Cheese Tray Turkey, as Promised

Some mild cheddar and colby jack cheeses, Oldani salami, and Flipside Pretzel crackers for the feathers. Two peppercorns for the eyes, half a pistachio shell for the beak, and toothpicks for the legs (basically whatever I could find in the pantry because I forgot about these parts) and a folded fourth of a piece of salami for the waddle (Is that what it's called, mom?), and that's how you make a cheese tray turkey.  This baby is now cooling in the downstair's fridge. Now for some more cooking and cleaning. Thanksgiving is coming! Huzzah!

Also, thanks to A Beautiful Mess for the idea and my mom for picking up the salami from Spirito's in Collinsville. Oh...and Lola for dutifully standing by my side while I carefully placed each piece of cheese and salami.

Prepare the Way

When we were registering for our wedding, I never registered for china because I always hoped I would get a set (or two? or three?) passed down to me eventually, and my mom made that true right away by gifting me this breakfast china from Villeroy and Boch.  Setting it out this morning for our feast tomorrow brought back so many memories. My parents bought it when we were living in Germany between 1989 and 1991, (and toted it through many military moves) and I can remember eating many decadent breakfasts of soft boiled eggs and bacon and ketchup sandwiches on it. I love how the back of the plate indicates it was made in West Germany. When my parents made the decision to buy this china, they had enough income to live on but not much extra. However, they were still happy to make a few sacrifices to invest in this set. 

As of this morning, all 38 places have been set for all the people who will be feasting at our house tomorrow, and I will spend the rest of my day preparing by cleaning and prepping food. I have been singing the same three lines over the last four or five days, "Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the way of the Lord. And all people will see the salvation of our God." I know that tomorrow is a secular holiday, but, just as many people have decided to adopt Christian holidays and make them secular, I have decided to adopt Thanksgiving as a feast for the Lord, continuing a tradition that my parents and grandparents and great grandparents started for me. And there you have it. I am thankful for my Faith and my family and the traditions that both have placed in my life. But most of all, I am thankful for sacrifice. The sacrifices my parents have made. The strength of the Lord that helps me to sacrifice. And the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for me. 

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Also, if you need a place to come, we will still have room and plenty of food at our house! The more the merrier.

Girls Season 3 and Regret

I had been completely fine with our choice to get rid of premium channels until I saw this today.

The second season of Girls rocked my world. I loved it. I got it. Then, I really didn't get it and was kind of over it. Then, the season finale had me yelling at the TV like my grandma during a Broncos game, "Go! Go! Go!" And just when it was over, I was hooked back in again. A regular Charles Dickens that Lena Dunham. I might just ask for HBO for Christmas.

Also, this trailer reminded me I've been meaning to watch Tiny Furniture, which is streaming on Netflix. Favorite line from that trailer: "Your life is like an epilogue to Felicity." Hooked me again.

Lessons in Meal Planning (part 2)

Yesterday, I shared the first three lessons that have made my meal planning goal so enjoyable, and today I come to you with two more.

Lesson #4: Have a Grocery Day Meal. 

I always try to give myself a cooking break on grocery shopping days.  I had been making a frozen pizza and a bag salad (which I think is a great meal, by the way), but since my mom turned me on to the ease and affordability of the rotisserie chicken, I have upped my game just a bit. So far, I have two grocery day meals that are quick and easy to make with the rotisserie chicken that I pick up from the store earlier in the day: 1. BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and 2. Chicken Taquitos.

For BBQ Chicken Sandwiches,  I just pull all the chicken off the bone, shred it a bit more, squeeze in our favorite BBQ sauce, and serve on buns with chips or salad or chopped veggies. It might take six minutes to make, and I think Jason would eat it every other day if I could work it in, so we have dubbed this one a winner. 

The Chicken Taquitos take a tiny bit more work.  See below for the recipe.

Chicken Taquitos: 

1 Rotisserie Chicken
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I like colby jack.)
1 1/2 cup salsa (I decided to try out two new salsa's this time, mango habanero and garlic lime.  The garlic lime was amazing in this recipe!)
8 tortillas (We really like the low carb wheat ones for some reason.)

Instructions: Pull all the chicken off the bone, shred, and mix with salsa and shredded cheese. (I made two batches with the different salsas so I split the chicken and used 3/4 cup salsa and 3/4 cup cheese for each batch.) Place a thick strip of the mixture just off the middle of a tortilla, roll tightly. Place on baking pan and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit or until desired crispiness. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.  Jason also likes to put more salsa on top of his because people like to say salsa.

Lesson #5: Share your Spare. 
Don't let those leftovers go to waste! Meal sharing has just been happening organically between my mom, sister, and me a lot lately.  I think it has more to do with us making soups and casseroles since the weather has changed than with me starting to meal plan, but I think that if you weren't sharing your meals and wanted to do so, meal planning could help you make it possible. You might be wondering what I am talking about when I say meal sharing, and it's really simple.  I just mean making your meal, splitting it in half, eating one half, packing up the other, and delivering it to another family.  This works so well with soups and casseroles because most recipes make about eight servings.

Right now, there are really only two people in my house who eat my meals and only two people in my mom's house who eat her meals and only two (and a half because Piper can handle all types of food now) people in my sister's house who eat her meals.  So by the time we each eat the meal twice, we still have four servings left. Like I said before, my mom, sister, and I have always shared, but now, I make a little bit of an extra effort to split my meals and get them out the same day or the morning after I make them.  

I think that this, more than anything, has cut down on our waste and helped us save money. Meal planning helps me think about what days I will already be seeing Maggie or my mom so that I can easily share a meal or two. 

Last week, I sent Kings Ranch Chicken to work with my mom for her lunch and over to the Brorby's for dinner along with some crockpot potato soup later in the week.  When my mom came to pick up her lunch, she dropped off some delicious cinnamon banana muffins and Maggie brought over Stuffed Pepper Soup for us one night, which means I had a nice variety of homemade meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week long.

I love meal sharing with Maggie and my mom because of the reciprocation, but I have been wondering if there is a way to share a homemade meal with family in need. If anyone knows of a local program, I'd love to know more about it. 

So... that's it so far. If you have any other GO-TO meals or Grocery Day Meals or any other meal planning tips or lessons, I'd would be THRILLED to hear them too. 

Also, once again, thanks to Rachel for getting me excited to try out meal planning with purpose.

What to Read: National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award winners were announced for Young People, Poetry, Non-Fiction, and Fiction!  I've always been a sucker for those little medals on the covers of books, but now that I do most of my book shopping electronically, I have to go directly to the medal's source, which is why this evening, while reading blogs and writing and watching Modern Family, I was also periodically clicking refresh on the National Book Foundation's website. From tonight's four winners, The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kabonata and The Unwinding by George Packer both look intriguing. I decided to check out the rest of the finalist in each category too, and I already downloaded the sample for Far Far Away by Tom McNeal because I'm a sucker for fairytale-esque books a la Ella Enchanted, and it's nice to read a Young People's book every now and again.  (Side Note: I'm really excited about Into the Woods being made into a movie.) And as for the finalist from the grown people categories, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore looks wonderful. Jane is the sister of the better-known Ben and described as just as intellectually savvy as he was and also the mother of TWELVE children. 

Also, Joanna recommended this book after hearing the real-life Don Draper speak, and I think I am going to try to convince Jason to read it with me and have a mini-book club over his Christmas break. 

Oh, the books!  Oh, the excitement! Oh, the rambling... sorry about that.

Lessons in Meal Planning (part 1)

I always thought about the meals that we were going to eat throughout the week, usually on my way or even at the grocery store, but purposely meal planning--actually going through my recipe box, talking to Jason, writing the meals down and rearranging them on the page, and then checking our pantry and fridge while making a list all before I go to the grocery store--has been a great learning experience. Because I am enjoying this one of my Four Simple Goals before 2014 so much, I thought I would share a few simple lessons that have made meal planning so easy and satisfying for me. 

Lesson #1: Make the time and enjoy! 

One of my favorite parts of teaching is actually curriculum design and lesson planning, and although I haven't consciously missed that in the almost eight months I have been off, the thrill of writing out a good plan has come back to me while organizing our meals. Like I mentioned above, every Sunday, I make a list of meals that sound good.  I ask Jason if there is anything he wants (Chinese food), and then I think about what ingredients will stay fresh and what can be prepped and used for different meals. Finally, I write down the plan, cross things off and move them around and rewrite the plan before adding things to our grocery list. And IT. IS. THRILLING. Really. I love it. The actual planning is fun for me. Then, because I have a plan, the shopping and cooking take so much less energy that the 15 minutes on Sunday make my entire week, every single day, easier. I'm not running to the store or asking Jason to stop on his way home from work to pick something up every other day. I don't spend any time throughout the day wondering about dinner. I just know it's all good to go.

Lesson #2: Have a GO-TO Meal. 

My pantry and my fridge are pretty sparse, which is a good thing. We are eating everything we buy and not buying any extra.  But I do have at least one GO-TO Meal, a meal with ingredients that aren't perishable that I can put in my plan every week with the idea that if something changes (like my mom or mother-in-law or Maggie shares a meal or we get invited over or out for dinner) nothing will go to waste if I put off making it for a week or two or three.  So far, my GO-TO Meal has been shrimp, broccoli, and rice, and even though it has been on the plan every week and is a favorite of ours, it hasn't gotten made. All you need is rice, frozen broccoli, frozen shrimp (I prefer the raw frozen shrimp because when I cook the cooked shrimp it gets too chewy. You could also sub chicken.), and this Campbell's sauce. All the ingredients keep for a while, but when you need it, you can whip it up in about 15 minutes, by throwing the rice in the rice cooker, throwing the frozen broccoli in the microwave, peeling the shrimp, cooking it in a pan, then putting the sauce on top to heat up, and serving the saucy shrimp over the rice and broccoli.
Also, my other (not as fancy or healthy) GO-TO Meal is frozen pizza.

Lesson #3: Cook in bulk.  

There are only two adults eating at my house, so cooking in bulk might not seem to make sense, but it has worked out great when combined with meal planning. Last week I planned two meals, one right after the other, that would both use ground beef. Sloppy joes with mac and cheese and green beans on Wednesday and Taco Night on Thursday.  I bought a two pound package of lean ground beef and cooked the entire thing on Wednesday.  Before I added the sloppy joe sauce, I removed half of the beef and refrigerated it. The next night, all I had to do was put the meat into a pan, add the taco seasoning and some water, and let it simmer while I chopped up some tomatoes and grated some cheese. Taco Night was ready in about ten minutes with the help of bagged tortillas, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa. I have also done something similar with chicken, grilling up a few pounds of chicken one night for BBQ chicken with rice and veggies and using the leftover chicken to make a casserole the next day. 

So far, so good!

Also, I have been enjoying this so much that I have even more lessons, so if you are interested, come back tomorrow for part 2.

Prepping Thanksgiving for the Kids!

One of the nice things about having a bunch of people over for Thanksgiving is that the food prep is split up, and I don't end up cooking much more than I would on any normal day. Most of my prep work comes from just getting the house ready to welcome everyone, and one of my favorite things to do is to figure out seating and set the tables. After tallying it up, I think we are going to have eight elementary school-aged kids (and three babies!) at Thanksgiving this year, which means a designated kid's table.

Every Easter, I still reminisce with my brother and sister about how when we were kids, my Great Aunt Geraldine set a fist-sized chocolate egg (Maggie remembers they tasted "like Three Musketeers but so much better.") with each of our names piped in pastel icing to indicate our place at the kid's table in the basement. Maggie brought that memory up again a few weeks ago when we were talking about how to create fun memories for our nieces and nephews this Thanksgiving. She decided to spearhead a few games (that will involve candy, of course), and I am going to set an activity table up for them. Last year, I found these great table cloths on clearance at Target two days before Thanksgiving, and when I saw them this year, I bought three just in case they never come back. (BUT THEN, I saw a similar product at Wal-Mart, so hopefully, they will be here for years to come.) After filling some mason jars with lentils (because I had them lazing about in my pantry after Tony Horton convinced me they should be part of my diet) and putting some crayons in, WALLAH, the kids table is practically done.

Also, I am planning on creating a cheese-tray turkey (inspired by the one below from A Beautiful Mess) to put at the center of the kid's table so they have something to snack on while they color. I plan on adding some crackers and some salami from Spritito's to my plate to round it out. It's looks fairly easy, right?  Wish me luck!

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

Thanksgiving is under attack! And my house is the war zone where at least 35 of our beloved family members will converge in fits of thanks in just over a week and a half.  Last week, a switch went off in my brain, and ever since, I have been on a rampage to conquer Thanksgiving. (Much like Gloria wins Valentine's Day.) So, over the weekend, we deep-cleaned the basement, washed all the windows, and went to Target (all essential tasks when strategizing a full-on Thanksgiving assault, I assure you) where we picked up this lovely and affordable dining room rug. And last night, we moved all of the extra stuff (mostly baby stuff... and Lola) out of all carpeted rooms and into the dining room and bathrooms so that today, carpet-cleaning mercenaries can go in and annihilate seven months worth of Will's spit up from deep in the fibers. A full-on assault, I tell you!

Also, Jason and I couldn't stop giggling at this clip from The Colbert Report last month. I'm thinking about having a contest to see who can create the best hand turkey with one hand tied behind their back a la Stephen Colbert's hand menorah.
Happy Monday! I hope you get some down time from whatever you are conquering this week to practice for the hand turkey contest.

Remembering Seven (and a half)

Yesterday, my sister-in-law Jen came over with my sweet, sweet one-month-old niece, Mia to visit. I was showing Jen Will's latest trick, and we were chatting about babies, and she inquired when, approximatley, he started sitting up. I thought about it for a few seconds, but I just couldn't remember, so I guessed as best I could and decided not to beat myself up about it. Instead, I thought that today, I would just try to remember today. So here are seven (and a half) things I want to remember about Will at seven and a half months.

1. You take an average of two and a half naps a day. (I'm desperately clinging to the third nap.)

2. You seem to like your food served cold.

3. You think Lola is Hilarious with a capital H. Both of you love it when she licks your hands, much to your Papa's chagrin.

4. You love to read and turn pages of books. Our favorite book right now is Little Blue Truck

5. Whenever it is just the three of us, you like to play a game with your Papa and me where you reach for whoever is not holding you so that you just get passed back and forth and back and forth.

6. You're a bit shy with strangers, but I can get you to smile for anyone by blowing on your neck.

7. Besides socks and shoes, your favorite things to play with are anything besides your toys. Ribbon spools, empty boxes, shoe laces, but your favorite thing to get your hands on are Lola's toys. 

Also, a half.  I miss you (I can actually feel my heart aching.) when you go to sleep or even when I leave to go shopping on my own while your Papa is watching you. You are my love. 

Mom Shoe Mission // TOMS

I realize that this is going to sound ridiculous, but for me, one of the hardest adjustments to life as a stay-at-home mom is figuring out what to wear every day. I know I will feel better if I change out of my pajamas/sweats but figuring out what to change into can be unnecessarily frustrating.

My go-to lately has just been a casual version of what I used to wear every day for work. So instead of skirts and slacks, I've been wearing jeans or ponte leggings with casual button-ups or sweaters, but the shoe thing has thrown me for a loop. I would normally wear boots through the fall and winter, but they seem too dressy and not so practical for my list of daily activities, which includes spending a lot of time on the floor and being covered in spit up. Before Will was born, I invested in a version of these Nike tennis shoes (but wish I would have bought this polka dot version) that I thought might do the trick, but I hated wearing tennis shoes for anything other than working out before I got pregnant, and my feelings haven't changed even though they might be the reasonable choice.

So when I saw that TOMS made a pair of their classic shoe with a fleece lining, I decided to try out a pair.  I know so many people that love TOMS, and I was excited to have a reason to jump on the band wagon of casual comfortable shoes. And after about a month, ordering three different pairs, selling one to my mom, sending one back, and breaking one in, I have finally grown to like (not love) my pair of TOMS.

My issues were all about the fit.  First, even though I did extensive research, my sizing was off. When I ordered two pairs in different colors a half size down, I realized why.  The light-colored (which were actually purple not light grey like I thought) eight and a half was much bigger than the dark-colored eight and a half.  I went with the dark-colored one because it was the only pair that I had ordered that wasn't too big, but it was so tight that it was uncomfortable.  I wore it around the house for a few hours and they stretched, but they were still uncomfortable for about a week.  Now, after breaking them in, I think they might do the trick. They are comfortable and warm and seem to go with my daily mom outfits, but I am still on the lookout for other acceptable mom shoes...

Also, I do like that Will and I can wear the same shoe. Now, if I could just get Jason in a pair.

A Real Page Turner

Will has gotten really good at turning the pages of his books.  He sits back and listens until I get ready to turn a page. Then, his arm shoots up, grabs the page I got started, slams it down on the other side, and goes back to his lap until the next page is ready. I've been reporting this to all who will listen as his new trick.

Tricks.  That's how I think of all the new things that Will can do. I guess they are more like skills that most humans learn to do eventually.  But whatever they are, I don't think it was me that started this line of thinking of them as tricks. I feel like whenever I see someone now, they ask if Will is doing anything new.  And I don't want to disappoint, so I try to make mundane things like him babbling (We're pretty sure he said Jabba as in Jabba the Hutt and Walla as in Walla Walla, Washington.) or pulling himself up from a sitting to standing position sound like amazing tricks. And now that's just how I think of everything that he does, and it's really exciting for me and Jason and Will's  grandparents, but probably not all the other people who are just trying to make polite conversation. And I try to be cognizant of that, but I really can't help myself on here, and so I present to you, William, the amazing Page Turner.

Also,  Will has always been a super smiley boy with a great giggle and squealy laugh, but over the weekend, he started cracking himself up.  Whenever he is playing by himself now, we will hear a giggle and look over to see him holding his sock or staring at a tiger or looking at Lola with a big grin on his face. William the Giggler has a nice ring to it too.

Park City StL

Jason took Friday off from work, which meant, with the holiday on Monday, four days of laid-back family time. We kicked off the weekend on Friday by heading into St. Louis to get a sandwich at Blues City Deli in Benton Park before going for a walk to see the sites in Forest Park.

I had never actually eaten inside of the deli before, but it was a great place to take a baby. Will was mesmerized by all of the colorful artwork on the walls. After Jason and I split his favorite sandwich, we packed back up and headed over to be mesmerized by all the colors in Forest Park. We parked at the Muny, walked past the Boat House, the Grand Pavilion, and the Zoo, up Art Hill, and then back. I'm not sure if we could have picked a better route for seeing all the fall sites.

Also, Will was able to stash away one leaf that we only discovered after we got home. Luckily, this has not happened with merchandise at any stores yet.

A Perfect Way to Start the Week

Rose-Colored Wayfarers.  That's what we are choosing to see the world through at the Tedesco house this fine morning as it is Monday and still the weekend.

I listened to Episode 504 of This American Life while cleaning the house the other day and was reminded of the idea that the way we view the world (and our lives in it) is a choice that can become a part of who we are, how we live, and the affect we have on others. Emir, the man that the second story is about, reminded me of my dad in the way he tells stories and the way he sees the world. 

People often ask me or my mom or my siblings about my dad. "Is he always that happy... all the time"?  And the truthful answer is no, but he is happy most of the time, and he is quite wonderful to be around because happiness, like love, has the quality of growing and spreading exponentially.  

Happy Monday! I hope that even if your week is not short, you choose to view it as rosy.

A Bountiful Pine Cone Harvest

One day a few weeks ago, Maggie revealed that she had been foraging for pine cones on her evening walks with Piper and had amassed an impressive amount. As sisters are wont to do, I immediately demanded that she share her pine cone loot with me, and because she is the good sister (and the better aunt), she immediately acquiesced.  On the day she brought the pine cones over to my house though, she realized something quite marvelous.  Right on the edge of our property is a grove of pine trees, and Maggie assured me that she had checked out these trees ("You have to look at the tops of the trees," she told me.), and if we went, we were sure to find a bounty of pine cones the likes of which she had never seen before on her city walks. So once the babes were up from their naps, we grabbed a bag and took the long trek across the yard to go harvest the pine cones. As Maggie held both Piper and Will, I picked up pine cones as fast as I cold with Maggie shouting and pointing with her foot, "That's a good one!  Ooooh, that's a really good one!"
We then went home to bake the pine cones in pans lined with foil at 275 for about 40 minutes to get rid of any living organisms, after which the sap created a beautiful glaze and my entire house smelled like pine. After sprinkling the pine cones about the house as part of our harvest time decorations and consulting Pinterest, we discovered there is no end to the amount of decorating you can do with free pine cones that you harvested from your/your neighbor's yard, which is why yesterday, Will and I had to go back to gather more pine cones. They were a bit harder to collect because of the thick layer of pine needles that had fallen, but I'm happy to report we came away with another bountiful harvest. Below is what we have done so far with our bounty, and I still want to try cinnamon pine cones and some the pine cone ornaments.
Also, the pine cones scattered about the house have blended nicely with the large collection of mini-gourds I purchased and set about as decoration. If only there were a place to harvest mini-gourds for free...
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