Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cookie Party, or "We're gonna need alot more stepstools!"

It took me a year to do, but I finally ordered some fall cookie cutters, found a sugar cookie recipe, and baked, baked, baked! I also made icing for the first time, scouring the city for powdered egg whites so as not to accidentally kill our children by using raw egg whites, and experimenting with natural food coloring. That's when things got a little tricky. See, I was imagining neon orange and astroturf green. I kept adding more and more of the (um, really expensive) natural die to get the deep, rich color I wanted. Instead, I got pastel icing that tasted like, well, the spice aisle in an Indian grocer. This morning, with emergency directions from my husband, I added this and that, and came up with something edible. I actually ended up liking the muted colors after all.

To make it more festive, we invited over our neighbors (and friends!) and had a cookie making and icing party. Abigail (3) and her mom, Kyla (almost 3) and her mom (and Baby Cole), and Scarlett (1.5) and her mom came over to help Nourit, Avi and I ice about a million cookies. (Danielle came over later, too, since she's got my vote for favorite non-blood related Auntie.)

Before our first guests arrived, (while we were busy getting the dishes clean from the night before!) Nourit started lining up stepstools in front of the chopping block where we usually roll out the dough. "We're gonna need alot of stepstools," she said, as she brought in all that she could round up, including the potty seat/step. We gently explained that that one stayed in the bathroom exclusively, then proceeded to clean the floor and her hands after we sent it back to the other side of the apartment.

Abigail and Anna

Amber and Kyla

MacKenzie and Scarlett

Busy creating masterpieces!

And here they are, the masterpieces.

Links to recipes used in this production of "Cookie Party":
Sugar Cookies
Orange Cardamom Cookies
Decorating Icing

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Has Dodo Been Up To Lately?

Find out on the Chicago Moms Blog, where I blogged about Dodo's Great Escape.

If you don't know about the 5th member of our family named Dodo, please click here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

There's a New Deli in Town

We've been in Hyde Park awhile now, starting on our 6th year, amazingly enough. During that time we've been excited to welcome the expansion of Hyde Park Produce on 53rd Street, the backstory cafe on 61st Street, and Istria Cafe, under the traintracks on 57th Street and in the Hyde Park Art Center. These are our favorite places to frequent, and now, from the owners of Istria, comes Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe, on 47th Street.

Yesterday, we drove over after church (it's a little far for a walk with the stroller for us) and stopped in to drink some coffee and look around. Both of the owners were there and gave us such a warm welcome, explaining their coffee making process (with a Clover coffee machine, brewing coffee, not just espresso, 1 cup at a time), slicing samples of their wide variety of cheeses for us to try, and writing down our suggestions for market items. (I suggested dried egg whites, because I can never seem to find them for the cookie icing I want to try.)

Although the $8/bag of King Arthur flour** is a bit too expensive for us, we'll definitely go back for the deli. We took home two cheeses that we had with a baguette for dinner last night - delicious! And their selection of sandwiches looks amazing. I hope (and will suggest) they expand their baked good selection to include something chocolate-y and some flaky croissant. (If they put a little nib of chocolate on Mike's espresso plate, he would be very happy, too.)

The store is decorated with great old family pictures, most prominently the patriarchs of the Zaleski and Horvath families. Already, a week or two after opening, there were quite a few people in the store, drinking coffee, and milling around. One of the owners (the tall, blonde one) said the opening of the store happened just around the time his first baby was born, so he is looking forward to raising two "children", I guess!

One of the things that draws us to a place is the people. I love the small-town feel of knowing from whom I'm buying. I love to support store owners who are trying to provide the best quality item and good service to our neighborhood. The Z & H Market isn't perfect yet, but I'll be drawn back to watch it grow because of the personal welcome we received from the moment we arrived to the moment we left (squirrelly children notwithstanding!)

**Since posting this, the owners said they repriced the flour. They really, truly are interested in their clients needs/wishes! All the more reason to go back! (in addition to the cheese and coffee...)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

At Some Point...

…she’s got to stop crying and fall asleep. I’ll give her 10 minutes. After 5, I get up and put my hand on her back. Ah, there she goes. Tiptoe back to bed. She wakes up, madder than before. Screaming like she’ll never be happy again. But she always smiles in the morning.

At some point, my maternal gut becomes a detached observer. “I wonder how long she’ll actually keep this up.” “Wow, that’s a new level of crying I haven’t heard.” “Is she going to do this when she’s 10?” All these thoughts while I’m hiding my head under the comforter, just to muffle the crying from the crib 5 feet away. I’ll give her 10 minutes.

4 minutes go by. At some point, the babies in the Romanian orphanage stopped crying. Why do I always think of that? I get up and she immediately grows quiet. She just wants my hand on her back. But I’m tired, and at some point, I need to get some sleep. I tiptoe back to bed. She screams a few more minutes until Mike comes in and picks her up from her crib. “Do you want to sleep with her in the bed?” No. But yes.

I love the feel of her little body so warm next to mine. I love feeling her breathe, knowing she is exactly where she wants to be – next to me. She falls asleep immediately. If only it were this way all the time. There would be no struggle to figure out the best sleep situation for her – for all of us. If she would just be content to lie in between us and sleep, we’d all be happy. But at some point, she stops sleeping and just wants to nurse nonstop. And I’m at the point where I need to sleep. Even a couple hours at a time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

LeapFrog Fun

Last night I attended my first "mommy blogger" party, sponsored by LeapFrog. I was very excited about the chance to meet the other bloggers in person, which was a wonderful part of the afternoon, and putting faces with the names, words, and experiences I've read about for months.

What a welcoming party it was, right from our entrance into the the Kindercare building. We stepped into a room full of toys, yummy food, and stacks of LeapFrog products to try out (and take home!) After a few minutes of mingling, I left my oldest with her father and sat in on a discussion hosted by members of the Advisory Board for LeapFrog. They seemed genuinely interested in taking back suggestions from parents to their developers. I enjoyed hearing from other moms about their personal 'toy philosophy' and relating it to mine.

Back to the play room, we ate pizza, tried to carry on conversations in the midst of chasing after children, and collecting age-appropriate toys to bring home and try out. I noticed (too late) there was a face painter and an artist rendering exquisite designs on cheeks and on paper. That's okay - Nourit is still too small to be disappointed to have missed it. She enjoyed watching the older and more interesting Pink Girl get her face painted with swirls and sparkles.

I am definitely not accustomed to bringing home armfuls of toys, and I was floored by LeapFrog's generosity. I will certainly keep my eye on them as my girls get older and more interested in electronics. It will be good to have such a highly regarded educational option to consider when we get to that stage!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

And Now it Begins

The quest for the right school. Preschool, that is. I have been dreading this day ever since I learned from my neighbor what a crazy city this is for getting your child into school. And it's not just once. It's finding the right preschool, and then making sure your name is on the list a year ahead just to be considered for a lottery; it's then making sure you can get into a good Kindergarten/Elementary school, which in turn doesn't guarantee you an automatic feed into a junior high and high school. Oh, no. You have to apply for each of those, as well.

Then, there are the choices. Because where we live, there is no way I'm sending my child to the school down the block. It's not a matter of elitism. It's a matter of her safety (and frankly, a desire for a nurturing and academically challenging atmosphere.) But we're not at academics quite yet. We're still at preschool. And there are alot of them, both private and public, in Hyde Park and downtown Chicago. I think at this point, we're leaning away from homeschooling because we'd have to hire someone else to do that for us!

So today we dove in and visited our dream school for Nourit - the Lycee Francais. We were quite surprised at what a warm and welcoming place it was. I guess we imagined an austere staff, and children who didn't smile. We felt quite the opposite, and are ready to apply before the December deadline. (Yes, that is for admission for Fall 2009. Welcome to Chicago, folks.) The idea of having Nourit immersed in French while she's at the best age for learning another language is our main reason for looking at this school. If she remained there throughout her entire school career, she would graduate with an excellent education under her belt, a year beyond most other schools academically. And growing up bilingual would help her learn other languages more easily, and give her a leg up for in our ever-shrinking global community. The pricetag, however, is (gulp) $13,100/year. For preschool. So obviously, we cannot send our child here unless we get an amazing (and it would have to be almost 100% amazing) discount. We'll still apply, though, because those little kids speaking French were so darn happy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Please Sir, I Want Some...

Tonight, Avi exhibited again that she speaks English. (With her hands, at least!) While Mike and I ate dinner (and Nourit made playdough cakes), Avi kept putting her hands together for more squash and apples. Not quite as clearly as our ASL friend at the left, but very clearly communicating with her hands what she wanted.

She can also clap and wave. What a smart baby! (Makes up for all the fussiness, I guess!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stealing Summer in October

The last 4 days have been amazing. After a cold and rainy spell, the weather turned warm again - I guess that's our Indian Summer? There was something inside of me (and many other people I ran into at the beach!) that wanted to just soak it all in, banking up sunshine for those cold and gray days that are heading our way very soon.

Nourit at the 57th Street Beach baking a sand pie.

Thursday, we left the house with our wool sweaters, and returned in short sleeves. We kicked off the first day of our ecumenical mom's bible study, held at Hyde Park Alliance Church. 14 moms, 22 kids, and 5 caregivers arrived at 10am, and soon the church was filled with the excitement of the children having Sunday School on Thursday. The diverse group of moms met upstairs in the sanctuary, thankful for an hour and 45 minutes sans children to pray and talk together. We decided to study the Psalms, and will meet again every other Thursday. Nourit, who never admits to having a good time, said she really liked 'going to school.'

Peter playing on the beach.

Friday morning, we caravaned with Amber/Kyla/Cole and headed to the 57th Street beach. Not 10 minutes after we arrived, our friends Joanna/Joshua/Peter (the initiator of our mom's study) and new friends Leslie/Eli/Micah, surprised us by coming to the beach, too. The kids splashed in the cold water and built sandcastles for a couple hours, while we tried to make sure noone ran into the water or the road, and all babies were happily fed and rocked. 4 moms, 8 kids. Not your average teenage trip to beach, but wonderful to be in the sun, nonetheless.

Amber, Kyla and Cole (all bundled up!)

Saturday was market day. Mike set up some recording equipment to tape Baba Eli singing and playing. He'll use it for a project he's working on this quarter. Nourit, Avi and I visited the garden, listened to Baba Eli, went to a cheese tasting, and just chitchatted with neighbors. I was excited to learn the market will stay open through December, moving inside the Experimental Station in November.

Avi contemplating the nutritive value of dirt.

When we got home, Nourit and I decided to get creative with the apples we picked last week. Nourit was too excited to nap and leave the baking to me, so she stayed up and we made our first yummy apple pie together. It really is easy! Alas, for two days in a row, little miss no-napper was so horrible by early evening that she went to bed more than 2 hours ahead of schedule.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nursing In the Pumpkin Patch

I'm fortunate enough to be able to nurse my babies whenever/wherever, and just lazy enough to appreciate it even more ('cause there are no bottle warmers in the pumpkin patch!) Read more on Chicago Mom's Blog.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Apples and Peppers and Pumpkins, Oh My!

This past Saturday, we ventured down to Garwood Orchards in Indiana with friends from church for one of my absolute all-time favorite activities: Apple Picking! We picked Mutsus and Staymans, Red Peppers, and pumpkins. Of course, we followed it up with some yummy doughnuts and cider. After taking a little bite out of the much-anticipated doughnuts, Nourit quietly said, "Mommy, I don't like doughnuts." What's wrong with my child?? (For the record, she ate red peppers off the vine like they were going out of style.)

Nourit ate an apple as big as her head - and wouldn't share.

Mommy and Nourit looking for the perfect pumpkin. We found it, but it already rotted on our windowsill. Looks like we'll have to start the hunt all over!

Mike trying not to bonk Avi in the head with the ginormous Mutsus.

Monday, October 6, 2008

To Market, To Market (to buy a fat load of produce)

To hear my rant about grocery shopping in the year 2008, visit me here at Chicago Mom's Blog in To Market, To Market.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to "Take a Hike" without a Kitchenaid (Note: Toddlers required)

Last year, we discovered the best scones known to Chicago. They were at the Bleeding Heart Bakery's tent at the Green City Market, and they eat like a meal. They are not cakey, but dense and crumbly. Click here for the actual recipe for the Bleeding Heart Bakery's Take a Hike Scones without commentary.

Now, here is my recipe. Without a Kitchenaid. With two toddlers.

Take a Micro-Hike Scones
8 oz Earth Balance buttery stick vege oil spread or other vegan margarine (do not use shortening) - But we're not vegan, so next time I'll probably just use butter.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup organic light brown sugar - It definitely won't work if it's not organic.
2 tsp cinnamon - Clean out the coffee g
rinder so you can grind up the cinnamon sticks since the cinnamon bottle is bound to be EMPTY!
2 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda - If you don't have any in the pantry, try the open one from the fridge. Noone will ever know.
1 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats - What, exactly, makes them Old-Fashioned?
3/4 cup dried fruit, cut into small dice (any combinations: cranberries, apples, apricots, or other fruit) - We used apricots and dates this time around.
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds - I had to ask Mike if "Pepitos" were pumpkin seeds. Apparently they are. Hey, I used to have a 6th grade cr
ush on a boy named Nick Pepito. Hmmm...Little Nicky Pumpkin Seed.
4 tbsp flaxseeds- These are so good for you. And your bum.
3/4 cup plain soy milk - Again, we're not vegan so I substituted buttermilk this time around.

Cut the buttery sticks or margarine into chunks and freeze for a minimum of 1 hr. This is a good way to teach your toddler how to use a knife. It's butter and you can use a butter knife. How much safer could it be?

In the bowl of a electric mixe
r, stir together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. Mix in the oats. Using the dough hook attachment on med-low speed, cut frozen margarine into dry ingredients until pea size chunks are left, 2-3 min. Scrape down the ingredients as needed as they creep up the sides of bowl. Since all we own is a dinky little hand mixer, we had to get creative. This is when we invited another two year old over to help. Believe it or not, 4 little hands in the dough gets it mixed up pretty thoroughly. And since a good deal of it goes in their mouths, it's the perfect recipe since no raw eggs are involved.

Briefly mix in the dried fruits, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds. Add soymilk (mixture will look soggy, but keep mixing until it reaches a thick, oatmeal-like consistency and isn't runny, about 1-2 min). Here we add buttermilk and keep mixing with little fingers. When they get tired. big fingers do the job just as well.

Scoop the dough onto a lightly floured surface; with hands, pull the dough together and roll to a thickness of 1 1/2 inches. Cut out scones with a 2 1/2 inch round cutter. The hard part here is making sure each toddler has access to a small cookie cutter, since they are much cooler than the big cookie cutters. I always thought bigger was better, but after witnessing the struggle to gain control over the smallest cutter, I have to revise my theory.

Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a parchment paper and bake for 25-28 min at 375 degrees. Scones will puff up and crack on the top. During this time, it is essential to put Abba or some other dance-able music on your I-Tunes. Somehow, a little twirling and head bopping make the scones puff up to perfection.

Cool completely. Yeah, right. They taste much better warm from the oven. (makes 9 or 10) or 13 or 20.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

All Things Gross and Disgusting

So I came home from work today and Jessica handed over two well-fed and happy children. She was staying to help with some cleaning, so I got her started on the laundry and read Nourit her requisite 3 books and put her to bed for a nap. I then picked up Avi and started to put her in the Moby wrap. That's when she erupted. My poor, poor Avi - all the contents of her little tummy came out - the bottle of formula (I ran out of breastmilk in the freezer), her bowl of squash and apples (that she apparently gobbled up at lunch today), and whatever she put in her stomach after I got home and nursed her.

Maybe that was the problem. Jessica said she had eaten so much, but as soon as I picked her up, she threw herself sideways - her sign that she wants to nurse. I didn't think babies would eat when they were full. In fact, my neighbor and I just had that conversation when she told me her pediatrician thought she had overfed her newborn son. "That's crazy," I said. "You can't overfeed a breastfed baby." I'm wondering if maybe it was the formula, but she's had it a few times already now. Possibly the new food she was introduced to today? All three? A lingering bug? I don't know.

The poor thing vomited on Sunday evening, too, but I thought she was over whatever bug she had. I'm not used to a baby who pukes because Nourit never has. Oh, except the one time we went to Joy Yee's and she kept eating mushrooms. The next morning,I looked in her crib and there were all the baby mushrooms she had ingested the night before. "I burped!" she had cried happily. And we vowed never to let her eat so much Chinese food again.

So, Jessica is standing helplessly by while Avi is puking orange stuff all over me and the kitchen floor. But she suddenly springs into action, throws me a towel, and heads off to the nursery to get some new clothes for Avi. Uh-oh. Nourit's bed is all wet, and so are her pants and underwear. I FORGOT TO PUT A DIAPER ON HER! (Sometimes I feel like Dobby. Stupid, stupid Mommy! I mean, Dobby.) Jessica, bless her heart, was trying to get towels for me to bathe Avi, trying to clean Nourit up and put on a video for her, trying to change the sheets on the bunkbed, and trying to clean up the kitchen. She gets an A++ because she managed all of it.

And now my girls are both sound asleep, the laundry is almost finished, and I'm enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. Or rather, I'm drinking hot chocolate so I can stay awake and finish out the day. I hope my Avi starts feeling better. I feel so helpless with a sick child.