Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Basil In Abundance ~ 3 Yummy Takes on One of My Favorite Herbs

Every spring the boys and I really look forward to planning and planting our garden.  Last year, in order to make room for more veggies, we moved our big variety of herbs into large round planters, which are located close to the house for easy access.  Herbs are super easy to plant from seed and can be prolific all summer long if they are tended properly.

This year we have had an abundance of basil, which is a-okay by me, because it adds such a fresh flavor to so many dishes.  But basil can be stretched beyond marinara and Caprese salad.  Here are my three favorite ways to really enjoy the beauty of this spectacular herb.

- 1. -
First things first, a cocktail.  Even if you say you're not a gin drinker, you really do have to try this one.  It's light, refreshing, and the hint of basil makes it really special.  It's simply a modified version of a Basil Gimlet.
 For a single cocktail you will need:
- 1 small bunch of basil leaves (about 6-7 good sized leaves, extra for garnish)
- 1/2 oz simple syrup (more if you prefer a sweeter drink)
- 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 oz of good gin (I like Hendricks or Wheat State)
- club soda

Place the basil leaves between the palms of your hands and roll gently a few times to release all that magical flavor.  Toss the leaves into a cocktail shaker along with the lime juice and simple syrup, and muddle together. Add the gin and a generous amount of ice.  Place the top on the shaker and shake vigorously (about 40-50 times).  To make a gimlet, strain into a martini glass.  To make the spritzer, strain into a tall glass over ice leaving room at the top for a splash of club soda.  Garnish with a basil leaf. Tip: If you don't have a cocktail shaker, use a mason jar! Just be sure you to strain the cocktail before serving.

- 2.  -
If you ask my kids what my favorite thing to eat is, they will probably tell you salad.  Even though that's far from true, it is what they see me eat almost every day.  I really love the variety of herbs and veggies that summer gardening offers.  It means I can ditch the lettuce and get creative, filling my bowl up with everything but lettuce.   Fresh herbs can be a great component of any salad.  My favorites are basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill.
This salad that I whipped up yesterday had cucumbers, grape tomatoes, celery, red onion, yellow bell peppers, parsley, basil, black olives, fresh corn shaved off the cob, and a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. You could easily add a protein of diced chicken, shrimp, hard-cooked eggs, or your favorite cheese to give a little more umph.

- 3. -
Pesto.  Just thinking about it makes me hungry! Pesto is a staple in our kitchen, because it can be used in such a wonderful variety of ways, and it really is simple to make.  In the winter months, I can usually find a nice substitute for homemade at Sam's club or my local grocer.  Here are just a few of the ways we enjoy pesto:
- Mix into mayo and spread on sandwiches, or use it to make chicken salad.
- Add a little lemon juice or sun dried tomatoes to it and stir into a pasta salad.
- Brush onto chicken before adding breadcrumbs, then bake.
- Brush over grilled fish.
- Serve over warm, roasted vegetables.
- Serve with warm, crusty french bread as an appetizer.
- Spread over pizza crust and top with fresh mozzarella, broil until bubbly.
Although pesto is a delicious addition to any pantry, it can also be quite pricey if you're using the traditional pine nuts in the recipe.  I substitute walnuts in mine.  Walnuts are easy to find virtually every grocery store and are a budget-friendly substitution. You can give the pesto a little kick by adding red pepper flakes to taste.

Easy Walnut Pesto:
1/2 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated paremsan cheese

Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process for 30 seconds.  Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed.  Add the parmesan and puree for a minute.  Serve, or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

(Adapted from Ina Garten's original recipe.)

Do you have a favorite use for basil? 
I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Preparing the Sunday Dress ~ On the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother.  As I prepared the boys' clothes for Mass this morning, I couldn't stop thinking about the two of them who prayed fervently for a child, promising to dedicate their child to the service of our Lord, should they be so blessed.

I have to admit that there was a moment when sarcasm crept into my thoughts toward the pious ones. Oh, really people. How hard could it have been to raise a sinless child. Must have been tough livin' on Easy Street with one who does no wrong

(Insert palm to forehead right here).

But I know, as you do too, that parenting a child, no matter how perfect they may be, is never an easy undertaking.

Although Mary was ever-sinless, Joachim and Anne did not take for granted their supreme duty to nurture a deep love and devotion for God within their daughter.  Through the ordinary undertakings of their everyday lives, they were ultimately preparing Mary to know, to love and to receive Jesus Christ with her entire being.

Don't you love my classy assortment of plastic hangers??

I suppose, through my little Sunday morning routine of pressing out pants and starching shirts for our six sons to wear to Holy Mass, I am preparing them, in a small way, to receive Jesus, too.

Over the years I've received equal amounts of compliments and criticisms for the way I dress the boys for church. Everything from "Man, your boys sure look handsome!" to "Boy, you guys are a little fancy for church, don't ya think?"

I wouldn't exactly call well-worn khakis from Target fancy, but whatever.  What our family wears to mass is never about impressing the locals or making a fashion statement.  It's about approaching the highest point of our week with the proper disposition, inside and out, and dressing accordingly for that which we are about to receive.

I once heard a wise priest respond in this way to those who say, It doesn't matter what I wear to church, because Jesus loves me no matter what:
It is not the love Jesus has for you that is in question, but rather the love you have for Him.

His words have stuck with me ever since.

Our boys love sports, and they certainly know the value of dedicating themselves to all of the necessary preparations to compete.  Game day is always ceremonial. Mentally they contemplate all aspects of the game, emotionally they invest themselves, heart and soul, into the quest for victory, physically they have trained their bodies and dress that body with dignity and pride.

I would be amiss if I did not impress upon them, by word and example, the greater good of preparing themselves for Mass, beginning, but not ending with, the way that they dress.
I realize that tending to the boys' dress requires extra time and attentiveness on my part, but I'm becoming quite fond of the task.  It is an opportunity to pray for the child whose clothes I am washing and pressing, and to admire and appreciate the beautiful differences in each boy, especially as they are all growing in different ways in the spiritual life.

I pray that as our sons grow up and move on to fulfill their purpose in life, beyond our home, that they will continue to love their Catholic faith, and that in their devotion to our Lord, they will find that, in taking the time to dress well for Mass, they honor Him with their love and attentiveness.

{Linking up with the ladies at Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday.}
 Dress: TJ Maxx 
Accessories: Francesca's
Shoes: Zappos

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Some Relationships Just Aren't Meant to Be ~ Summer Baseball Season Saga

I don't really know how to tell you guys this, but after a month of heart-felt reflection, I think it's time I shared the news: Baseball and I are no longer in love.  No longer a couple.  We broke up, like three weeks ago.  I doubt we'll ever get back together.



It happens every winter.  I start to feel a little claustrophobic in the confines of our "cozy" house. It's our New Year's resolution every year to fight the winter blahs with grit and determination. Steve finds CrossFit and tractor stuff to be useful.  The boys get together and invent indoor games like mini-football, three-limb wrestling, and NBA Nerf dunk contests.  But I, I just spend my "free time" trying to pretend that the bloody nose drips on the couch, shredded carpet and those "I-don't-know-who-did-that" craters in the walls, the ones that flake fine white dust about the house, don't bother me.

No prob, I say.  The distressed look is in.

I divert my eyes from the disasters with the beauty of homemade bread and cookies, and by pinning pictures of other people's pretty, clean homes to my imaginary world a la Pinterest.

Sometime around the middle of February I can't take it any more.  That's when the spring and summer sports schedules start calling my name. They woo me with the ideals of picture perfect daydreams.  I can see it now! There they are, my boys, perfecting the backstroke while I lounge by the pool so proud, so chilled.  Next up, baseball. So All-American in their matching uniforms. All that testosterone being sucked out of my house and onto the ball fields. I love you, baseball. I loooove you!!!
So thankful for muscles.  So darn thankful.

So I do it, I sign three of the boys up for our town's youth baseball program.  The kids can't wait. I can't wait! We're gonna make it through winter, guys!! We've got this! The countdown to April has begun.

The spring thaw has arrived, and it's time for practices to begin.  I. am. thrilled.
So glad I washed those pants so they'd be clean for your game.
Mom, nobody cares if my pants are clean when I just hit a triple. 

My infatuation with baseball's charm begins to weaken (slightly) when son #3 comes home and announces he'll be wearing white pants this season. Wait, what? White pants? Is that legal? Please, Lord, let the others wear black, please, please, please, please, please.

Whew! Black it is. Okay, no problem.  I can handle one pair of white pants.
Andrew's team was stacked with talent and so very fun to watch!

After an enthusiastic evening of practices, the boys come running in the door, game schedules in hand.  I immediately sit down and begin penciling in every event.  Three boys, three different teams, three separate locations, three nights a week for six weeks, topped off with a tournament to really finish the season off right.

After all of the highlighting and abbreviations are carefully noted, there are exactly four squares in the month of June that remain unscathed. Oy.
Proof of life. From the wheat field to the baseball field.

What was I thinking? With farmer Steve putting in long, unpredictable hours of work, how am I going to juggle baby, toddler, baseball and a soon-to-be high schooler who has to be chauffeured to summer league basketball and football camp?

Alright, Susan.  Get your game face on.  You're no quitter.  You are going to make this relationship work. In it to win it.  In it to win it.

After three weeks of running the home team back and forth and back and forth in the snack wagon to game after game, it all started to catch up with me.  I did the thing you don't do in baseball.

I cried.
Though the boys had everything going for them, they each had amazing coaches and fantastic teammates and were all having the time of their lives, I was not having quite as much fun. In fact, I was barely keeping it together.

We were on a rotation of cereal, peanut butter and jelly, and frozen pizza for supper. Mmmm, healthy. Gotta feed those athletes right! 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of malnourishment I have no fear, because other parents bring treats to every game. I confess that I used to cuss the whole treat thing.  

Not this year. Thank you, parents and coaches, for the Oreos and Cheetos. Bless you.

It wasn't just the evening meal and order and structure and cleanliness that was missing from our lives, there was also always a glove, a hat, one cleat, the car keys, the stroller, and water bottles that went missing, too (mysteriously of course).

At the end of every day, all I could say was Jesus, mercy and beer me (as my friend, Kathryn, puts it so honestly).
And Joseph, poor Joseph.  No matter how many Tonka Trucks, tractors or munchies I hauled to the field like a pack mule, he always found the spray of sunflower seed shells at his feet the most alluring thing around. The first time he raised his bulging fist up to his sweet little mouth I about lost my smoothie. I can handle a lot of gross, but that? No. Just no.

Mom, did you see my triple? 
Gosh son, I wish I could have, but I was too busy fishing second hand choke hazards out of your brother's mouth.  But, good job!

Strapping little Goliath in the stroller didn't work all that well either.  My baby was just learning to walk, and the ball diamond was his oyster.  Perfect timing for finding your wheels, son.  Per-fect.

One night, exhausted after the final round of games were over, I just sat in my stinky car, staring at my stinky self in the rear view, when my dearest Henry came around and opened the door for me.
Even the Pope couldn't talk him out of wearing those red socks.
I love Henry's intensity.  His enthusiasm for the game warms my heart.  He is 100% all the time.

Thank you, mom, for taking me to every single one of my games this season.  
I love baseball so much. 
I want to play it for the rest of my life.

Then, he smiled that toothless smile at me, and I scooped him and all of his joy up in my arms, the scent of Gatorade and dirt filling my lungs.

You're welcome, Henry. You're so very welcome.

And, just like that, I knew with certainty that the break-up wouldn't last.

For the love of my boys, I'll never be able to stop loving you, baseball.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Edel P.S. - Because Somehow I Forgot About the Crazy Shoes

Yesterday, while dodging Nerf bullets and rubbing the bulging gums of our teething bebe, I managed to one hand type a quick Edel recap, but soon realized, after posting, that I forgot to throw in some pictures from the crazy shoes cocktail party!

Whoever came up with the idea to have a crazy shoes contest on the first night of the Edel Gathering was a genius.  It really is the perfect ice-breaker/get-to-know-ya scenario for a bunch of women who have been counting down since January for the weekend to begin.

I didn't make a pair of shoes last year, because I was a little exhausted from crafting a baby for nine months. And this year we have had such a busy summer that when the week of Edel crept up on me, I honestly felt like I couldn't squeeze a shoe project in between baseball games and farm life.

But, the men of the house would not accept my can't do attitude. They enthusiastically suggested that I make a farm-themed pair of shoes. I mean, why do something girly, right? Because, that would be boring and totally illogical.

Why not, I said. I'll show you boys some farm, and I'll show you girly, too! 
I had a basic idea of what I thought might make the shoes cute and fun and the same time, but it really was a run of luck that everything came together so well, because I only had a very little amount of time to assemble the shoes, and they turned out great!
The wheat berries came straight from the farm (shout out to my sister-in-law for bagging some up for me!).  I brushed a really thick and tacky glue that I found at Hobby Lobby on to the $10 Payless Shoes and pressed on the wheat, keeping my fingers crossed that it would stick.  After that layer dried, I used a strong spray adhesive to set the wheat in place, and sprinkled the shoes with a super-fine gold glitter.
After that, it was just a matter of adding the finishing touches, stickers, ribbons, wheat stalks and sunflowers (also from Hobby LalalaLobby).  
I did have a little bit of help from a guy I know who just happened to have a pair of pliers and some fishing line to tie the tractors in place. At first I was like, "Aw, honey, your shirt accidentally matches my shoes, how sweet!" But then there was the Busch Light can, and well, that's just us, keepin' it real.
Despite the layers of glue and double-knotted bows, the shoes started to fall apart toward the end of the evening.  Needless to say, I left a little trail of wheat everywhere I walked, but it was super fun wearing them, and I'm glad my boys talked me into getting crafty for the occasion!

There were SO MANY amazingly fun and very impressive shoes at the party.  I knew you guys would want to see them, too! Here's a peek at some photos that the ladies were gracious enough to share with me:
The WINNER!! This picture does not do these chips-salsa-margarita party boots justice! I mean they were that awesome! And if you think those boots are fun, the mama wearing them is a thousand times more fun! Rachel is from Texas (surprise!), she doesn't blog, but you can find her on Instagram at @rach_ees.
Rachel and Shannon (from Organic Mama's Shop) posing with their winning kicks.  I wish I had a better shot of Shannon's boots, because they were amazing, too! 100% kid-themed with toys and gadgets that had recordings of her kids voices! So incredibly fun!
These beauties are from Tracy Smith who blogs at A Slice of Smith Life.  I see a potential Etsy business here.
Super chic Star Wars heels plus a fascinator? Yes, please! My boys would have voted for these, for sure! You can see more of Emily's creativity on her blog Someone Who Doesn't Feel Like Cake.
The golden girls! Mary (Passionate Perseverance) and Kelly (This Ain't the Lyceum) know how to rock some sparkle!
Why didn't I think of slippers??? Wendy, aka Cajun Texas Mom, had all of our feet aching for something more comfortable by the end of the night. Love me some Tigger!
 Stephanie, who blogs at A Little Bit of Paradise, won the contest last year, so I think we were all excited to see what she would come up with this year.  Coffee and wine kicks, also known as Mom Survival Shoes. Brilliant!  Really, now I know now why we're friends (wink, wink)!
Even if you're not a cat lover, you gotta admit these are super cute! I was so glad Elizabeth, who blogs at The Buerglers, shared her photo with me, because I missed seeing her creativity at the party.
I think a lot of you already know Heather, the creator and crafter of these funky flip-flops, but if you don't, I highly recommend you go and visit her at Real Catholic Mom, because she. is. awesome.
Ronnie Peck, who came all the way from California, created one of my favorite pairs of shoes of the evening (maybe it's our earthy connection).  So original! She blogs at The Screen Writer's Wife.

 Angela Eckel from Ohio did Charleston proud with these beauties! The red platforms say "Charleston" and every illustration on the shoes has a story. They were sassy, classy and fun!
Minion fans unite! Unless Candace is sentimentally attached to these shoes, I see the bids on Ebay rising!
 Lovely, lovely lovely.  Just like Rakhi, who blogs at Pitter Patter Diaries.  I think there were quite a few of us who had our eyes on those shoes!
Okay, when I say these shoes were the bomb, I mean they were the bomb! What you can't see in the photo are the color-changing lights that Cate, who blogs at Dainty Cate, wedged under the sole, right by the heel that shined down on the floor and looked crazy awesome. My boys would have followed her around all night long!
 Last but certainly not least, Jaclyn Ruli's Theology of the Body shoes were absolutely amazing.  St. John Paul II would be so proud, Jaclyn! And all of the TOB fans out thee are giving you some major props right now!
 Crazy shoe unity.

Okay, ladies, you've got two years to 
dream up your crazy shoes for Edel 17.   
I hope you feel inspired!