Classics – Macaroni and Cheese

June 24, 2013

MacCheese

I rarely blog about non-dessert foods, but I have to make an exception. I finally found it – my go-to macaroni and cheese recipe!

I’m sure my parents will find the irony of this post amusing. I’ve always been a lover of macaroni and cheese, and even as an adult, it’s my favorite food. But when I was a kid, I’d only eat mac & cheese from the blue box – none of that homemade stuff!! While I still eat (and love) mac & cheese from the blue box regularly, I have also come to appreciate homemade mac & cheese. Caelan also loves mac & cheese (“mac-oni en deez” as he says) so there is no question that he’s my child.

I’m something of a purist, I suppose, when it comes to mac & cheese. Sure, you could fancy it up with any number of things, but I like the classic. I got this recipe from Annie’s Eats which is often the first place I look for any recipe. I normally halve the recipe (as seen in the photo above) and that usually serves about 6-8 people.

Please check out the recipe on Annie’s site, but here are a few notes:

  • The sauce includes chicken broth, which is a little unusual, but I plan to substitute vegetable broth next time so my veggie sister won’t have to miss out!
  • I have substituted skim milk for regular milk, which is usually a risk in a sauce like this, but it worked out perfectly well!
  • The recipe calls for colby jack and cheddar cheeses. While I like colby jack, I find it a little too mild for mac & cheese, so I use all cheddar.
  • There will be a ridiculous amount of sauce because the idea is for it to bake into the partially under-cooked pasta in the oven. It is amazing!

Sesame Street Sugar Cookies

June 13, 2013

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This was my one super ambitious project for Caelan’s birthday party.  Decorated sugar cookies are everywhere on baking blogs lately and I’ve wanted to give them a try, plus I received Sesame Street cookie cutters for Christmas, and this just seemed like an obvious thing for me to do, so I went for it.

Let me say that I’m glad I made these cookies and I’m pleased with how they turned out, but I think it’s really unlikely that I’ll make them again. I made them over the course of 3 days and if I add up all the time, it took me about 10-11 hours total to make, decorate, and package 3 dozen cookies.

Before I started, I hunted down a recipe for sugar cookies. Obviously there are millions of them, but I wanted to find one that specifically said that the cookies would hold their shape after baking. This was important since the cookie cutters I was using were detailed. I ended up with this recipe and the cookies DID hold their shape perfectly, and they WERE delicious (if a bit hard to bite into). But the process of making them…omg. I read the recipe beforehand but I should have thought about it and tried to find a recipe with less steps! First, the dough had to be made and that was easy. I made 1.5 batches since I wasn’t exactly sure how many cookies a batch would make. It turned out that I need not have done that since 1 recipe yielded about 40 3-4″ diameter cookies and I was shooting for 3 dozen. So now I have a half batch of dough in my freezer (certainly not a tragedy, but read on).

I made up the dough and put it in the fridge overnight since it needed to be chilled. The next day I was to roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper and 2 quarter inch wooden dowels to ensure an even thickness. First of all, I skipped the dowels, although it might have been nice to have something to stab myself in the eye with a few minutes later. The instructions warned that rolling the dough would require “elbow grease” for the first few minutes since the dough was cold. I think trying to roll out an ice cube into a sheet of ice would be an accurate analogy for how it really was – slippery and comically impossible. I ended up breaking up the dough and kneading it by hand for several minutes before I even had a hope of rolling it out. Once it was rolled out, I followed the instructions to refrigerate the rolled out dough for 15 minutes. Then I cut out the shapes. Then I put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, then into the oven for the suggested 12-14 minutes – only it took more like 20-22 minutes. The baking process took WAY too long and I was very frustrated because I hadn’t even got to the “hard part” of decorating the cookies yet!

The next day, I spent 5 hours decorating the cookies (I had already made up most of the royal icing the day before). This step, which I had expected to be the most difficult and most frustrating was actually very easy and stress-free, for which I was incredibly thankful. I was really surprised! I used a tutorial from Annie’s Eats which was great. Royal icing is forgiving and easy to thicken or thin as needed. It was just very time consuming.

By the end of the day I had Elmo and Cookie Monster cookies ready to go for Caelan’s party so I’m happy with how it all turned out! I even made enough to bring into Caelan’s daycare the following week so all of the kids could get hopped up on sugar like Caelan was on Saturday 🙂


Caelan’s 2nd Birthday Party

June 5, 2013

Last year for Caelan’s 1st birthday and party, he was sick, he hadn’t napped, and he was generally kind of out of it for most of the day. Despite all of that, the party was great and he did seem to have a good time. This year…things were better 🙂

In the morning, before the party, Caelan had a great time playing with his new water table on the deck – a birthday gift from Mommy and Daddy.

Making a mess!

Making a mess!

Then he went down for a nap leaving the 2 1/2 hours before the party kid-free so we could get everything set up and ready. I was kind of amazed at how well the timing worked out!

This year we did a Sesame Street theme for Caelan’s party. Sesame Street was my original idea for his 1st birthday but I decided to save it until he was older and would enjoy it more and I’m glad I did! I got all the paper products from Party City and months ago, I found these Sesame Street characters (in the freezer section of our grocery store of all places) to decorate with. While Caelan was napping, I also raided his toy box for his plush Sesame Street dolls and used those for decoration too.

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Sesame Street figures

For the menu, we did “toddler foods” which, conveniently, are big hits with adults as well. We had meatballs in the crockpot, Chik Fil A nuggets, pigs in blankets, mac and cheese, fruit, veggies, and cheese cubes. I’d never actually made pigs in blankets before, but now I’m trying to think of an excuse to make them again – so yummy!! But all of the food was either purchased, made by someone else, or required little to no prep so it was easy!

Party Table

Party Table

I did make the cupcakes, but those were easy too. I used a box mix for Funfetti and made 3 dozen cupcakes. I used my go-to vanilla buttercream icing and colored it red, blue, green, and yellow to match the cupcake liners and picks that came with the set pictured below. Bill gave me these for Christmas this past year and though Williams Sonoma has since stopped selling them, I was able to get another box on eBay so I had enough for all the cupcakes!

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Cupcake Kit from Williams Sonoma

Caelan did MUCH better with the cake this year than last year when he kind of just stared at us all like we were crazy. He was excited to blow out the candle on his cupcake and had been practicing.

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Blowing out the candle

Caelan isn’t much of a fan of cake actually! He did eat some, but after only a few bites, he abandoned it and ran back to the fruit tray for his 800th grape. This kid was loving grapes that day!

For the decorations, I got a bunch of balloons for the tables and for out on the deck. Luckily I was able to get these from our grocery store because we don’t have a party store near by. Other than that, I made up a few signs to direct guests to food, drinks, etc. I also put up some pictures from Caelan’s 2nd year. I didn’t take “official” month pictures this year but just chose a favorite picture from each month to display.

Decorations

Decorations

For favors, I made decorated sugar cookies. My mom had given me a set of Sesame Street cookie cutters for Christmas (also from Williams Sonoma and also no longer sold) so I thought these would be perfect. I’m going to do a separate post on those since they were such a big project!

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Favors

The party was a lot of fun and I was happy to be able to have it at our house this year! I wish the weather had been just a tiny bit cooler so that people could have spread out on the deck, but at least the kids had fun out there! And the birthday boy seemed to have a great time all day, so that’s the really important part!

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This kid loves balloons!


Happy 2nd Birthday Caelan! (Months 21-24)

June 1, 2013

When Caelan turned 1, I remember thinking how OLD he looked toddling around in his Robeez, drinking from a sippy, and saying a couple of basic words. But looking back on those pictures now…WOW, he was still a tiny little baby!

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Caelan at his 1st Birthday Party

But that was a year ago, and though this second year seemed to go by faster than the first, I can’t believe how much older he looks now! He’s losing a lot of the “baby look” and looking much more like a little kid! But he’s still pretty little – I’m not trying to rush him!

I looked back on my post from last year at this time just to see what was going on with him when he turned 1 and things are so different now. Last year we were coming to the end of the road on bottles, transitioning to all table foods, and trying to get a handful of words out of him. He wasn’t even saying Mama yet! Now, about a month ago, he made up his own song – the Mommy song. All the words are “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” – it’s the best song ever, haha!

The major leap in the past 3 months, and really in the past year, has been in Caelan’s speech and language skills. I can’t even remember what it was like when he didn’t talk! And I’m so glad he does talk because I love having a conversation with him! Sometimes the things he says are so random and hilarious, but it’s also nice to really be able to communicate with him about what he wants and needs. Although he’s not quite clear on the difference between wants and needs. We got a 20 minute screaming fit one evening because he NEEDED to go outside.

Around 21 months, Caelan started using the words “want” and “like” in sentences. Caelan and I took a quick trip to Party City and he quietly held my hand while we walked through the store. We we left, he whispered to me that he liked balloons. Of course, we always assumed that he liked balloons given his usual pointing and excitement when he saw them, but it was so nice that he could confirm it now with a simple statement. He also started using a few pronouns around this age, mostly “I” and “me”. And he now uses “my” and “mine” all the time. Now, by age 2, everything is Caelan’s (“My toy.”, “My turn.”, “No, it’s Caelan’s.”) and he’s started to tell us when he doesn’t like things as well (“I no like yucky medicine.”).

A word we heard very often for a few weeks was “gigum” which seemed to be a stand-in for several sort of similar words: getting, cooking, taking (“Mommy gigum [took] milk away”, “Daddy gigum [cooking] dinner”). But then all the sudden it was gone…replaced by the correct words. Before we even realized it, he was speaking in full blown sentences rather than choppy phrases. At this point, I think Bill and I understand about 90% of what he says and even people he doesn’t see as often still seem to understand him fairly well.

Telling us about his Easter eggs

Telling us about his Easter eggs

One of Bill’s and my favorite words of Caelan’s has always been elephant (“a-pa-lumb”). As he started clearing up some of his other mispronounced words, we sort of avoided trying too hard to get him to fix this one because we loved it so much. But he started changing it on his own, and we were delighted to find out that his new version was even better: “a-pa-lumb-T”, with much emphasis on the T!

Bill and I have really been astonished by the things Caelan says. (“I like macaroni and cheese.” “Whatcha do-nin Mommy?” “Oh my gosh!” “Hey Daddy, let’s go outside.” “Uh oh, what happened?”) Anytime he says something new (which is daily) we kind of laugh in disbelief and beam with pride all at once. Even Caelan’s pediatrician was very impressed by how well he was speaking when we were there for a sick visit in April. Around 22 months, he started up with the “Why?” questions. They aren’t spontaneous (“Why is the sky blue?”) but they are in response to something we say. (“No, you can’t have meatballs for breakfast.” “Why?”) Sigh. Both Bill and I have replied “Because I said so” more than once but I’d really like to come up with a better answer than that!

Caelan can count to 15…sometimes. 1-9 is in order and he doesn’t skip any, but 10-15 is a bit fuzzy. He knows all his letters by sight but can only sing the alphabet (sort of) from L to Z, though he is working his way back to the beginning. One thing we heard often for awhile was “Come on, Mommy/Daddy, sing ABC’s!” He also seems to have his colors down pat – well, the basic colors of the rainbow anyway, plus black, brown, white and pink. He’s also beginning to memorize some songs – “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” are his favorites. His favorite book up until recently was ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. I’ve read it approximately 8 billion times. Sometime in April I hid it in his closet. I’ll bring it out again in November 🙂

Reading with Daddy

Reading with Daddy

In addition to his leaps and bounds in his speech and language, he’s also a pro when it comes to gross motor skills. He’s been walking for over a year now and running for almost as long as well. He loves to climb and ride his bike (though he can’t reach the pedals yet, he’s getting good at steering). He’s managed to jump with both feet off the ground and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before he’s jumping off the furniture – he jumps ON it now, something that gets him in trouble pretty quickly :/ At the playground, he likes to walk carefully on the 4×4 that surrounds the area like a balance beam. He’s also starting to get a handle on the idea of catching a ball – at least he holds his arms out anyway. He’s been able to throw and kick for awhile now.

The obsession with vacuum cleaners continues. Anytime he sees them in a store, we MUST go and look at them! He’s less terrified of them turned on these days but he still says he’s scared. He continues to love Sesame Street and particularly loves The Count. He also loves animals, especially jungle animals and farm animals. This Spring, he’s loved listening for and seeing the ice cream truck come through our neighborhood every evening (“Eye keem tuck comin!!”) and looking for school buses on the way to daycare every morning (“I maybe see another school bus!!”).

On the lookout for the ice cream truck

On the lookout for the ice cream truck

Caelan had his first visit to the dentist at 22 months old. He was timid, as he usually is with strangers, but he didn’t cling or fuss or cry at all. He enjoyed playing with all the dinosaurs (he LOVES dinosaurs – dineynors – lately) and did reluctantly allow the dentist to take a look at his teeth.

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First Trip to the Dentist

We just finished up a 6 week course of swimming lessons at our local athletic club. It was a “Mommy and Me” type class for kids aged 6 months – 3 years. Caelan was not at all sure about it at first and spent the first lesson telling me he wanted to get out, but reluctantly agreeing to stick it out. With each lesson, he seemed to enjoy it more and more and by the end of the course he was willing to be dunked all the way under the water! I wish we had regular access to a pool (oh how I miss Columbia Association pools!) but maybe next year.

I said in my last post that I feel reasonably comfortable and confident in my role as a mom lately. That’s still true, to a certain extent. I’ve got a handle on his daily routine, meals, baths, bedtime, and even discipline (although really that’s still kind of a shot in the dark). Bill’s said that this is his favorite stage to date. As Caelan is getting older, they’re having a blast playing together, wrestling and roughhousing and enjoying father/son bonding. I know that’s their relationship and I love watching them together, but as Caelan becomes more of a person and less of a helpless baby, I can’t help but wonder how I fit in. Of course I’m his mother and he loves me, but I feel like the un-fun parent sometimes. Although, in fairness, I’m also the pregnant and less-able-to-roughhouse parent for the time being.

Playing with the sling shot

Playing with the sling shot

Caelan’s personality is really coming out. He’s shy and easily overwhelmed in certain situations – even with familiar people – but he warms up if he’s given time and space. He’s funny, smart, and I can see the makings of a smart ass kid in a few years. Wonder where he gets that from? 😉

We still get tantrums from Caelan, though the complete melt downs are fairly rare. Now that he’s learned how to tell us that he doesn’t like something or doesn’t want something, he’s been testing that out on us by refusing our requests (for him to eat dinner, for him to put toys away, etc). So far, a stern tone/redirection from us has usually kept him from being completely defiant, but we’ll see what happens from here on out. Bargaining has also worked fairly well, especially at meal times.

Messy eater

Messy eater

Just in the past month or so, we seem to have stumbled into a phase of clinginess and separation anxiety. It’s nothing too extreme at this point, but we weren’t expecting it since Caelan has never shown any signs of separation anxiety before and is definitely not usually clingy. He’s also started waking up in the middle of the night and crying for one of us. I really can’t complain about a single wake up that only takes about 15 minutes to resolve, but again, we weren’t expecting this given the past 18 months of solid sleeping through the night.  We thought we’d escaped this, but really by now, we should know to expect anything!

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Bill and Caelan

Despite the challenges, I can’t even put into words how amazing it is to watch Caelan growing up…to teach him and help him learn. It’s heart-bursting love and pride, is what it is. Obviously, as I already said, we do still get tantrums and there are days where he is just wild and we’re threatening time-out constantly and counting the minutes until bedtime. There was one day where he wouldn’t stop shrieking (for fun!) and I may have actually cried. The range of highs and lows is extreme but somehow the lows get forgotten – or at least the details are harder to recall.

Caelan’s time as an only child is coming to an end very quickly and while I am sad about that, in a way, I am excited for him to become a big brother. I can’t wait for him to meet his sister and adjust to his new role in our family. I’m sure that this year is going to be a very big year of changes for all of us, but Caelan is a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of kid so I’m sure he’ll handle it well!

I think this will be the last of my quarterly reflections posts about Caelan. Not to say that I won’t post about him and what he’s been up to lately because I certainly will, but 2 years seems like a good stopping point for the regular posts. Plus I’ll be starting up with regular update posts on another little one soon enough, so stay tuned for that 🙂

Happy 2nd Birthday, monkey!! We love you meelions!!

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Happy Birthday!