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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Raw Kale Salad with Cranberries, Pecans and Parmesan

In the middle of the work week, I have been finding myself uninspired and unmotivated to create thoughtful meals lately.  I love food. I love eating food. But I also really enjoy planning and preparing food for myself and others to enjoy eating. It's just that I've been stuck in a rut of eating the same things lately, and anyone who knows me will know that I get B-O-R-E-D with food very quickly when eating repetitively.

So tonight, we made a quick trip to Whole Foods on our way home, and surprisingly they have better prices on some of the produce items we frequently get anyway wherever we shop.  We still get most of our mainstream stuff somewhere less pricey, but for good fresh produce we do like going there from time to time.

Anyway, tonight I picked up a bunch of "Dinosaur Kale" (Lacinato Kale) which I have never bought before.  I am not a stranger to kale, but usually go for the curly variety. From the ever trustworthy Wikipedia:
"Lacinato kale has dark blue-green leaves, with an "embossed texture"; its taste is described as "slightly sweeter and more delicate ... than curly kale."[5] Because of its taste, "slightly bitter [and] earthy",[6] it has been called "the darling of the culinary world".  

Dinosaur Kale looks like this: 

I had no recipe in mind specifically, but wanted to make some sort of raw kale salad.  Whole Foods sells one in their deli section already made, which I have had before and is great, but I wanted to try my hand at my own version. Here's what I came up with. 

Raw Kale Salad with Dried Cranberries, Pecans, and Parmesan 
with Lemon Vinaigrette 

1 bunch Lacinato Kale ($2.49 at Whole Foods for organic variety)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Tear the kale leaves away from the stems and into small bite sized pieces. Discard the stems. Put into a salad spinner or bowl filled with warm water, and gently "massage" kale for a few minutes. They will begin to soften and wilt ever so slightly.  Spin the kale dry. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the juice of half of the lemon, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and honey.  If too runny, whisk in a little more olive oil until desired consistency. 

Season kale with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste - definitely taste it here, because the salt really adds a nice element to salad and will otherwise be a bit flat without it. 

Sprinkle on cranberries, pecans, and Parmesan, then toss with vinaigrette.  Let sit in airtight container in refrigerator a few hours or overnight, and the dressing will absorb into the kale and continue to soften the leaves. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The shape of a mother - Mother's Day 2012

Happy Mother's Day to all of the wonderful women out there who have devoted themselves to raising beautiful people. I am so thankful for the women who were part of the "village" raising me, especially my own Mama. I am also thankful for my circle of friends who are part of the village helping me to raise Norah. Motherhood is a unique and amazing gift, and I so cherish those around me who are there to help shape me into the mother I most want to be.

Of all the cumulative experiences in my almost 29 years, motherhood has probably been the one that has changed the shape of me, body and soul, the most. From the first exciting moments watching a second pink line grow slowly darker, my body was undergoing the most dramatic changes it would ever know in order to support the growth and development of my perfectly beautiful daughter.  Watching my belly stretch and expand, wondering with amazement every day that I was actually growing a whole person underneath my skin.  Preparing for the physically arduous task of bringing her into the world, not knowing what that day would hold for us. Getting through the extreme challenges of her birth and recovery.  The process of bringing a child into this world is one that caused some major physical changes in this body of mine, but I know that I am lucky enough to have been able to bring her into this world, challenges and all.

She will always be the baby who made me a Mama

But the real shape of a mother is not the stretch marked, soft bellied, deflated *ahem* ladies shape most of us come to know after having our babies, but the way the shape of our hearts must grow and change in order to accommodate the amazing love we feel for these tiny people we created.  The color in the world is different when seeing it through your baby's eyes.  Even on the most frustrating days when in the span of 2 small minutes you can follow a very fast, very small person through every room in the house and follow a trail of destruction right behind her, knowing there is no point in picking up the mayhem until the sun sets on the day, just so you can do it all over again tomorrow. And we do. As the shape of our days changes along with our children while they grow, we too are shaped more and more into the mamas we strive to become.

My own mother deserves so much credit for shaping me into the person I am, and without her I think I would be lost as a mama myself. She taught me patience, and the value of honesty and hard work, she taught me to value friendships and how to be kind to others. She taught me to roll with whatever parenthood throws at you, because "they throw the parenting manual out with the placenta" (her words...) and sometimes you just have to wing it and hope it turns out OK.  If it doesn't, make up for it later. But Love. Always Love. And that will be enough to get us through most of it.

I am not a perfect mama. There are days when I'm not even a very good one, I'm afraid. But there are lots and lots of moments when I know I'm getting it right. When my daughter spontaneously throws her arms around my neck and squeezes with all she's got. When she runs away squealing with joy as I chase her with tickle-monster hands. When she brings a book to me and curls up into my lap to hear a story. And those moments, those are the ones that are defining the shape of this mother, on this Mother's Day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Weekend Preview

It's Friday night after working 6 days in a row, the weather was absolutely perfect, and it's Mother's Day weekend.  I couldn't ask for more than to have spent the evening out with Matt and Norah, walking around downtown and sampling some ice cream from Washtenaw Dairy.  Norah found the softest little golden retriever stuffed animal at a new shop I'd never been in before (La Belle Maison), picked it up, and immediately kissed its little face and said "Puppy! Hiiiii". Love her so.   I plan to spend every minute of this Mother's Day Weekend soaking in my favorite two people in the world!  

Norah sampled Matt's coffee ice cream and my Caramel Pretzel Crunch (which was a new flavor for me and was Awesome!) and I'd say she was happy with our choices, too! 

She wasn't ready for the fun to stop when we got home, either. We grabbed the sidewalk chalk and headed out for the last hour of sun before bed. Norah mostly wanted to eat the chalk (umm, Pica?) and run down the sidewalk. We met a new neighbor, Hilary, who was trying to study for her nursing course, and kindly let Norah and Lainey interrupt her studies for a few minutes. Norah took her water bottle and dinner fork right off the table and took off running the other way, and my darling dog did the "whoopie shuffle" on the grass right next to her lawn chair! Nice to meet you, we're the a-hole neighbors with no boundaries :) 

I am really looking forward to soaking in all that we love about Ann Arbor this summer, and making the most of every evening and weekend in this place while the weather is mild and my girl is growing in front of my eyes. 

I think tomorrow we are going to walk through the Peony Garden in the Arb (like we did on our wedding day) and then who knows?  Sunday, Mother's Day, we don't have any plans but all that I care about is spending it with my lovely family! Wide open weekend, here we come!

Happy Mother's Day weekend to all the wonderful mamas out there! You shape the world by raising the people you grew inside you, and that is no small feat. A more meaty post on that topic to come. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I'm finally getting a handle on using the photo editing software I've had for over 1.5 years now - Apple's Aperture 3.  I have been messing around tonight with layers and presets and having some fun working on some of the pics in my library. Here are a few very different styles of the edits I have completed tonight: 

Mackinac Island

Cooperstown, NY

I have a few of my friends on the day they welcomed their youngest baby, but want to clear with them before I post on here. I'm really loving the edits on those though!! 

Ok, well I've probably wasted enough time for tonight, and it's 11 PM, so I guess I should get to bed for work tomorrow. Feeling a renewed love for photography tonight, though! (Not that I'm any pro, or even really know what the heck I'm doing most of the time, but I'm still enjoying myself nonetheless!) 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Our town

Yesterday, Matt and I took Norah all over downtown Ann Arbor for the morning. We both kept remarking how much we enjoyed spending time in this town, and how much Norah seemed to be enjoying doing all of the things that we did throughout the day too.  I hope that someday, we can find a home that fits us and we can live right in the middle of the place we both agree feels like home.

We started with brunch at Cafe Zola, our favorite place to have a great cup of coffee, wonderful breakfast, and one of the coolest places to go for atmosphere. We've been there enough that our server asked us why it had been awhile since we'd been in, and she was really being entertained by Norah, who was being completely charming. She consumed most of my berry smoothie, a good portion of my lemon poppyseed coffee cake, and wasn't about to let any bacon go waste. That's my girl.

Then, we walked down Main Street and checked out some of our favorite shops, and read the menus on the doors of several restaurants we've never tried. It seems that the food scene is always evolving in this town, and every few weeks there are new restaurants or things to try. We browsed through Mark's Carts down Washington St., and having a "street food" scene in Ann Arbor is something new and very cool.  Lots of variety packed into a small area with 7 or 8 food vendors who set up shop on the weekends.  I'll say there is a new list of food items I need to sample from there alone! Umm, Grilled Cheese with 3 types of cheese and tomato and bacon, for $7? Yes please :) 

The sign outside of Grange, a restaurant we have yet to try, but sounds delicious! 

 Norah knows her way around the Ann Arbor Public Library better than I do, since she and Daddy go there for story time and play groups on Mondays a lot of weeks. We checked out all of her favorite places there, and she showed me around. 

Little girl was all flair in her dress and pink shoes, but she was all about playing with the trucks and tractors in the play space. 

Plotting her next move, scoping out the fish tank! 

Peeling books off the shelves and running through the aisles with wild abandon...I hope she always feels this excited about reading!

Stopping to do some coloring and tracing shapes

Then we stopped in at Robot Supply and Repair, which is a cool shop with toys geared towards robotics, but also and primarily is a place for creative writing workshops for youth, tutoring, field trips about storytelling and bookmaking, and best of all many of their programs and activities are free of charge to the public. Seriously, cool place to check out:   

The window front of Kilwin's Ice Cream Parlor is always filled with freshly made caramel apples and other candy confections. So tempting, but we only stopped for a picture this time. Maybe when Norah has a few more teeth :)  

We wandered through Downtown Home and Garden, one of the Ann Arbor shops I forget how much I adore until I find myself in there every once in a while. They have fresh flowers and garden starters, seed packets and lawn tools, patio furniture and gardening supplies.  On the other side of the store, they carry kitchenwares and unique finds for the home, and it's always fun to browse around and see what is new. 

We went to the Farmer's Market, but mostly they had flowers and potted garden starters this week, which we aren't in the market for this year in our rental condo. We did talk a lot about what we would like to do with a garden when have property of our own, and what we would grow. I think, this year we are going to try a half share of a CSA through Tantre Farms, and see what we think of eating seasonally and locally this summer. My goal is to try not to purchase much in the way of other produce from the grocery store, but use whatever comes to us in our weekly box from the farm. It could be interesting, and I'll certainly post updates here with the things we get and what we decide to make with them! 

Norah loved hanging out with Mama and Daddy all day and was charming and sweet for the entire morning out! 

As soon as we were home, sister was cashed out. I ended up snuggling with her in our bed instead of putting her in her own crib, because I just wasn't ready to end the wonderful morning spent together as a family. I love days like this, doing nothing much but making memories and sharing "Our Town" with our daughter. Many more to come, little miss!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Birthday Girl

Well, Miss Norah certainly enjoyed herself all week long during her Birthday Week! She was able to taste delicious treats like cake and frosting and ice cream. She got adorable new outfits and fun new toys to play with. Just the way a first birthday should be.  And on the day we chose to celebrate her birthday, she knew the show was all about her!

Photo by Scott Benz

It started with a birthday tutu, which she adored and has continued to wear for dress up all week :

Mama made the tutu for her to match her #1 onesie, and I'll probably post a tutorial for the steps in a future post. Super easy, inexpensive and a no-sew project! 

Her cake was something that was important to me to be special, made from scratch and as beautiful as it was delicious. I decided to go with a ruffled frosting technique, because I thought it was girly, festive, and simple enough to do, but would have a gorgeous effect. I used an Italian Buttercream frosting (Recipe here) and a chocolate cake recipe I found online (here). It was delicious, and the Birthday Girl thought so, too! Norah got her very own mini cake, which I made using a round cutter and cut two layers from one pan of cake, and frosted just like the big one. I used striped paper straws to hang the cake banner, which was a free printable found here. The banner said "Norah is 1" but the letters were white on pastel paper, which didn't show up very clearly in photos. 

I used baby wooden blocks scattered around the table for decoration. I had an awesome flash card style banner all ready to hang up, and didn't bring anything with me to hang it on the it never made it up :( 

I had food labels for all of the items written out on ruled paper like the Aa is for Animal Crackers, but again, a detail that didn't really get put together, and didn't get photographed at all. Oh well! 

Photo Courtesy of Scott Benz
Photo courtesy of Scott Benz

On the main table, I used these large alphabet cards and spelled out Norah, and scattered alphabet beads on the table as confetti. The food labels at least made it this far!

Party Girl loved opening gifts, of course! She was so excited for herself that she kept clapping and getting up to run around with a streamer of ribbons and bows! 

Photo by Scott Benz

Photo by Scott Benz

At the end of the day, without a nap and after all the craziness of opening and playing with gifts, the sugar high and low of her very first cake, and the excitement of seeing so many people in one place, Miss Norah was tired and ready to crash. 

Photo by Scott Benz

Even though I didn't get to a bunch of the details that I planned...which was disappointing to me on some level, Norah loved her day more than I could have imagined and more than any of the little details would have mattered to her anyway. I wish I had more time to get everything done the way I had pictured in my head, but at the end of the day, it was a great time and the birthday baby was happy, and that is all a mama can ask for.