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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Boo!

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The FriedOkra family Cat-O'-Lantern, 2010. (Certified Slime Extraction Engineers: Carrie Alexis FriedOkra, Matthew Daniel FriedOkra. Lead Carver: Mama Megan FriedOkra. Chief Firestarting Officer: Daddy Al FriedOkra)


Have a perfectly safe and amazingly happy Hallowe'en Weekend, y'all! xoxo



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Friday, October 29, 2010

Five Happy Things

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1. My new red polka dot bowls, purchased at HomeGoods Wednesday. The smallest in the set of three is PERFECT for scrambling one lone egg with my baby whisk. I scramble one egg at a time much more often than any human being ever should, because my kids are contrarians. If I scramble two eggs, one of them inevitably refuses to eat, and I have too many. If I scramble one, then they gobble that one up in two bites and ask for more. MO ECK MOM-MOM (Peabody calls me Mom-mom now. Is that adorable or what?!) It used to drive me nuts. NUTS. But now I'd gladly scramble eggs for the whole neighborhood, one egg at at time, because look at that cutie-pie bowl!

2. Nevada Annie's Championship Chili. Speaking of feedin' the neighborhood! I'll be makin' chili by the truckload tomorrow to serve to all the neighbors Sunday before we all hit the sidewalks with our little houligans for Trick or Treating. I may have mentioned a time or two that I LOVE makin' chili in the fall. It's love in a cauldron, is what it is. And this is some WICKED good chili, too.

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3. The fall centerpiece on our kitchen table. OhmyGRANNY I love decorating my house in all these rich, natural colors of autumn. I got the leaf dish and little acorn salt/pepper shakers on sale this week at Michael's. I believe there was audible squealing when I ran across them on the clearance shelf. LESS THAN $4 for all three of them!! And I can use them until after Thanksgiving! Maybe even through Christmas, if I play my holiday decoratin' cards right!

WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?

AN INVESTMENT IN ADORABLE SEASONAL TABLE DECORATION IS AN INVESTMENT IN OUR FUTURE.

4. Peabody. OH THAT BOY, y'all. He's crazy, and a danger to himself and others, but I was RIGHT all along. The time we're getting to spend just the two of us while Bean's at school and Al's at work has been PRICELESS. I really have no words for how much I love this precious child. He's so snuggly and warm and lovey, along with being mischievous and clever. He's learned so many new words lately and he's stringing them together into ittybitty caveman sentences that make me laugh my head off. NO MOM-MOM NO CAGO, NT EAT. (No Mama, don't pour yourself coffee, I want to eat!) or MOM-MOM NUNEE NEE A DADO (Mama put on some music for Bean and Peabody!) And as much as he loves to explore and get into things, I swear if I'd let him he would sit in my lap and kiss and hug me ALL DAY LONG. (And many times, I do let him.)

Peabody started a twice-a-week Parents Day Out program back in September. Silly me, I thought I'd really WANT a couple of short breaks per week from tryin' to keep up with him. He loves coo (school). Loves his teachers, loves the other kids, loves the routine, the structure, the learning, the new environment and exciting unfamiliar toys. He does not, however, love his Mama leaving him. So guess who's been staying there with him the whole time, every time? Yep. My plan was to stay with him a few times to help him adjust and develop a warm and trusting relationship with the two WONDERFUL teachers. To let him get comfy in the room, learn his way around, and then I'd ease out and he'd be fine. But y'all ... I'M HAVING TOO MUCH FUN! I LOVE IT TOO. (Whoopsie!) I love the other children. I'm all attached to 'em now, and they've very sweetly attached to me too, so now I don't just have to leave MY OWN CHILD, I have to leave him PLUS TEN OTHERS! HALP!

(Wait, is that a happy thing?)

If you'd ever told me that I'd one day consider being a pre-school teacher, I'd have told you that you were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. But guess what?

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5. I have a group of amazingly sweet, very thoughtful friends. Who know me. And know my kids. And apparently like us pretty well despite all that!

We started a Secret Sister program this month, The Girls and I, and my Secret Sister stuffed a tiny pumpkin candle into my mailbox Tuesday while I was out. Now if you'll harken back to Happy Thing Number 3, you can certainly imagine how DELIGHTFULLY TICKLED I was to unwrap this little gem. Not only is it cute and delicious-smelling, every time I look at it I get this warm feeling that one of my dear friends saw it and thought of me, of ME, little old me, and knew I'd love it. And isn't that the best feeling in the world? To feel KNOWN? Thank you, Secret Sister, if you're reading! You're the best!

On the same note, we got boo'ed (gratuitous link to amusing related story from 3 years ago here) this week, TWICE, and one of our boo'ers included this little red CAH. Because that someone knows that Peabody loves CAHs, and made a special effort to delight my boy. Just. So. Thoughtful. I love thoughtfulness. (I mean, who doesn't love thoughtfulness.) It just makes me happy.

So now it's your turn! I have no idea how many readers I have left after my months of erratic posting, but I would LOVE to hear from YOU about what's making YOU happy right now! Tell me in the comments, friends!



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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Party Like a (Reluctant) ROCKSTAR.

We had a birthday around here! A BIG one! A SIXTH birthday. The sixth birthday of my sweet Bean. YES! And we had it unbelievably early, because last time I checked she was only three and a half years old, y'all. I guess we just wanted to get a jump on things, and it was a good idea, too because I'm sure that by the time she really turns six, she's going to want a party meant for twelve-year-olds.

Oh wait.

Normally we're on vacation in South Carolina for Bean's actual birthday, as has been our custom since her very FIRST birthday, but this year, with an actual, real school calendar to pin us down, we headed down there a week earlier than usual. So we were HOME on October 17, and for the first time ever Miss Bean had a REAL, OFFICIAL Friend Party.

We went around and around about themes for the party, everything from PUPPIES or PRINCESSES to (OMG OMG OMG) JUST A REALLY LOT OF RAINBOW GLITTER, MOM, AND THAT PURPLE GLUE!!! CANWECANWECANWE? PLEASEMOMCANWE?

(YES!! Or you could just go ahead and commit me now, and save yourself the trouble, honey.)

We finally settled, after (many) (ohsomany) (ohsopainfullymany) months of careful deliberation, on a ROCKSTAR theme. (This theme was gratefully accepted and approved by the same mother who swore up and down while she was still pregnant with said six-year-old that she'd never allow her precious little ears to hear anything else besides classical music until she was 40, as God is my witness.)

BUT. That was all before the advent of her boundless passion for all The Glitter. What would YOU have chosen?

AHA! THAT IS WHAT I THOUGHT!

So we scoured the good old Oriental Trading Company's on-line catalog, and I made a trip (or thirty) to Party City, and we sent out guitar shaped invitations that told all the invitees to come dressed in their favorite ROCKSTAR attire.

And I made the most intensely pink and purple cupcakes upon which you've ever had the pleasure of burning your retinas.

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And we built a song list that had music just popular enough to satisfy Her Majesty The Cool, and just clean enough to satisfy Her Majesty the Prudish.

And we decorated.

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And we warmed up our dance moves.

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And then.

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We.

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Partied

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like

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ROCKSTARS!

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And it was AWESOMELY COOL!

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(And now? I have a six year old.)

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(Wheez.)

(OMG.)







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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup Hold The Gravy

I know I've always sung the praises of traditional (GRAVY) Southern (GRAVY) cooking (GRAVY), y'all, and I swear I'm not goin' all turn-coat on you, but we've lived up here for nearly 5 years, and before that, right out of college, I also (have I ever told you this?) lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for two years, and lemme tell you, after 7 collective years of careful research and a few inches added to my thighs, I've come to the happy conclusion that these people up here in the Great Lakes region? They know their way around a kitchen, too. And they don't believe any more in "healthy" cookin' than we deep-fat fryin', lardifyin' belles do, either. (Phew!) Oh no. Case in point, it was during my brief stint as a Wisconsinite that I first feasted my tongue on and learned how to make a little culinary jewel called bologna salad.

There. I'll just let that soak in for a minute.

Bologna.

SALAD.

BALOGNA SALAD, people.

If that combination of words doesn't make your arteries clog up just hearin' 'em, then I don't know what would.

But I didn't come here to tell y'all how to make balogna salad. (Which is not to say I couldn't be talked into it, if you were to be curious.) My POINT is that these people up here come from all over the world, and they have brought over some very delicious food-related customs, most of which will kill you just lookin' at 'em. And you know that's the standard measure of YUM, right?

One of my favorite cold-weather treats (and there are a lot of them since it's cold here 361.5 days of the year) from this region is Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup. Now you can get you some Cheddar Cheese Soup pretty much anywhere these days, depending on the season. But the cheese soups I've run across outside of Packers/Bears country is generally what we in the South consider a watery macaroni and cheese sauce without the noodles. It's VERY cheesy, but it's also often gloppy and stringy and a bit shallow in flavor. HO HUM.

But I want y'all to try the version of this soup that makes it a favorite up here, though. Because this version's rich and creamy, for sure, but also light enough not to choke the ever-lovin' daylights out of your uvula on the first bite. And for a simple, straightforward soup, it has some amazing layers of flavor thanks to its base bein' almost a chicken soup sorta deal, and then on top of that, besides just cheese, it's got a surprising array of pinches and dashes and shots of this that and the other. Because cheese in any form is GOOD, but cheese in a party with pinches and dashes? HEY NOW, DERE. YOUS GUYS WILL LOVE IT.

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Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup

1/2 cup finely diced carrots (I actually grate mine so they'll get tender fast and not mess too much with the creamy texture of the soup)
2/3 cups diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup beer (Don't use a really strong-tasting beer here. Makes the soup bitter. You want a lightish beer.)
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk or half and half
3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (Wisconsin-made, if you can find it, y'all!)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sweat together the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in the butter until vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Heat the chicken stock (I do it in the microwave) until it's just beginning to steam, and stir it in gradually to the veggies and flour. Stir in the hot sauce and the beer, and allow this mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the veggies are soft. Stir in the milk, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and allow everything to come to a boil and thicken. Remove from heat and slowly add the cheese, about a 1/2 cup at a time, and allow it to melt while the soup becomes ever-so-creamy and smells like heaven. Taste to adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed.

I serve this soup in the little earthenware soup crocks shown above, or as Bean calls them, those cute little pot thingies with the lids on top. The traditional garnish for the soup is popped popcorn, but that gets soggy if you don't gobble it up fast, so I use a few crumbles of sharp cheddar and some finely chopped green onion top. I can see crumbled cooked bacon up there, too, can't you? YUM.

Pretzel bread with butter and a little doop of honey (honey works so well with the salt on the bread - perfect balance!) is WONDERFUL with this soup. I usually buy the Trader Joe's pretzel bread, but I'm hoping to find a good recipe and try making some myself soon.

Great for football parties, Saturday lunch after rakin' leaves, or maybe as a treat for Mom and Dad and their friends after the kids get done scamming all the neighbors for candy this weekend.

Whenever you decide to make it, let me know what you think. Serious comfort food. AND NOT A DROP OF GRAVY ANYWHERE.



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Monday, October 25, 2010

Wishing

The morning here started out grey and gloomy, but the clouds have vanished, the sky is this crisp, dewy blue, and a tiny whisper of a breeze is teasing one corner of the flag on my front porch to shyly wave to me through the office window. I woke up grey, too, after a rough night, with all of us still coughing and hacking and snorting away in turns in the wake of a hideous cold virus we've had for sweet forever. I'm determined not to let the sleeplessness and thick fog in my head put a beautiful, unseasonably warm day to waste (it's supposed to be 76° today!)

Yellows of fall, those brilliant defiant hues of yellow, the bright gold uniform of the underdog, never giving up, fighting with everything he's got, whistle to whistle, I'm soaking you up to my insides, and I'll be bright and strong today. And as the sun shines down on me, I'll light up my little corner of this world.

I wrote a post about my kids' budding relationship at 5 Minutes for Parenting today.

Those two light up my little corner of the world, for sure.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yet Another Reason I LOVE October

Do y'all love this month? OHMYGRANNY this month has so much goodness in it - I wish it could last forever! The way the sun softens and deepens and all the velvety richness of color outdoors. I am just goggle-eyed all month, wishing I could etch every beautiful image of this prairie into my soul. I love with the best kind of love in the fall... I just want to make the whole world a big pot of chili, or stew, or deep dish apple pie in celebration.

I love October, too, because it's Breast Cancer Awareness month. To celebrate THAT monumental event, I wrote a guest post at Bigger Picture Blogs on the topic of support. No silly, not support of bewbs, although that is certainly a pertinent and important subject - it's about supporting women in our lives who have breast cancer. Stop on by and check it out when you have a minute and be sure to thank the girls at Bigger Picture Blogs for putting together a full month of great post to raise awareness about breast cancer via a collection of stories and articles by some great bloggers in their "Write Pink" series.

Love y'all! Hope to be back VERY soon to tell you what we've been up to this month. It's been a crazy, nutty, absolutely wonderful whirlwind!

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