The Boyfriend Boxes

My mom is moving out of her office, which also happened to be a place we lived when I was a teenager. So, my husband and I went to go through some of the things that had been left behind over the years, and help my mom clean up a bit. When I arrived I was in for quite a surprise...for there they were: boxes, with boyfriends in them. 
I don't know how far away I had tucked the memory of making these boxes into the folds of my mind, but I tell you, it was DEEP. I literally had no recollection of making these very carefully (and sexually) crafted boxes to keep my then-boyfriend memorabilia in. Nonetheless, I had. 

These boxes were really something to see; adorned in glitter and sexual words and pictures. In a way, they made me feel classic. After all, my high school generation was the last to live without Facebook, and I guess when you don't have all that online stimulation jamming the wires of your brain you have to occupy your time somehow. 

Opening these gems, I found a treasure trove of notes, playbills, pictures, and other things I am not willing to admit to, that were the pieces of my former self. It was sort of neat seeing all the makings of the woman I was to become....all of those love notes were a reminder of the idealist I had been back then, and they were each little bricks in the road to the wife I have become. 

There was only one thing left to do with these boxes: have a ceremonial burning of them. I mean, I couldn't have these suckers hanging around my house with my child someday. No, no. They had to go. So, my mom, my husband and I went through them, had a selected reading, and then gave them a funeral. 

Really, this was the best time ever to have a boyfriend box burning. I have a husband, a child, and I turned 30 this year. It's been a time of closure for me. Sometimes closing doors can be difficult, or sometimes it can fun and ceremonial, like burning an old boyfriend box. Either way, it's an exercise in letting go...a sort of spiritual offering, at least for me. 

During the boyfriend box burning, I let go of the girl I was once and incorporated her into the woman I am today. That woman is ever-changing, as women tend to be. She still feels girl-like at times, but what I realized when I delved into the boxes of my past, is that I am far from being a child. It happened without me really noticing. It was a slow burn, if you will. And while I am far from fully baked, I like to think the dough is pretty well set at this point. 

Product Review: Ben & Jerry's NONDAIRY Ice Cream

Yesterday I went to the store and bought out all their corned beef brisket. Literally. Because it's just that time of year when I'm craving it so badly that I need to just....buy it all. As my daughter and I were on our store adventure, I figured I would check in *yet again* to see if the new Ben and Jerry's nondairy ice cream was out yet.

I have been waiting as patiently as a newly lactose intolerant Italian woman could for this product to hit the shelves. And then, there it was: hidden in the "nondairy" ice cream section instead of the Ben and Jerry's section (cause that makes sense to someone?). I might have squealed. Okay, I totally squealed. But so would you!

Every day during the last trimester of my pregnancy, I downed some sort of frozen ice cream treat...like gelato, or ice cream, or literally whatever I could get my sugary little hands on. And then, that child was born and with her came a new dairy free life that has found me missing my ice cream.

I quickly scooped up two cartons and brought them home of army ice cream loving heart to consume. There are LOTS of dairy free frozen treat options out there. Of course, there is sorbet, but there is nothing like ice cream, and duplicating that goodness can be a challenge. And it's not that there aren't already good ones--there are. But they are...well...how can I put this? Pretty vanilla.

 I had high hopes that Ben and Jerry could give me that boom pow ice cream experience I was missing. So how did they stack up, you ask? I have tried two, the "Peanut butter and cookies" and "Fudge brownie." Let me break it down for y'all.

Fudge Brownie- I cracked this one first because I love me some brownies. A word to the wise, it's best to set these out for a few minutes and let them get a little soft--but isn't that like all Ben and Jerry's? The quality of the chocolate was a little bitter, but that didn't bother me. It's not going to be quite as creamy as a milk product, but I would say it does pretty well. I enjoyed it, and so did my daughter!

Peanut butter and cookies- This one is a cookies in vanilla ice cream take, and I have to say--in our house at least--this was the favorite. It was creamier than the chocolate, and I, admittedly, had a hard time closing the carton. Not being able to stop eating this was my highest hope, so I was pretty pleased. This is the one I will likely buy again and again. Oh, and it wasn't "overly peanut buttery," and that was a good thing. Winner. All the way.

Some other notes: These frozen treats are awesome because while you cow milk lovers are sucking down a ton of calories, these are the healthier option. They aren't even that high in sugar, which is pretty cool too. And if you are like me, and just want a nondairy ice cream, these are going to be your best bet for indulging. It's interesting that they chose almond milk. I am a fan of almond milk myself, and personally I find it a good option for ice cream making.

Now, let's all go out and buy these so that they are popular and they make even more flavors for us to enjoy....mmmmkay. Also: if you've tried any of the other flavors and want to share your take in the comments section below, please do! 

Our Friends With FOUR Kids

"It might be a little crazy," my friend Emily told me matter-of-factly. We had planned a long overdue trip to see our friends in Cumberland; and when I say "long over due" it had been over three years since we had seen one another. Life gets busy. I had a baby, she had two, and before we knew it, time had gotten away from us.

That, and I suffer from being a homebody. Having a child, it's been easy to sit on the excuse that it's easier not to travel. But in reality, my daughter travels quite well. It was time to leave behind excuses, and homebody tendencies, and hit the road!

So it was decided--we were taking out first "big" family trip to see my friend and her truly big family. Four kids is nothing to sneer at. She and her husband have put in some serious work building a family, and from my perspective of having just one child, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew that a lot of playing was definitely on the menu for our weekend, and I couldn't wait.

The first day we got there, I immediately felt at home. Her four curious children ages six, five, two and half, and six months are a little unit and they eagerly welcomed in my child, almost two, with open arms. "C'mon Ruby, come see this!" There was virtually no warming up period...it was awesome. Over the weekend, my little girl simply fell in line. We shared meals, played in the snow, enjoyed a campfire, and just hung out....because when you have four kids, you don't need to go anywhere for it to be a party.


Those who know me either in real life, or just from my blog, likely know that I am pretty firmly in the one child camp. I am happy with my current decision to have an only.... that is until I had this weekend with my friends. Quite unexpectedly, the four children didn't feel at all like "crazy." It felt more like "just right." In a way, it was one of the most relaxing weekends I have had a long time. I was able to sit back and let the kids play while I drank some wine, watched movies, and took the amazing view from their hilltop house.

Watching my daughter enjoy her friends (who are now more like pseudo-cousins) made my heart swell to epic proportions (like, I literally cried tears of joy). For the very first time, I could *almost* see myself with more kids. Maybe a whole village of them. The truth is, I envy that large family and all the noisy joy it brings. Not to diminish my own joy, of course, but there was something so satisfying about seeing all the kids running circles around the house and screaming as they chased each other in whatever imagination game they were playing.



My friend Emily and I are flip sides to each other's coins. We sort of always have been this way...I'm a staunch planner, she's go with the flow. She has all the softness of a butterfly and I'm built of hard edges. It's funny how these differences have given way and played out quite literally in our family choices.

In our separateness, there is a divergence that is striking: society judges moms with one kid just as harshly as they do moms with lots of kids. In the end, though, we are the perfect compliment to one another, just as our friendship has been. The pieces truly fit together so beautifully, and allow my child (as well as me and my husband) to experience being a part of that big, busy family, even if it's only for a weekend. This is what I love about diversity--it truly gives us gifts that are unexpected and special. Could one exist without the other? Maybe, but we're better together!

Chicken & Garlic Recipe {A Garlic Challenge}



Me, my husband, and my best friend Paul all love garlic. When we dine together, we could chase vampires away from a vicinity of a couple of city blocks--of this I am sure. Earlier this week, Paul came over and he cooked us a delicious meal of turnip greens, sweet Italian sausage, garlic, and elbow macaroni. It was delicious.

His meal included probably 15 (ish) cloves of garlic. When he chopped them, it looked like a mountain.... a beautiful mountain of garlic.


After dinner, we were all sighing our sighs of satisfaction and I was saying how I can never really get enough garlic. We all agreed on this, my husband noting, "People say, 'eh, too much garlic,' but I don't really feel that way." So I proposed a challenge of sorts, a garlic challenge. A challenge that would hopefully answer the question: how much garlic is enough garlic

One of my favorite recipes is Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves. It is a decadent garlic feast, and a dish that I've been playing with for about a year now. I originally got my recipe from Saveur (CLICK HERE for the original recipe) and while it calls for at least 40 cloves of garlic, it also says you can use up to 100. 

While that might seem a shocking number, to me it seemed like just the right amount! So, I counted out my cloves of garlic. Turned out, I ended up with 111 cloves of garlic, which seemed like it set just the right tone for what would be my magnum opus en garlique. 

111 garlic cloves <3 




What unfolded in my kitchen can only be described as the best Chicken and Garlic dish I have ever, ever made. It's my new standard for this dish. Some notes on this masterpiece....I used chicken leg quarters. This is a dark meat dish, and I've used the separated legs and thighs, but the quarters were easier and somehow better. Classically, this dish calls for a white wine,  dry vermouth, or cognac. But I didn't have any of those (surprisingly). So instead I used marsala wine. It was stellar. So, basically, you can use whatever you have, but if you have marsala wine, use that. Or whatever. It'll turn out well. 
Also, let's take a moment to talk about garlic. I recently read some nasty things about garlic imported from China. I was pretty surprised to learn these things, and I had never even considered checking where my garlic was coming from. So, if you are buying garlic, try and verify where it coming from; don't be fooled by "distributed by such and such in the USA." California garlic is probably the way to go (and, hey, supporting American is always awesome, right?) 

Lastly, I would like to urge you, "Fear not the 111 cloves." Garlic is life. It's arguably the very best spice in the whole, wide world. If you are skeptical, start with 40 cloves and work your way up. This is definitely a dish you will want to make again and again. 

As for whether or not you can actually have too much garlic...well, the jury is still out on that one. As it happens, 111 cloves was not too much. Was it enough? Hmmm. I could have gone a little farther. But I breathed a sweet sigh of satisfaction watching my almost 2 year old daughter bite into a garlic clove with delight--easily one of the best moments of my week! 


Chicken and 111 Garlic Cloves 
Time: 1 hour | Serves 4 | Difficulty: Easy (ish)

You Will Need:

4 Chicken quarters
111 garlic cloves, peeled (I bought pre-peeled)
1/2 cup marsala wine
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
A bit of butter for greasing your baking pan.

Method:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Go around your pan a couple times with the olive oil and give it a good coating. Heat the pan to medium high. While it's heating, give your chicken a good salt and pepper.

When your pan is heated, brown your chicken. I had to do mine in two batches. Let the chicken brown for six minutes on each side, flipping it once.

When the chicken is browned on each side, remove it to a large baking pan. I greased my pan with a little butter first. Once the chicken is done, keep your pan nice and hot and throw in your garlic and onions, allowing them to brown a little bit, about 5 minutes or so.

Once the garlic is nice and browned and fragrant, add your half cup of marsala wine (or whatever alcohol you are using). Allow it to cook and reduce for a couple of minutes.

Next, sprinkle on your flour and mix to combine. Add your chicken broth and bring it to a boil to thicken. Remove several spoonfuls of the garlic (which will still be whole), and put them on your chicken in the pan. Using a masher of some kind (I like my old fashioned potato masher) mash the remaining cloves of garlic in the pan. Finally, pour that sweet, beautiful sauce over your chicken.

Put the whole thing (uncovered) into the oven and allow it to cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. I served mine alongside a salad. But you can also serve it with mashed potatoes, or even pasta. This dish goes really well with just about anything--especially a good glass of wine!!!



[Don't] Enjoy Every Minute

What is it with parenthood nostalgia? I mean, yes, I get it, but what's with parents of older children imposing it on new parents? Early parenthood is overwhelming...you're all jiggly from the birth and your hormones are *raging* and your sleep is messed up, and to top it all off you're supposed to be the happiest of your life ever? Oh for the love of god. 

I remember when my daughter was less than a month old;  I brought her to my Zumba class for the ladies to meet her. One well meaning woman said, "Don't you just wish she would stay this size forever?!"

Answer: No. Fuck no.

I went home and cried for two days, thinking something was wrong with me. Because this is a common phrase you hear people say to new moms. That and the phrase, "Enjoy every moment," with that *wink, wink* that always left me scratching my head in those early days.

As time marched on I was able to pull my head out of my hormones. I realized that people are whimsical about the newborn stage more for what it represents than what actually happens while you are in the thick of it. It represents the hope of new life, the infancy of your family and the tenderness (perhaps even naïvety) of early parenthood. But most of this comes in hindsight. With my daughter swiftly approaching two years old, I look back even now with a bit of whimsy at that terrible, awful, tender, beautiful, cuddly, wonderful time that is postpartum parenting.

Perhaps the fact that I don't foresee any more children entering our family gives me a bit more perspective. Let me lead in here by saying my mantra over the first six months of my daughter's life was, "I never have to do this again!" Having a newborn felt emotionally and physically challenging to me... I simply couldn't "enjoy every moment."

It felt so disingenuous to me when others asked me to "soak it all up, and enjoy." At a certain point, I even began giving it back to people. When they said, "I miss that stage," I would fire back, looking at them through my sagging the eyelids and mutter, "No, no you don't."

But here's my point: you don't---and perhaps shouldn't-- enjoy every moment. Why the hell would you even try? The thing is, armed with the knowledge that I might be the "one and done" type,
rather than enjoy, I just tried to be present as I whispered my mantra to myself along with the occasional "I accept this moment."

Not all moments are meant to be joyful. Some moments downright suck. You can lean into presence rather than feign enjoyment and the surprise is that it can suck considerably less. And if you are one of those moms who really does enjoy every stinky and tearful and hormonal moment of early parenthood, hey, more power to you. No judgments. I just can't pitch my tent at your campsite.

But for the rest of us out there not enjoying the all nighters, sore tits, and other countless moments that make us want to run screaming over the nearest hill, just know it's okay not to enjoy it sometimes. Try not to lose it, but try not to feel so pressurized, either.

Life is a tapestry and so is motherhood. The hard moments in our children's infancy give way to those sweet moments where they say their first word--or sentence--and enjoy story time at the library and go to school, and all the other countless moments that lead up to the bigger moments. It all builds. We put in the hard work as parents to reap the benefits, and sometimes, rather than enjoying, we just have endure. 

Homemade Hoisin Sauce Recipe/ Hoisin Chicken

I have been really into cooking from Pinterest these days. While I love coming up with my own recipes, this last year and a half has been a bit of a black hole with learning to juggle parenting, being a wife, and working from home. It's been fun. And hard. And fun. And hard.

You see the dilemma. 

Anyway, in my quest for nondairy recipes, I have come across many, many Asian recipes, and some call for this ingredient called "hoisin sauce." You can buy it in the store, but if you are like me (very cheap) then you may want to make your own.  I started experimenting and over the last several months have honed by hoisin craft. I am proud.

I have been wanting to share this recipe for a while...but without any accompanying serving suggestion, it seemed a bit out of place. Do people just post recipes for hoisin sauce? Maybe they do, but to me it felt incomplete. So you know what I did? I poured the recipe over chicken and then baked the chicken. Heavenly, I tell you. Heavenly.

Incidentally, over the holidays we went up to the D.C. area and had Christmas with my husband's extended family and we had this AMAZING pork made by Uncle Charlie and Aunt Kathy. It had a marinade that consisted of Chinese Five Spice, which I am also using here... Chinese Five Spice is unique, and I really like it. Given the awesomeness of the pork we had, I think you could use this sauce on pork as well.

Billie's Hoisin Sauce & Chicken

Time: Sauce, 7 mins/ Chicken, 40 minutes | Makes: 1 batch/ 4 Chicken Thighs | Difficulty: Easy! 

You will need: 

Sauce:
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
a squirt of ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon of water
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
Several dashes of hot sauce (to taste)

Chicken:
1 recipe of the sauce
4 bone-in chicken thighs
Olive oil

Helpful:
1 cast iron skillet
1 half pint mason jar

Method:

I hate to sound overly simple, but this is ONE SIMPLE RECIPE. I put that in caps to really emphasize the point. To start, gather all your ingredients...this is literally the hardest part.

Combine all the sauce ingredients in the mason jar. I give it a little stir with a fork, put the lid on and shake it...shake it good. Then give it a little taste. I like to make my husband be my taste tester because he's really good at it pickier than I am. Now your sauce is made.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Place your cast iron skillet on the stove and go around the pan a couple of times with the olive oil. Heat over medium high heat. Once heated, place your chicken in the pan. Cook the chicken five minutes on each side, turning once.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and place in the preheated oven. Allow it to cook about 25-30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees (or juices run clear.)

 I like to serve this dinner with rice and broccoli. It would also go realllllllly well with THESE NOODLES, which are addictive as all get out, so proceed at your own risk!

Peppermint Patties & Other Holiday Crafts

It's the most wonderful time of the year! 

I love Christmas so very much, and since my daughter was born, I think my Christmas spirit is more spirit-y than ever before. I kick off my Christmasing right after the Thanksgiving holiday with Christmas tree decoration. We get a real tree, and this year we did something pretty cool: we rode our bikes to get our tree from the tree farm down the road. It was pretty memorable for my husband and I, and I dare say, I think we had the tree farm boys quite amused as well. 

I wanted to share some of holiday stuff that I've been doing in case you need a little inspiration, or find a tip or trick that might work well for your household! First up, a picture of what decoration a tree with a 18-month-old is really like...hehe. 


After this photo was taken, I said to my sister-in-law that THIS is what is real. I mean, yes, it's great to have smiley pictures having to do with the holidays, but let's me real: after hauling the tree, getting it set up, and being SO PATIENT about my husband getting the lights precise, this was exactly how I was feeling! Plus, there was the nervousness of not knowing how this whole tree and 18-month-old thing was going to go...which brings me to this: 


   

Ah, Pinterest. I love you soooo much. I saw a picture of a felt tree on there, and I said I have got to make one of those puppies! Granted, is my crafty version of a felt Christmas tree as good as some others? No, but that is not the point! The point is that this is where I direct my little darling when saying "just look" at the real Christmas tree doesn't work. This is activity board I think she'll get a couple of years out of (at least I hope so) and I love it. Great addition to our home and very festive, don't you think? 

And finally....my new Christmas project... candies!!! 


These are a very simple recipe I found for peppermint patties on--you guessed it--Pinterest! I have never been one to tackle candy making, but these just caught my eye. They were as simple as was promised. So easy, in fact, that the majority of them I actually went a step farther and covered them in chocolate! YUM! I am storing those in the fridge and planning to now make my own Mounds inspired candies from a similar recipe. CLICK HERE for the recipe from Mom on Time Out. One change I made was that I used pure peppermint essential oil (from Young Living) instead of extract. It's the purest tasting mint and is food grade. 

My husband thought that these mints were good on their own...but we also agree they are better with chocolate. I bought that melt-in-the-microwave chocolate and it worked well. And I mean, seriously, if I can get these made with an 18-month-old tugging at my apron, so can you! They are impressive for the holidays and make the perfect little gift for that special someone!! 

What are you holiday projects?! Please share them with me in the comments section below--include some links because, who knows, I may need to try them for myself!