October 19, 2012

A Hiccup in My Disney Princess Half Marathon Training...

Well, all was going well until I encountered what appeared to be a lovely steak frites at a local bistro with a fellow mom- lovely dinner, dazzling adult conversation, a delectable glass of cremant- and I'm afraid the next morning at 6 am, I was certain that that steak frites had been evil.  Food poisoning.  Let's leave the detail at that.

Well, it's not part of my plan to lose the baby weight, and I certainly don't recommend it, but four pounds disappeared that day.  In any event, I felt in no condition to run on Thursday, which I was scheduled to do.  I took a nap instead.  Which felt blissfully guilty!

A special thank you to Cheryl K- I LOVE your comments, especially the last one, it was so helpful.  It hadn't occurred to me to go to a running store to do that- and now I will.  Since I have zero experience as a runner, I really did think it was simply putting one foot in front of the other.  Now I don't think that so much :)  Truth be told, by legs have been quite sore, but, the soreness appears to be symmetric, so I am not sure what areas might need help, but I'm sure they will present themselves.

Although I am temporarily off my training schedule- I will persevere and training will resume soon!

Just an update on my Disney Princess Half Marathon training- for more real time updates, visit the page: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/disney-princess-half-marathon-2013.html
and to read about how this all came about, visit the blog post: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2012/10/mama-needs-to-get-back-in-shape.html

October 11, 2012

Pea Soup with Pancetta

Pea Soup with Pancetta in a Tea Cup (Woodland Spode)
This is some good, good soup.  It's delicious because a) you use pancetta, b) you cook pancetta, onion and carrots low and slow and c) you add petite green peas at the end and don't cook them much, so you get the complexity and home-y flavors of the bacon, onion and carrots and the brightness of tender petite green peas...  And there's cream.  Did I mention the cream?

Pea Soup with Pancetta
3 pieces pancetta, about as thick as regular bacon, chopped coarsely (about 3/4 cup)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I use 1/2 strength of 'better than boullion' brand)
1/4 cup white wine (I used Clean Slate 2011 Riesling from Germany)
1 lb. bag of frozen petite peas (yes, has to be 'petite,' they are younger and sweeter)
3/4 cup heavy cream
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Pancetta
Let's talk about pancetta for a second- first of all, good, good, stuff.  It's the Italian version of bacon and while it's extremely similar to bacon, it's not bacon.  The seasonings are similar, but, the pancetta is rolled into a tubular like shape and dry cured.  (Bacon as we know it, is partially cooked at low heat in an oven)  What is dry cured?  It means the meat is 'cured' or cooked, with salt over time.  Dry curing often involves compression, for example, prosciutto is made using a dry curing mixture and applying pressure to the fresh ham to achieve the desired shape.  When meats in the deli say 'uncured,' it drives me slightly crazy, because they don't mean salt curing wasn't involved, it was, it just means the method of finishing the meat involved cooking it (usually).  For more charcuterie musings, read my meat curing adventure at http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/charcuterie-class.html

Pancetta
So, when we say 3 pieces of pancetta, it will be 3 round pieces, as you can see from the picture.  Heat a nicely sized dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add your chopped pancetta.  You can add your oil after you brown it, it doesn't really need any cooking oil since it's fat content is quite high.  You want it to brown, but not at a fast rate and not unevenly, so stir it from time to time while you prepare your onion and carrots.  This soup is going to be pureed, so nothing has to be too pretty, but you want things to be relatively even sizes in order to cook well.

Pancetta, onion and carrots
Once your pancetta has nicely browned, go ahead and add your olive oil.  Let it heat up a little, and then add your onion and carrot.  This you also want to cook low and slow, and a little browning here and there is good.  There's not really a time guideline I can give you for this part of the soup, it's more visual cues.  When you have some nice browning, add your wine and allow it to cook down by about half- some thoughts on white wine here- it's more difficult in my opinion to cook with white wine than red wine, because white wine tends to be sweeter.  So you can make the mistake of adding too much white and ending up with too much sweetness.  That's why it might seem like a relatively small amount of wine.  But, what that wine is doing, is getting all our lovely browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  After your wine is reduced by about half, add the chicken stock.   Now, I like to use a brand of chicken stock called 'better than bouillon,' it's refrigerated and it is 1 tsp to each cup of water.  But, it always seems pretty strong and salty to me, so I use about half the recommended amount.  A note here- this made a relatively thick soup, so if you want it to be more liquid, use more chicken stock.  Once your chicken stock is heated, add your potato pieces, and simmer for about 10 minutes, you want your potatoes to be nice and soft.  Now, we add our peas.  Only simmer your peas for 8 minutes.

Pea Soup in an ice bath
While the soup is simmering, prepare an ice bath for your soup.  You want to a) cool it down to keep the peas as bright as possible and b) the faster it cools down, the sooner you can blend it, serve it and most importantly, eat it!  (We are cooling it down so that it doesn't make the top fly off your blender, which can happen when things are really hot.)  I like to make ice baths in mixing bowl sets, since they were designed to fit inside one another.  I put lots of ice cubes in the larger bowl and add some water, but not a lot.  So, once you've simmered your lovely peas for 8 minutes, place the soup in the smaller bowl and place it in the ice bath in the larger bowl.  Once it's cool enough, blend it in batches.  This soup, at least with the amount of chicken stock I used, gets somewhat smooth, but it's not a completely smooth puree.  Perhaps with longer, more vigorous blending it could be, but just to let you know, that's not what I achieved, it was more thick.  Once you've blended it, combine it with the heavy cream and season it to taste with salt and pepper.  Why haven't we added any salt before into the soup?  Because our pancetta is already a salty product and we want to have the option to make it saltier, as opposed to be having an problem with too much salt.

For fun, serve it in a tea cup and saucer with a demitasse spoon!  Or in a lovely soup bowl with my garlic bread:  http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/simple-and-delicious-garlic-bread.html

Thoughts on AuPairs

I had the funniest conversation with a girlfriend of mine today- it was her birthday and I was calling to wish her a happy birthday and see how her day was going.  It sounded like she was having a lovely, lovely day- now she has a little boy that will be two in January, and had a baby girl about 2 1/2 months ago- so- it is still a sleep deprived struggle!  I could feel her beaming through the phone as she described her day- "I got up and got to take a shower, and my husband and I went out for coffee and walked along the main street in our town,"  If you are a mother of young children reading this, you're thinking what I'm thinking- that you love your children so, so dearly, but the idea of a) taking a shower when you'd like to and b) having a coffee and a leisurely stroll with an adult sounds pretty much like the most luxurious thing you've ever heard, right!?

Well, making it all work- and having a moment every now and then to yourself is a great thing.  How do different moms achieve it?  Well, I haven't found one template that fits everyone, and I'm sure you haven't either.  For starters, some moms may work, some moms may have other activities that require their time, or simply the number and ages of the kids is quite a lot for just one person- granted that person is a mom and therefore on par with a superhero, but still, one person!

The AuPair option is an interesting one- if you're unfamiliar with the term, it is French for 'on par with' and refers to an arrangement where a young foreign student helps with childcare and lives with the family.  This means they live with you, so you need an extra bedroom- which, I do not have right now, so it's not an option.  But, I have a girlfriend that got one a year or two ago, and she has said such positive things about it.  She and her husband had been interested in having a Spanish speaking AuPair- and this is interesting, in the past AuPairs were primarily from Europe, but in the last few years there has been an increase in the number of AuPairs available from South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.  My friend had already gotten her child involved in a school that also taught Spanish, and so having an AuPair that could reinforce it at home would be great- and it was, I remember her describing how she decided on the agency and found her- she used skype to meet and interview the candidates and after two skype sessions with the young lady they chose, she felt comfortable and chose her.  She also tried to use an agency that had a good representation of AuPairs in her area- for a few reasons, first, the AuPair would have other AuPairs to ask questions to, spend time with, etc., and the support for the young ladies from the agency would be good since they were well represented in the area.  In the middle of the AuPair's placement, my friend learned that she had to move her family across the country for her husband's job, and the AuPair was able to move with them, which, if you've just moved down the block, sounds heavenly, doesn't it?  Help while moving into a new house!  Did I mention that she had an 18 month old and was expecting her second when the AuPair started while at the same time starting her own company?

The bilingual aspect of having an AuPair I find very appealing- I heard about a study recently where children that were monolingual and bilingual were tested in problem solving.  The experiment tested the ability of the children to solve a problem, then have the parameters of the problem change, and be asked to solve the problem again.  The children that were bilingual had no issue with a new set of parameters, while the monolingual children struggled with the concept of rule changes.  I LOVE that- the bilingual children inherently understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat- which, I don't know about you, I feel like that's one of the best things I could help my children be able to do.  So, if you wanted to get an AuPair and have her teach your children her native language, you could!

Ok- so how does it work from a nuts and bolts perspective?  Here's how it works- the AuPair lives with you and your family, so you provide them with room and board.  You pay them a small stipend each week, and you work out a schedule with them in terms of hours- for example, my girlfriend did 9-5 each weekday and sometimes also on the weekends.  Obviously, this set up isn't for everyone.  For example, I don't have a spare bedroom, so it's not an option.  Or, perhaps you really value your privacy, obviously, each family has to make their own decision.  And if you do decide to take the plunge, choose your AuPair carefully, and, remember that they are young and may need to be guided in things that you might take for granted- let them know what you need and expect.  If there are problems, deal with them immediately and involve the agency- perhaps it's a simple misunderstanding, or perhaps it's not a fit.  We all know that finding the right people to help you in your home, especially with your children is an art as well as a science, and involves good skills at communicating and managing expectations on both ends.  If it is a great fit, imagine the impact it will make on your children, they'll have a friend that they can stay in touch with and potentially visit in their home country.  It just might inspire your children's interest in something that they never would have been exposed to otherwise.  As an example, I will tell you that one of my nannies growing up was a belly dancer.  So, every Wednesday night, I put on a coin belt and make some noise :)  Never would have done it without her.  She also read us the Princess Bride aloud and that is still to this day one of my absolute favorite books- and I can't wait until my children are old enough to have it read to them.  Maybe it will be by me, maybe by a nanny or an AuPair with even more interesting hobbies, only time will tell.

Who should you contact?  AuPairCare is one of the largest and more established agencies.  Check out their website at:  www.aupaircare.com  What does an agency do? It's their job to pre-screen candidates, deal with different countries' visa and travel requirements, placement of the AuPair, monitoring the success of the placement, and they connect AuPair families within the same area.  They have lots of experience and have dealt with issues you may not expect, such as taxes and health insurance (the structure of the program includes providing health insurance for the AuPairs).  So obviously, it's good to have an expert on your side :)

October 3, 2012

Say Goodbye to Bitter Iced Coffee- Cold Brewed Coffee

Straining Cold Brewed Coffee
I have three issues with iced coffee- first, it's bitter, and second, because it's cold, sugar is not going to dissolve.  It's a rare coffee shop or restaurant that has considered this and readily offers up some simple syrup to help you with this conundrum- rare yes, but not nonexistent (thank you to those establishments that do!).  Finally, my third complaint, which is because I am usually either pregnant or breastfeeding lately, is that I need decaf (for those of you that may not know, it's advisable for pregnant and nursing mothers to not consume a lot of caffeine).  This creates more of a disappointment than a problem- there usually aren't any flavored coffees available at coffee shops that also happen to be decaf.  The sad little decaf supply is usually not getting much love, while the chalkboards explode with exciting flavored options of regular coffee!

But, a few weeks ago, while at Whole Foods, I spotted, drum roll please- Hazelnut Decaf coffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  My immediate thought was- I can cold brew this and have some flavored decaf!  And because it's cold brewed, it won't be bitter!  Hooray!

So what is cold brewed?  It means you use cold water, and the process takes a little time.  My sister is the person who taught me how to do this, over text message.  'Hey, I want to cold brew some coffee, how do I do that?'  She responded, 'Put it in a pot with some cold water, stir it if you remember, leave it overnight, then strain it.'  To which I responded, 'Do I have to refrigerate it?' Text message back, 'No, not really, but probably yes once you've strained it.'  Well, two little people's bedtimes took priority and I forgot about this, so I did it during the day for 5 hours, and it still worked well!  I used a screen-like strainer for the grounds, and I'd advise straining it twice, otherwise it is a little silt-y.  Will it still be a slightly but bitter?  Yes, because it's unsweetened coffee- but vs. regularly brewed coffee, you'll see a big difference :)  I like mine with a little cream and a few ice cubes.

October 1, 2012

Mama Needs to Get Back in Shape / How I Decided to Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon

Nursing Pajamas...  Post Pregnancy Body!
Here are words I never thought I would utter- I'm running a half marathon!  Did I mention that it is a Disney, princess themed, run through Disney world half marathon?!  About a week ago, my sister called me and suggested it- it's in February, she found a training plan for beginners (that is both of us) and the training starts in October- tomorrow (10/2/12) to be exact.

This is truthfully just what I need- for several reasons.  First of all, I have pregnancy weight that needs to come off.  Not just from a health or vanity perspective, but also because I refuse to buy new clothes.  So, I've been wearing the same couple of nursing outfits over and over and over, and, not only are they starting to disintegrate from excessive washing and wearing, this charming little situation happened.  I really enjoy volunteer work and fundraising.  One of my current committees is helping our local hospital raise money.  There was a meeting of our committee, followed by a really beautiful fashion show a few weeks ago.  There were some pictures taken of our meeting and our viewing of the fashion show.  Now, obviously to an event like this I did not wear 'nursing pajamas,' which is what I wear otherwise and am in fact wearing right now.  I wore the only sort of dressy outfit that fits me right now, which is a boucle skirt and a silk jersey wrap top with a pair of wedge heels.

Fast forward one week.  I have a group of friends up here, who are just so charming and adorable, and also happen to be Southern, and one of them had the delightful idea of us forming a bridge group.  None of us, however, know how to play.  So, she planed a beautiful lunch at her home, which, I wish I had brought my camera to and been able to blog about!  (Next time, I will!)  Her home is beautiful and the lunch spread was divine.  There was a salad with green grapes, roasted pistachios and asiago cheese, and the miniature sandwich I had (two of) had fresh mozzarella, balsamic dressing, fresh tomato and basil on ciabatta.  (Did I mention that she also has a one month old baby and had flawless hair and makeup?!  Loving her!)  Her mother was visiting from  Little Rock and is herself a very accomplished bridge player, and following a lovely lunch, we all had our first bridge lesson.  Well, it was just a lovely afternoon, and what I often romanticize being a stay at home mom is like- and every now and then you get those moments, some free time to yourself, some time with friends, a lovely lunch and stimulating conversation, a break from the chaos that being a mom of little ones can sometimes be...  Well, I get home that night and one of the ladies had emailed me, complimenting the pictures of me from the previous week's fashion show.  Well, are you ready for this?  I was wearing the EXACT SAME THING in the pictures that I was wearing at that exact moment.  Wow.  Just wow.  If that is not the saddest little cry for help my wardrobe has ever issued, I don't know what is!  I called my sister and said, sign me up, we're running this thing!  (As a side note, the friend that had emailed me did so in complete sincerity and was so kind as to not point out I was wearing the same thing.  When I emailed her back laughing about that, she said another kind thing, stating that considering how recently I had a baby (4 1/2 months ago) at least I was not wearing something with an elastic waist!  I didn't have the heart to write her back and say, 'that skirt used to have an elastic waist but gave out a while back...')

Interested yourself?  Check out the website at:  http://www.rundisney.com/princess-half-marathon/   The more the merrier!!!

We are using the beginner training plan that's available on the website.  It's 13 miles and you need to complete it in 3 hours and 30 minutes- and if your pace is too slow, they might pick you up with a golf cart to hurry you along.  I have two goals- I want to finish, and I want to do it without being picked up in a golf cart.  I'm creating a page to track my progress in my training- http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/disney-princess-half-marathon-2013.html you can check back on it to see how I'm doing!  And if you're training too, please let me know how you are doing!

I have already had two workouts this past week, and, although I have not lost weight yet, two meaningful things have happened.  First, I was able to wear my pre-pregnancy jeans to a party on Friday night (hooray! Ok, so I could get them on- which is a first, they didn't fit great, but I could close them.) and second, I have honestly felt really great for the past few days.  More energy, less stressed, and more able to honestly handle my daily stresses as a stay at home mom- and- did I mention that my first day of training involved some projectile vomit?  Didn't phase me at all.  Because I am a princess half marathon runner.  And, did I mention my sister is going to make me a Snow White costume?  Yes, we will be running in tutus and tiaras.

You should, too!  Your training starts tomorrow :)  I'll see you in February!