The Very Hungry Pregnant Lady: A Parody

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The other day I was reading to the boys (for the gajillionth time) one of their favorite books: Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For those of you who may not be as intimately familiar with the story as I am, it follows a tiny caterpillar from the day he hatches from his little white egg through his journey as he eats different foods every day getting nice and fat for his grand finale: building a cocoon and finally emerging as a beautiful butterfly. It’s a classic story, and one that I find myself relating more and more to now that I have my condition (condition = pregnancy).

I feel for the poor little caterpillar–he’s just hungry all the time and it is his JOB to eat and grow so he might become more beautiful. As such, I’ve decided to adopt the Very Hungry Caterpillar’s mantra: I, too, have dedicated myself to eating and growing so that I might become more beautiful (or produce a more beautiful baby?). You see, I take the whole “eating for two” thing very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that you might mistake my food consumption for that of two competing sumo wrestlers rather than that of an average sized woman and a nearly-1-pound baby. Not to brag, but some might call me a professional double-eater.

As an illustration, here is my own version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar–tweaked a bit to mark my own glorious transformation. I now present:

The Very Hungry Pregnant Lady

In the light of the moon a tiny baby was formed in her mother’s womb.IMG_6600

One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and–pop!–out stuck the mother’s belly as the tiny baby began to grow.11953069_10101444379903150_5148467840828573354_n

Growing a baby is hard work, so the pregnant lady started to look for some food.

On Monday she ate through one piece of apple pie à la mode. But she was still hungry.
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On Tuesday she ate through two brownies, but she was still hungry.IMG_6558

On Wednesday, she ate through three slices of pizza, but she was still hungry.FullSizeRender (2)

On Thursday she ate through four graham crackers smothered in Funfetti frosting, but she was still hungry.IMG_6522

On Friday she ate through five pieces of deli meat (microwaved to steaming, first, to remove the possibility of Listeria poisoning), but she was still hungry.FullSizeRender (3)

On Saturday she was a good girl and she ate through six tangerines, but she was still hungry.IMG_6557

On Saturday she ate for dinner: one chocolate pudding cup, one heaping scoop of Nutella, one salami, one plate of spaghetti, one bag of popcorn, one buttery croissant, and one bottle of sparkling mineral water.

That night she had a stomachache!FullSizeRender (4)

The next day the pregnant lady ate salad. After that she felt much better.
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Now she wasn’t hungry any more–and she wasn’t a little lady any more. She was a big, fat pregnant lady. She crawled inside her cocoon-of-a-bed and read celebrity gossip magazines while her devoted husband rubbed her swollen feet. She grew that baby for nine whole months. Then she went to the hospital, got an epidural, and pushed out…

…a beautiful baby!76245_689686136550_5492270_n

Now she wasn’t a Very Hungry Pregnant Lady any more. She was a Very Blessed Mommy.
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The end.

The Best Of Ireland Awards

Yesterday marked one year since we arrived in Ireland. ONE YEAR! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone…and yet, at the same time, it feels like we have lived here forever. We have been to more places, seen more things, met more people, tried more food and experienced more in this year than at any other time in our lives.

People often ask me what the best part of Ireland is and, the answer is, there are many “bests”. There is no way I could possibly limit my favorites down to one thing. So I won’t even try. What I will do, however, is offer you a compilation of the best things we’ve actually experienced here in Ireland. I now present to you:

The Best of Ireland Awards (According to me, of course!)

Best Natural Site: The Cliffs of Moher
IMG_2049I can’t think of anything more spectacular than moss-covered cliffs that plunge 400 feet into the ocean. They’re seriously amazing.

Best Museum: Titanic Belfast
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OK, so for starters, the museum is in the actual shipping yard where Titanic was built and the front of the building is a scale replica of the size of the great ship’s hull. The exhibits are fascinating, there is an amusement park-style ride that takes you through the ship building process, and the cafe serves scones on White Star Line china. What’s not to love?

Best Monument/Historical Site: Newgrange
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Probably the oldest building you’ll ever see (it’s 5,000 years old, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids). Just don’t take your kids with you or you might get kicked out for unruly behavior.

Best Holiday Celebrate In Ireland: St. Patrick’s Day

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If you thought the St.Patrick’s Day parade in your town was fun, then wait until you see how Ireland celebrates! St. Patrick’s Day is definitely the most festive holiday we’ve been a part of here.

Best Time To Visit Ireland: Easter Week
IMG_2496The flowers are blooming, the sun is starting to find its way out of winter hibernation, and the towns are starting to come back to life. Easter falls right at the beginning of the official Irish tourist season, so shops and museums that have been closed for the winter will again welcome you in–plus the crowds won’t arrive for another month or two. There are lots of special activities and festivals throughout the country during Holy Week, making this the perfect time to visit.

Best Castle to Explore: King John’s Castle, Limerick

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I’m a self-professed castle-holic, as you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time. We have seen a LOT of castles here in Ireland. It’s hard to chose just one favorite castle, but I’m going to have to give this award out to King John’s for their fabulous renovations and hands-on exhibits. I mean, where else will you get to dress up like a knight in shining armor…in a REAL medieval castle?!

Best Irish Food: Scones
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I’m obsessed with scones, so this is no surprise. They’re just the best thing ever. Period.

Best Irish Drink: Barry’s Tea
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Barry’s Tea will forever be that taste that reminds me of Ireland. On my last trip to the grocery store I bought a giant box of Barry’s Tea with enough tea to last me through the apocalypse (or at least until the next time I make it back to Ireland).

Best Place Off The Beaten Path: Ballycotton Cliff Walk
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This cliffside walk is one of the most beautiful, most peaceful places I’ve ever been. The views are incredible, and every corner you turn takes a bit more of  your breath away. Truly spectacular. Also, for the first time in nearly 180 years, this year they are allowing the public to tour Ballycotton Island and lighthouse (via a guided boat ride and tour). I can only imagine how stunning the views must be looking back at the cliffs from the picturesque island.

Best Chipper: K.C. & Son & Sons, Douglas (Cork)
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There’s a reason why hundreds of people queue up outside K.C.’s each night: it’s dang good food. K.C.’s has the right mix of juicy, greasy, succulent-ness that you expect from a good burger or pile of fish and chips.

Best Farmer’s Market: Mahon Point (Cork)
IMG_1486This weekly farmer’s market is one of the best-run public markets I’ve ever been to. All of the food is fresh and local, sold by the farmers who produce it–and everything is incredible. Fresh cheese, home-baked bread, crisp veggies, straight-from-the-farm meats and fresh-from-the-sea fish–anything you could ever want for your weekly shopping. Plus they have woodfired pizzas and what I lovingly refer to as “crack curry” because it’s just so addictive.  Nom nom nom…

Best Scenic Drive: The Ring of Kerry
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Seeing as The Ring of Kerry is on every tourist’s agenda,  this choice is a bit cliché. But it really is incredible, and every tourist to Ireland should see it at least once. Driving The Ring takes you through mountains and valleys, past lakes and waterfalls, and along sweeping ocean cliffs. There are countless hikes that you can take just off the main road if you want to explore a bit more of the beauty, or you can just stay in your car and take it all in.

Most Unique Irish Experience: Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

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This was one of our family’s favorite experiences–my kids still talk about our dinner in the castle and ask when we can go back ther. Picture this: you arrive at a medieval castle and are greeted by people dressed in medieval costumes. These people then serve you bottomless wine, feed you a meal fit for a king, and serenade you with music. Did I mention you’re in a REAL castle?! Did I mention there was wine?!

Best Bike and Foot Trail System: Cork Bay Railway Walk

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This is a rails-to-trails system that follows the bay from Cork city out to a town called Passage West. There is an entrance to the trail right down the hill from our house, so we have spent many, many hours exploring these waterfront miles. The trail even goes directly to Jon’s office, allowing him to walk home from work on a peaceful trail when he wants a break from the usual commute. One section of the trail also leads to Blackrock Castle and cafe, the perfect place to stop in for some lunch or tea while you’re out exploring

Best Stone to Kiss: The Blarney Stone

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Some say that the Blarney Stone will give you the “gift of gab”. I think it may just give you canker sores and a strained neck, but it’s still worth giving a little smooch.

Best Big City to Explore: Dublin
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Everyone from Cork has just stopped reading this blog as I have pronounced heresy. Sorry, Rebels, but Dublin IS bigger and it’s my pick for city explorations. Take your pick of museums, cathedrals, pubs and parks–as well as trendy restaurants and upscale shopping. If you’re looking for a big city in Ireland, this is it!

Best Festival: Youghal Medieval Festival
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A medieval festival in an actual walled medieval city. Need I say more?

Best Island: The Great Blasket Islands
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This was one of my favorite day trips that we took in Ireland. A somewhat crazy boat ride takes you out to an ancient island that was finally abandoned half a century ago. We spent our day on the island exploring ruins, climbing grassy hills, and frolicking on sandy beaches with hundreds of basking seals. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

I could go on and on about all of my favorite things in Ireland, but I’ll show a wee bit of restraint and stop myself there. Ireland is an amazing place–an amazing place that I have been fortunate enough to experience for one whole year.  You will always be near and dear to my heart, Ireland!

 

 

 

 

Foods of Ireland

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ve probably realized a few things about me: I can’t wait for my next adventure, my kids are pretty rad, and I love food. I love eating food, I love cooking food (when my rad kids aren’t getting in the way), I love reading about food. I even love just looking at food. This is not a new thing. In fact, my mom has always joked with me that all of my memories in life are somehow tied to food–what we were eating at a certain pivotal point in my life, the restaurant we visited on a vacation, the food that was served at an event. It is no wonder, then, that the food of Ireland has enthralled me.

Much of the food in Ireland is similar to food available in America. There are a few culinary delights that stand out to me, though, and I’d like to share them with you. Some of these unique-to-Ireland foods are common throughout the country, and others are more indigenous to my “native” County Cork (which, by the way, produces the best food in the country. It’s a foodie’s dream, really). Now, here are some of my favorite Irish foods:

Potatoes: In the case of the Irish, the stereotype is true: they love potatoes. At the grocery store there are at least a dozen varieties of potatoes to choose from (and none of them are the basic Russet baking potato that is prevalent in America). Every meal is served with some form of potato: mashed, fried, baked, roasted, boiled, stewed. The humble potato still reigns supreme.

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Tayto Crisps: And, while we’re on the topic of potatoes, let’s not forget about Tayto crisps (a brand of potato chips). The traditional flavor is cheese and onion, although many varieties are available. These chips are so popular that one of the largest amusement parks in the country, Tayto Park, is named after them.

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Cottage Pie: This is also known as shepherd’s pie (although cottage pie is typically made with beef  and shepherd’s pie uses lamb). Meat, veg, and gravy topped with–you guessed it–potatoes. It’s easy to make, delicious, and one of my favorite ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Win, win, win.

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Lamb: I can not get my 3-year old to eat any meat, with one exception: Irish lamb. My son will quite literally eat a whole leg of Irish lamb if it is offered to him. It’s both interesting and completely disturbing. I don’t blame him, though. The lamb here is fresh and succulent (probably because the sheep here are so dang happy. They spend their days contentedly roaming the lush green rolling hills out in the countryside without a care in the world. Except perhaps the butcher. But I doubt they even notice he’s coming for their intent efforts at grazing all day. When one of their sheep friends go missing they probably just assume he’s wandered off to some other lusher greener pasture on the other side of the hill).

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Offal: Pig’s hooves. Yep. Pig feet. I see them every week in the butcher but I can not, will not bring myself to eat them. Offal actually refers to any bits of the animal that you would not find in your typical Michelin-Star restaurant: ears, eyes, internal organs and such. Scrumptious. Much of traditional Irish food originated in peasant cooking where it was not only practical, but absolutely necessary to eat “everything but the snout” (which, I understand, can be quite rubbery).

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Clonakilty Black Pudding: Don’t let the name deceive you. This “pudding” is not referring to a smooth and creamy dark chocolate dessert. No, this is blood sausage, generally made from pork blood and oatmeal (yummmmm….). It is a key component to the Full Irish Breakfast (see next entry):

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The Full Irish Breakfast: Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. The Irish have taken this sentiment to heart, and the traditional Irish breakfast is enough food to put you in a coma (or gear you up for a day of hard labor on your farm). The “Full Irish” consists of black pudding, sausage, rashers (bacon), eggs, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, potatoes, baked beans, toast, and tea. You can go to any restaurant in the country and order a “Full Irish”–just bring your appetite!

Full Irish Breakfast

Fresh Seafood: Ireland is an island. Which means the country is literally surrounded by oceans teeming with seafood. There is not a single day that goes by and I don’t see a truck or a stand on the side of the road selling fresh Atlantic fish that was caught that morning. I’m a bit of a seafood-phobic so I don’t take advantage of the abundant offerings. But if I were a lover rather than a hater, I’d be spoiled for choice. Pollock, Cod, Hake, Plaice, Monkfish, Prawns, Mussels–all just sitting there in the water waiting for some hungry person to come eat them.

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Scotch Eggs: A hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage or black pudding, breaded, and fried. What’s not to love?

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Pies and Pasties: When someone refers to “pie” in Ireland, they are usually talking about a savory meat or vegetable pie rather than granny’s caramel apple pie. And when they refer to “pasties”, they are usually talking about hand-pies (think of a gourmet Hot Pocket), not the–ahem–little patches that women might wear in place of a brassiere.

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Rocket: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…ROCKET! This leafy salad green (called Arugula back home) is the hip health food of the moment in Ireland. Restaurants and grocery stores advertise rocket as if it’s actually a rock star, not a piece of glorified lettuce. There’s even a guy at my farmer’s market called “The Rocket Man” who makes gourmet salads and juices with rocket. But The Rocket Man may actually be a rock star (I mean, check out that ‘stache!):

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Fresh Dairy Products: You do not have to go far in Ireland to find a farm. In fact, the majority of the land in Ireland is farm land. As a result, you do not have to go far to find good, fresh dairy. Big chain grocery stores stock dairy products from the local dairies, which is pretty awesome. Fresh-from-the-cow milk, country butter, natural yogurt, cream cheese, panna cotta, clotted cream–enough lactose to fuel a nation.

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Gubbeen Cheese: Made on a family farm in West Cork, this cheese is a local delicacy. It has a smooth, rich, savory taste, similar to white cheddar, and it is buttery soft. Gubbeen cheese is made from milk that comes from the family’s cows that graze in their seaside pastures on the farm. And it makes a darn good grilled cheese sandwich.

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Banoffee Pie: A dessert made from bananas, toffee (banana-toffee = banoffee) and cream piled high in a pastry crust. You can find this pie in any coffee shop, tea cafe, restaurant, or supermarket in Ireland. They even have banoffee-flavored yogurt and pudding.

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Scones: Perhaps the single most-consumed food in Ireland (after potatoes, of course), scones are an integral part of daily Irish cuisine. Every time you visit a friend or go to a cafe for a “cuppa” (tea, that is) it is expected that you will be offered freshly-baked scones. Some are plain, some are “fruited” (with raisins or sultanas), all are delicious. They are typically round, about 3 inches across, and about 2 inches high. Scones are typically served with butter, homemade jam (which you can buy in the supermarkets here) and, if you’re lucky, cream (whipped cream or clotted cream…yummmmmm):

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Barry’s Tea: Tea is the lifeblood of Irish culture. If you took tea away from the Irish, the Irish would simply cease to exist. True story. But not just any tea will do. No, you must drink “Gold Tea”, a black tea blend and, more specifically, you must drink Barry’s Gold Tea. None of that hoity-toity herbal stuff. I mean, sure, between cups of Barry’s you might try some Jasmine tea or some orange-spice Chai just to say you’ve done it once in your life, but the purists stick with the real tea. Barry’s tea.

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Elderflower: I think I had heard of Elderflower before we moved to Ireland, but I certainly had never heard of eating it. Turns out, Elderflower is downright delicious. In Ireland you can find Elderflower cordial (concentrate that you add to water to make juice), Elderflower syrup, Elderflower liqueur, and Elderflower tea. Elderflower is made from the flower of the elderberry (which grows plentifully in Ireland) and it has a sweet, aromatic flavor similar to lychee. It is the perfect refreshing summer drink.

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So, there you have it. Now you all know why my pants fit a bit more snugly now that I’ve been living here for a year–Ireland really is a food-lover’s dream come true. The whole idea of “eat local” was born here and, really, it’s the only way people have ever eaten here. With an abundance of fresh ingredients and regional treats, Irish food offers the perfect mix between comfort food and gourmet offerings. All I have to say is, if you’re coming to Ireland, come hungry!

10 Tips For Bringing Meals To Families In Need

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When I came home from the hospital after having my first baby I was a bit overwhelmed. Two days earlier I had left my home with my husband and now we were returning with our souvenir: a person. A person who I had to feed and keep clean and allow to sleep while I was awake and tend to when I’d rather be sleeping. For those first few weeks I felt like all I did was breastfeed my baby and try not to think about how much every inch of my body hurt in new and unusual ways. Doing anything productive–cooking, cleaning, walking by myself to the bathroom–was out of the question.

I was beyond grateful, then, when several friends offered to bring us meals during those first few weeks home. Not only did I not have to cook dinner each night, but I didn’t even have to think about it. Nor did my husband. The food just magically appeared, we woke up from our delirium long enough to eat it, and then we fell back into our new-parents trance.

Fast forward four years, and now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Any time we know someone who is in need–whether they’ve just had a baby, are coming home from a surgery, or are suffering from a loss–we try to return the favor. Bringing someone food during their time of need is a simple, yet impactful way of showing them that you care. I’ve prepared dozens of meals for families in need (and have received dozens of meals from our gracious friends) over the years. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way for bringing meals that will bless others. Here are my top 10:

1. Eat one/ Share one
Why make extra work for yourself? Rather than making a special meal to bring to someone, just make a double batch of whatever you’re planning for your own family. Then bring the second serving to the person in need.

2. Make It Freezable
Make a dish that can be easily frozen and reheated if they don’t want to eat it right now. The person you are cooking for may want to save your meal for another time–maybe they aren’t very hungry tonight, or they actually have the energy to cook right now, or their fridge is already full of leftovers from the other people who have been bringing them food. If you give them the option to freeze your meal, then it’s a gift that can be given (er…eaten…) whenever the time is right for them. Check out these 24 freezable meals if you need some inspiration.
*If you do make something that can be frozen, be sure inform the recipient of this fact. Also include instructions on how to cook or reheat the meal from frozen.

3. Stick To The Basics
This is not the time to try some fancy new recipe or see what happens if you dump the entire jar of Cayenne Pepper into the soup. Cook something tried-and-true so you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute if it doesn’t work out. Make something that people with “average” palates could appreciate, especially if there are children in the family who will be sharing the meal. Also, be sure to ask the recipient in advance if they have any allergies, intolerances, or food preferences.

4. Include Your Recipe
On the off-chance that your friend really likes the food your bringing her, she may want to make it again. I always include a copy of the recipe I have prepared–if nothing else, maybe she can add it to her baby’s memory book so they can look back and remember what Mom and Dad ate while they were recovering from newborn-itis. Along with this, I always write down directions for heating/reheating the meal I’ve prepared–especially how long it will take for the food to cook.

5. NO DISHES!!!
My least favorite part of cooking is certainly not the cooking. No, it’s the dishes. Those dang dishes that pile up after every meal. So, when I’m trying to help out a friend in need, I make sure they don’t have to wash a single dish. I buy foil baking dishes, Tupperware containers, Ziploc bags and paper plates when they’re on sale so I have them on hand whenever I want to bring someone a meal. When I drop off a meal I tell the recipient that I don’t want any of it back–they can clean ’em and keep ’em or just throw them away. Done deal.

6. Don’t Forget The Extras
If I’m going to all the effort of making someone a nice meal, I want it to be…nice. That means a bottle of wine or sparkling cider. Extra sauce. Some flowers for their table. DESSERT. It’s the little things that make a difference.

7. Let Others Do The Cooking
Restaurant takeout, pizza delivery, ready-made meals from the grocery store, take-and-bake pizzas, even grocery delivery are all great options. Plus, the best part about letting somebody else do the cooking is that you can use this option remotely and still have food delivered on your behalf. Even though we live thousands of miles away, we’ve been able to send food to several friends in Seattle this year by ordering them pizzas or having Safeway drop off some groceries at their home.

8. Coordinate Meal Delivery
There are several websites out there that make coordinating meal deliveries easy. You can include all of the pertinent information–the recipient’s name, address, directions to their house, phone number, dietary restrictions, best times for food delivery–all in one place. This makes it easy for people to sign up for a day or time to bring a meal and share what they’re bringing to help eliminate confusion. A few of my favorite meal-coordination sites are Take Them A Meal, Meal Train, and Care Calendar.

9. Don’t Expect To Stay And Chat
When you deliver a meal to someone in need, don’t plan on making a day of it. The recipient may or may not be up for visitors right now, but don’t assume this is your chance to get some quality one-on-one time. New parents especially have their hands full, and they may just want you to quietly leave your food and move right along (so they can, you know, scarf down the only meal they’re going to eat today before the baby wakes up). Soon enough they will be ready for visitors–in fact, they’ll probably be begging for someone to come pass the time with them in a few months–but right now your mission is to bring food and leave them in peace.

10. Consider Other Meals
If you are bringing someone dinner, consider bringing along a little something extra for breakfast the next day. These meals that friends are bringing may be the only real meals this person is eating–and Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

With a little preparation and a few thoughtful touches, you can brighten someone’s day when they need it the most–and fill their tummies while you’re at it! Now, go forth and pay it forward.

 

Ballymaloe House and the Ballycotton Cliff Walk

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”
-Mark Twain

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I have an amazing husband. He is kind and dedicated and handsome and talented. He makes me laugh (a lot). He pushes me to stretch my limits and try new things. He is the source of much of my joy, and he is who I choose to divide my joy with. In a couple of weeks we will be celebrating our ninth (what?!) wedding anniversary. I love him. And, even after all this time, I like him (a lot). It was our joy, then, to sneak away for a special date this weekend to remember just how much we really do like each other. After we dropped the boys off at our favorite babysitter’s house for a day of jumping on trampolines and splashing in the kiddie pool (THANK YOU, KELSEY!!!) we drove 30 minutes out to the Irish countryside in East Cork. Our destination: Ballymaloe House. IMG_5291 Ballymaloe House (pronounced Bally-ma-loo) is the site of  a world-famous cooking school, a boutique hotel, a crafts and cooking shop, a cafe, an award-winning fine dining restaurant, farms and gardens. The property stretches over 400 acres so, as you can imagine, there is plenty to see and do there. Parts of the estate have been around since the original Norman castle rested on this site in 1450, although the “modern” house was completed in 1820. The grounds are gorgeous. As you come up the drive toward the house you pass a self-maintained golf course, towering rhododendrons and arching trees forming arboreal tunnels. You know when the driveway is that good that you’re in for a real treat.

We were at Ballymaloe to take advantage of their posh lunch in the restaurant. And when I say posh, I mean uber-fancy. Fancy enough that the restaurant’s website provides geo-coordinates for you to use if you want to, you know, land your private helicopter on the property. Even though we arrived in our humble car instead of a helicopter, we were still treated royally.

When we arrived we were first led to a large sitting room where our drink order was taken. While we awaited libation we could recline on plush sofas or sun-bathed window-seats to contemplate our idyllic surroundings:

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With wine in hand we were then led to the formal dining room. There were more pieces of cutlery at each place setting than I had fingers to count them. It was at this point that I sighed a heavy sigh of relief that we had *correctly* chosen to leave our rambunctious boys at home. Although I know they would have had fun playing swords with the pickle forks and picking their noses with the mustard spoons, I’m not so sure the other patrons at the restaurant would have enjoyed the entertainment.

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The food was absolutely heavenly. Ballymaloe revolutionized the farm-to-table movement in the 1960’s, and they are known the world over for their fresh take on modern Irish cuisine. To this day all of the ingredients on their menu are sourced right here on their own property. In fact, the day’s menu is not finalized until after the garden has been cultivated and the fishermen dock with the day’s catch. This means that the menu is unique from day to day and meal to meal, and every morsel you eat is the definition of “fresh”. The meat, eggs, vegetables, milk, and herbs come from the farms on Ballymaloe’s 400-acre property. The fish are reeled in from the Atlantic Ocean–the same Atlantic that provides the gentle sea breeze you feel as you wander the gardens of Ballymaloe. The baker starts her ovens at 6:30 each morning to bake the day’s bread. All of the foodie-things that I wish I could do at home but know that I would never in a million years actually do.

For lunch I had “Roast free range chicken with fresh herb stuffing, roast butternut squash, summer cabbage & redcurrant sauce” and Jon had the “Glazed loin of bacon (what we Americans would call ham) with crushed swede turnip, summer cabbage & Irish whiskey sauce” (see, even the names of the food are beautiful!). The food was gorgeous and we unabashedly took photo after photo of our dishes. Perhaps the best part of the meal was that after we finished eating, we were offered more meat and veg. Now, I’ve been to places where they refill the bread basket, but never anywhere that will give you more of whatever you like.  We also split a serving of “Goujons of plaice” which were basically posh fish fingers that I actually enjoyed. And if you know me, then you know what an achievement that is. I usually hide in another room if there is seafood being served, but I happily ate not just one, not two, but three fish goujons. I was quite proud of myself.

Then, the crowning glory: dessert. They rolled out a dessert trolly laden with cakes and pies and berries and a giant ice bowl full of freshly-churned ice cream for me to oggle. When it came time to make a selection I could hardly bear it. What to choose? I wanted it ALL. We finally settled on two plates of desserts to share: rhubarb tartlets with caramel ice cream and French chocolate cake with Irish strawberries. We ate ourselves silly, but wouldn’t you, too?

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When we got the bill at the end of our meal we both vowed to not eat for the next month so our stomachs and our bank account could recover. Perhaps we’ll return some day in our private helicopter but, until then, we will fondly remember this once in a lifetime meal.

After Jon rolled me out of the dining room we browsed the Ballymaloe shop, a cross between country store and gourmet cooking shop. We bought the Ballymaloe bread-baking cookbook (which, by the way, has a whole chapter on scones!!!) and a small measuring cup (because this week Jacob wanted to see what would happen if he threw my glass measuring cup onto our tiled kitchen floor. Spoiler alert: the glass shattered). IMG_5299
Then we wandered around the Ballymaloe House gardens where we found a plant with the world’s largest leaves:

IMG_5302 …and picturesque ponds: IMG_5304
We could have spent all day at Ballymaloe (or, more likely, several days), but we had one more destination on our whirlwind date. We got back in our car and drove 10 minutes down the road to Ballycotton, a historic seaside fishing village. We parked our car at the far end of town at the entrance to the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, perhaps the most beautiful seaside walk in Ireland (at least, according to us): IMG_5341
The trail winds along the edge of the cliffs that drop off straight into the Atlantic. It was a well-maintained trail that, had we chosen, we could have followed all the way to Roches Point (about a 5-hour walk in one direction). The views were stunning (made all the more sensational with the addition of the bright summer sun) and we felt peace wash over us with each step we took. At one point, the walk actually caused Jon to remark, “I think this is the most fun we’ve had in Ireland.” IMG_5316
After walking about 3 miles down the trail we decided to end our walk at a rocky beach before doubling back to our car. We stayed at the beach for a few minutes watching the waves crash over the rocks jutting out into the ocean and collecting smooth skipping stones to bring home to the boys as souvenirs. IMG_5338
Our day in Ballymaloe was more than just a date, it was magical. It was a day full of joy, divided between me and my love. Well, and  maybe I had a little joy left over to divide with the French chocolate cake. I’m all for equality here.

Repost: Easter “Resurrection Roll” Bible Story and Recipe

Easter is just a few weeks away, which means it’s time to bring back all of my favorite lent activities. Easter is such a special time to share with children, and I’m always looking for fun and creative ways to share the truth of this season with my boys. This week we will begin using our resurrection eggs and we’ll also be doing one of my all-time favorite cooking projects: resurrection rolls. Resurrection rolls are a simple (and, might I add, delicious) way to share the gospel with children, a truly memorable experience. I thought I’d repost the recipe and story here for you if you’d like to join in the fun–enjoy!

Original Post: Resurrection Roll Recipe and Bible Story

I love finding creative ways to teach important truths to kids. And I love it even more if I can find a way to tie food into the “lesson”. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I first discovered Resurrection Rolls.

Basically, Resurrection Rolls are a treat that you make where each step of the cooking process represents part of the Easter story. It’s a wonderful way to tell kids the Easter story AND the rolls themselves are sublime. I’ve had people make the rolls for me before, but this was my first time doing the whole project with David. He was able to help out a bit and was pretty engaged the whole time (even if he did keep trying to swipe marshmallows from my stash). I’ll definitely be doing this again next year–a new tradition has been born!

What you’ll need:

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  • 1 package of crescent rolls
  • 8 large marshmallows (plus extras to snack on while you’re waiting for the rolls to bake!)
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar plus 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Bible (or use the “script” below)

How It’s Done:

IMG_1513Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, get out your Bible and open up to John 19 or find the Easter story in a children’s Bible (my favorite is the Jesus Storybook Bible). Below you’ll find the pictures and the “script” for how I told the story to David (he’s only 2 years old, so I kept it simple for him).

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Say: “Even though Jesus was perfect and had never sinned–he had never ever done anything wrong– some people did not like him. They wanted to hurt Jesus because he said he was God. They made Jesus carry a cross and they killed him. This made God very sad, but it was all part of His great rescue plan. When Jesus died, his friends took his body off the cross.”

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Do: Give your child a marshmallow
Say: “This marshmallow represents Jesus’ body. Jesus died for you and for me, because we have sinned and we need to be rescued from our sin.”

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Say: “After Jesus died, his friends came and they put special oil and spices on Jesus’ body to get him ready for burial.”
Do: Roll the marshmallow in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar

Say: “Next, Jesus’ friends wrapped his body in special cloths–almost like a mummy! Jesus had died, and they were getting his body ready to bury.”
Do: Roll the cinnamon-sugar marshmallow up in a crescent roll (it won’t look like a crescent roll). Press all of the seams firmly. Repeat for each of the crescent rolls. Place the rolls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

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Say: “Next, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb. A tomb is like a big cave carved out of rock. Then big, strong soldiers rolled a heavy rock in front of the tomb so nobody could get in or out of the tomb. They even put a special seal over the entrance so they would know if anybody tried to move the rock that was in front of the entrance. Soldiers stood in front of the tomb to guard it day and night.”
Do: Put the rolls in the oven and set your timer for 10-12 minutes. Let the rolls bake until they are golden-brown. I even let David stand guard in front of our oven “tomb” with his toy sword.

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Say: “Jesus was dead in the tomb for three days. Let’s count to three: one, two, three. How many days was he in the tomb? That’s right, three days.”
(We had some time to wait for the rolls, so I let David play while they were baking. I kept going back to him, though, and we’d repeat this whole conversation about how long Jesus was in the tomb.)

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Do: When the rolls are done baking, take them out of the oven and let them cool (I let mine cool for about 20 minutes, and that was perfect). The marshmallow will probably have exploded out of your rolls, but that’s to be expected (that’s why we put down the parchment paper!). After the rolls have cooled…

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Say: “Three days after Jesus had died, an angel of God appeared to one of Jesus’ friends. He told her that Jesus was alive! Jesus’ friends decided to look in the tomb where they had put Jesus’ body, but when they did, it was empty! Jesus had risen! And still today, Jesus is alive. Today he lives in heaven with God.”
Do: Cut open one of the rolls. The marshmallow has melted, so the “tomb” is now empty.

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Do: Eat your yummy rolls!
Say: “These rolls are sweet, just like the love of God. God made you and he loves you very much. And some day, if you choose to love and follow God, you will be able to spend forever and ever in heaven with him and Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our Great Rescuer. The Bible tells us that the only way to Heaven is through loving and believing in Jesus. We celebrate Easter, because Jesus died and rose again so that we could have a way to Heaven.”

Angry Birds Birthday Party

One of the gifts we received at David’s baby shower was a classic red sock monkey. When David was born I thought it was pretty cute that he and the sock monkey were roughly the same size, so I snapped this photo of him with his little monkey friend when David was 1 week old:

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From there, I just couldn’t stop. Every month during his first year of life we took a photo of David with the sock monkey until, after one whole year, the friends looked like this. Oh, the difference a year can make!

1-year-old_Sock_Monkey_0015And, now, a tradition has been born. Every year on David’s birthday we have him pose with his sock monkey. Here he is at age two:

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Then, last week, he turned 3. THREE! I can hardly believe it. My little baby is now a big boy with his own personality and interests and quirks and thoughts and sense of humor. I love him to pieces.

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Three is certainly a special birthday–probably the first birthday he’ll actually remember when he’s older–so we had to have a very special birthday party. David is a bit obsessed with the computer game “Angry Birds” right now, so we decided to have an Angry Birds-themed party.

Since I’ve never actually played Angry Birds myself, the internet became my party-planning partner. I found this great website called angrybirds365 that had tons of great party ideas and free downloads. I found this invitation on their website, printed it off on cardstock, and filled in all of the party details for our little guests. Free, simple, and a bit more personal than a Facebook invite 🙂

While I was on the site, I also printed off some Angry Bird faces that we attached to balloons for decoration, some small angry bird pictures that I attached to toothpicks for cupcake toppers, and a slingshot that we used for one of the party games.

This is the first birthday that Aunt Stefanie hasn’t been able to make David’s birthday cake–and I’m no baking brainchild (as in, I’m not patient enough to make those beautiful detailed cakes that I oggle on Pinterest). As a consolation, I told David we could make whatever kind of cupcake he wanted.  David wanted red, blue and yellow cupcakes (because those are the colors of his favorite Angry Birds). Done. We took one box of white cake mix, divided the batter into 3 bowls, added a different color of food coloring to each bowl, and baked the cupcakes. After licking out all 3 bowls of cupcake batter it was time for David’s next job: decorating. I frosted all of the cupcakes, set out bowls of sprinkles, and invited David  to unleash his artistic side. I can’t remember the last time I saw him this concentrated on a single task.

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After the cupcakes were decorated we inserted some homemade cake toppers and–TA-DA!–red, yellow and blue Angry Bird cupcakes.

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I had a lot of fun planning the menu for the party. The party was at 4:30, so we had snacks and “light dinner” fare.  Our menu included:

– “Angry Bird BBQ” (Pulled BBQ chicken sandwiches)
– “Angry Eggs” (Deviled eggs)
– “Smashed Piggies” (fruit salad made with green grapes, strawberries and raspberries)
– “Broken Towers” (veggie sticks and dip)
– “Twigs” (pretzel sticks)
– “Nests” (chips)
– “Bird Nectar” (juice)

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After dinner we brought out the cupcakes for a little “Happy Birthday” time. David stared blankly at us while we sang but he still performed expertly in the candle-blowing-out department:

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And, before he got too covered in frosting, we managed to snap a family photo (thank you to Rachel for stopping everyone and insisting we do this. Somehow I always forget stuff like this!). We were so blessed to have my parents visiting us all the way from Seattle this week to share in David’s special day!

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After we all filled our tummies, it was time for some fun and games. I found a book that had about a dozen make-your-own Angry Bird masks in it, so before the party David and I put them all together for the kids to wear. Everyone looks relatively happy in this photo, but that’s only because you can’t actually see their faces. The kids were TERRIFIED of the masks. As soon as we started putting them on, the babies started crying and kids were hiding behind their moms. Note to self: the preschool crowd is NOT entertained by face-hiding, person-shifting deception devices like masks. Moving on.

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One of the kids’ favorite party games is called “Pass the Parcel”. To play, you just wrap a small gift (packets of candy in our case) with wrapping paper, then you wrap that package and another small gift inside another layer of paper, and then that package along with another small gift inside another layer, and so on. At the party, the kids pass the parcel around a circle while music is playing (kind of like musical chairs)–then, when the music stops, whoever has the parcel gets to open it and keep the gift that’s inside. The game continues until all of the layers of the parcel has been unwrapped (and, if your planning is good, every child walks away with a treat).

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We also played “Pin the Angry Bird on the Slingshot”. I just printed off a picture of the Angry Birds slingshot and several angry bird pictures, cut them out, and put tape balls on the back of the Angry Birds. Each child got a different Angry Bird and had a turn to try to get their bird in the center of the slingshot (the older kids were blindfolded, but we let the babies cheat a bit).

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By the time games were over, it was already starting to get late and we moved on to presents. David received so many generous gifts from his friends and family! Toys and games and clothes and movies–incredible. And he really did appreciate them–it was awesome to see David go up to each friend and thank them for their gift after it was opened.

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It was a truly memorable birthday. I am so grateful we could celebrate this milestone with so many loved ones, near and far.

David: you are my sunshine and, no matter how big you get, you will always be my baby. Happy 3rd birthday, little David!