticky.

We scooped out the insides, and Kat helped me separate the seeds from the pulp.  She really enjoyed stirring the seeds (although no stirring was really required).  Growing up, I was never a fan of pumpkin seeds, but I saw a recipe for cinnamon sugar pumpkin seeds and was hoping to try it out.

I put a bit of olive oil on the cut sides, put pumpkin on a baking sheet cut side down, and baked at 375 for about 35 minutes, when I noticed the skin starting to wrinkle.  When I pulled them out, the pumpkins basically collapsed onto the baking sheet.

  The flesh was incredibly easy to scoop off the skin.  I put it directly into the food processor, and ran the processor until the pumpkin was smooth.  However, the puree didn't look like the stuff that comes from the can.  The color was closer to yellow than orange, and it was very watery.

I was concerned about making pie with such watery puree, so I looked for ways to thicken it up.  After a failed attempt at reducing by boiling (I don't recommend this; boiling puree is messy!), I lined a colander with a coffee filter, set the colander over a bowl, and poured in the puree.  About half a cup of water drained out!  Success!

I used the puree to make pumpkin pie (NerdDad's favorite), but adjusted my recipe to include less milk since the filling already looked pretty liquidy.  It turned out perfectly!  In fact, the pie was half gone before I got a chance to take a picture.

The process to make my own puree was so easy that I decided to buy another pumpkin yesterday. Now I just need to decide what to do with more puree.  Do you have any non-pie pumpkin recipes?