Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I'm That Mom - at a Hockey Game

It's official. I've become that Mom. You know the one - the annoying, nutso, out-of-her-ever-living-mind whack job of a mother on the sideline watching her kid play a game.
In the locker room last season after winning a local tournament. If you're ever invited into a hockey locker room, run for your life. Or bring a fresh supply of oxygen. The aroma is otherworldly.
For years, I prided myself on keeping it cool when it came to watching my kids play sports. Probably because they were marginally interested in whatever they were doing, and let's be real - kindergarten tee ball does not an exciting afternoon make. My kids were the ones out there picking flowers and watching the clouds roll by, and I could care less. I was more about "When can we go home and have a drink?" or "Why do we really need to be here 45 minutes early when the coaches pitch the ball?" I saw it for what it was - an introduction to exercise, not an entrance to the major leagues.

Hindsight tells me I should have been "all in" with tee ball. Or soccer. My indifference resulted in my kids picking up the two most dangerous (and expensive...hello?) sports - hockey and horse back riding. 
As the kids got older, I found myself watching the parents just as much as the game. To be fair, most are cool and respectful and cheer appropriately. But there's always a handful who border psycho. They yell at the refs (who are volunteers or paid a pittance), the other team's players, their own kids or even parents on the opposing team. Not excessively, because they'd be thrown out. But just enough to show their inner crazy so only those sitting nearby can hear. And they are the ones whose kids get into fights on the ice resulting in ejections. Apples clearly don't fall far from the trees.

So...based on my initial statement, you may be thinking I'm one of those now, yes?

No.

Jake is now playing high school hockey in a full contact league. Which means they check. Meaning (because I know all of you don't get the goofy hockey lingo) they use their bodies to separate the opposing player from the puck. Which sometimes 'accidentally' translates to elbow jabs to the head, sticks bashed in the back, collisions into the boards, or getting laid out like a grease spot on the ice by a kid twice your size. Mmm hmmm. That would be my kid the oil stain, his first time in a checking game last season.

I hyperventilated, pooped my pants and nearly died in the stands.

So here's me in all my super fan glory now:

Sitting in the fetal position like a contortionist. It's possible. Every muscle clenched. Sliding back and forth on the bench as the puck goes up and down the ice. Climbing all over Mr. Musky, linking arms and intertwining legs and anything else I can muster when the puck's to the right (he always sits to my right. and sleeps to the right of me in bed. Am I alone in this weirdness?). Increasing the gap between us by two feet or more when the puck's to my left. When my kid leads a breakaway, I holler "Go Jake, GO!" over and over as I slide left and flap my arms around like a goose, helping him shoot the puck into the goal. When a defenseman is approaching him on open ice, I whisper "Careful, Careful!" and might just hope the kid loses an edge (bad mommy). When any of his teammates gets checked, I'm all, "You're OK. You're OK." or "Get up, GET UP!" while sending telepathic messages to the kid's mother that her son is just fine. When they are on the boards and are fighting for the puck, I'm all: "Be nice. Be cool. Be nice. Be cool."

Don't ask me why I speak in doubles. I'm a being possessed.
Aside from GO JAKE GO, my comments are all barely above a whisper. So unless you're sitting right next to me, you'll never know my level of neurosis. Mr. Musky just looks at me. And asks, "What exactly the hell is wrong with you?" But I'm telling you, some third dimension creature enters my body, leaving me controlled by an evil spirit. All my life I've handled stress fairly well, but I simply can't manage myself in a hockey arena. I agree with our club president. All rinks should have an in-house spa so I can calm myself before a game. But I'd expand the spa concept to include vodka martinis, chocolate truffles and fluffy cashmere robes with bunny slippers to ease the angst I have to endure. 

I rarely criticize anyone directly, unless the behavior is ridiculous. Regarding the aforementioned kid who got thrown out for fighting in one of last year's IN HOUSE games (where checking's not allowed and the game is just for fun - NOT!)...it was a skater on the opposing team, he pinned one of Jake's teammates to the ground and started pummeling him. I stood up and screamed at the top of my lungs: "NOOOOOOOOOOOO! That's MEAN!" 

I know it was my hyena voice that made the punk stop, because nobody likes to be called mean. But perhaps the ref who pulled him off by his shoulder pads and shoved him toward the locker room helped get my message across.

Another time last year there was a 'retribution' hit for a kid who left a travel team to play with Jake's group. It was a deliberate hit to the back, the kid's neck snapped into the glass, and he ended up with a concussion that kept him out of the sport for months. The next day the brat posted his glorious check on social media, bragging about making the kid pay for leaving their team.

What is wrong with people? My stomach literally still turns thinking about it.

If you think this is bad, then you should see me at a Horse Show. Watching my girl control a 1000 pound animal with her legs. 

Vomit.

More on that visual next week.

XOXO,
Jen


Friday, September 26, 2014

Apéritif Friday - CSA

A little over a year ago I read a blog post that mentioned CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in the context of some mouthwatering food. Unaware and intrigued, I looked it up. Here's a definition from EverGood Farm in Sugar Camp, WI, where we purchased a half-share membership for the summer. 

CSA Philosophy
CSA is a social model that connects you to your food, the land, and with those that tend the soil. CSA is an economic model that allows you to place your food dollar directly in the hands of a family farm, a farm you know, a farm that adopts organic practices to respect the health and nutritional value of your food, a farm that reduces the impact of agriculture on the environment. The CSA philosophy creates a food system that adopts practices emphasizing taste, nutrition, local economies and respect for the land.
EverGood Farm early season harvest. Ignore the bananas. Those are clearly not grown in the upper midwest. :)
I met Jenny and Brendan, the owners of EverGood, in 2013 at a local Farmer's market. Their tidy display of pristine-looking vegetables drew me in immediately and had me coming back weekly for their bounty of goodness. One week I bought some broccoli, and Mr. Musky declared it was the best he'd ever tasted, resembling nothing to the standard grocery store fare I buy. 

The following week I didn't see broccoli at their Farmer's market stand, so I asked them if they had any hidden away in their truck. They regretfully informed me it all went into CSA members' baskets that week.

Well sign me up then, Scotty.

Unfortunately, they were sold out of shares for the season, so I had to wait until this year to partake in their harvest. And I can say, with the utmost confidence, after the positive experience with EverGood I will be a lifelong CSA customer. The variety and freshness of the vegetables is second to none, and knowing that I am supporting an incredible family just miles away brings so much more meaning to and appreciation for the food on our plates. I was mildly concerned that the basket would contain items I've never before eaten. And it did. But I learned that kohlrabi and swiss chard are all together delicious and nutrient-dense alternatives to kale and cucumbers. 
Green Earth Institute late summer harvest
I know some of you are rolling your eyes, thinking, "Really? Just grow your own darned garden!" I would, but we still split our time between two homes and I wouldn't be able to tend to the garden sufficiently to baby the plants. And in Wisconsin, we don't have ample sunshine or adequate soil to grow food. Instead, I will leave the vegetable growing to the experts, who know exactly what they are doing. I will stick to herbs, which I can grow with relative ease.

I loved it so much that I sought out a local CSA in Illinois for the backend of the summer, and was thrilled to find that they still had shares available midway through the season at a prorated price. The Green Earth Institute in Naperville, less than 10 miles from our home, is now our go-to for produce. We didn't miss a single week of locally grown, fresh, organic vegetables.

Since we bought a 1/4 cow and 1/2 pig from a regional farm last year, we determined that we wanted to bring our support even closer to home. Three Maples Farm in Oswego is also less than 10 miles from our house and offers grass fed beef, veal, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, buffalo and eggs. We get 75% of our protein from this farm. Because it's all frozen I can place a large order online, full of variety, and pick it up at a convenient time. But I might get sidetracked by their adorable pet goat, Sugar, who just so happens to be house trained. Or their energetic chocolate lab puppy who clearly never gets any lovin'. Or the owner, Andrea, who is as sweet as pie. Or the pigs and cows and chickens and turkeys who roam around without a care in the world.

Going to pick up the CSA goods or the meat is like a field trip for me. Mr. Musky made fun of me over the summer, saying I'd rather go pick up vegetables than have Christmas morning. And I have to admit...he's nearly correct. It's definitely my favorite errand of the week.

All of this lovely, locally grown, organic food got me thinking. What if I made an entire dinner from local ingredients? Could I do it? Game on. Come back next week for "A Local Dinner."

And a not so local Apéritif.

XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Miracle Known as Sister-in-Law

Sisters-in-law. They may possibly be the most wondrous creatures God invented. He was on to something - knowing that many of us don't have biological sisters and need Wonder Twin - Activate! powers to keep us sane in our cooky families. Especially those of us who are the babies in families with older brothers. I have two fantastic sisters-in-law, and I love them both dearly. They're kind of like real sisters, but better. Because I didn't have to share the princess title growing up.

When I met my future sister-in-law Jen, she was a pipsqueak. Eight years old. I bought her a wedding themed barbie doll for Christmas that year, except I think it was a knock off. On account of Mattel's prices and my college income not jiving and all. She didn't seem to care, but now I'm second guessing that. The girl's got standards. Regardless, my effort scored me a friend for life.

Given the age gap, Jen and I don't spend nearly enough time together, but the tide is changing. Aging sucks, in some ways. I'm looking at you, sagging parts, grey hairs and failing eyes. But the beautiful thing about getting older is that age differences matter less in relationships. 8 versus 18? That's barbies versus beer guzzling. 18 versus 28? That's beer guzzling and dancing on tables versus a toddler's tantrum away from a nervous breakdown. But now that she's 32 and I'm 42, the gap is narrowing. We're both adults, we both have two mortgages, we both spent considerable time in the corporate world and enjoy some of life's finer items. Wine. Food. Spending time outside on a  beautiful summer day. So when she asked if we were up for a cookout on labor day weekend, I jumped. 

It is a treat to be a guest for dinner in someone else's home. It's one of my favorite things in the world, and guess what? I could care less what we eat or drink. Just being invited over to spend time with people we love is the best part. I always offer to bring something along, and Jen requested my Buffalo Salsa Dip that we recreated from a Northwoods restaurant this summer. I'll post the recipe soon, along with a tasty cocktail to accompany it.

Jen loves to entertain, so I'm hopeful we'll be invited back to their hip condo in the city for future dinners.
And Pat is the bomb. He is the yin to her yang. Jen can be sensitive, bossy, kind, sassy, sweet, edgy, understanding and demanding all in a matter of 30 seconds. It's what I love about her. 

Patrick, somehow, keeps up and balances whatever she dishes out. Watching them is like viewing a modern-day version of the Honeymooners. Minus threats to pow her in the kisser or knock her to the moon. Jen would kill him. 

Jake sliced and diced for them, and chatted up Patrick about all matters Star Wars. I guess there's going to be a movie watching marathon in their future.
We dined alfresco. My favorite.
While Jen and Pat cooked up some good grub for us, I dusted off my camera from its summer hiatus and snapped a few of my people. 
And naturally, things got weird.
And weirder.
My mother-in-law was in town for a high school reunion, and she joined us for the cookout.
Jen and Pat grilled a variety of burgers. Some spicy, some mild, some with cheese, some plain. There was something for everyone, including an assortment of buns and toppings. For a hot Sunday summer afternoon, there may be no better food out there than a burger extravaganza with grilled vegetables.
I spied some remnants from their wedding at the end of May, now decorating their urban respite. 
What an unbelievable weekend. It was an event...an extravaganza. Even Mr. "I hate weddings" Musky deemed it the best wedding he'd ever been to.
Photo cred: arraephotography.com
 Maybe it was the perfect weather.
Photo cred: arraephotography.com
Or the perfect setting.
Photo cred: arraephotography.com
Or the awesome food, wine and energetic guests who got their party on.
Or the fact it was a destination wedding,
Photo cred: adamliss.com
complete with an outdoor dance floor and plenty of refreshments to quench our thirst as the sun set in the background.
None of the above. Mr. Musky liked this wedding for two distinct reasons. 1. He politely asked and the bride granted him permission to change into shorts and a t-shirt after dinner. I'm thinking that secured the win for him. Because death is surely imminent if one wears a suit and tie in gorgeous 70 degree weather.
Photo cred: adamliss.com
But later he confessed it was 2. Being able to hang with his uncles at a non-holiday event, when nobody was hosting, where they could all just relax and gab for hours on end while taking in a breathtaking view. And lifting a beverage or five.
Photo cred: adamliss.com
We all enjoyed beaching it, getting to know Patrick's family and hanging with Mr. Musky's extended family. His cousins are young and energetic and full of fun. We embraced "destination wedding" to its fullest, from the beachside bonfire Friday night to a final gathering on the beach Sunday, despite a bit of green-around-the-gills syndrome for some. Regardless of their level on the hangover scale, everyone willed the weekend to hang on for just a little bit longer before we called it a wrap.
It was a blast.

We thoroughly enjoyed kicking the summer off and bringing it to a close with these two.

XOXO,
Jen










Friday, September 19, 2014

Apéritif Friday - Cabernet Franc, HIDS Rib Roast, Steamed Broccoli and Smashed Potato Casserole

People.

If you ever try anything I've ever cooked, this is the one.

Start with an apéritif. The one I sipped on this gorgeous fall Sunday afternoon alongside a tasty Greek appetizer will be highlighted soon on the Yummie Nation website. Sorry to be such a tease...you'll have to check back. But after my cocktail, I switched over to my latest garnet colored fascination.
A beautiful, earthy Cabernet Franc. A bit lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon, but slightly heaver than a Pinot Noir. And the most unbelievable part? This wine hails from New York. Funky! And delicious. I promise.

The hydrangea in my garden is about done, and some blooms were spending too much time lying on the ground. So since we were spending the majority of Sunday Funday Football day outside on the patio, I finally cut them and plopped them into a vase. And we've been enjoying them on the dining room table all week. Just a little Martha sidebar for ya.

Is it just me, or is football taking over EVERYTHING? Seriously. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I used to love it, especially when the pros were relegated to just two days a week. Back in the olden days. But now? Mr. Musky sings, "Are you ready?" and I cringe. Every time. He relishes the sheer terror on my face, until I realize that it's Tuesday or Wednesday and he's just messing with me.

But rather than pout and complain, I decided to embrace it. And amp up the tailgate factor last weekend. I asked the butcher for a prime rib...on account of the Bears taking on the 49ers and all. 
The butcher chuckled and said to not hold my breath. He wished me well...and said he hoped the dinner would help me overcome the impending loss. What a man of little faith. But I forgive him. Because the prime rib he cut me was positively superb.
Before I showcase the star of the tailgate, allow me to talk a tic about the sides. All the recipes for this feast are at the end of the post, if you'd like to skip the blathering.

Well hello, colors of Italy.
I steamed some broccoli from the CSA and added roasted red peppers and shaved parmesan. A squeeze of lemon and it's zest added a zip of freshness. It tasted as great as it looks.

Oooohhhhh...now this is a treat in our house.
We don't eat potatoes all that often, but they've been in our CSA basket for the past several weeks, so we now feast on them weekly. Smashed Potato Casserole - Jake's favorite way to snarf these suckers down. I have to yell at him to leave a spoonful for his sister if she's not home for dinner. I think I even saw him licking the empty dish once.

Just kidding. But they are seriously tasty. Creamy, cheesy, chivey, classic goodness in a side dish.

Whew. I've done blown my alliteration quota for the day.

Oh...and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership is something I'll be back talking about next week. There I go, teasing you all over again. I guess I continue to live up to the very prestigious "Biggest Flirt" award I so humbly accepted back in high school.

OK...here we go. Brace yourselves...

Over the summer our friends Michelle and Chuck and their sweet pooch Daisy visited us at the cabin for a quick weekend, and they brought a rib roast. Extremely grateful, we plopped it on low heat on the Traeger and let it do it's thing while we romped around the woods. I chuckle, because Chuck calls his home base barbecue center HIDS.

Which is short for Hope It Doesn't Suck.

Well let me tell you...his roast oozed with flavor, juiciness and absolutely melted in our mouths. It was so good, we had to get the recipe from him.

Are you ready for this?
Cut back the fat cap, but don't slice it off. Spike the roast with slivers of garlic. Pour rub all over it, replace the fat cap, and pour rub over the fat. Place it in a plastic container or wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge. Wait three days, then smoke it at a low heat. The fat will slowly melt and ooze into the roast, keeping it moist and juicy.
Seriously, that's all there is to it.
I'm telling you...this hunk o' meat is to die for! And I'll let you in on a little secret. You don't need to spend the extra moolah on prime. Just ask your butcher for a choice rib roast with the bones removed.

This is so good that I sent one with Mr. Musky up North today for his fishing week with the guys. You're welcome, Mr. Moby and Mr. Boy Scout.
This, my friends, is a feast worthy of a win. Which they did! Yay Bears! I'm hearing, "Super Bears, Super Bowl!" all around my house again. Take that, lovely butcher man!

Steamed Broccoli with Roasted Red Peppers
2 small heads of broccoli, cleaned and cut into smaller pieces
2T butter
Dash of garlic powder and onion powder
Salt and pepper
One roasted red pepper, sliced into thin strips
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
Shaved Parmesan

Steam the broccoli for 7-10 minutes, until it reaches your desired doneness (I like mine with a little "bite" to it). Combine the broccoli with the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, garlic or onion powder as desired. Can be served immediately or at room temperature.

Smashed Potato Casserole
1lb red potatoes
4T butter
1/4 cup half and half
1t garlic salt
1t onion powder
1/4t fresh grated nutmeg (use a microplane)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 scallion
2 oz white cheddar cheese, diced
1/4 cup aged yellow cheddar, shredded
1-2T chopped chives

Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water, cooking until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and place the pot back over low heat to dehydrate them of any remaining water. Using a hand held masher, smash the potatoes into smaller pieces, skins and all. Add the remaining ingredients except the shredded cheese and gently stir to mix. Pour the concoction into an oven proof casserole and top with the shredded cheddar. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then broil to brown the top. Be careful not to burn! Top with chopped chives.

HIDS Rib Roast
3-5 lb rib roast, bones removed (ours in the above pictures was 3.3 pounds)
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered into smaller pieces
A sugar free, garlic based rib rub. Chuck used a brand called Ultimate Steak and Roast Rub, which we couldn't find in Chicagoland, but I picked up a jar when recently visiting my folks near the Iowa border. Basically, any rub blend including garlic, salt, pepper, onion, etc. would work. Montreal Steak Seasoning would work as well.

Cut the fat cap back on the top of the roast, careful not to slice it all the way off. With a sharp paring knife, cut small holes into the roast and push slivers of garlic into the meat. Generously shake the rub all over the meat, massaging it into the meat to ensure it sticks. Replace the fat cap and sprinkle the rub over the fat as well. Place in a plastic container or wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for three days. Heat your grill or smoker to 275 degrees and cook the roast on a rack over an aluminum pan until the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees. Then increase the heat to 350 degrees to finish cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Remove from the grill and cover with aluminum foil for 10-15 minutes. (Mr. Musky has a really hard time with this step, but he's finally realizing that letting the meat rest is key to redistribution of juices. Just pour yourself another glass of Cabernet Franc.) Slice and serve. Don't be shy - lick the plate. :)

XOXO,
Jen


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Miller's Summer

I want to go back to this.
And this.
And this.
My humans are crazy.
But I love 'em. 'Specially when they give me lip smackin treats.
They cover me up when it's chilly,
or when I come in sleepy from a swim.
They put a heavy thingy on my back every time we go to the beach. At first I didn't like it. Now I love it. It lets me swim and swim and swim all day long.
This is not my summer playground. It's Jake's. But I think I should live there.
My favorite is when friends come to visit. Murphy's a little nutso. I told his human he didn't need a leash. I would show him what to do. She didn't believe me.
She was right. Why would he want to jump off the side? We only jump off the front. 
Murph and I take naps and sniff butts when they leave.
Not sure what they do when they are gone...
...but they come back crazy. We don't care, because they let us lick good stuff by the fire.
Then I met this sweetheart.
Her name's Daisy. She's really not this shy. My human ran on the beach with her. She wasn't very good at swimming because it was her first time trying. Hey, wanna see her learn to swim?
Silly girl tried to catch flying water in her mouth. Doesn't she know she can just shove her whole snout in and take a giant drink? Anyway, I hear my mama whispering that she's sick. I hope she gets better fast so she can come swim again. I like her humans a lot.
They brought really good food. I may have sneaked a snack.

Oh! Lookie here.
I got bored one day and took myself for a walk. I met some sweet little people three houses down. They gave me water and a toy. They patted me on the head and said I could take a nap. Then they took me for a walk. Mama wasn't very happy with me. But she let them come play with me every day for a week. I was sad when they left.

There was a lot of tomato bread this summer. I want some. Maybe I can have some now. Mama?
It rained a lot. So I had to look outside and dream about swimming.
Some more humans came but they didn't bring friends. It makes me sad when they don't bring a friend for me to play with. But that's ok. I just kissed and made up with them.
Not sure why I'm not in this picture. Because I kiss on her all the time.
And I got some extra snuggles between these two pretties.
They patted on me and loved me and played with me. But I don't like it when they try to take my ball away. It's such hard work getting that ball!
Uh oh. My boy must have something in his eye. I like him. We get each other. Because sometimes, you just don't feel like being loved on. That's when I hang out with him. 

My Papa makes up for the lack of boy snuggles. 
He rubs my hips and it feels reeeeaaaallllyyyy good. They don't work so well anymore, and sometimes they just fall to the ground. That's why I lay like such a good boy on the boat now.
Some humans don't love me a ton. Auntie Jen would rather I just lay down drool-less a few hundred feet away from her. I love her anyway. I just let her swing with Patrick on the hammock...

...and watched from afar while they stood on water.
This visitor was super special. I could tell. So I stayed right by his side.
And so did my Papa.
I hope your summers were great, too. I wanna go back.
XOXO,
Miller